What are allergies?

Allergies are the physical expression of the immune system’s over-reaction to substances, called allergens, which are not normally threats.  These things can range from pollens and molds to common food items.  Flea bite dermatitis is the most common canine allergy; the dog reacts to the saliva of fleas.  An allergy does not develop unless there has been prior exposure which allowed the immune system to recognize the allergen and “decide” that it needed to be attacked if encountered again.  Exposure can occur through inhaling, ingesting, or touching the allergen.

What things cause allergies?

Any individual can develop an allergy if it lives long enough and is exposed to enough stuff.  Fortunately, most allergies are minor.  The allergies that are of concern from a health-care or breeding standpoint are chronic and moderate to severe in effect:  Allergies which start in youth or the prime of life, cause considerable discomfort, and keep coming back again and again.

Are allergies autoimmune?

Allergies are immune-mediated rather than autoimmune.  In an autoimmune disease the immune system is attacking its own body’s tissues.  With allergies the immune system is over-reacting to something that is actually benign.

Can allergies go away?

If the allergen ceases to be present in the dog’s environment, the reactions will go away.  Most often this happens when the dog moves to a different home, particularly if it is in a different geographic region.  In this case, the symptoms stop because the allergen(s) the dog reacted two are absent from the new environment and the dog has not developed allergies to things in that new environment.  Yet.  If the dog is prone to allergy and stays in the new place long enough it will develop allergies to something there.

How do I know if my dog has allergies?

Allergies can start any time in life   Dogs can have respiratory or digestive problems caused by allergies, but most likely they will itch.  However, with proper diagnosis and treatment most dogs can live in relative comfort.  If you believe your dog has an allergy, take it to the vet.   If the dog is scratching to the point of damaging his skin it may need to be seen by a veterinary dermatologist.  However the allergy manifests, sensitivity testing and/or elimination diets (for food allergy) could help you determine what the dog reacts to.

What do allergies mean for my dog?

Dogs are more prone to food allergies than inhalant allergies but can get either.  Flea bite allergy is relatively common in dogs, though skin allergies in general are not since most of a dog’s skin is protected by its coat.  However, the primary reaction is often atopic dermatitis, a hypersensitivity reaction of the skin.  You can reduce the number and severity of reactions by taking steps to eliminate the allergens that cause those reactions from the dog’s diet and/or environment.  In rare instances an allergy can cause anaphylactic shock, a potentially life-threatening condition.

 How common are allergies in Aussies?

The ASHGI 2009-10 health survey indicated that moderate to severe allergies are the second most common health problem in the breed.  11% of the dogs in the survey were affected.

 Are allergies inherited?

Yes.  Specifics of inheritance are not yet known and are likely complex.

 Is there a DNA test?


 What do allergies mean for my breeding program?

Severely allergic dogs should not be bred.  Moderate allergies should be considered a fault.  Mild allergies may or may not be a breeding factor.  Therefore, mildly or moderately affected dogs might be bred but only to mates from families where moderate to severe allergies are not an issue.  Parents, full or half siblings, and offspring of an affected dog should also be bred to mates from families free of moderate to severe allergies.