While any dog can suffer from allergies, it's almost a given with a soft-coated wheaten terrier. Various types of canine allergies show up as skin disorders. While common, these allergies are usually manageable with veterinary care. The wheaten is prone to some rare, more serious skin issues.
If your wheaten licks his paws constantly, itches and experiences hair loss, suspect allergies as the cause. Atopic dermatitis occurs when your wheaten's immune system overreacts to something in his environment, often pollens or dust mites. Fleas also cause this reaction, but using veterinarian-recommended topical or oral flea products usually solves the problem. Skin and blood tests can reveal the source of the allergy. Even if you've fed your dog the same type of food for years, an allergy can develop. Solving a food allergy issue is a matter of trial and error, as you must change the type of food your dog eats. Your vet might prescribe a special diets made without grains or containing meats not found in many commercial foods, such as rabbit or venison. Similar skin symptoms are seen in dogs suffering from environmental allergies. Your vet can prescribe medications to ease your dog's symptoms. You might need to keep your wheaten primarily indoors during high-pollen periods. You can install an air purifier, which helps canines and humans during allergy season.
The rare genetic condition known as cutaneous asthenia affects wheaten terriers. It causes skin to stretch and tear easily. While the torn areas usually don't bleed, sagging and scarring result as the skin heals. Overall, the dog's skin becomes very fragile and thin. Symptoms appear in young wheatens. Dogs with this condition shouldn't be bred. While your vet can make a tentative diagnosis by stretching your dog's skin for elasticity, she needs to perform a skin biopsy to confirm her suspicions. There's no cure for cutaneous asthenia, so management is key. You can't allow your affected wheaten to roughhouse or indulge in vigorous exercise, as those activities contribute to skin injuries.
Middle-aged wheatens might suffer from hyperadrenocorticism, an endocrine problem often referred to as Cushing's disease. It results from the adrenal gland going into overdrive and sending too much of the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. Skin disorders symptomatic of Cushing's disease include hair loss, dryness, darkening and the appearance of hard lumps. Your wheaten's skin damages easily, or he suffers from recurrent skin infections. Treatment includes surgery to remove the (usually benign) tumor on the adrenal gland that's causing the problem, or medications to slow hormone production.
Wheaten terriers are prone to two diseases resulting in protein wasting: protein-losing nephropathy and protein-losing enteropathy. A dog with one of these diseases is unable to make use of protein efficiently, excreting rather than absorbing it. While skin disorders are not necessarily a sign of these serious ailments, dogs with other dermatological problems appear more likely to come down with PLN or PLE. The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America reports that research is ongoing to determine if certain substances, or antigens, trigger the the immune-mediated response eventually resulting in these diseases. While the skin disorders generally appear in young dogs, protein-wasting disease symptoms, such as fluid retention, occur in middle-aged wheatens. Unfortunately the prognosis for either disease—some dogs might have both—is not good.
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.