Allergies in Dogs: How to Help Your Dog Find Relief
Humans and dogs express allergies in different ways. While we tend to sneeze, dogs tend to itch. If you notice red, irritated skin in your dog or excessive paw licking, that might be a sign of an allergic reaction.
Allergies in dogs are more common than you think and more frustrating to treat because dogs can’t exactly tell us how they feel or what’s bothering them. Your vet will have to work tirelessly to determine the cause of the issue and find ways to alleviate allergy symptoms.
Let’s see how you can help your dog find relief!
What causes allergies in dogs?
Canines can be exposed to allergens through food, pollen, insect bites or fungal spores. Sometimes, a dog can experience an allergic reaction when lying down or brushing up against a particular surface.
Allergens trigger the immune system leading to the release of histamines, naturally occurring chemicals in a dog’s body. Too many histamines can cause a lot of discomfort in your dog, including swelling, itching and inflammation.
Depending on the allergen, location and severity of the response, inflammation can cause various symptoms and affect dogs of any age or breed. Sometimes your pet can even inherit allergies and other immune disorders. That’s why it’s always a good idea to ask a breeder about potential risks.
Your pet can develop allergies later in life as its immune system becomes sensitised and starts overreacting to a particular allergen. Most of the time, allergies appear when your dog is still young; if this isn’t enough, your pet can be allergic to more than one thing.
The most common allergy types in dogs
Skin allergies, food allergies and respiratory allergies are the most common types found in dogs. Let’s break them down and see how they affect your pet’s health.
Skin allergies in dogs
Dogs can either inhale allergens or trigger an allergic response through skin contact, which could lead to atopic dermatitis. Allergens such as mould, dust mites, pollen, cleaning products, fleas and shampoo are commonly found in your pet’s environment. Depending on the allergen your canine is allergic to, they might show symptoms year-round or seasonally.
One of the signs is skin irritation, which could be localised to ears and paws but can affect your pet’s entire body. Paw licking or chewing the parts of the body until the hair falls out is a common behaviour.
Your dog might get an ear infection that keeps returning even after the vet’s treatment. Their skin can become susceptible to secondary bacterial infection, especially if frequent scratching makes them break their skin. You will notice their skin looking scaly with oozy lesions.
Spider and insect bites can as well trigger an acute allergic reaction. Let’s not forget about fleas which are common culprits. A flea bite can cause an itchy rash and if your dog gets bitten on the face or in the mouth, their tongue or lips may swell up. If their breathing is impaired, you need to take them to the vet’s office immediately.
Your dog may suffer from contact allergies caused by something they are wearing, like a flea collar. If your dog experiences an allergic reaction to a flea collar, you will see a rash where the collar touches the skin. You may notice a rash on their belly or feet, parts of the body that often come into contact with problematic surfaces.
Respiratory allergies in dogs are quite similar to those humans experience. Most of the time, an inhaled allergen triggers an allergic reaction. It could be dust mites, pollen or something else that causes various respiratory symptoms like sneezing, coughing, runny eyes or itching. Respiratory allergies are less common in dogs than in cats.
Food allergies are rare in dogs and are usually a response to a protein source, like beef, chicken, eggs or dairy products. Dogs with food allergies will display symptoms like itchy ears, rash all over their body and paw licking. Some canines will experience gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting or diarrhoea.
How can you test your dog for allergies?
If you’ve ever been through allergy testing, you’ll know how complex it can be. When it comes to dogs, one of the first things your vet will do is rule out other conditions that could be causing your dog to experience symptoms.
If allergy is the cause, a vet will suggest testing to determine what allergen provokes an allergic reaction. Sometimes it’s not possible to find out the cause of the allergy.
You will use an elimination diet to diagnose food allergies. A trial consists of feeding your pet a novel protein source and a carb for twelve weeks.
Skin allergy testing involves giving your pet small doses of different allergens directly onto the skin. This procedure is performed at a vet clinic and your dog will need to be sedated. The steps include shaving your pet’s stomach, which is the area to be tested, while the vet injects approximately 60 common allergens under your dog’s skin and pays close attention to positive results.
The test is positive when welts or hives appear. You will receive fast results and this type of testing is more accurate than a blood test. This procedure can’t be performed on pregnant females or females in heat. Make sure to avoid bathing your dog five days before the testing.
A vet can take a sample of your pet’s blood to confirm or deny a presence of a specific antibody to indicate allergies. The accuracy of results will mostly depend on the lab and the type of tests used. In some cases, false positives could happen.
Treatment for skin allergies in dogs
You can treat dog allergies in several ways:
Many medicated shampoos contain compounds designed to soothe injured skin and calm inflammation. Frequent bathing, weekly or biweekly, could help your pet remove allergens from their hair, which might contribute to skin allergy flare-ups.
It is recommended to use medicated baths that feature antifungal and antimicrobial agents and ingredients that won’t dry out your pet’s skin due to frequent bathing.
Approximately one-third of dog owners report success with antihistamines. Depending on the individual dog and type of allergy, antihistamines tend to have different effects. For some, they work really well to control the symptoms; for others, the effects are minimal.
Vets suggest you should try at least three different types of antihistamines before you give up. The side effects associated with them are low and they are often quite affordable. Don’t take over-the-counter drugs and consult your vet before giving your dog any medication.
When buying these supplements, you should go for products that are high in omega 3 (EPA and DHA) and designed to soothe irritated skin. Other beneficial ingredients include biotin, linseed oil, vitamins E and C and zinc.
These ingredients found in skin supplements are known to help your dog and minimise sensitive and itchy skin. After a couple of uses, you should notice that your pet’s skin is softer and silkier. Omega 3 is a powerful ingredient that could help with hot spots.
By using skin and coat supplements, you are protecting your dog’s skin health and strengthening its natural barrier against allergens. This means that skin and coat supplements help reduce environmental allergies such as pollen and grass.
These supplements have a beneficial effect on a dog coat, making it shinier and healthier.
Allergies develop through exposure and most hypoallergenic diets include carbs and proteins your pet has never had. As we mentioned before, testing is the quickest way to determine which food your dog may or may not be allergic to.
Considering that wheat, beef and dairy are responsible for nearly 80% of canine food allergies, make sure to avoid them. Novel proteins like kangaroo, duck, egg, venison and some types of fish are used in the hypoallergenic diet. Carb sources include canned pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams, peas and potatoes.
Allergy shots are safe and many dog owners use them but they work very slowly - it might take 6-12 before improvement is seen. The vet first needs to identify the allergen and produce appropriate immunotherapy for that specific dog.
Your pet may receive injections over a period of weeks to several months until they develop immunity to the agent.
If you know that your dog is allergic to particular substances, then avoidance is the key. For example, you can reduce moulds by using dehumidifiers or control pollen and dust with an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.
Allergies can be persistent and require dedication and continuous care but with some patience, you can find the best treatment that will keep your pet symptom-free and comfortable.