Dogs, like us humans, can be allergic to a variety of triggers— anything from common foods to pollen to fleas. Allergic reactions can manifest as anything from a mild itchiness to more acute reactions like anaphylactic shock. For this reason, it’s important to know as much as possible about common dog allergies, warning signs, and potential treatments.
If you’re worried your dog may have a serious allergy (or allergies), this article will answer all of your questions, and hopefully, give you some peace of mind. While the information here is comprehensive, informative, and helpful, your best course of action is to take your dog to your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to give the best assessment and make the best recommendations based on the specific needs of your dog.
Common Canine Allergies
Dogs can be allergic to any number of triggers, although there are some common types to look out for. Dogs (or any animal, for that matter) develop an allergic reaction when their immune system has a lower tolerance to certain substances. In fact, it’s fairly common for dogs to have allergies, and virtually all breeds can have allergic reactions. Typically, these allergies are present by the time your dog is six months old.
It’s also possible for dogs to develop an allergic reaction over time. For example, while your dog may have eaten chicken regularly since it was a pup, they’re immune system could become compromised late in life.
That’s why it’s important to keep in mind every factor if you’re noticing an allergic reaction in your dog. Any trigger— even previously harmless ones— could be causing the reaction. Dogs can have seasonal allergies or food allergies (more on those below). But they can also develop contact allergies.
Dog Contact Allergies
Contact allergies are classified as allergies that are triggered by direct contact with the allergen. For dogs, that can mean grass, pesticides, the chemicals used to treat carpet or upholstery, and more. While seasonal and food allergies usually manifest by six months of age, contact allergies are more likely to appear at any time.
The reaction manifests as an itchy rash on the skin at the point of contact. While it can be uncomfortable for your dog, the good news is the solution is generally treatable. Remove the allergen from your dog’s environment if possible, and avoid it if not.
Seasonal Dog Allergies
Your dog may develop seasonal allergies, which are allergies to triggers that are generally more prevalent at certain times of the year. Think pollen in the summer, fresh grass in fall, or dust mites in the winter. Of course, your dog could still have multiple seasonal allergies, making it a year-round problem.
Food Allergies in Dogs
Food allergies occur when your dog’s immune system develops a reaction to a particular ingredient. This will typically happen after overexposure, so it’s more likely to occur in cases where a dog eats a particular meal from a particular brand constantly. Although virtually any ingredient can cause an allergic reaction, the most common allergy is to proteins. This includes meats such as beef, lamb, and chicken, but also dairy products, soy, and gluten.
Alternatively, it’s possible that your particular dog food brand of choice changes up its ingredients at some point. Your dog’s sudden reaction to it’s favorite food could be because of the introduction of that new ingredient. It’s important to pay attention to what’s included in your dog’s food, and make a note of any manufacturer changes.
How to Tell if Your Dog Has Allergies
There are a range of symptoms that could be indicative of an allergic reaction (see below). It’s important to note any changes in your dog’s behavior, what they’ve recently been exposed to (a change in environment or diet means a whole host of potential allergens), and the length and duration of these symptoms. Some mild reactions could be similar to cold symptoms. More serious reactions (like anaphylactic shock) require an immediate visit to the vet.
Dogs with a food allergy will exhibit systems relatively consistently, while seasonal allergies will only bother your dog for months or weeks at a time. If you do suspect your dog has allergies, your best bet is to take them to your vet. They’ll be able to run skin and potentially even blood tests, to determine what your dog is reacting to.
Dog Allergy Symptoms
There are a wide range of symptoms that could indicate your dog has an allergy. Your dog will likely exhibit more than one of the below symptoms, but not necessarily. It’s also possible for your dog to exhibit these symptoms but there’s a different underlying cause.
- Coughing, wheezing, or other respiratory problems
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Excessive itching or scratching
- Red, irritated, or watery eyes
- Pruritus (dry, flaky skin)
- Hair loss
- Ear infections (smelly or itchy ears are often an indicator)
- Head shaking and ear scratching
- Excessive licking of paws and/or anus
- Upset stomach, including nausea or diarrhea
Dog Allergy Medicine and Treatments
If your dog has an allergy, the best method is avoidance. Change their diet, remove offending triggers, or minimize their exposure. Wiping your dog down after a walk can also sometimes help. Of course, that isn’t always possible. In instances where avoidance or removal is impossible, there are a variety of medicines available to treat allergies.
What works best for your dog varies based on the allergy, breed, size, and even temperament of your dog (trust us, we get it… some dogs just won’t take their medicine). Some of these are prescription-based, and others are over-the-counter. While these OTC medications are generally considered safe for dogs, you should always check with your vet first. PetPlate doesn’t recommend giving your dog medication before checking with a professional.
Allergy Pills for Dogs
There are a variety of medicines that can help your dog depending on their symptoms. You likely already have some of these in your home already. And while these human medicines can be safe for dog use, the dosage for a dog is very different compared to what humans would need. Again, consult with a vet first.
While it’s generally OK to give your dog a dose or two in a pinch, there are medicines designed specifically for dogs that your vet can prescribe. The medicines listed below can help dogs, but they’re not meant for dogs. Still, if your dog is suffering, it’s important to know what short-term options you can give them for relief. In most cases, no more than one dose of the medication is recommended.
- Antihistamines. Medicines meant to help with allergic reactions like Benadryl or Claratin can also help dogs who are suffering from allergies. Keep in mind that while most of these medicines are safe for dogs, antihistamines that contains decongestants are NOT. Decongestants are dangerous to dogs, so check to make sure what you’re giving your dog is ONLY an antihistamine. Check the label, and if you’re unsure, ask your vet. While safe, antihistamines can make your dog either very drowsy or incredibly hyper.
- Antinauseants. Pepto Bismol, Imodium, and Kaopectate can help dogs with upset stomachs. While these medicines are generally safe, it’s best to consult with your vet. Call them immediately if your dog throws the medication up.
- Heartburn medication. Pepcid AC and Tagamet can help reduce the amount of acids in your dog’s stomach for relief from heartburn or stomach problems.
- Artificial tears. Most artificial tear or lubricating eye drop brands are OK to use on dogs. This will help ease the pain and irritation of dry, red eyes. Keep in mind that if you notice any swelling or discharge around your dog’s eyes, this is indicative of a much more serious issue, and you should take your dog to the vet immediately.
Dog Shampoo for Skin Allergies
Seasonal irritants like pollen, grass, dander, and insects can get under your dogs coat and cause itchiness. Of course, your dog will want to scratch, and that, in turn, can lead to atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a skin inflammation that’s incredibly common in dogs for the aforementioned reason.
Luckily, dog shampoos specially formulated for skin allergies can help. They’ll clean your dog, obviously, removing dirt and irritants. But they’re also designed to soothe irritated skin. Lastly, most of these shampoos are formulated with natural ingredients specifically chosen because they’re likely not to cause allergic reactions.
Dog Food for Dogs with Allergies
As previously discussed, if you discover your dog is allergic to a specific food, then it’s time to remove that from their diet. It’s best to feed your dog food with all-natural, organic ingredients. Additives and chemicals present in some dog foods can also cause allergic reactions.
Food from brands like PetPlate are ideal. These meals only contain the best ingredients and are even prepared in a sterile environment, which means there’s no way your dog will be exposed to anything other than what’s in the ingredients (this is huge for dogs with especially sensitive allergies).
These meals also contain fatty acids and oils, which are included to keep your dog’s coat shiny and healthy. It’s a huge help in terms of protecting your dog’s skin and easing itchiness. The options (beef, chicken, lamb, and turkey) also allow for variety in your dog’s diet, which is a great way to avoid overexposing them to specific ingredients.
Dog Allergy Shots
Another option for allergy treatment is shots. However, allergy shots are reserved for severe cases. Either because your dog is allergic to a number of things, or because the reaction is so severe and consistent. These shots work by introducing a weak concentration of the dog’s relevant allergens. Shots are administered every few weeks and gradually increased in potency.
These shots work to strengthen your dog’s immune system. Booster shots may be given every few weeks for years, or forever, depending on your dog’s needs. These shots are administered by your veterinarian.
Alternatively, subdermal drops (that’s drops that go under the tongue) can be given to dogs, and work the same way as these shots.
What Can I Give My Dog for Allergies?
If you’re concerned about your dog’s health, here’s the good news: you’re already taking steps to help. The best thing a dog can ask for is owners who care and love for them. Just by researching and reading, you’re demonstrating just how important your dog is to you.
The next steps are ultimately up to you, the dog’s owner. Determine what triggers your dog may have, and ask yourself if you can realistically eliminate them. This is easily done in the case of food allergies, but may be tricky in other instances. In other cases, is it possible to minimize exposure or provide gentle treatment? For example, shortening walks in the summer months if your dog is allergic to pollen, or wiping them down after walks.
Lastly, if the allergy and reaction are severe, it’s likely you’ll need to seek some form of treatment, whether that’s medication or shots.
If you’re still unsure, consult with your veterinarian. They’ll be able to determine the trigger (or triggers) and set up a treatment plan that makes sense for your dog. Just keep monitoring your dog, keep loving them, and keep an eye out for more tips, tricks, and info from PetPlate!