Allergies in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatments

Dogs, as it turns out, can suffer from allergies much like people suffer from allergies. However, it can sometimes be much harder to spot in your furry friend, simply because the way you might react to a certain allergen isn’t necessarily the way your dog will react.

For instance, heavy pollen counts could make your eyes itch and water, or cause sneezing and stuffiness. Yet when it comes to your pet, heavy pollen counts may make their feet itch, swell, or sometimes cause them to chew on their feet. This is definitely not the same reaction, yet it’s the same allergen!

Sometimes allergies may cause your pup’s skin to itch or even create a ‘patchy’ look in some areas (especially their belly, anus area, and arm pits, all the places where the skin is extra soft and sensitive). This could cause their skin to be darker in color than what is normal, due to scratching and irritation.

Dogs are just as susceptible to allergens as humans are, and sometimes can be even more sensitive them. Occasionally (although it’s rare) dogs can even be allergic to cats, just as humans often are! In the same way a cat’s fur and dander can cause an allergic reaction in humans, it can also trigger a similar reaction in your dog.

Not only that, but dogs can be allergic to people as well, although that is also quite rare. But in the same way animals trigger allergies through pet dander, people also produce a dander of sorts, that can trigger allergies in a canine.

Causes of Allergies in Dogs

There is a myriad of causes for dog allergies, too numerous to list. However, below is a brief overview of some of the more common allergens dogs typically suffer from. Often, allergy triggers must be found using a process of elimination, and sometimes just good old intuition.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Flea allergy dermatitis is a relatively common dog allergen, and is triggered not by the bite from the flea itself, but from the flea’s saliva. A dog’s sensitivity to the flea’s saliva causes an inflammatory response that doesn’t line up with the actual number of fleas making their home atop your furry friend.

Even just one flea can create a miserably itchy dog for weeks on end, long after the offending flea has been removed. Frequent baths can help control fleas though, since they just aren’t as attracted to a clean pup as to a dirty one.

Think of the way lice is attracted to human hair with a lot of hair product and gunk, and you can get an idea of the way fleas are with dogs. Clean-haired pups aren’t nearly as attractive.

Environmental Triggers and Atopy (Inhalants)

Dogs can be vulnerable to both indoor and outdoor allergens. Much like humans, dogs can be sensitive to mold spores, dust mites, and even fabrics like wool and cotton. Cleaning chemicals can also irritate your pet. Perfumes and chemicals that may be in your rugs or carpet can become an irritant.

Outdoor allergens like ragweed and other grasses, as well as pollen, can affect your canine year-round or seasonally. If there is something in your home that is affecting your pet, you will usually see symptoms persist until you’ve removed the offending allergen completely, which can sometimes require some serious detective work.

When it’s impossible to remove the allergen, you may have to see your vet for medications to control the problem. Quality of life is an important factor here, as you don’t want your dog to be miserable day in and day out.

Dogs can even be sensitive to things like cigarette smoke, so if you’re a smoker, don’t smoke in your home. You might consider taking up an alternative habit. Even when you smoke away from the home, the scent of smoke can cling to your clothes when you return home and still affect your pet.

Dander is a well-known allergen, and not just for people. Feathers can irritate your dog, materials made of rubber or plastic, and even cockroaches can trigger allergic reactions.

Medications and Vaccines

Vaccines and prescription medications can also trigger allergies, especially if you over-vaccinate your pet. Try to stick with the minimum when it comes to inoculating your pup, as vaccines trigger an immune response, and a taxed immune system is a ripe environment for allergies to develop.

Steroids can be effective for controlling the symptoms of allergies, as steroids basically shut down the immune system, but they have other very serious side-affects and are not recommended as a long-term strategy.

Antibiotics can also be a culprit in the development of allergies, as without a healthy GI tract, it’s difficult to raise a healthy dog.

Insecticidal shampoos can also irritate a sensitive dog, and even flea medications designed to prevent flea infestations can be a big no-no.

Food Allergies

An allergic reaction to certain foods as well as added food ingredients is relatively common. Some foods that may trigger allergies in your dog are:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Corn
  • Dairy
  • Chicken Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Since an allergy can develop to virtually anything, even foods that are typically considered ‘hypoallergenic’ can still become an allergen, especially with over-exposure.

That’s why it’s important to mix up your dog food on a regular basis, and provide your pet with a very well-rounded diet. Feeding them the same thing over and over is just an invitation for food allergies to set in.

Do Allergies Affect Certain Breeds More?

It is thought that genetics do in fact sometimes play a role in whether a pet will develop allergies, especially environmental ones. Sometimes allergies are hereditary, which means that if you have a dog already prone to allergies, and you breed him or her, you will most likely produce a pup that is prone to allergies.

An allergic response is a learned reaction that gets passed down from dog to dog, especially when it comes to certain breeds. Large breeds such as Dalmatians, Irish and English Setters, and Retrievers are allergy prone.

Lhasa Apsos, Scottish Terriers, and other terrier breeds are also allergy prone, and pooches such as Mini Schnauzers, English Bulldogs, and Pugs are all known for their penchant for allergies.

When Do Dogs Develop Allergies?

Dogs can develop allergies at any point in time, however most allergies begin early, when a dog is 1-3 years old. Sometimes allergies can begin to manifest later, but it’s not nearly as common.

Signs and Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs

Itching is probably the most common sign of allergies in your dog. When a dog itches, it’s often in places like the feet, ears, forelegs, anus area, face, and armpits.

Red and watery eyes, a sniffly or stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing, rashes, shortness of breath, swelling, and even anaphylactic shock and possible death can occur.

Hair loss, hot spots, excessive scratching, biting, or licking, recurring ear infections and yeast infections, as well as frequent bowel movements are all signs of potential allergies. Bowel movements, ear infections, and yeast infections all tend to be symptoms of food allergies.

Swollen paws, itching, and oozing skin are other signs of an allergic response, as well as gas, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Keeping notes of when allergies begin can help clue you in as to the type of woes your pooch may be suffering from, and help you make the best treatment decisions moving forward.

Preventing Dog Allergies

Frequent bathing can help prevent allergies, especially those that affect the skin. Use a soothing, hypoallergenic shampoo, steer away from grains in them. You can also try incorporating coconut oil into your pooch’s diet, and rub their coat down with it, as it can help to minimize allergic reactions as well, and is very healthy for them.

Try to give the minimum when it comes to vaccines, as dogs can develop allergies both to the ingredients in the vaccines, as well as to other things because of the way vaccines stimulate an immune response.

Consider purchasing an air filter for your home to filter out airborne allergens such as dust and mites, as well as smoke.

Rotate your dog food on a regular basis, both by brand as well as ingredient. Try to avoid buying dog food that has well-known allergen triggers, and stick with brands that are grain-free if possible. Some meats that used to be considered hypoallergenic aren’t any longer, so consider that as well when you purchase your dog’s food and switch them up.

Regular dusting and cleaning to control dust and mites is recommended, and if fleas are a problem, try to find a flea medication or solution that will help to prevent them.

Try using pet grooming wipes to rub your pup down with after walks. This can help reduce allergens they may have picked up as you wandered the neighborhood, and can be especially helpful when you don’t have time to give your pooch an actual bath.

Probiotics, especially when your pup is still a pup, can possibly help prevent future allergies. Good gut flora at any age certainly can’t hurt.

Treatments for Dog Allergies

The only real treatment of allergens is to avoid them altogether. However, in order to avoid allergens, you must know what they are. So, in addition to allergy testing with your vet, they may also recommend you try an elimination diet to try to rule out as many foods as possible. Sometimes your vet may even recommend a home-cooked diet plan, especially with very sensitive pups.

Also keep in mind that when it comes to food allergies, long-term exposure can actually cause an allergy. So, keep a close eye, and if you notice your dog reacting to a certain food, it’s probably time to find a new one.

In many cases, it can be difficult to remove an allergen entirely, especially when it comes to environmental allergens. When this happens, your vet may prescribe regular allergy injections to help your dog increase their resistance to the problem.

Immune-modulating meds are sometimes recommended, and in very bad cases cortisone is sometimes prescribed to help control symptoms, but should only be used under your vet’s supervision. Cortisones are strong drugs, and like any steroid medication, it’s important to be cautious when using them.

Sometimes fatty acid supplements can aide in soothing excessive itching, and certain shampoos could also be beneficial. Again, coconut oil can be a great option to add to your dog’s food as well to help control some of the symptoms of allergies, especially itchy skin.

Sometimes a vet may prescribe Sulfodene treatments to help with irritation, especially for hot spots on dogs, and medicated sprays can help with bacterial skin infections.

As you can see, there are no hard and fast rules for treating or preventing allergies in dogs. Irritants can stem from so many sources that it can be difficult to narrow down the culprit. But, with a bit of time and patience, you can help your pup. Suffering and being miserable doesn’t have to be their future.

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