Itchy Dog? You've Likely Missed This Culprit

Like us, dogs can be allergic to all kinds of things in their environment, but one common item many people never even consider as a source of allergens is their pet’s bed.

Often it’s the filling in the bed that causes problems. Filling materials are often synthetic or latex memory foam, both of which your dog can be allergic to. In addition, if he’s been using the bed for a period of time, skin cells have accumulated under the fabric covering and on the surface of the foam, which is a magnet for dust mites — especially if there’s any moisture on the bed.

In addition to the filling, some outer fabrics are more allergenic than others. As Dr. Hyun-Min Kim, veterinary staff manager for the ASPCA Community Medicine Department tells PetMD:

“Manufacturing synthetic fabrics requires certain chemicals and processes. These chemicals, such as flame retardants, are known to be allergenic. Some fabrics also allow the accumulation of dust mites, mold, mildew and bacteria that can exacerbate skin sensitivities.”1

Dr. Kim recommends cover fabrics made of 100 percent cotton, hemp (a naturally grown crop that isn’t sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals) or a tightly woven microfiber fabric, as these materials are less likely to trigger an allergic response.

Why Dust Mites Are Such a Problem for Dogs

According to board-certified veterinary dermatologist Dr. John Gordon, dust mites are the most common environmental allergen in skin-allergy tested dogs. “A veterinary university study that evaluated the presence of house dust mites in pet beds found a significant increase in the amount of house dust mite allergen collected in pet beds older than one year,” he says.2 And this was the case no matter the type of bed or how it was cleaned.

In the average home, dust mites are found in materials like carpeting, upholstered furniture, mattresses, bedding and cloth toys (including dog toys). They thrive in warm, moist air (the kind we and our pets exhale during sleep) and darkness — which is why they are often found in bedding, both yours and your pet’s. Their bodies are translucent.

Dust mites survive on a diet of dead skin, bacteria, fungi and viruses in the environment. They prefer to feed on the skin of hypersensitive (allergic) individuals because the lipids in their skin are different from those of non-allergic people and pets. What makes them allergenic is a protein found in their feces.

Diagnosing and Treating Dust Mite Allergies

When you bring your itchy dog for a checkup, your veterinarian will look for a history that indicates his itchiness is non-seasonal, and is not related to either food sensitivities or skin parasites. Next, your pet should be skin- or serum-tested for sensitivity to dust mites.

If she receives a confirmed diagnosis of dust mite allergy, I recommend first trying to rid your home environment of mites. This can be challenging, because studies show the most effective method of treatment is to air out fabrics your pet is exposed to on either a hot, sunny or cold dry day for 12 hours, then vacuuming. Other suggestions include:

Switching to mattress covers made of micro-porous fabric (“dust mite covers”)
Covering your pet’s bed in a sheet that repels dust mites and washing it weekly
Washing bedding in hot water at least monthly, or in cold water and tea tree oil (10 drops per gallon)
Removing carpets from bedrooms
Vacuuming all carpets and upholstery often (at least weekly) using a vacuum with a HEPA filter
Steam-cleaning mattresses, pet bedding and upholstered furniture

Many veterinarians recommend immunotherapy (allergy shots or under-the-tongue drops). This is a much safer option than immuno-suppressant drugs like cyclosporine or corticosteroids. I prefer to hold off on powerful drugs that shut down the immune system, and instead, deal with the animal’s environment first, in conjunction with some other safe, common sense steps.

These include regular foot soaks and bathing to wash away allergens and soothe irritated skin; feeding a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate, anti-inflammatory diet; providing fresh, good-quality drinking water; and avoiding over-vaccinating/over-medicating to ensure your pet’s immune system remains strong and resilient.

You can also consider investing in an air purifier to control dust mites, and switching to nontoxic cleaning agents to lessen your pet’s overall toxic load. Keep in mind it only takes a miniscule amount of dust mite allergen to create an allergic response in your dog, so the more effective your mite eradication efforts, the more comfortable your allergic pet will be.

Replacing Your Dog’s Bed

Since often it’s your dog’s bed that triggers or exacerbates environmental allergies, especially to dust mites, another step you’ll want to consider is replacing the bed he’s currently using.

I recommend safe, organic bedding for your animal companion, which means avoiding the flame-retardant chemicals and other toxins often found in commercial pet beds sold at most retail stores, including pet stores. Pets who sleep in beds treated with flame retardants are receiving significant levels of exposure to those chemicals.

One particular type of flame retardant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, is a special problem. Studies have linked PBDEs with a number of health problems in both people and pets. Other flame-retardant chemicals include boric acid, which is a toxic respiratory irritant; antimony, a metal that is potentially more toxic than mercury; and formaldehyde, a well-known hazardous substance.

If your pet’s bedding isn’t labeled organic and free of flame retardants, you can assume it has been treated with these chemicals. When shopping for a safe dog bed, look for one that hasn’t been treated with chemicals, and is preferably made with organic materials that are naturally flame-resistant, for example, organic cotton or silk. Silk is a great material as well because dust mites can’t survive in silk.

You also want a bed that’s very comfortable and resilient to withstand rough treatment by your dog. Pet beds made with natural fibers are preferable to synthetic pet beds, which as I discussed earlier, can exacerbate skin allergies and cause overheating in your pet. Another important feature in a pet bed is a cover that can be easily removed for washing.

Laurelwood Animal Hospital,located near Jesuit High School on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway offers a full range of companion animal services, including surgery, nutrition and behavior counseling, parasite control and preventative medicine. The hospital also offers advanced imaging through an all-digital spiral CT scanner, a comprehensive dental program and laser treatment.

If you’re looking for quality, compassionate veterinary care in Beaverton, Oregon, come visit us at Laurelwood Animal Hospital.

Laurelwood Animal Hospital

9315 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway
Beaverton, Oregon 97005

Phone: (971) 244-4230
Fax: (503) 292-6808

E-mail: [email protected]