Both skin allergies and anxiety in pets are quite common. And this is due to many reasons. For example, atopic dermatitis (AKA eczema) affects up to 10% of dogs. It can be brought on by environmental factors, such as pollens and grasses, as well as dust mites.
However, Field Day Vet Emily Turner explains that some breeds are more to allergies and anxiety. She says, “Most breeds can have allergies, but some are much more prone to skin issues than others. This is because of genetic predispositions. These breeds include: Staffys (all types), Daschunds, Whippets, Westies, Bulldogs (all types), Shar Pei, German Shepherds, Bull Terriers, Basset Hounds and Retrievers.
“Unlike skin conditions, anxiety can affect all dogs. Things like upbringing, environment, exercise regimes, training and stimulation have a real impact on a dog’s ability to deal with stress. With that said, some breeds are more prone to being anxious regardless of these other controllable factors. Breeds more prone to anxiety include: Staffys (all types), Lagotto Romognolo, German Shepherds, some working dogs (Collies), Daschunds, Chihuahuas, Jack Russells, and some poodle and poodle-mix breeds.
Recognising Allergies or Anxiety in Pets
There are numerous telltale signs of allergies and anxiety. As such, it’s important to know the symptoms to watch out for.
Common signs of allergies include:
- Pink skin (belly, chest, inside the back legs and groin)
- Foot licking or chewing
- Rubbing belly on the ground (commando crawling)
- Chewing backs of legs/around the knees
- Hot spots (moist areas of superficial skin infections)
- Redness around the eyes and lips or thin hair around these areas
- Face rubbing on the ground or with paws.
- Bald patches anywhere
- Head shaking, red ears, ear infections and dirty or smelly ears
- Bum scooting or rubbing
Common signs of anxiety in pets includes:
- Following owners around, always wanting to be near them
- Excessive panting or drooling.
- Pacing or restlessness
- Excessive barking
- Destructive behaviour (destroying items, digging holes)
- Attempts to escape/return to owners etc.
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviours (like pacing but also turning circles, fence-running, standing at windows etc.)
- Inappropriate defecation or urination
- Cowering or hiding
- Growling or showing signs of aggression (possibly leading to actual aggression if not addressed/dealt with).
Managing Skin Allergies
As responsible and loving pet parents, if you recognise your dog has a skin allergy, you’re going to want to take action to help him or her. But what’s the best approach?
Ms Turner says, “It’s important to recognise that allergies are often a long-term problem. As such, it will need ongoing treatment.
“Choose a good quality, nutrient rich diet. For example, a diet that includes oils like omega-3 and 6 to improve the skin barrier. Wipe your dog’s feet and belly after a walk to remove pollen allergens.
Refrain from washing your pet too frequently to allow natural oils to provide protection. When you do wash your pet, make sure you use hypoallergenic products.
“Given that there are so many products available, you may wish to seek veterinary advice for long-term management.”
Anxiety in Pets: Real-Life Story
Belinda from NSW—pet parent to Sammi, a nine-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, tells of her trouble with allergies.
“Sammi began developing skin rashes, which is a common issue in Staffys and something I had known about before bringing Sammi home.
“Sammi is also quite energetic and when I went out, I noticed that Sammi was a little destructive and would appear anxious although there were plenty of toys for her to play with and stay mentally stimulated.
“Our neighbours are lovely and had been keeping an eye on her, but they said she would cry a lot whenever we left,” explains Belinda
“Staffys also love a good tummy drag or crawl and Sammi would drag her tummy from one side of the hallway runner to the other side, non-stop, and choose the longest patch of grass to do the very same thing outside.
“Given we were very aware of the ailments Staffys are prone to before Sammi joined our family, we knew we had to be careful with her diet and take action to prevent allergies. However, during my research I came across Field Day.
“I noticed that the initial diet plan I had put Sammi on wasn’t enough. So, after doing more research into Field Day’s meal toppers, I decided to try them. I choose Rise & Shine for immunity and skin support and Cool, Calm & Collected for behaviour and anxiety support.”
Since adding Field Day’s meal toppers to Sammi’s diet, Belinda says that the regularity of the skin rashes and anxious behaviour when Belinda would leave the home has decreased.
“Certainly, it was a few days before we noticed the difference in her joint mobility and just general springiness and alertness. The calming qualities were almost instant and as for her coat, we think the impact was within one or two days.
“I’m pleased to say our girl is happy, not scratching, and has zen moments as much as she has zoomie moments!”
Advice for Managing Anxiety in Pets
Ms Turner says it’s important to recognise there is an issue early and to be proactive with treatment and management.
“Try to be active in identifying and reducing or eliminating ‘triggers’ for their anxiety. Triggers might include you leaving the house, thunder, loud noises, children shouting, appliances, car trips etc.
“Aim to desensitise your dog very slowly with tiny exposures to the causative agent and positive reinforcements (such as praise and rewards) for desirable behaviours.
“Speaking to a professional, such as a vet or behaviourist, can be useful, as they will offer specific advice for your dog’s needs.
“You may choose to use medications and supplements, where needed and advised, to reduce anxiety and allow your dog’s brain a chance to switch off and allow new behaviours and trainings to take place.”
Pet Anxiety Since the Pandemic
“Since the pandemic began, I have seen an increase in dogs exhibiting anxious tendencies,” explains Ms Turner.
“More people are working/staying at home. And for dogs, constantly being around people during the pandemic has made them dependent on this contact.
“The pandemic has also led to dogs being poorly socialised. Puppy schools were not operating during. People were more cautious about going out and socialising during this time. Plus, many events that dogs would attend (sports events, markets etc.) were cancelled.
“We saw a huge increase in puppy ownership throughout the pandemic and many were first time or inexperienced owners who may not have realised the importance of socialising and exposing dogs to all sorts of things when young.
“In some instances, anxiety mat be as result of poor breed choice for the environment in which they are to live. For example, high energy or working breeds (collies, kelpies, huskies, pointers etc.) in small yards or even apartments.
“Now that life is getting back to normal and people have less time to dedicate to their pets, anxiety is likely to become more prevalent.”
How Soon Should We Expect to See Improvements from Supplements?
Ms Turner advises, “Depending on the severity and condition of the skin to start with, allergy supplements can be work relatively quickly.
“Supplements work by creating a better, more effective skin barrier and improving skin health. In general, a dog’s epidermis (outer skin layer) renews every 21 days. Therefore, if a dog is taking skin support supplements, we would expect to see an improvement within three weeks if infections are under control. Every three weeks thereafter we would expect an improvement in the skin quality, texture, sensitivity, and look.
“The efficacy of anxiety supplements is much harder to determine as some dogs can respond very quickly (within a week or so) and others may have minimal response after 6-8 weeks. In general, behavioural issues are slower to improve, so 6-8 weeks is not out of the ordinary. The response time varies more than for skin allergies, as the causes are much more varied, and the results/symptoms can be much more difficult to identify. Also, they can be more severe.”
How have you supported a pet with anxiety or allergies?