Allergies can literally cause a dog to tear his hair out, setting acute moist dermatitis (“hot spots”) into motion and triggering fits of paw-licking and head-shaking (caused by allergy-induced ear inflammation and infection). When this happens, many owners head to their veterinarians and beg for corticosteroids, antibiotics, pain-relievers, you name it; if it relieves the dog’s agony, they want it.
All of those medicines can help a dog who is in acute distress from an allergy attack. But drugs that are prescribed to address the fallout from the symptoms of allergy (scratching and chewing) shouldn’t be considered as long-term therapies for any but the most severely allergic dogs. It makes much more sense to try to identify the substances to which the dog is allergic, and then manage the dog’s exposure to those substances, than to continue giving him the food that causes so many problems and then treating those problems.
Most people who are allergic to shellfish avoid eating shellfish; few who have suffered swelling, hives, and itching after eating shellfish continue to eat the food and dose themselves with steroids in order to survive the aftereffects! So why do so many people take that approach with their dogs? We have two guesses: We suspect few veterinarians attempt to explain food-elimination trials to their clients, much less encourage owners to try one, because of the weeks of commitment and attention required. And we’d guess that many owners just want the problem treated right then, and when the dog’s itching stops overnight with a steroid, they put it out of their minds, as if the problem was solved.