Does your dog have allergies? It’s more common than you might think. Some vets estimate about 10% of canine patients show signs of allergies. Likewise, researchers say allergies in dogs are on the rise, from food to pollen and beyond.
What can you do about dog allergy symptoms in your pet? There are actually dozens of relatively effective allergy treatments for dogs, but identifying an allergy trigger is the first step.
What are the Most Common Dog Allergies?
Dog allergy reactions vary greatly depending on the allergen, the dog, and the severity of the allergy itself. Like humans, dogs are more likely to be allergic to a handful of specific allergens. There are technically two specific kinds of dog allergies: food allergies and environmental allergies.
Dog Skin Allergies
Dog skin allergies are perhaps the most common of all allergic reactions. When a dog shows symptoms of skin allergies (itching, dry skin, constant scratching, inflammation), the root cause may be either food or environmental.
Here are some of the most common reasons for dog skin allergies:
If your dog’s skin allergies seem to pop up suddenly several times a year, it’s likely a seasonal allergen making her uncomfortable. Like humans, dogs can actually suffer from seasonal allergies when certain plants are in bloom. Irritants like mold, dust mites, pollen, and ragweed can affect dogs, and unlike humans, symptoms usually show up on the skin rather than in the respiratory tract.
Other environmental contaminants that may cause allergy symptoms in dogs include a chemical substance (like a new laundry detergent) or something she’s come into contact with, like poison ivy or a wool sweater.
The most common environmental allergen for dogs? Fleas. Flea allergies can actually cause a very specific reaction in the skin called allergic dermatitis, brought on by exposure to flea saliva. The condition can be very uncomfortable for your pet.
If your pet seems to have dog skin allergies but the symptoms don’t seem related to something in her environment, she may actually be suffering from dog food allergies. Many pet owners don’t even realize their dogs have a sensitivity to an ingredient in their food because food allergies can last for years without being detected.
Unfortunately, the skin-related symptoms of food allergies can often be worse than those brought on my seasonal triggers. Paw biting, excessive licking, rash, hives, and even oozing sores could all be a sign of dog food allergies.
If you suspect your dog has food allergy symptoms, talk to your vet immediately about testing your pet for allergies and/or switching your food to a hypoallergenic formula.
More About Dog Food Allergies
Which foods most commonly cause dog allergy reactions? You might be surprised! Like humans, dogs can be allergic to almost any food and in many cases it’s not just one food but a whole category of food that causes problems. Here are a few of the most common foods that cause allergies in dogs.
But how do you know if your pet is suffering from dog food allergies? If allergic to a certain ingredient in food, your dog may show acute symptoms that show up immediately after eating or symptoms that appear over time, such as skin reactions.
A few of the most common symptoms of allergies in dogs that are related to food include:
- Skin reactions including rash, itching, flaking, etc.
- Poor fur quality or dullness of hair
- Swelling in the ears, paws, or other extremities
- Red, irritated eyes accompanied by nasal discharge
- Inflamed ears or ears that are highly prone to infection
Many pet owners wonder how dogs develop food allergies in the first place. For the most part, food allergies in dogs are genetic just like they are for people, but some vets suggest there is evidence that antibiotics given to dogs as puppies and/or repeated exposure to certain ingredients may lead to allergies over time.
Remember, there’s a difference in food allergies in dogs and in foods that are toxic for dogs. Certain foods like chocolate, alcohol, grapes, and macadamia nuts are actually toxic to dogs, meaning their systems cannot process them. Toxic foods can be fatal to dogs in large doses while dog food allergies are rarely fatal except in the most severe of cases.
Read on to find out how to treat dogs’ allergies if you suspect they’re caused by food.
Common Dog Allergy Reactions
How can you tell when your dog is having an allergic reaction to something? Dog allergy symptoms can appear suddenly or gradually get worse over time, and in some cases, dogs can develop an allergy to something seemingly overnight that they’ve never had problems with before.
Let’s take a look at some of the most oft-reported dog allergy reactions by pet owners:
- Itchy, red skin or skin rash
- An increase in scratching or dandruff
- Runny, red eyes
- Itchy ears or ears that are frequently infected
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Chewing on paws
- Constant licking
- Hair loss or scabs on skin
Some of these symptoms can actually lead to bigger problems such as skin infections or even blood infections if the allergy is being caused by fleas. The best way to tell if a behavior is allergy-related is to monitor your pet closely. If the indicators seem to come and go depending on outside factors, there’s a good chance they are dog allergy symptoms. If you suspect it’s allergies dog is suffering from, make an appointment with your vet ASAP.
Dog Allergies Treatments and Remedies
Dog allergy reactions vary from pet to pet. What causes one dog to become lethargic, inflamed, and itchy might cause another to become ravenous and sneezy. How to treat dogs’ allergies depends on the animal, the allergen, and the severity of the reaction, so talk to your vet before starting any kind of allergy treatment regimen.
Dog Allergy Medicine
Pet owners are increasingly turning to specially-formulated allergy medicines for dogs to treat both seasonal and long-term allergy problems. These medicines come both over-the-counter and by prescription, but you should always check with your vet before starting your pet on any kind of medical treatment.
- Antihistamines: Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Claritin are frequently suggested by veterinarians for immediate relief of seasonal allergy symptoms in dogs. They can lose effectiveness over time and you should talk to your vet about specific dosages.
- Corticosteroids: Steroids such as betamethasone, dexamethasone and flumethasone are sometimes prescribed by vets for treatment of serious allergies in dogs. Most steroids are administered either orally or by injectable. Steroid usage can present a long list of side effects over time, so talk to your vet about quality of life for your dog.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy, also called “hyposensitization,” is a relatively young allergy treatment. Best when used as a last-resort, the treatment should be administered by a dog allergy specialist and takes continual monitoring and application over the course of weeks. It consists of injection of a commercially-altered antigen in an attempt to desensitize the dog’s system to the offending substance.
- Topicals: If dog skin allergies are a problem, it’s smart to start with a topical solution. Shampoos, rinses, and cremes that contain hydrocortisone, ceramides, and/or botanicals may be effective at lessening the symptoms of skin irritants.
- Oral Supplements: Some pet owners see a reduction in dog skin allergy symptoms when adding a supplement to the dog’s diet. Fatty acids, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, may help improve the condition of the skin and coat affected by allergies. Supplements come in many forms including pills, treats, and liquid.
Where possible, it’s also best to help your dog avoid any external causes of allergies. Dust, pollen, and environmental factors can be controlled but not eliminated, but every little bit helps. Wipe your allergic dog’s paws before coming inside, and consider investing in an air purification system for you home if seasonal allergies continually make your dog uncomfortable.
Treating Dog Food Allergies
The treatment for a dog food allergy is usually a bit more complicated than treating skin or environmental allergies. The only way to prevent dog food allergies from affecting your dog is to avoid the allergen altogether; isolating which food is actually causing the allergic reaction can be tricky.
Step One: Elimination Diet
The only way to determine exactly which food your dog is allergic to without visiting an allergy specialist is to implement an elimination diet. If you suspect your dog’s food contains something specific your dog is allergic to (like soy), switch to a brand that doesn’t contain soy but contains many of the same ingredients as the old food. Repeat the process as needed, eliminating as few ingredients as possible at once, until you feel confident you’ve determined which ingredient is the culprit. It will take at least two weeks for dog allergy symptoms to totally disappear, so an elimination diet often takes months to complete.
Step Two: Avoidance
If you’ve determined your dog is allergic to a very common food ingredient such as wheat, or even an entire category of food such as poultry, talk to your vet about a food plan. There are dozens of delicious, nutritious brands of food designed specifically for dogs with food allergies that avoid one or more common allergens.
In cases where a dog is allergic to many ingredients, hypoallergenic dog food may be the best option. Processed and packaged under careful conditions and usually only sold with a prescription, hypoallergenic food is a worthwhile investment if it lessens your dog’s allergy symptoms. Talk to your vet about the most recommended brands and how to know your dog is getting proper nutrition.
Remember: Any time you change your dog’s food you should expect a bit of “turbulence” at first. Diarrhea, loss of appetite, or other unusual occurrences are normal for a day or two. Try introducing a new food to your dog gradually to lessen the impact of the change.
What to Know About People with Dog Allergies
Although cat allergies are nearly twice as common as dog allergies in people, about 10% of people say they experience at least moderate allergy symptoms when exposed to household pets.
Did you know that in many cases, it’s not pet dander or fur that instigates a dog allergy symptom, but rather a protein found in the animal’s skin? Here are some important facts to know about people who are allergic to dogs.
- One in five people in the U.S. report at least some asthma or allergy symptoms
- Dog allergies are less common than cat allergies because protein-rich dog allergens are simply too heavy to float around the way cat allergens do. This means humans ingest less of them.
- The tendency to develop allergies appears to be hereditary. Children with two allergic parents have at least a 35% chance of developing allergies themselves.
- “New onset dog allergies” are those that seem to appear suddenly. People tend to build up a tolerance to an allergen over time, but that tolerance can be lost when exposure stops.
- Most people have one or more dog allergy symptom with contact. These can include respiratory distress, an itchy, red rash, or watery eyes.
- The only ways to treat dog allergies are avoidance, topical cremes, nasal sprays, eye drops, oral medications, or injectable medications administered by an allergy specialist.
- Although some dogs create fewer natural allergens than others, there is no true “hypoallergenic” dog breed with the exception of those that are hairless.
If you suspect you are allergic to dogs but already have a dog, there are a few things you can do to lessen your symptoms. Regular cleaning and vacuuming, consistently taking medication, and taking care to brush and wash your dog often can all reduce the dog allergy reactions you might have.
Does Your Pet Suffer from Dog Allergies?
Allergies in dogs are very common and in most cases, not preventable. If your pet suffers from dog allergy symptoms the best thing you can do is talk to your vet about making her more comfortable. It’s often easier than you think!
Have you dealt with allergies in dogs? If you have any useful tips or tricks for other loving dog owners, share them in the comments.