With good looks and lovable, devoted personalities, it's easy to see how Labrador retrievers consistently remain America's most popular breed. If Labs have a downside, besides heavy, human-allergy-inducing shedding, it's proclivity to developing allergy problems of their own. Figuring out the triggers can take some trial and error.
In dogs, various types of allergies -- food, flea and environmental -- initially appear as skin problems. Known as atophy or atophic dermatitis, such conditions cause a Lab starts itching like crazy, leaving bare patches and lesions in the wake of his claws and teeth. If you Lab suffers from a flea allergy, even a single biting critter can set him off. That particular problem is usually solved with a good bath and monthly topical or oral anti-flea medication. Other allergies take longer to diagnose and control. Sometimes the vet will treat the immediate condition with one method and prescribe the monthly topical to prevent recurrence.
While the itching and hair loss are the most common symptoms of most allergies, your Lab might experience constant ear infections. When symptoms occur at certain times of the year, such as pollen season, environmental allergy is a suspect. If your Lab suffers from vomiting and diarrhea, it's likely that something in his diet is bothering him.
Your vet takes blood samples for your Lab for allergy testing at a laboratory, or might conduct intradermal testing by shaving off a small piece of hair and injecting common allergens into the skin to gauge the reaction. Tell your vet exactly what types of food and treats your Lab consumes, as well as any common table scraps you give him.
Food allergies are especially common in Labs. Common allergic triggers include the proteins in wheat, dairy products, beef, chicken, soy and eggs. In order to get to the bottom of your Lab's food allergy, your vet will have you eliminate certain items from your dog's diet. She might prescribe a veterinary diet designed specifically for canines with food allergies. During that time, your dog can't eat any treats or table scraps. According to VeterinaryPartner.com, Labs take longer than the typical six weeks to respond to a food diet trial. It could take three months or longer for you to see a difference in your Lab's allergic skin issues during such a food trial. Your vet might prescribe medication if your Lab experiences diarrhea and vomiting due to allergies. Once you find a diet that controls your Lab's symptoms, he'll probably stay on it for life.
If you suffer from hay fever, you probably wheeze and sneeze. Your Lab itches. Intradermal testing can indicate what common substances -- pollen, molds, grasses -- bother your dog. Your vet might prescribe medication for itch relief. She might also suggest immunotherapy, or giving your Lab a series of injections of the specific allergen to get his body used to that substance. If it works, he'll eventually tolerate the allergen or his reactions will be milder. Keeping your dog primarily indoors in an area serviced by an electronic air filter or purifier can also help during allergy season.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.