Dog Allergies: How To Help Your Pooch Feel Better

Key takeaway

Dog allergies can cause itching, rashes, hives, swelling, and other uncomfortable symptoms. No dog deserves to suffer from these symptoms, which is why it’s crucial to figure out the source and proper course of treatment for your furry friend.

Dog allergies are a reaction to a foreign substance in a dog’s immune system. Dog allergies usually fall into three categories: food allergies, flea allergies, and environmental allergies. The symptoms and severity vary for each type, but overall, dog allergies can be quite debilitating for your pet.

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing what causes dog allergies, dog allergy symptoms, how to treat a dog with allergies, and more. Find the proper course of treatment for your sick pup so they can be back to their lively and happy selves as quickly as possible.

Causes: What Are Dogs Allergic To?

Allergies are observed in all breeds of dogs and symptoms of allergies generally appear1 after a dog is six months of age. Dog allergies can be a result of fleas, food, environmental allergens, or a combination of several different causes; to properly diagnose and treat your sick pup, it’s important to determine what agent is causing their allergic reaction.

Dog allergies typically fall into three categories: 

  • Food: Symptoms of food allergies in dogs can range from skin ailments, such as hives, itching, and facial swelling, to stomach issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea. It’s also important to make a distinction between food sensitivity and food allergy; if your dog is sensitive to a certain ingredient in their food, they’ll typically have more of a gradual reaction. If they have a food allergy, the immune response will come on much more rapidly. Food allergies can appear at any time and any age, since they require previous and repeated exposure to an allergen2
  • Fleas: Dogs can be allergic to flea bites or flea saliva. This allergy will cause itchiness and red and inflamed skin. This commonly affects a dog’s ears, rump, and belly. A flea allergy tends to be quick to diagnose, as your vet can often see the fleas or flea dirt on your dog.
  • Environment: Environmental allergies are also quite common in dogs. Environmental allergens can include dust, pollen, and mold. These substances may cause an atopic allergic reaction or atopic dermatitis. Environmental allergies are usually seasonal and will mostly affect a dog's ears and paws. The age of onset for environmental allergies typically ranges from 6 months to 6 years of age1
Graphic with list of common allergens
Additional types of dog allergies include:
  • Bee stings: Some dogs are allergic to bee stings. Severity of reaction can range from mild swelling at the reactive site to anaphylactic shock. Symptoms of a bee sting allergy include swelling, severe itching, hives, and vomiting.
  • Vaccines: Some dogs can experience an allergic reaction to vaccines, but in most cases, the reaction is short-lived and mild. However, a severe allergy can cause anaphylactic shock, so it’s important to closely monitor your pet after they receive any vaccine. 

Symptoms Of Allergies In Dogs

Symptoms of allergies in dogs can differ depending on the type and severity of a given allergy. Some dogs might have itchy skin, while other dogs may have gastrointestinal symptoms. Being able to identify dog allergy symptoms is an important step in treating your dog's allergies. 

Graphic listing common dog allergy symptoms

Some of the most common dog allergy symptoms include: 

  • Itchiness
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face, ears, lips, or eyelids
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy ears
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Constant licking of the paws and/or genital area
  • Recurring paw infections
  • Hair loss

While these are all common dog allergy symptoms, they can also be symptoms of numerous other health conditions. So before treating a symptom, it is important to get a diagnosis from a veterinarian.

How Are Dog Allergies Diagnosed?

Before your vet does any type of allergy testing, they’ll try to rule out any other health condition that could be causing your pet’s symptoms. If your vet determines it’s most likely an allergy making your pet sick, they may suggest these options:

  • Allergy testing: Dog allergy testing can either be done with a blood test or an intradermal skin test. With an intradermal skin test, a small amount of the test allergens are injected underneath the dog’s skin and then monitored to see which, if any, allergens cause a reaction. An injection that causes redness, swelling, or hives could indicate that the dog is allergic to that substance. With blood allergy testing, a small amount of the dog’s blood will be drawn and then sent to be analyzed. Blood testing is much easier for the dog and less time-consuming, although these tests have other pros and cons which should be discussed with a veterinarian, to decide what is the best fit for your pet. 
  • Elimination diet: Your vet may also suggest doing an elimination diet to determine if a specific ingredient is triggering your dog’s allergies or if your pet may just have a food sensitivity. An elimination diet entails changing your dog’s diet to one with a limited list of ingredients, all of which contain no known allergens. With an elimination diet, you’ll pick a protein source and a carbohydrate source to feed your dog for a minimum of 8-12 weeks, avoiding all other treats, chews and flavored ingestible medications. You’ll then slowly start to introduce other foods back into your dog’s diet one at a time so that you can identify exactly what ingredient is causing their allergies.

In order to diagnose your dog’s allergies properly, work alongside your vet to determine a method that works for both you and your dog. Once your animal has been diagnosed with a specific allergy type, then comes the most important part: finding a treatment plan that works for you.


Treatment for Dog Allergies

There are various methods for treating allergies in dogs, and your vet can help you determine which is right for your dog. Treating dog allergies is not a one size fits all situation—what works for one pup might not for another, so it’s important to consider what suits their needs best.

The correct treatment method depends on a few factors, like the symptoms your dog has, the severity of these symptoms, and if they have any pre-existing medical conditions. Discuss with your vet the various dog allergy treatment methods so that you can be sure to find the best and safest one.

 Graphic with list of dog allergy treatment options

These are some ways you can treat your dog’s allergies: 

  • Avoiding the allergen to prevent reactions: To help alleviate symptoms from your dog’s allergies, ridding their living space of the allergen is key. However, this might not always be possible. For example, if your dog is allergic to dust, there’s no way you can remove dust from your home entirely. Additionally, avoiding the allergen to prevent reactions is only effective for certain types of allergies.. 
  • Changing diet: If your dog has a food allergy, the best way to treat them is through diet. For instance, if you identify that they’re allergic to chicken, you’ll want to remove that from their diet entirely. Check the ingredient list on both their food, treats, and medications such as chewable monthly flea and tick prevention. Giving your dog fatty supplements and probiotics may also help with symptoms. However, if your dog is allergic to multiple ingredients, they may have to go on a hydrolyzed diet. A hydrolyzed diet can be prescribed by a veterinarian and contains proteins that have been broken down into pieces so small that the immune system cannot recognize them, and thus won't trigger an allergic reaction. 
  • Allergy relief meds: Medication is another way to provide allergy relief for dogs. Allergy relief medications can help alleviate symptoms, like itching and skin irritation. Make sure you check with your vet first so that you give your dog the appropriate dose based on their size and allergy severity.

If your dog suffers from atopic dermatitis as a result of their allergies, which is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy, there are a few additional treatment options. Some of these treatment options include:

  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is one way to treat a dog with atopic dermatitis. Immunotherapy entails taking the results from allergy testing and using it to make a custom serum to train your dog’s immune system. Your dog will receive a series of injections with a goal to slowly desensitize them to their allergens. However, it may take years for the immune system to respond.
  • Cytopoint injections: Cytopoint injections are a safe and a more long-lasting treatment that can help relieve a dog's itching, working for anywhere from 3-8 weeks. Cytopoint injections work by targeting and neutralizing one of the main proteins that send itch signals to your dog's brain. Your veterinarian can administer the injection and for some dogs, it will stop the urge to itch or scratch their skin.
  • Apoquel: Apoquel® (oclacitinib tablets) is an anti-itch, antiinflammatory medicine that works by inhibiting cytokines, a chemical that creates inflammation. Tablets may be prescribed once or twice daily, with or without food. If prescribed once daily, the tablet can be given either morning or night, depending on when your dog is most itchy.2
  • Topicals: Giving your dog medicated topical shampoos or mousse is another way to provide relief from dog allergy symptoms. Medicated shampoos can be very effective at treating atopic dermatitis However, they come in a huge variety for the many different allergy presentations, so make sure to discuss which is appropriate for your dog with your vet prior to use. These shampoos can help to relieve skin infections and dry irritated skin.
  • Immune suppression therapy: A variety of immune suppressors can be used to treat certain signs of allergies in dogs. Immune suppressors work by leveraging a combination of drugs to manage and suppress an abnormal immune response. Steroids and other immune suppressors such as cyclosporine and Apoquel may be used.3

When to See a Vet

Dog allergies are not something to be taken lightly. Not treating your dog’s allergies may exacerbate the issue at hand, making life less comfortable for you and your pet. But in order to treat your pup and get them back to their healthy and happy ways, it’s important to discuss their symptoms with a trained, licensed veterinarian. Bringing your dog to the vet also ensures that the symptoms aren’t a result of a more serious health condition. 

A severe allergic reaction may also require an emergency visit to the vet. For instance, if your dog goes into anaphylactic shock, they will need immediate emergency vet care. Signs of anaphylaxis in dogs can include itching, red skin, swellings, hives, swollen face, excessive salivation, collapse, shock, and death.

Definition of allergy

Dog Allergies: Frequently Asked Questions

If your dog suffers from allergies, that doesn’t mean that they have to suffer. While allergies are a lifelong and incurable condition, there are many options and friendly veterinarians who would love to help find the plan that works for your animal. 

If you have a dog with allergies, your mind is probably flooded with questions. To help provide some clarity, we’ve gathered some of the most frequently asked questions about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of dog allergies:

What is the most common allergy in dogs?

Allergies will differ for each dog, but some of the most common allergens are pollen, mold spores, dust mites, shed skin cells (similar to pet allergies in humans), insect proteins (such as flea saliva), and some medications. The most common food allergens are proteins, especially those from beef, lamb, chicken, and dairy products. Similar to humans, dog allergies can be seasonal or year-round.

How can you tell if your dog has allergies? 

There are various telltale signs that indicate that your dog is likely suffering from allergies. Some of these signs include itchiness, hives, swelling, sneezing, and inflamed skin. While these are all common dog allergy symptoms, they can also be symptoms of other illnesses or health conditions. So make sure to see your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis.

How can I help my dog with allergies?

Dog allergies can be quite debilitating for your pet, but fortunately, there are many ways you can help them. If your dog suffers from a food allergy, change their diet to eliminate the troublesome ingredient. If your dog suffers from a flea allergy, apply a flea-repellent on them year-round. You can also give your dog allergy medication to temporarily reduce their urge to itch. To reduce pet allergens at home, make sure to keep your house clean and free of dust, bathe them often, and keep their crates clean. Having a clean living space is ideal for a dog who is prone to allergies.

Puppy sniffing flower in a field

Final Notes

The first step in treating your dog’s allergies is identifying the source of their reaction.  Once your veterinarian has determined the culprit, carefully monitor your dog’s symptoms so you can play a key role in your pet’s treatment plan. The final, most important step is figuring out a treatment plan.

You and your vet will work together to figure out a solution that suits your pet’s needs. Ideally, finding a combination of symptom-reducing medication applied while the allergen is determined and reduced will give your pet the best possible outcome. It’s important to find an effective treatment method so that your pup can be back to their happy and healthy self.

Dutch.com is an online tele-veterinary service where pet owners can connect with licensed veterinarians from the comfort of their own homes. These veterinarians can prescribe the proper allergy medication your dog needs to get better; if your vet decides prescription medication is the right treatment solution, that medication will be shipped right to your door within 7 days. 

Dutch will help you get the medication your pup needs quickly and easily, so they can go back to living their happy, comfortable life as soon as possible.

References

  1. Hnilica, K. A., & Patterson, A. P. (2017). Chapter 7: Hypersensitivity Disorders. In Small animal dermatology a Color Atlas and therapeutic guide (pp. 190–192). Elsevier.
  2. Questions and Answers - UW Veterinary Care. https://uwveterinarycare.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Apoquel-2018.pdf
  3. “Immunosuppressive Therapy.” MU Veterinary Health Center, 10 July 2015, http://vhc.missouri.edu/small-animal-hospital/small-animal-internal-medicine/diseases-and-treatments/immunosuppressive-therapy/