Allergies in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Did you know ‌allergies are one of the most common health issues that canines have? Like humans, dogs can be allergic to food, dust mites, pollen, grass, weeds, medications, and ingredients used in flea and tick collars. 

Find out the symptoms of allergies in dogs, treatment options, home remedies, and determine if the allergies are seasonal or not.

white dog scratching his head because of allergies sitting in the grass

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Allergies?

You may wonder how to determine if your dog does in fact have an allergy. Some of the common signs of allergies are sneezing, runny nose, excessive scratching, licking, red patches on their skin, and even hair loss. 

Some dogs may have swelling in their throat, problems breathing, diarrhea, and even vomiting in severe cases. If they have any of these symptoms, they need to visit their local vet as soon as possible. 

If you suspect that they have an allergy or intolerance, you can use these methods below to narrow down what is causing the problem. 

What is an Allergy and Types of Dog Allergies 

An allergen is what triggers a canine’s immune response. When there is a hypersensitivity, it becomes an allergy. Their bodies produce antihistamines which result in the symptoms you may see. 

There are several common types of allergies that occur in dogs. 

Diet Related – many dog food products can have ingredients such as corn, soy, wheat, dairy, and proteins, all of which canines could be allergic to. 

Environmental – we relate these to pollen, mold spores, grass, plants, and dust 

Fleas – Canines may contact dermatitis from flea bites as they can be allergic to the saliva. 

Once an allergy flares up, your pup may begin to bite, scratch, and lick, which can lead to secondary fungal and bacterial infections that have to be treated with a veterinary prescription. 

Anaphylactic Reactions 

While acute reactions are rare, canines can be so allergic to things like bee stings and vaccinations that may cause their throat to swell up. If they aren’t treated immediately, it can be fatal. These situations require emergency veterinary attention.

small white dog with owner showing red skin allergy

Determining the Allergen: Start With Your Dog’s Diet

One of the chief causes of allergies is food-related. Especially if you notice the symptoms year round. While dogs can be allergic to proteins such as meat, most of the time it’s because of wheat, soy, or corn. 

Lower quality dog foods use tons of fillers as the key ingredient, which could be why the allergy is occurring. 

To determine if it is food-related, eliminate all table scraps from their diet, including fruits. Keep them on the same dog food for one week and see if the allergy symptoms subside. If not, it’s time to switch up their kibble.

If the key ingredients in their current food are wheat, soy, or corn, consider moving to higher quality food that is filled with lean meats. 

Once they start on the new food, see if you notice the itching and scratching being less often. Maybe their skin issues resolve. If this is the case, that means it is food related. 

If you would rather not go with dog food, you can give them cooked lamb, turkey, or chicken. But only feed them these ingredients one at a time for at least a week. 

Chewy has an entire line of dog food that is specifically formulated for skin and coat health that are often recommended by vets.

Why Do You Only Introduce One New Food At A Time To Your Dog’s Diet?

When you are trying to determine the culprit of canine allergies, it has to be one thing at a time. If you start changing multiple factors and symptoms improve, then you won’t know which is causing the allergy

After you start your pup on their new diet, you can slowly add back in old foods one at a time. If you start noticing allergy symptoms again, there you have it. You will know exactly what’s causing the problem. 

Even though this process may seem time-consuming, it’s well worth it. However, if your dog has serious allergies, it may be worthwhile to have testing done through your local veterinarian.

Homemade Dog Food 

Making your own dog food may be a feasible option, but it’s really hard to get the ratio of ingredients to nutrition correct. This would be something else to speak to your vet about just to be on the safe side. 

Ingredients such as meat, pumpkin, and peanut butter are all safe for pups (as long as they are not allergic) and have a nice nutrition profile as well. 

Raw dog food diet

Some pet parents believe that the raw food diet is the best way to go, especially for larger dogs like retrievers, shepherds, and Great Danes. 

However, most veterinarians are against this idea because of the possible infection of E. Coli and salmonella. Both which can be deadly to dogs. 

Before swapping your pooch to a strict raw food plan, talk to your vet first and get their advice.

Environmental Allergies: Pollen And Dust Mites

So if your dog doesn’t have a food allergy it must be something else, right? Maybe you are noticing excessive scratching and licking during certain times of the year. 

Most likely this is related to dust mites and pollen. If your pup goes outdoors often it may also be a sensitivity to mold spores and certain types of grass. 

As with other allergies you will see paw licking, sneezing, scratching, and them rubbing their face more often. 

Sometimes allergies won’t last forever. If you have a puppy, as they get older they may become less sensitive. Whereas other dogs never have any problems until one day they do. 

The vet will most likely prescribe an allergy shot or medication to help your dog. There are also shampoos and pills that you can give your dog to help alleviate his symptoms.

slow up of dogs red skin due to allergic reaction from a flea bite

Is My Dog Allergic to Fleas?

It’s totally normal for a dog to be super itchy if they have fleas. If you know this is a problem, the first step is to properly treat them. You can use topical flea medicines, tablets, collars, and shampoos to help combat the problem. 

However, if you have already treated your dog or puppy for fleas and you are still noticing odd behavior, it’s possible they are allergic to the flea’s saliva. 

If that’s the case, you will notice little red bumps all over their body

Treatment for this type of allergy will include antibiotics if the bumps are infected and corticosteroids if it is severe. The best way to prevent this allergy is to prevent fleas from the start.

Be sure to inspect your yard as well. When owners are already treating their pets for fleas they wonder how they are still getting on them. Sometimes it’s not the medicines fault, but there’s an infestation in the yard. Pest control can take care of this problem.

Allergies Treatments for Dogs 

Food allergies – swapping their food should cure their sensitivity in just a few weeks

Pollen & Dust mites – limit their exposure to the pollen and keep your home filters changed to help reduce the dust in your home. 

Grass and mold – If you can, limit their time outdoors. Veterinarians can also administer shots and give prescriptions to help. 

Fleas – Treat the problem first. If they are truly allergic, your vet may recommend antibiotics if the sores are infected or administer steroids in more severe cases. 

Home Remedies for a Dog’s Itchy Skin 

Remember, without a proper diagnosis, some remedies may mask the symptoms (just as they do when owners treat pups for kennel cough by using Mucinex). It’s best to get to the root of the problem first without trying to treat them. 

Oatmeal – If your dog enjoys baths, you can mix up ground oatmeal and a little water, then add it to their bath. You can use the same solution as a topical treatment on hot spots. Let it sit (or let them soak in it) for 10-15 minutes, then follow with their normal shampoo. 

HolistaPet recommends other solutions such as Vitamin E, coconut oil, baking soda pastes, and chamomile tea to help reduce itching. 

You can also mix up a 50/50 solution of apple cider vinegar and water and spray on the itchy spots. Be careful because this remedy should never be used if your pup has opened wounds. When it comes to their paws, you need to soak them in the solution for at least 10 to 15 minutes for it to be effective. 

While human medications like Phenergan (also known as promethazine) fall in the antihistamine category, you never want to give these to your dog without talking to your vet first. 

There are also a variety of allergy products on the market that are labeled for dogs. But we recommend checking with your vet first, especially if they have other existing medical issues. 

close up of dog with shaved hair having the intradermal allergy testing done
Intradermal allergy testing

Dog Allergy Testing 

If you choose to go ahead and have allergy testing completed, you may wonder what you can expect. 

There are two tests that can determine allergens in dogs: intradermal and RAST. 

Intradermal testing is a little invasive because your pup will have to be put to sleep. They will also shave large parts of their coat. This is so they have a clear view of the site of injection and it can be better watched.

Veterinary dermatologists are the ones who perform this type of testing, so there may not be as much availability in the area. However, in the vet world this is considered the gold standard. 

RAST is much easier as it is one blood sample, no shaving required, regular vets can do this, and it can even be completed at a checkup visit. On the downside, these tests are known for giving a few false positives. Normally, the test will determine that your pup is allergic to some type of grass, weeds, or pollen. 

Allergy testing is only worth the cost if you plan on following through with hyposensitization. This includes getting injections over the course of several weeks, but could be lifelong treatment. Veterinarians say that 60-80% of canines will show improvement.

 Common FAQs about Dog Allergies

How can you tell if your dog has allergies?

You will notice excessive itching and scratching. Maybe sneezing, runny nose, hot spots, and more paw licking that usual. If it’s flea related there will be tiny red bumps all over their bodies.

What can I give my dog for allergies?

Before administering any OTC medications you need to speak to your vet first. If it’s a food allergy, then their diet needs adjusting not medications. In other scenarios steroids and antihistamines can be given.

Does my dog have seasonal allergies?

If you only notice allergic behavior during a certain time of the year, then yes it is seasonal. Allergies related to food do not go away until the problem is fixed, which they would exhibit year round. Dogs can be allergic to grass, mold, and pollen just as humans are. 

What do skin allergies look like in dogs?

This really depends on what the allergy is related to. There could be signs of hair loss, red bumpy patches, or areas that are even infected. Other less serious symptoms are much like the ones in humans such as scratching, runny nose, and watery eyes.

How can I treat my dogs allergies at home?

Home remedies include oatmeal bathes, apple cider vinegar sprays, and allergic soothing shampoos. However, before treating your pup you need to determine what is causing the allergy to start with.

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