Does your dog itch and scratch all day? She could have an Immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency, a condition that affects her skin and mucous membranes. IgA is an antibody that is critical for healthy skin and mucosal surfaces such as the mouth, GI, urinary and reproductive tracts. As a hereditary condition, certain breeds are more likely to get it than others. These include beagles, German shepherds and Shar-Peis, but Dr. Issam Kadri, owner of Richmond Hill Animal Hospital and a specialist in pet dermatology, says that other breeds can also develop IgA at any age.
While dogs affected with IgA are more prone to developing allergies and/or immune-mediated dysfunctions, the condition is often misunderstood, says Dr. Kadri. “We’re so accustomed to people suffering allergic reactions to weather, spores, pollens and foods that we immediately believe our dog has the same problem when she exhibits the same symptoms.” That’s not always the case, however, and signs of IgA deficiency typically include:
- Pustules and other skin infections
- Nasal discharge
- Coughing and sneezing
- Abnormal urination, bladder infection
- Vaginal discharge
If your veterinarian suspects an immune deficiency based on recurring and frequent infections of the skin, he or she will take blood samples from the dog to measure the levels of immunoglobulin. If the samples show reduced or absent IgA, the veterinarian will evaluate the dog taking account of its age as well. Serum IgA levels are always low in puppies and only reach maximum levels at between 15 and 18 months.By the time the dog reaches the age of 4 months they should increase enough to differentiate between normal levels and abnormally low levels. However, low IgA can also be found in dogs not suffering from an immune-deficiency, and in a young dog of less than one year old any deficiency could be temporary.
There’s no cure for a genetic flaw, so treatments for IgA deficiency to date have mostly revolved around treating the infections caused by it with immune-modulating vaccines that increase the production of antibodies. Most veterinarians with patients suffering from IgA deficiency also try to boost the dog’s immune system through supplementing its IgA with diet. Some pets also benefit from getting support for the thyroid and adrenal glands, as well as supportive therapy for the sex hormones.
By maintaining the health of a pet with IgA deficiency and providing support to help reduce the number of infections and inflammations that develop, you can vastly improve its quality of life. It requires regular checking of the immunoglobulin levels, and preventing the dog from relapsing back into a state of a compromised immune system. It also requires pro-active health care so you shouldn’t wait until the dog is sick to get attention, but try to pre-empt an attack or flare-up. By doing these things you can give your pet an average lifespan with a reasonable quality of life.
If you suspect your pet may have more severe skin problems than average, fill in a new patient form and send it through to use to schedule a consultation with Dr. Issam Kadri.