It may come as no surprise, but our four-legged friends share many similar health ailments that humans do, including allergies. And just as human allergies are caused by a number of different catalysts, your dog’s allergy attack may be triggered by a variety of reasons, including environmental factors, chemicals, and even certain kinds of food.
These everyday substances – clinically referred to as allergens – are at the root of your pooch’s allergic reaction. So, as a pet parent, how can you determine the exact cause of your doggie’s misery, and what preventative measures can you take to protect his overall health?
What Is an Allergic Reaction?
You see that your dog’s eyes are bloodshot, perhaps he’s scratching profusely, or he may even be experiencing respiratory problems – these are all signs frequently associated with canine allergies. But you may be wondering: what is causing your dog’s allergies?
As mentioned above, dogs may show signs of an allergic reaction very similar to the ones humans experience – when your dog’s immune system begins to react adversely to particular substances (allergens), an allergy attack may be the result, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. And even though these common substances may be harmless to a dog who is allergy-free, they could be dangerous for pups who suffer from chronic allergies.
In the case of an extreme reaction, your dog has most likely been exposed to the offending allergen via inhalation, ingestion, or direct contact with the skin. As your dog’s body tried to rid itself of the offending toxins, an array of different symptoms may appear relating to his digestive, skin, and respiratory systems.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of dog allergies to be aware of:
- Itchy, irritated-looking skin (red, scabbed, oozing or moist in appearance)
- Excessive scratching or biting of the skin
- Itchy, runny or watery/bloodshot eyes
- Itchy back or base of the tail (indicative of flea allergies)
- Itchy or inflamed ears/ear infections
- Constant licking of the skin
- Coughing, wheezing, or signs of asthma
- Frequent sneezing
- Hair loss
- Nasal discharge; runny nose
- Paw chewing/swollen paws
- Scabs, crusting and/or lesions on the skin
- Secondary bacterial/yeast infections of the skin
- Snoring (result of a sore or inflamed throat)
- Vomiting or signs of nausea
Is My Dog at Risk For Developing Allergies?
Although nearly any dog can develop allergies throughout the course of his lifespan, there are certain breeds that have a higher predisposition for allergies, particularly flat-faced and short-haired breeds such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Chinese Shar-Peis, American and English Bulldogs.
Other breeds commonly prone to allergies include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinchers, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Standard Poodles, Bichon Frises, English Setters, and Pit Bull Terriers.
Recognizing The Causes of Canine Allergies: Knowing The Difference
When you’re in the process of determining the cause of your dog’s allergies, it’s important to pay close attention to his symptoms and share your findings with your vet. You can take a number of proactive steps to relieve your dog’s symptoms, and many of these methods can be achieved naturally and without the usage of prescription drugs.
Talk to your vet to determine the best course of action for your canine companion. In most cases, your dog’s allergies will fall under one of three main categories (food allergies, flea allergy dermatitis or environmental), as outlined below.
There are a number of common allergens your dog may be allergic to, including:
- Cigarette smoke
- Cleaning products
- Dust and house dust mites
- Fleas and flea-control products
- Food ingredients (such as chicken, beef, pork, wheat, soy or corn)
- Grass, weed and tree pollens
- Insecticidal shampoos and washes
- Mold spores
- Perfumes and synthetic dyes/chemicals
- Prescription medications (oral or topical)
- Rubber and plastic (or other petroleum-based products)
As mentioned above, food allergies are common; however, they must be given special attention, as some food allergies in dogs can pose serious health risks. Food allergies can develop at any age in dogs, and it may require a degree of investigation to determine the source of your dog’s allergies.
Some of the signs your dog may display include chronic ear infections, itchy skin/coat, and even digestive problems including vomiting and/or diarrhea. Along with your vet’s assistance, you may want to try an elimination diet to rule out any food sensitivities. Once you have identified the allergy-inducing food, be sure to read labels carefully and not feed him any table scraps that could possibly include the food substances he is allergic to.
You may also wish to take a holistic approach – speak with your veterinarian about dietary supplements and foods that can bolster his immune system. For dogs who suffer chronic food allergies, your veterinarian can advise a specially-formulated commercial dog food; you may also choose to provide a homemade diet as approved by your vet.
Here are a list of potentially dangerous/toxic food and beverage substances to prevent your dog from ingesting – they can not only trigger a possible allergic reaction, but in some instances, serious or life-threatening illness/physical complications:
- Xylitol (an artificial sweetener found in candy, gums, toothpaste, baked goods, diet foods etc.)
- Alcohol (beer, wine, spirits etc.)
- Avocado (including the plant itself)
- Bones & Fat Trimmings
- Coffee, Tea & Other Caffeinated Beverages
- Grapes & Raisins
- Macadamia Nuts
- Milk & Other Dairy Products
- Onions and Garlic
- Peaches, Plums & Persimmons
- Raw Eggs
- Raw Meat & Fish
- Salty Foods
- Sugary Foods & Beverages
- Yeast Dough
Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
Flea allergy dermatitis is a very common source of skin discomfort to dogs. The actual cause of the itch lies in a skin sensitivity to the flea’s saliva and not the bite itself, resulting in severe irritation and inflammation of the epidermis – even in the case of a mild infestation, it only takes the saliva of a single flea to make your dog excessively itchy. Therefore, it’s very important to follow these flea-control tips:
- Comb your dog daily (especially during flea season), carefully inspecting him for fleas and flea ‘dirt’ (feces).
- Bathe your dog frequently – in addition to killing off fleas and providing soothing relief to your pooch, a clean dog is actually less ‘appetizing’ to these itch-inducing pests.
- Use all-natural pest-repellants whenever possible, as they’re free of dangerous chemicals and harmful toxins, which can further exacerbate the situation. Your vet or pet care store can recommend eco-friendly options.
There are numerous environmental triggers that can set off your dog’s allergies – from outdoor allergens such as pollen, grasses, and ragweed to indoor irritants including cleaning chemicals, mold, dust mites and even certain fabrics, it’s essential to be aware of your dog’s allergens and try to minimize his exposure to them.
Discovering the source of your dog’s environmental allergy is crucial, as it is a cause-and-effect situation: the more he’s exposed to the irritant, the more his sensitivity/reaction to the allergen grows. Similar to the process of elimination used during a food allergy assessment, you can help determine the cause by following these helpful suggestions:
- Keep your dog’s air environment smoke-free
- Use non-toxic or all-natural/organic cleaning products
- Use an air purifier indoors
- Bathe your dog frequently to keep his coat free of allergens
- Administer foot soaks in between baths to avoid cross-contamination (i.e., if you think he’s allergic to ragweed and your dog is going outside, chances are he’s picking up the plant spores and tracking it all over the house)
Did You Know? Just like people, dogs suffer from seasonal and chronic (year-round) allergies – for example, if he’s allergic to something outside, it’s most likely a seasonal allergy; however, if it seems that the culprit stems from indoors, he probably has chronic allergies. In addition, because your dog’s immune system is rooted in his genetics, it’s possible for him to inherit environmental allergies based on his specific breed.
Prevention 101: Treating Your Dog’s Allergy Symptoms
If you believe your dog has allergies, the first thing to do is schedule a visit with your veterinarian. Once they’ve run a complete physical and any necessary lab work (including blood or skin tests), he or she should be able to make a determination regarding the source of your dog’s allergy attack, as well as the type of allergy he suffers from. Your vet may also suggest an elimination diet to decipher hard-to-pinpoint food allergies – it’s very important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully, as any variation may result in inaccurate results.
Keep in mind that your vet may require you to prepare homemade food for your dog during the elimination diet phase; it’s also of utmost importance to adhere to the prescribed diet. In severe cases where your family vet is unable to treat your dog’s persistent allergies, he or she may recommend you to a veterinary dermatologist, who may perform an intradermal skin test to determine (and ultimately administer to) your dog’s symptoms, including but not limited to canine skin problems.
Although most pet owners would prefer not to go the route of medication, there are chronic cases where your dog’s quality of life may depend on it; this applies primarily to cases of environmental allergies, since certain allergens (such as pollen and ragweed) cannot be removed from your dog’s surroundings. As always, be sure to ask questions, take careful notes and understand how to administer any treatment prescribed by your vet.
There are many homeopathic remedies and holistic treatments you may also wish to incorporate into your dog’s routine, including fatty acid supplements, all-natural grooming products/flea shampoos and sprays, and dietary changes.
However, be sure to check with your vet before administering any type of new treatment or regimen – even if it’s touted as ‘all-natural’ or ‘organic’, it’s still best to ascertain its safety. Finally, considering preventative measures, you’ll also want to ask your vet about flea prevention; it’s especially important to adhere to a regimen if your dog suffers from chronic FAD.
When it comes to treating your dog’s allergies, the most effective way of doing so is to remove the offending allergens from his surroundings, or at the very least, protect him from overexposure. Here are a few final tips to keep in mind when charting a proactive course of care for your beloved pooch:
- Flea-free: Anticipating flea season is key to your allergy-suffering dog’s wellbeing. Determine an effective flea treatment control program with your dog (as well as any pets in your home or living outdoors at your residence) at the onset of each season to avoid any uncomfortable flea infestations. Keep in mind that outdoor pets can carry fleas inside to your indoor pets, so be sure to nip that situation in the bud with the professional assistance of your vet.
- Keep it clean: When it comes to dogs who suffer from chronic allergies year-round, dust mites and dust can become a major issue – not only can it lead to a runny nose and watery red eyes, but your pup can also experience respiratory disorders as a result. Therefore, declaring your home a no-smoking zone is paramount, as well as keeping it free from dust, dander, pet hair, and other debris. Frequent vacuuming, dusting, sweeping and mopping can help to ensure your pet’s wellbeing, including maintaining the cleanliness of your dog’s own bedding. In addition, keeping your pooch clean, bathed and well-groomed is equally essential – by caring for his coat and skin properly, you can closely inspect him for fleas, dry skin or the presence of other allergens/irritants. Talk to your vet for recommendations for allergy-sensitive alternatives for flea products and shampoos to prevent over-drying your dog’s delicate skin.
- Doggy Diet: If you believe your dog has food-related allergies, you’ll want to speak to your vet to determine a suitable diet, based on your pup’s age, breed, allergy condition and other pertinent factors. Depending on the type of allergy and other variables, your pet’s physician will recommend the appropriate foods, portion control, etc. and may even suggest you cook your dog’s food from scratch.