Wondering whether your dog’s sneezing or constant itching is due to an allergy? Well, it is quite possible, because just like а large percentage of us humans, dogs can suffer from allergies too.
The fact is that dog allergies can be different, and the diagnosis is not always that easy.
Find out everything you need to know about the types of allergies which pups can suffer from, their causes, the diagnosis, and the treatment for those nasty dog allergies in our comprehensive guide for canine allergies.
What causes dog allergies
Just like with us, the cause of allergies in dogs is an overreaction to a potential threat by the immune system. When the body of an allergic pup senses a potentially dangerous trigger it reacts like it is a real threat. As a result, the immune system begins releasing antibodies to protect the body. This results in various symptoms like itching, shaking of the head, sneezing, irritation, congestion, digestive problems, and others.
The reason for this reaction is the attempt of the body to get rid of the potentially threatening substance, food, or other.
As a result of an allergy, the dog’s respiratory and digestive systems, as well as the skin, can react mildly or vigorously.
As a whole, allergies occur in dogs that are genetically predisposed, but they can be caused by environmental factors as well. Some research shows that allergies in canines can occur due to the use of antibiotics during puppyhood as well. The most common dog allergies are to wheat, poultry, dairy, eggs, soy, pork, fish or lamb, as well as to fleas, pollen, dust or other allergens, and unfortunately, a pup affected by an allergy is usually allergic to more than one substance, food or other things.
The different types of dog allergies
There are several main types of allergies that can affect dogs. Each one of the types can cause mild to severe allergic reactions and thus problems both for the pup and for the owner. In some cases, a dog can suffer from several different types of allergies at the same time.
Just like us, dogs can suffer from allergic reactions after contact, intake, or inhaling a specific allergen. A dog can also have an allergic reaction to a flea bite.
The main dog allergy types are:
- Skin (allergic dermatitis)
In some cases, your dog can have only mild symptoms, so you may not even notice that it has a specific allergy. In others, the more unfortunate pups can suffer full-blown allergic reactions.
Environmental dog allergies
Imagine just how many smells and airborne potential allergens we are all exposed to on a daily basis. A dog with an environmental allergy can be affected by one or more than one of them.
Some of the more common environmental dog allergens include dust, pollen, or mold. Some pups can also have allergic reactions to the strong smell of certain detergents, chemicals, perfumes, cigarette smoke, insecticidal shampoos, rubber or plastic materials, some types of fabrics, and other smells and fumes. Some dogs are even allergic to human or pet dander.
The most common symptoms of environmental or seasonal dog allergies include:
- Scratching and irritation
- Red, moist, itchy, or scabbed skin
- Runny and itchy eyes
Skin dog allergies
Allergic dermatitis is one of the most common allergic reactions found in canines. There are several main causes of skin allergies in dogs:
- Flea bites
- Environmental allergens
Flea allergy in dogs occurs in pups that are allergic to the saliva of fleas. Once bitten, the dog becomes extremely itchy, especially at the base of the tail. In some cases, the skin of the dog will become inflamed, scabbed, and red. Of course, the best way to treat this type of allergy is prevention. With the use of an efficient flea repellant or another specialized product for flea prevention, you can avoid the dog getting infected or bitten by fleas altogether. If your dog is affected by flea bite allergy at the moment, you can make the itching less severe by applying coconut oil to its skin.
In some dogs, food sensitivities or allergies can cause itchiness as well. The most common areas affected in these cases are the paws. Usually, food allergies also manifest themselves in digestive problems as well.
Environmental allergies also can cause skin reactions and atopic dermatitis. In most cases, when the allergies are to pollen they are seasonal so you may notice that your dog is particularly itchy during the hay fever season. The symptoms of this type of allergy are itchy ears, paws as well as underarms, the groin area, between the toes, around the eyes, and others.
The problem with skin allergies in dogs is that not only are they unpleasant for the dog, but they can lead to infections if the dog scratches or bites itself too vigorously and opens up the skin to bacteria and yeast.
Food dog allergies
True food dog allergies are not as common as other types. A dog allergic to one or more types of food can show a wide range of symptoms including itchiness, swelling of the face and hives, but also some gastrointestinal reactions such as diarrhea or vomiting. In some cases, both skin and gastrointestinal symptoms are present in dogs as a result of ingesting an allergen.
In rare cases, dogs can suffer severe and dangerous anaphylactic shock just like some humans react to eating peanuts or getting stung by a bee, for example.
Thankfully, real food allergies are pretty uncommon in dogs. Often, the dog can suffer from food sensitivities, which do not cause immediate immune reactions, but rather show a gradual response to a particular type of food such as dairy, wheat, chicken, beef, eggs, or corn, for example.
The dogs who have food sensitivities can show symptoms such as itchiness, a dull or poor coat and skin, vomiting and diarrhea, chronic infections of the feet or ears, and others.
The most common food allergens in canines include:
- Grain, such as rice, wheat, or corn
- Proteins, such as chicken, lamb, pork, beef, rabbit, or fish
- Root veggies, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, yams
- Legumes, such as lentils, beans, soy, peanuts or peas
- Dairies, such as milk, cheese, or yogurt
Naturally, the best way to treat a food allergy is to work with your vet to find the exact allergens causing the problem and keep them away from your dog.
Although there are tests for allergies that can be performed, the most common way to find out the exact allergen is through an elimination diet.
The food elimination diet means putting your dog on a very basic diet with only a few ingredients, and then gradually reintroducing the potential allergens to the daily menu one by one and monitoring the dog for allergic reactions. This can be quite a long process and can last for 6 months and more, which can be a bit of a challenge for the dog owner.
You will need quite a lot of patience and consistency to provide your pup with this type of diet, but in the end, the result is worth it.
There are quite a lot of hypoallergenic dog foods available on the market, which excludes particular types of ingredients. Also, there are some premium quality dog foods that have very simple recipes and include only a few simple ingredients, which makes it much easier to ensure you have eliminated a lot of other potential allergens.
Acute allergic reactions in dogs
It is the acute allergic reactions in canines that are the scariest and most dangerous ones. Just like with humans, a dog that has eaten or been in contact with an allergen can go into anaphylactic shock as a severe allergic reaction. This condition needs to be treated immediately or it can be fatal for the pup.
Although this type of acute reaction is pretty rare, some of the allergens which are known to cause anaphylactic shock are bee stings, or some vaccines or drugs.
It is always a good idea to monitor your pup after a new vaccine or another drug.
The symptoms that a dog is suffering an acute allergic reaction can be difficulty breathing, lowered blood pressure, collapsing and if left untreated – death.
Symptoms of dog allergies
The allergic reactions and the symptoms vary depending on the cause and on the specific dog. As we mentioned previously, the acute allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis is a relatively rare occurrence and is quite different from the less severe allergic symptoms.
Here are some of the common symptoms of allergic reactions in dogs:
- Inflamed, red skin
- Swelling of the ears, eyelids, earflaps, lips or the whole face
- Chronic foot or ear infections
- Continuous licking
- Itchy ears
Please note, that many of these signs can be symptoms of something else, so ask your vet for a professional opinion if you notice one or more of them.
The main difference between an allergic reaction and canine influenza or cold is the itchiness.
Itching only in the ears may mean that the dog has an ear infection. Continuous itching and hair loss can also mean that the dog has contracted sarcoptic mange.
If the dog is scratching, licking or biting mainly the base of its tail, this may mean that it has a flea allergy.
Other common itchy areas during an allergic reaction are the belly, armpits, ears, feet or face.
If the atopic dermatitis is left untreated it can lead to the dog opening wounds on its skin from biting and scratching, and this can lead to secondary infections with yeast or bacteria. Other conditions may also arise if the continuous itching is left unresolved such as hair loss, irritation, skin scabbing and overall discomfort for the pup.
The other symptoms to watch your pup for include sneezing, a poor coat condition, and a runny nose and congestion.
Some allergies like food allergies also cause diarrhea and vomiting.
The less common symptoms of dog allergies include coughing as well as snoring, especially if the pup’s throat is swollen or inflamed.
As you can see, there are no clear-cut symptoms of allergies in dogs, which is why it is essential to ask your veterinarian for expert advice and for a proper diagnosis.
Diagnosing dog allergies
As with humans, diagnosing allergies is often pretty difficult, especially pinpointing the exact cause of the allergy.
The first thing which your vet should do is to rule out the other conditions which could be causing the symptoms your dog has. When the other potential health problems are out ruled, the vet may order allergy tests for your pup.
As mentioned previously, one of the most successful methods for identifying the allergen in food allergies is via an elimination diet.
One of the easiest dog allergies to be diagnosed is a flea allergy. It is easy to find fleas or flea eggs on the coat and after removing them, the symptoms should go away.
The typical dog allergy tests administered by veterinarians are blood tests, saliva testing, skin tests or elimination diet.
Skin dog allergy test
This is the same kind of test used for humans and includes the insertion of various allergens in the system via small injections and watching for allergic reactions.
Blood dog allergy test
Your vet may recommend a RAST or an ELISA blood test for your dog. These tests check for antibodies that are triggered by allergens found in the blood of the dog. The tests are performed for a number of more common allergens such as dust, pollen, molds, and others.
Saliva dog allergy test
A saliva test can be used for checking for specific intolerances and sensitivities to food. There are home genetic dog test kits that can be used to determine whether the dog has genetic intolerances to drugs or others.
Treating dog allergies
As with humans, the best way to prevent allergic reactions in dogs is to keep the pup away from the allergens. This may not always be easy or possible, but when it is it is highly advisable. For example, if your dog has flea allergy – make sure it is always protected against flea infestations and bites. If it is allergic to a particular food, eliminate that particular food from the pup’s diet.
But apart from some changes in the lifestyle, your vet may also prescribe medications to control or prevent allergic reactions in your dog.
As a dog parent who wants the best for your pup, it is a good idea to add sources or supplements with omega fatty acids to its daily diet. This will help soothe the skin irritation and keep it moisturized. For immediate relief for itching, you can apply dog coconut oil or aloe on the skin.
Some allergens are more difficult to avoid such as pollen during the hay fever season or dander. In case your pup shows signs of such allergies, make sure you wipe it down thoroughly with a damp towel after a walk so that you remove any pollen from its body.
If your dog has a dust allergy, you will need to vacuum more and wash its bedding at least once a week to reduce the amount of dust.
Also, give your allergic pup regular baths to eliminate the dust from its coat and skin, but use gentle dog shampoo to minimize the irritation of the skin.
If your dog seems to be suffering from itchiness and some sort of unclear allergy, it may be caused by the dog shampoo or the shampoo residue left on its coat or skin. Always make sure you rinse off all of the shampoo after bathing the dog and consider changing the type of shampoo to a hypoallergenic or gentler one.
There are also some dog medications for allergies that your vet may prescribe, like Zyrtec for dogs or Benadryl for dogs. Remember, you need to be very cautious with the dosages, and also – they do not actually cure the allergy but alleviate the symptoms only.
You may also consider getting an allergy shot for your pup. The shot injects controlled amounts of allergens in the dog so that the immune system can build up a tolerance to it gradually.
Breeds that are at a higher risk for dog allergies
An estimated 10% of all dogs suffer from some form of allergy. Allergies are often hereditary, so it comes to no surprise that certain dog breeds seem to be more prone to allergies than others. Here are the dog breeds which are at a greater risk for developing or suffering from allergies
- Boston terriers
- German shepherds
- Golden retrievers
- Irish setters
As you can see, allergies are pretty common among our canine friends. Unfortunately, many times it is pretty difficult to pinpoint the exact allergens, but there are ways to find out what your dog is allergic to, and best of all to prevent further allergic reactions.
Just like with us humans, left untreated allergies can be pretty bothersome and disturbing, so make sure you take precautions and talk to your vet if you have any suspicions that your pup may be suffering from any allergies.