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Up to 20% of Britain’s 8 million dogs suffer from allergies

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Flea allergy dermatitis in a dog

There appear to be two factors which has resulted in up to 20% of Britain’s 8 million dogs suffering from allergies and these are (1) failure to expose dogs as puppies to allergens because their lives are too sterile and (2) they live in a human environment which is warm and in which they are shampooed and treated with antihistamines et cetera. They are living like humans and adopting human conditions.

Flea allergy dermatitis in a dog

Flea allergy dermatitis in a dog. Photo: WIkipedia author on dog allergies.

The Times refers to 2 studies on this subject. Dan O’Neill, a senior lecturer in companion animal epidemiology for the Royal Veterinary College said that some of the most common health conditions in dogs in Britain are to do with allergies. These include ear and eye problems and skin irritations. He believes that there are 2.56 million dogs in Britain suffering from inflammation as a specific disorder. Approximately 1.6 million of these dogs’ conditions are linked to an allergic reaction. Labradors are particularly prone to this. Yorkshire Terriers are also in the firing line.

The second study by the Dogs Trust looked at the risk factors of getting an allergy causing skin conditions in 2,445 labradors. The risk factors included being reared in an urban environment, receiving flea control, being neutered, being male and being allowed to jump on and sleep on upholstered furniture. Comment: I wonder if chemicals in the furniture such as fire retardants have an influence over a dog’s immune system? I believe that these chemicals affect the endocrine system.

The Dogs Trust study was published in 2019 in Veterinary Dermatology. If dogs live with other dogs and go for walks on beaches, in woodlands and in fields they fared better and were less predisposed to allergic reactions apparently.

Dr O’Neill believes that the risk factors for allergies have increased. Although there is no data apparently on whether there are more allergies in dogs nowadays than before.

Environmental factors combined with inherited predispositions results in allergic reactions. Exposure to the dead bodies of dust mites on beds and in beds are a risk factor.

Dogs are at increased risk of contracting an allergy the more they live with humans and are exposed to allergens. Working dog breeds are bred to be outside, working and living in kennels. Nowadays they are pampered pooches living inside the homes of people, a far cry from what they are bred for. The human environment inside the home is more likely to trigger allergies.

Dr O’Neill says that “slowly dogs are becoming part of the human family”. A factor, which I’ve mentioned, is that adult dogs’ immune systems may become overly active because of increased sensitivity if they have been raised in a sterile environment. The theory is that if people, cats and dogs are exposed to allergens when they’re very young they develop a resistance to them which prevents their immune systems overreacting when they are older.

An article in The Wall Street Journal (which I presume applies to dogs in America) found that between 10 and 15% had been treated with illnesses due to allergies. American veterinarians believe that skin allergies are more commonplace nowadays. This may be because people are more aware of these issues. Skin allergies can be caused by a sensitivity to dust and feathers and certain types of grass.

Another medical expert, Jordan Beauchamp, the medical director of GoodVets in Chicago believes that as dogs have gradually become more indoor orientated, living in their owners’ homes rather than outside in a kennel, people are watching them more and are therefore are more aware of illnesses.

There also appears to be a lot of protein allergies caused by pet food. Every dog with an allerguy goes through a dietary trial to see whether the condition is caused by food. Gluten intolerance is a potential problem. It’s not clear whether food allergies have increased.


What I, personally, take away from this discussion is that dogs live a slightly less natural life nowadays than they did perhaps a hundred years ago which prevents them building up immunities to allergens as they would have done in the past and allows them to be more exposed to allergens.