Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction that occurs when environmental allergens come in contact with a dog’s skin.
Although all allergies are an exacerbated immune response to an agent that the body recognizes as dangerous, they can have many different origins and symptoms. They can be classified according to the way by which the allergen enters the body, the speed and intensity of the reaction, as well as whether genetics have an effect, amongst other things.
Allergic reactions always begin with a sensitizing experience, i.e. a prior encounter with an allergenic substance, which will initiate the symptoms when the next contact with the agent occurs. The allergen is the agent or substance, usually a protein, that is recognized by the body as an antigen, i.e. a potential dangerous intruder. This leads to the production of antibodies triggering an exacerbated immune response.
If your dog’s skin comes in direct contact with a substance that their immune system senses as an allergen, an allergic reaction could be triggered. This may result in itching, irritation, and discomfort at the point of contact, such as the tail, paws, abdomen, neck, chest, chin or any other areas of the dog’s body, like the nose and eyes. The area can also show signs of inflammation and redness, blisters, ulcers, as well as hair loss. Symptoms appear within the 48 hours following the moment when the skin comes into contact with the surface where the irritant lays.
Contact dermatitis can happen at any age, in response to any agent, sometimes in a particular season, and with signs that are similar to other allergies in dogs. It often gets mistaken for atopy, but the latter is thought to have a strong genetic component which makes it treatable, but impossible to cure. A dog with contact dermatitis, however, can fully recover by identifying and removing or avoiding the allergen.
How to prevent contact dermatitis
Even though allergic contact dermatitis is not a common type of allergy, it is one of the most unpredictable ones. Since the symptoms are common to many other allergies and health conditions, it is important to seek veterinary assistance in order to prevent associated diseases and identify the allergenic substance. Although it is not always easy to distinguish which agent is responsible for the reaction, a patch test can be done. This consists of leaving different substances in contact with the dog’s skin for 48 hours to see if there is a reaction.
Many substances and objects are now being reported to cause contact dermatitis. These include:
- Chemical components of flea collars
- Gardening products (compost, fertilizers, herbicides)
- Cleaning products (soaps, detergents, deodorizers, floor wax)
Reducing skin problems such as mites, fleas, and associated bacterial infections that could lead to irritation and scratching also helps minimize the risk of lesions on your dog’s skin. Air filters and brushing their coat could remove indoors and outdoors agents from the house and their skin respectively. Another preventative measure is using more natural alternatives to traditional home cleaning products as well organic grooming and natural skincare products, and herbal remedies for ticks and fleas.
When traveling or visiting new places, keep in mind that the contact with a new environment can lead to allergic reactions. Download The Ultimate Pet Health Travel Guide for more information.
Identifying the allergen and preventing it from coming in contact with your dog, either by eliminating it or creating barriers, can be a solution to this problem. When it is not possible to determine the agent causing the allergic reaction, the treatment is focused on alleviating the symptoms and preventing associated infections.