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Does Your Pup Have Dog Allergies [A Complete Guide On How To Tell & What To Do]

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 12, 2018

Author: Michelle Wallace

There is nothing like the love and affinity you have with your pup. No wonder dogs are man’s and woman’s best friend! Unfortunately, our commonalities with canines also apply to some challenging health conditions, including dog allergies.

Are you wondering if your pup could have dog allergies, as opposed to a cold or flu? If your pooch starts sniffling or coughing or shows any signs that trouble you, call your veterinarian. Your dog could be reacting to seasonal allergies or a new dog food, or they could also have another condition or infection that requires different and specific treatments.

Your vet can help sort this out. If allergies are suspected, he or she will likely:

  • Request your dog’s medical history
  • Do a physical exam

If these aren’t conclusive, your vet will likely perform other tests to determine what is causing your dog’s grief.

Symptoms of Dog Allergies

symptoms of dog allergies

One major difference between colds and flu versus allergies is the itch. Look for signs of irritation and redness. Is your dog scratching more? Are they frequently scooting across the floor? Does their skin look red or are there scabs from too much scratching? Does the skin on their belly look irritated? How about their ears? If they’re scratching there, look for signs of an ear infection. Are their eyes watery?

Dogs may scratch with their feet or they may lick or chew their skin. If you suspect allergies, check the face, ears, feet, belly and armpit area for signs of problems, as these are the most common areas affected by allergies.

Look for red or irritated skin, a rash, or hives. The itch may be focused in certain areas, which can offer a clue to the cause. For example, if your dog seems focused on itching their back near the base of their tail, they may be suffering from a flea allergy.

All this scratching can result in atopic dermatitis, irritation of the skin due to allergens. If unchecked, it can lead to secondary infections related to overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. If this happens, dogs can lose hair in areas and their skin may form scabs or crusts.

Besides itching, look for the following possible allergy signs:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Poor coat quality

Vomiting and diarrhea are other allergy symptoms more associated with food allergies. In some dogs, other signs can include coughing and even snoring, which can occur when a dog’s throat is sore or inflamed.

Rule Out Other Possibilities

scratching symptom of dog allergies

If you notice intense itching and hair loss in areas, another possible cause is sarcoptic mange, a problem caused by mites. The major difference between this condition and something like a food allergy is that it’s highly contagious. These mites will quickly travel from dog to dog and burrow into their skin.

Intense scratching, whether due to these  particular mites or allergies, can cause hair loss in patches. Both conditions can also cause a skin rash. However, if your dog has sarcoptic mange, you’ll need to keep him quarantined during treatment so that he doesn’t infect other dogs. This is another reason why it’s so important to see your vet for an accurate diagnosis.

Causes of Dog Allergic Reactions

You may wonder why allergies happen in the first place. For both people and dogs, they happen when the immune system overreacts. When a substance or food is flagged by the immune system as potentially dangerous (even when it is not), the body fires off antibodies in response. The symptoms that follow, such as congestion, sneezing and irritation, are meant to try to dispel the offending substance and keep the body safe. As a result, the skin and the respiratory and digestive systems can all be affected.

Types of Dog Allergies

Dogs can react to allergens by breathing them in (inhalant), exposure through the skin (contact) or by ingesting them. A flea bite can also cause a reaction.

There are, in fact, four allergy types, including:

  1. Atopy
  2. Flea
  3. Food
  4. Contact

Atopy refers to environmental allergies, such as allergies to grass, pollen or dust mites.

Common Dog Allergies

Allergic reactions can occur after your dog is exposed to a wide variety of substances. Some of the most common allergens your dog may react to include:

  • Pollen (grass, weed, tree or flower pollen)
  • Dust
  • Mold

Fleas and flea-control products are another common cause of allergic reactions. It only takes a few flea bites to cause some dogs several weeks of itching.

Various chemicals and manufactured products are also potential allergy upstarts, including:

common dog allergies

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfumes
  • Insecticidal shampoo
  • Fabrics
  • Plastic and rubber materials
  • Cleaning products

Dog Skin Allergies

You may be surprised to learn that contact with some fabrics as well as feathers (such as those in a down blanket or pillow) can trigger dog allergies. It may seem odd to think of, but dogs can even be allergic to animal and human dander. If you find your own dog is allergic to you, don’t fret, though. There are allergy medications for this too.

Dog Food Allergies

dog food allergies

Then, of course, there are food allergies. The list of possibilities is quite extensive:

  • Grains: corn, wheat, rice
  • Proteins: chicken, beef, eggs, pork, rabbit, fish, lamb
  • Root vegetables: potatoes, carrot, sweet potatoes, yams
  • Legumes: peanuts, lentils, peas, beans, soy
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese

If you find your dog is allergic to one food, it’s likely he is also allergic to others. While it can seem daunting, it’s so important to do the work to uncover the triggers of your dog’s allergies. With repeated exposure, an allergic reaction can become more severe. A food that is mildly irritating the first time your dog eats it could cause serious, life-threatening problems the next time he eats it, or as he continues to be exposed.

If you do find your dog has food allergies, the good news is that there are more food options available as substitutes, including kangaroo and venison.

Best Dog Food for Allergies

If you suspect food allergies, get your dog tested by your veterinarian. Also, you may consider switching to a grain-free dog food. Going grain-free has been shown to help some dogs, especially if the symptoms include itching, vomiting, loose stools, or persistent ear infections — all hallmarks of food allergies.

How are Dog Allergies Diagnosed?

If your dog’s symptoms don’t respond well to initial treatment, allergy testing may be in order. Depending on your dog’s specific symptoms, your vet may perform a blood or skin test, or if food allergies seem likely, he or she may recommend a special food elimination diet.

Blood test

A blood test checks for antibodies in your dog’s blood triggered by antigens (or an allergic reaction). There are two standard tests: 1.) RAST test (radioallergosorbent) 2.)  ELISA test (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Each test works similarly, but veterinarians sometimes favor the ELISA as generally more accurate.

Once your vet takes a blood sample for either test, he or she sends it to a lab where it is screened for various allergens, such as pollen, dust and molds. Your vet can also test for reactions to different foods and fabrics suspected of causing contact allergies, such as cotton or nylon. However the tests perform less accurately for these allergens. If your dog undergoes a blood test, it may take several weeks to get results.

Skin Test

A skin test shows a reaction right on your dog’s skin. If you’ve ever had a skin prick test for allergies, this testing, called an intradermal skin test, will sound familiar. It’s a simple test that is not traumatic for your dog, even though it involves many small injections. It requires that your dog have a 4- to 6-inch area shaved for the test. This is where a veterinary dermatologist will inject each potential allergen to see if there is a reaction. Usually a veterinary dermatologist will inject 50 substances, including the most common allergy triggers in canines as well as those more tailored to your geographic region.

Within 15 minutes, a hive or welt will appear at the site of any injection that is an allergen. Your veterinarian will study the amount of redness and degree of reaction to identify which substances are most problematic for your dog. One remedy for the allergies may sound a little like “hair of the dog”. In this scenario, allergens are combined in specific concentrations and used to create an allergy shot.

Saliva Test

saliva test dog allergies

You may want to ask your veterinarian about whether a saliva test would be appropriate for your dog. It’s an alternative method offered by some holistic veterinarians. The tests vary, and some claim to uncover food sensitivities and intolerances rather than allergies. There are also home kits available that you can use to send saliva and hair samples out for testing, though you want to talk to your vet about their accuracy.

Food Elimination Diet

A food elimination diet involves stripping down your dog’s diet to the barest essentials and then slowly reintroducing potential problem foods until you see a reaction. The whole process can take anywhere from three to six months. Your vet may have you start with a prescription or hydrolyzed protein diet or you may start with a very simple diet, like turkey and sweet potatoes and move on from there if you can see there are no reactions to these foods. No matter how you proceed, it’s important to stick to the diet at all times. Remember not give your dog any treats or foods outside of meal times that veer from the diet.

Each week, you can reintroduce a new food and watch for any changes or signs of irritation. Once you find an offending food, you can work to keep it out of your dog’s diet in any form. If chicken is a trigger, for example, you’ll avoid chicken protein and fat. Sometimes, a dog will require home cooked meals to avoid allergies. It’s important to work closely with your vet if you go this route to be sure there are no nutritional deficiencies.

If the elimination diet doesn’t work and symptoms persist, chances are the allergies are not food-related. Something in the environment may be the culprit.

Breeds That Are Susceptible To Dog Allergies

breeds that are susceptible to dog allergies

While any dog can develop allergies at any age, there are some breeds that are more at risk. It’s estimated that ten percent of all dogs are allergy sufferers.

Some of the breeds more commonly affected include:

  • Terriers
  • Golden retrievers
  • Pugs
  • Bulldogs
  • Boston terriers
  • Irish setters
  • German shepherds
  • Boxers
  • Dalmatians
  • Beagles

Breed susceptibility may also be affected by your geographic location.

Dog Allergies Prevention

Some allergies are hard or nearly impossible to prevent, particularly those caused by the environment. It may require a combination of minimizing exposure to allergens in combination with medications. But there are some non-medical things you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable.

To help with itchy skin due to any allergy, you also may consider giving your dog fatty acid supplements containing omegas/omega-3 fatty acids to moisturize his skin. Oatmeal and aloe sprays are also available. Also, if you notice areas of inflammation on the skin, you can also apply aloe vera gel, or make a homemade paste of either baking soda and water or oatmeal and water. These are soothing, safe remedies you can try. (If you use the oatmeal, make sure your dog doesn’t have an oatmeal allergy.)

If it’s fleas…

Use flea products. Flea allergy does require flea control products for prevention. With the advice of your veterinarian, you want to either use these products all year around or start them before the flea season starts. If you have indoor pets, keep in mind that they can still get fleas if you also have outdoor pets that carry fleas into your home.

If it’s dust…

Wash bedding regularly. One way to battle a dust allergy is to wash your dog’s bedding regularly or 1x/week. Also, vacuum your home frequently. Look around your house for areas that can collect dust, such as curtains and rugs, and work to keep these as dust-free as possible.

Bathe your dog more often. You may also give your dog more regular baths, but be careful that the kind of shampoo you use is not irritating or drying to your pet’s skin. A hypoallergenic shampoo or anti-itch shampoo can work. Check the ingredients label for soothing ingredients like aloe or oatmeal, which are signs of a gentle shampoo. You can also talk to your vet; if needed, he or she may prescribe a particular shampoo (such as one that prevents infections) for your dog.

If it’s dander or pollen…

Wipe down your dog after walks. Grass, weed, tree pollen and other allergens are often encountered on walks. Generally, they can’t be avoided as the pollen is carried in the air for miles. This is why there tends to be exposure whether you walk in urban areas or through parks and woods. You can help minimize the effects of these allergens by immediately wiping down your dog with a damp towel or with wipes designed for this purpose after your walks.

If it’s mysterious…

Beware of shampoo residue. Let’s say you find that your dog is itchy with a red underbelly and a dull coat, but you aren’t sure why. It could be environmental or dog food allergies, and you should check with your vet. But also, consider if you may be unwittingly causing the problem with every bath you give your dog.

One of the leading causes of skin irritation in dogs may surprise you: Shampoo residue. If this could be the problem, oh happy day! This is easy to fix. Try a milder shampoo and then wash, rinse, repeat the rinse. Then, repeat the rinse for a third and final time just to be safe!

Keep in mind that shampoos can contain irritating ingredients. Be sure you’re using shampoo formulated for canines and look for natural ingredients on the label.

Allergy Medicine For Dogs

Can I give my dog Benadryl?  

Environmental allergies can be particularly challenging to treat. As you often can’t prevent exposure, your veterinarian may recommend medications, such as antihistamines (Benadryl or Claritin) in combination with corticosteroids, to dampen down the symptoms. However, it’s critical that you work with your veterinarian rather than working on your own to give your dog antihistimines. It’s for the safety of your dog and ensures the proper dosage. Another consideration regarding antihistimines is that they can slowly lose effectiveness with continued use.

Don’t forget shampoos, rinses, and sprays

There are a variety of products, available both over-the-counter and from your veterinarian, that can work alongside other therapies to ease dog allergies. Non-drying and medicated shampoos and rinses are often vital in your dog’s treatment plan. Sprays also can help treat infections and moisturize skin.

Allergy shots, anyone?

dog allergy shots

Allergy shots/immunotherapy are a drug-free option for both dogs (and people) with allergies. It involves injecting your pet with limited amounts of the allergens. Over time, the concentration of the allergens is increased as your dog can tolerate them. This makes your dog’s immune system less sensitive. As he receives the shots over months or years, he’ll be able to better tolerate or accept the allergens themselves.

While this method takes time, it can slowly relieve your dog of symptoms by retraining your dog’s immune system and preventing symptoms rather than masking the problem. The shots not only help existing allergies but also stop allergies from progressing. For some dogs, this method is 80 percent effective in easing allergy symptoms.

When your dog starts immunotherapy, he may need more frequent injections, but as his symptoms improve, he may only need maintenance shots which may be spaced further apart.

Also, if you prefer not to give your dog shots, you may be able to give him sublingual immunotherapy under the tongue (SLIT) instead. With this method, you use a pump to squeeze the allergen formulation into their mouth.

If allergy shots don’t work for your dog…

If you try immunotherapy for your dog and it doesn’t work, there is another, less ideal option. It involves the use of immune-suppressants (or immune modulators), such as Atopica and Apoquel. This type of drug works by weakening an overactive immune system to keep it from firing alarms in the presence of harmless allergens.

While these drugs offer another option for tough allergy cases, they can cause unwanted side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Also, they make your dog’s immune system weaker, which increases their risk for infection.

Home Remedies for Dog Allergies

Oatmeal for itchy skin

As long as your dog isn’t allergic to oatmeal, it can work well in a bath or in a poultice to calm down irritated skin. It’s natural and easy to use. Just grind the oatmeal down, mix it with water and apply directly to the skin on any inflamed areas. In a bath, add it to the water and allow your dog to soak for up to 10 minutes.

Coconut oil for flea prevention

You can give your dog coconut oil to help prevent fleas. Look for oil that is high in lauric acid, which will make it more effective. To use it, apply it to directly to their coat and/or simply feed it to them.

Care for irritated, watery eyes

Do you notice your dog scratching at their eyes? Do you see a discharge? Are they watery? Talk to you vet to rule out any eye injuries or infections that need other treatment. At home, gently clean their eyes with a warm, wet washcloth. To dry, just dab gently. Be sure to clean the eyes at least once per day.

A final word on dog allergies

Keep in mind that effective allergy treatment will vary by each individual dog. Sometimes, especially in tough cases, it’s a matter of trial and error to find the most effective solution. But in the end, your pet will thank you with a happy dance.



About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for Honestpaws.com.