Sadly for dogs, this article has become a yearly feature for our blog. It’s no great surprise in view given the level of skin sensitivity to grass and tree pollens dogs have. Many dog owners had a quick blast of what is coming this summer with the sudden warm weather during mid April. Thankfully (for some) this was a short-lived snippet of summer. It certainly concentrates the mind a little as what might be in store for our canine friends as we progress into summer.
Can I plan ahead for my dog this summer? It’s difficult. Effectively there is no way of avoiding the microscopic pollens during the summer, ask anyone suffering from hay fever. These minuscule irritants land all over a dog’s coat but cause a flare reaction to specific sites of the body, these are generally hot and sweaty areas. So, think of their feet, armpits, groin region, under the base of the tail plus ears and face. This is where many reactor cells are mainly situated. Some dogs’ are affected by just one these hot spots, with others it can be all. Once activated, then skin itch follows; and once the skin itch has started, the resident bacteria and yeast on a dog’s skin surface will further aggravate the skin leading to a vicious cycle of skin irritation. Realistically, keeping the pollen off the skin is an almost impossible task, although regular washing of the coat may help. However, there is a bit of a warning with this approach as over washing a dog can lead to the natural oils being stripped away from the coat, leaving many dry-skinned and ironically, itchy!
The problem for dogs is that they have a poor skin barrier. Effectively, their skin is very thin compared with ours. Skin cells are put together in a pretty haphazard way with often poor quality cement between the cells. We cannot do anything about the thickness of a dog’s skin, but we can do something about the cement binding the cells together. This sounds a bit like re-pointing the concrete in a brick wall but it’s not a bad analogy. This cement is composed of essential fatty acids for the most part. Some clever work has been done recently and a specifically formulated food supplement is now available that will help to improve the quality of this cement, making it less porous. This means pollens have a harder time penetrating the base layer of the skin at the point they cause the irritant reaction. Starting early with this supplement is advisable as it allows the skin longer to create a better barrier before the challenges of summer arrive. Even if it doesn’t eliminate the skin itch completely if often reduces the level of skin itch meaning that there is a lot less reliance on medication. Best to liaise with the veterinary team about suitable food supplements and shampoos.