Outdoor Molds on Fall Leaves Can Bring On Dog Allergies

The changing seasons usually bring on an allergy flare-up for our boxer Elsie. The Fall flare-up is most often brought on by increasing outdoor molds. Those pretty fall leaves pile up, get wet and breed molds. Even if we rake up every last leaf in our yard, it won’t prevent molds from other yards to bother her. I just make sure to wipe her feet when she comes in from outside and to give her regular baths. And, of course, her allergy shots keep the flare-ups from getting too problematic.

I found this cool mold map on Weather.com.  Here is what the mold spores situation looks like today in the U.S..  Visit the Weather.com mold spores map to see the latest update:
http://www.weather.com/maps/activity/allergies/usmoldspores_large.html

weather.com mold spores map
Mold Spores Map from Weather.com

Breeds Commonly Affected by Dog Allergies

Elsie - my Boxer with dog allergies

The following dog breeds are most often affected by dog allergies and canine atopic dermatitis.

  • Belgian Tervurens
  • Boston Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Bulldogs
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Dalmatians
  • English Setters
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Irish Setters
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Poodles
  • Pugs
  • Scottish Terriers
  • Shar-Pei
  • Shih tzus
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Wire Fox Terriers

If your your dog isn’t on this list, it can still have allergies.  Many other breeds can be susceptible to allergies, including mixed breeds.

Bad Breeding Practices and Dog Allergies

bad breeding can spread dog allergiesMost dog allergies are inherited.  Owners of an allergic dog are discouraged from breeding their dog to prevent the allergies from being passed on to their puppies. However, bad breeding practices continue to contribute to the growing number of dogs diagnosed with skin allergies each year.  In this post, we’ll discuss improper breeding practices and their impact on dog allergies. 

Bad Breeding Practices

Purebred dog breeding involves mating dogs of the same breed to maintain traits that will pass on to other generations.  Good breeders strive to only breed the “best of the best.”  These dogs are reviewed for superior physical and mental characteristics and, in most cases, take genetic tests to prove their long-term health. Purebred dogs can be registered with official papers from the American Kennel Club or other national registration organizations. 

You’ll find that most reputable dog breeders are highly involved in their dog’s breed.  They are usually members of their local dog club, compete in breed-specific dog shows and events, and generally are experts on the breed.

Unfortunately, with the growing popularity of certain purebreds and designer breeds, the financial aspect of dog breeding has attracted less dedicated individuals and businesses to the industry. 

Backyard Breeders

Backyard breeders are generally small, family operations who breed a small group of dogs for money or a family dog for the experience of raising a litter.   

In most cases, these breeders are not deeply involved or knowledgeable about the breed and do no health screening.  Although many backyard bred dogs have purebred papers, this does not necessarily mean they were bred with quality and long-term health in mind.  Many backyard breeders do not think about how health issues like allergies will affect an entire litter.  Not only are they passing health problems to each puppy, but if any of those puppies are later bred, these allergies will continue to spread throughout the canine population.

Most backyard breeders advertise their puppies in newspapers or classified advertisements.  These types of breeders are often attractive to prospective dog owners because their dogs are usually less expensive than those from reputable breeders.

Now is when I have one of those shameful “Do as I say, not as I do” moments.  I’ll admit that I acquired Elsie from a backyard breeder.  Before we found Elsie, we knew we wanted a boxer dog.  I read extensively about boxer breeders and why you should avoid backyard breeders.  However, in the end, price and convenience prevailed. The boxer breeder we purchased her from was within an hour’s drive from our home and the price was at least $200 less than some of the other more certified breeders. 

At the time, I thought I was making the right decision.  The price seemed right, the breeders seemed pleasant, we met the litter as well as the father and mother (both family pets) prior to committing.  I also asked the breeders for the contact information for their veterinarian, which they gave me.  When I called the veterinarian’s office and asked to see the parent’s medical records, they complied and sent only yearly vaccination information. I asked the vet if there were any documented health issues and the answer was no. They seemed like healthy boxers.

I have a hard time believing now that one or both of Elsie’s parents did not have atopic dermatitis.  Perhaps it was never diagnosed.  I also wonder how well her fellow littermates fared.  Hopefully they did not inherit the severe allergies that Elsie has, or at the very least, they were placed in families who are willing to treat the allergies and not just dump the dogs at the nearest shelter when times get tough.

Believe me, I don’t regret getting Elsie one bit.  She is a wonderful family pet who we love dearly.  And, now that her allergies are under control, she’s living a much healthier and happier life.  However, I would definitely do my research and not cut corners the next time I bring a dog home.  Lesson learned.

Puppy Mills

Like many backyard breeders, Puppy Mills are in the breeding business to make money.  Puppy mills are generally larger farms or businesses that breed several different dog breeds with little care for the health and well being of the litters they produce.  Unlike most backyard breeders, puppy mills often keep their dogs in substandard living conditions.  These dogs are often sold to pet stores.

Acquiring a dog from a backyard breeder or a puppy mill doesn’t guarantee that your dog will have allergies.  Nor does acquiring a dog from a reputable breeder guarantee that your dog will not have allergies.  However, purchasing a dog from a reputable breeder gives you a higher chance of having an allergy-free dog.  A reputable breeder should not breed a dog with known health problems, like atopic dermatitis, so your chances of purchasing an allergic dog should significantly decrease.

Mixed Breeds Can Have Problems Too

After all of this talk about purebred dog breeding issues, one may assume that a mixed breed won’t have allergy problems.  Although the chances of a mixed breed dog inheriting allergies decreases, unfortunately, the possibility is not eliminated.  Since many purebred dogs accidentally breed, allergy problems can be passed down to mixed breeds as well.

Unfortunately, bad breeding practices have a way of affecting all dogs.  As a potential purebred dog owner, the best thing you can do is ask questions about the parents’ health and do your research on the breeder.  For mixed breed dogs, you likely won’t have access to one or both parents, so you’ll want to talk to the dog’s current guardian or the dog shelter’s veterinarian to discuss whether the dog or puppy may already be exhibiting allergy symptoms.

Dog Allergy Causes. Flea Allergies.

Dog flea allergyFlea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common skin allergies in dogs.  Dogs that have a flea allergy are hypersensitive to the flea’s saliva, which is passed into the dog’s skin when it bites.  It only takes a couple of flea bites to cause pain and suffering in an allergic dog.

Many dogs with other inhalant allergies will become allergic to fleas as well.  They usually become sensitive between two to four years of age.  When an allergic dog is bit by a flea, they will scratch and bite at their skin – often causing hair loss, skin lesions, and red inflamed skin.  Dogs with flea allergies often have thinning hair above the base of their tails.

If you are concerned that your dog may be suffering from a flea allergy, you should check to see if there are signs of fleas on their skin.  If you don’t see the fleas themselves, you may see some proof of their existence.  Fleas will leave behind flea dirt (or feces) which are dark brown or black flecks left behind on your dog’s skin. When introduced to water, this flea dirt will turn a reddish color. However, this flea dirt may not always be visible on your dog even if fleas are present.

The best thing you can do to prevent flea allergies, is to make your dog inhospitable for fleas. We discuss some suggested flea prevention steps in our Allergy Treatments section.

Dog Allergy Causes. Pollen, Grass & Trees.

Dog in GrassPollen is the fertilizing element of flowering plants.  It is a fine powder which is released year round, although mainly in spring, from trees weeds and grasses.  This powder rides currents of air, with the goal to fertilize other plants.  This fertilization goal is not always achieved by each pollen grain.  Unfortunately, for the allergy sufferers of the world, many of these grains are inhaled by humans or pets and are the cause for seasonal allergies.

If you find that your dog shows allergy symptoms in the spring, chances are they are allergic to pollen. Your first instinct may be to rid your yard of any pollen-producing plants.  Don’t waste your time.  Since pollen is carried long distances, often many miles, it does little good to remove pollen-producing plants from your yard.  In fact, most allergic pollens come from plants like ragweed, which grows in open fields, and of which you have little control over.

Grasses and trees can also produce allergen-causing pollens.  The grass species that produce highly allergic pollens are Bermuda grass, Johnson grass, Kentucky bluegrass, Orchard grass, Redtop grass, Sweet vernal grass and Timothy grass.  Trees that produce allergic pollens are Ash, Box Elder, Elm, Hickory, Mountain Cedar, Oak, and Pecan. 

Unless you plan to remove all pollen producing plants, weeds, grasses and trees in your 30-mile radius (or more on windy days!), there is little you can do to control pollen.  However, there are some steps you can take to minimize your dog’s exposure to pollen. We’ll discuss this later when we review dog allergy treatments.

Dog Allergy Causes. Air Fresheners and Cleaning Products.

Cleaning ProductsAs you clean you home to eliminate dust and other allergens, you could be causing more harm than good.  Perfumes and chemicals found in air fresheners and cleaning products can often trigger allergic reactions in sensitive dogs.

Many cleaning products today, like dust cleaners, and bathroom and kitchen cleaners, come in aerosol cans or sprays which make it easier to cover large surfaces.  Unfortunately, these sprays are also good at sending chemicals into the air, which can then be inhaled by you and your pets.

Laundry detergents and dryer sheets also contain dyes and perfumes which can harm allergy-prone dogs.  These chemicals can be particularly bothersome if you wash your dog’s bedding – since your pup will be lying directly on these allergen-rich fabrics.

If your dog is itchy year round, particularly after a house cleaning session, you may want to consider changing your cleaning products to those which are more allergy-friendly.  We’ll discuss more allergy-safe cleaning options in our Allergy Treatments section.

Dog Allergy Causes. Mold Allergies.

Mold is a type of fungus that feeds off decomposing plant or animal matter.  It is present both indoors and outdoors.  Mold spreads by releasing tiny spores into the air.  When these mold spores are inhaled, an allergic reaction may result.

Mold can grow quickly in dark, humid indoor spaces, such as shower stalls, basements, garbage cans, refrigerators, cabinets, washing machines, carpets, and sheetrock.  Mold is also prevalent outdoors, particularly in the Spring and Fall, when there are large numbers of dead leaves and other decaying plant matter.

Although outdoor mold allergies will be most noticeable in your dog during the Spring and Fall months, indoor mold can cause problems for your pet year round.

We live in Maryland, which can be very humid in the Summer.  Mold can quickly grow in our bathrooms if we don’t keep on top of it.  Unfortunately, mold can also be problematic in the Winter too. Our home is 100 years old and isn’t as tightly sealed as many new homes are today.  When the days are particularly cold, we’ll see a build-up of condensation on basement walls and windows.  These areas are excellent breeding grounds for mold.

When we had Elsie allergy tested, we learned that she was allergic to two different types of mold.  Once we realized this, we became super indoor mold fighters.  Suddenly these pesky mold discoveries took on a new significance in my life – they were hurting my dog and I needed to get rid of them.  I’ll share some of my mold fighting tips a bit later when we discuss Allergy Treatments.

Dog Allergy Causes. Dust Allergies & Dust Mites.

Like humans, dogs can also become sensitive to dust and develop allergies over time.  When we talk about dust allergies, what we’re really talking about are dust mites.

Dust mites, related to spiders, are creatures who feed off of skin cells shed by people and animals.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you look at that photo!) these little mites are so small that they can only be seen with a microscope.  This means you could have a raging dust mite problem and not know it.

Dust mites are happiest in warm, humid environments. And, since they feed off of dead skin cells, they are most often found in bedding, furniture and carpeting.  Bedrooms are a popular hangout for dust mites.  Many dogs sleep in their owners’ bedroom, which can be a problem if they are sensitive to dust mites.

If your dog has a dust mite allergy, you’ll likely see them itching and chewing at their skin.  When our dog Elsie was allergy tested, we found that one of the many items she was allergic to, was dust.  Does this mean we found a way to eliminate all dust from our home?  Heck no!  Fat chance of that. But, we have found ways to make our home less hospitable for these little pests.

Later, when we discuss dog allergy treatments, we’ll talk about how you can minimize dust mite problems in your home.

Dog Allergy Causes. Food Allergies.

Food allergies are perhaps the most debated cause of skin allergy problems in dogs. As stated in “The Allergy Solution for Dogs”, by Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M., a true dog food allergy accounts for less than 10 percent of the allergy cases brought in to veterinarians. Yet, a dog’s food is often the first area where owners focus their attention.

However, there are still a number of dogs who suffer from food allergies. Here is a list of the top common food allergens for dogs:

  • Beef
  • Milk
  • Corn
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Yeast

Each of the above ingredients is commonly found in commercial dog foods. The less expensive the food is, the higher the chances are that it will include large amounts of cheap fillers like wheat and corn.

So what if your food claims to be “Lamb and Rice”. It should just be “Lamb and Rice”, right? Not necessarily so. It’s important for you to carefully read your dog food labels. Unless you are feeding your dog a “limited ingredient” formula, chances are, that so-called two ingredient food also includes many of the top allergen foods listed above, including wheat, beef, eggs, and more. Always read your labels.

How do you know if your dog may have a food allergy? If their allergy symptoms aren’t seasonal – meaning they are itching and uncomfortable all year round – chances are they have a food allergy. Dogs with food allergies also tend to have more stomach problems, resulting in frequent diarrhea and vomiting.

Later on, we’ll discuss different options for treating food allergies. If you suspect that your dog may have food allergies, it is recommended that you first talk to your veterinarian before making any dramatic changes to your dog’s diet.