Allergies in Dogs

A Guide to Allergy Conditions & Treatment for Dogs

Does your pet have adverse reactions to certain foods, outdoor flora, or topical products?

Does your pet have adverse reactions to certain foods, outdoor flora, or topical products? Pets, just like people, can struggle with a variety of allergies. Every pet’s reaction to allergens can be unique, and predispositions to certain allergic reactions can even vary by breed–making it tough to pinpoint the root cause of their symptoms.

Recognizing the early signs of an allergic reaction is important for every pet owner. Not sure if your dog is allergic to something they ate, or something in their environment? Understanding how our pets’ system reacts to an allergen can help pet owners support their pet during a reaction, respond appropriately to the allergen in question, and know which treatment options will help.

What Are Seasonal Allergies in Dogs?

Allergies in dogs and cats are defined as an immune response to a foreign substance. These substances could be innately harmless but may cause hypersensitivity in certain animals, causing their immune system to react defensively.

The immune system produces antibodies (blood proteins), which react with antigens presented by the incoming allergen. Antibodies create a chemical reaction with antigens (toxins or foreign substances), in order to ‘defeat’ the antigen by counteracting its effects. During this process, symptoms of an allergic reaction will occur.

What is my dog allergic to?! It can be tough to pinpoint the exact cause, and there are many types of dog allergies to consider. Are your dog’s seasonal allergies to blame for its symptoms? Or maybe it’s something they ate? Could it be their new shampoo? A pet parent could spend weeks trying to pinpoint the cause of their pet’s allergy symptoms, but knowing the most common allergens can be a helpful starting point. Skin allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies are the main types of allergens in dogs and cats.
Skin Allergies in Dogs
Dog skin allergies are often caused by topical (skin) contact with an allergen, but can also happen in response to allergens that have been ingested. Dermatitis (skin inflammation in response to an irritant) is the most common sign of skin allergies and can alert pet parents that something is triggering their pet’s immune response. Flea allergies or an infected hot spot can also cause symptoms of an allergic skin reaction in dogs.
    Pet Tip

    Dealing with an infected dog paw? Canine pododermatitis is a condition that affects the skin around the dog’s paw pads, causing inflammation and swelling. One of the most common causes of a swollen paw is allergies–making hygienic wipes and regular allergy treatments important for your pet.

    Food Allergies in Dogs
    Protein allergies are the most common allergies in dogs, which can include wheat, dairy, soy, chicken, and chicken eggs. Food allergies are unique in that they don’t trigger an immediate immune response. Instead, symptoms will gradually worsen as long as the pet continues to ingest that particular food.
    Environmental Allergies in Dogs
    If your dog has seasonal allergies, it’s most likely due to an environmental allergen. This category of allergens includes irritants like pollen, smoke, dust, mold, certain grasses, and even pet dander from other animals. These types of allergies can be especially bothersome for outdoor pets!
    Pet Tip

    Is your dog allergic to pollen? Be advised that pollen allergies don’t just affect outdoor pets; keeping windows shut or using an air purifier during days with a high pollen can help reduce your pet’s allergy symptoms while inside.

    Which Dog Breeds Are Most At Risk for Allergy Issues?

    When it comes to allergic reactions, dogs with sensitive skin may be at higher risk for symptoms. Chronic conditions like eczema and psoriasis are linked to a compromised immune system, meaning pets with these disorders can be more vulnerable or sensitive to irritation from foreign substances.  Extremely dry or damaged skin is also less capable of protecting nerve endings, making pets with severely dry skin more susceptible to irritation and discomfort.

    Are there certain breeds that are prone to skin disorders or skin allergies? These breeds may need additional support in protecting their delicate skin against foreign invaders:

    Shar-Pei Allergy Issues

    Chinese Shar-Peis can be more prone to skin allergies and dermatitis than other breeds, due to a condition known as atopy. Atopy is a genetic predisposition to allergic reactions–most commonly eczema (atopic dermatitis), allergic rhinitis, and asthma. In the case of Shar-Peis, the excessive folds of this breed’s skin may worsen symptoms of atopy, especially when affected by eczema.

    Golden Retriever Allergy Issues

    Golden Retrievers are another dog breed commonly affected by atopy. Goldens may struggle more with itchy skin, especially around the ears, belly, paws, and folds of skin. Atopy symptoms in Golden Retrievers can start in adolescence (1-3 years) and usually intensify with age.

    Boston Terrier Allergy Issues

    As a breed, Boston Terriers are suspected to have hypersensitivity to both food and environmental allergies. Pet parents may find that their Bostons are more sensitive to soy and wheat gluten, and may struggle with environmental allergens like dust, dander, mold, and synthetic fragrances like perfume.

    Dalmation Allergy Issues

    Dalmations–with their distinctive short-hair coats–may actually be more prone to topical allergies. Switching shampoo or soap can be a trigger for this type of allergy, as can the detergent you use when washing towels or bedding used by your Dalmation.

    Signs & Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies in Dogs

    When assessing allergies in dogs, symptoms can present in a variety of ways.

    My dog is chewing their paws

    A dog chewing their paws may be suffering from itchy atopic dermatitis, which can appear as redness, swelling, hair loss, and scaling around the top and bottom of the dog’s paw.

    My dog has a rash

    If you notice signs of skin inflammation or irritation like flaking, oozing, hair loss, redness, or swelling, your dog may be suffering from an uncomfortable skin rash. When dealing with a dog allergy, rashes can be quite common.

    My dog’s eyes are watering

    Conjunctivitis is inflammation affecting the lining of your dog’s eye and can happen as a result of allergies. Signs of conjunctivitis can include watery eyes or a yellow-green discharge from the eye.

    My dog keeps itching

    Dogs itching their ears, biting their skin, or itching excessively may be dealing with an immune response to an allergen.

    My dog is wheezing

    Dogs suffering from environmental or seasonal allergies may wheeze or cough in order to expel the irritant, or as a result of a post-nasal trip. Breeds that have flat faces and short snouts (e.g., Pugs, Bulldogs) have more compact airways that can make wheezing worse. 

    My dog has diarrhea

    An upset stomach can present as diarrhea, soft stool, vomiting, or bloating. These are often symptoms of a food allergy.

    My dog has swelling

    Swelling is a symptom of inflammation, which may be part of the immune response to an allergen. Swelling can occur as hives, facial swelling, or swelling of localized areas like the earflaps, eyelids, or lips. 

    Common Allergy Treatments & Relief

    When trying to help dog allergies, treatment options are vast. Here are a few home remedies for dog allergies for pet parents to explore:

    Quercetin

    Quercetin is a naturally-sourced flavonoid that can help with symptoms of allergies such as swelling, itching, and watery eyes with its ability to block histamines. Quercetin can be given to your dog during peak allergy seasons when symptoms tend to be at their worst–making it one of the best options for allergy relief for dogs. Finding a delicious dog allergy supplement with Quercetin and other allergy-friendly ingredients is an easy route for pet parents!

    Supplements

    Giving allergy supplements to pets may help support their natural immune response to certain allergens. Allergy supplements that support nose-to-tail health–including GI function, skin health, and more–can be beneficial for pets experiencing regular allergy symptoms. Some supplements can be given daily, while others can be used exclusively for seasonal allergies. Using a daily allergy supplement may even reduce your pet’s need for a vet-prescribed dog allergy treatment. There are even allergy supplements for senior dogs!

    "I use the Dermabliss line as part of multimodal therapy for my patients to reduce inflammation
    and restore the barrier function of the skin and to aid in treatment of secondary infections. The comprehensive product line works to support the skin not only on the outside but from the inside out."

    Joya Griffin DVM, DACVD, Animal Dermatology Clinic

    Shampoos

    Parents of allergy-prone pets know how important it is to vet the products we use on our pet’s skin and coat. Carefully choosing topical products–like shampoo and soap–without irritating ingredients is crucial for protecting pets with atopy and sensitive skin. Finding a pH-balanced, anti-itch allergy shampoo made with gentle, hypoallergenic ingredients or numbing agents like Pramoxine Hydrochloride (for itch relief) is a good place to start.

    Allergist

    How do I know what my dog is allergic to? Working with an allergist might yield answers for pet parents finding it difficult to pinpoint their pet’s allergy symptoms. Veterinary offices can also perform allergy testing for your pet, where they will analyze skin and blood tests to determine the source of their allergies.

    Antihistamines

    Perhaps the most commonly used treatment for allergies in dogs and cats is a class of drugs called antihistamines. Similar to Quercetin, antihistamines block histamines in order to reduce or eliminate itching, redness, and swelling caused by an immune response to an allergen. Antihistamines can be prescribed by vets, especially if your pet needs a more targeted skin allergy medicine for dogs.

    Pet Tip

    It’s natural to wonder if household allergy treatments might work for your pet. Vets have heard it all: Can I give my dog Benadryl for allergies? Can I give my dog Zyrtec for allergies? Can I give my dog Claritin for allergies? The answer, of course, is no–but it’s not why you might think.

    At-Home Tips for Dog Allergy Prevention and Healthy Skin

    Wondering how to treat dog allergies at home? In addition to vet-recommended treatments like antihistamines and nasal sprays, treating your dog’s allergies at home can also help manage daily symptoms. There are plenty of at-home treatments for pets needing regular allergy support:


    • Daily Supplements– Giving your pet daily chews or powder supplements may help keep daily allergy symptoms at bay while supporting healthy immune function.

    • Ear Wipes– Allergens from certain grasses, pollen, dust, mites, and dander can cause allergy symptoms in your dog’s ear. Wiping down your pet’s ears once a day can help prevent these types of debris from causing more irritation.

    • Allergy Shampoo– Atopic dermatitis (eczema) can be uncomfortable for your pet, and certain shampoo products can further irritate their skin. Using a soap-free shampoo will help maintain skin hydration without stripping sensitive skin.

    • Ear Wash– Allergies can be a potential cause of ear infections and other conditions in the ear. Rinsing the ear can be another way to ensure allergens aren’t spending too much time in your dog’s ear.

    • Topical Spray– Pets with skin irritation from allergies may need targeted relief, and there are some medicated allergy sprays and infected hot spot sprays that can help soothe irritation.

    Regular antihistamine dosages will depend on the type and severity of your pet’s allergy symptoms, and at-home treatments are a good way to stay on top of chronic allergies. You’ll want to discuss symptoms with your veterinarian in order to find the best combination of treatments for your pet!

    Seasonal Allergy Support Products

    Contacting Your Vet if Allergy Problems Persist

    So when do dog allergies become an emergency? Pets with recurring allergies–whether seasonal or situational–could be affected by atopy, and should be seen by a veterinarian to establish a treatment plan suited to chronic symptoms.

    Wondering when to call the vet for allergies? Dogs or cats with severe itching that causes bleeding or open wounds should see a vet right away to avoid further injury. Anything that affects your pet’s ability to breathe, see, or function normally should also be treated as an emergency. This includes swelling of the face, tongue, eyes, or nostrils, which are all signs of a severe allergic reaction.

    What to do if your pet has a severe allergic reaction (life-threatening or not):

    • Secure your dog in a kennel or safe position inside your vehicle, and ensure they have access to adequate ventilation.
    • Head to your nearest emergency animal hospital or vet clinic.
    • If there’s someone else in the car, have them call ahead to the clinic or vet services to get advice on how to keep your pet comfortable until you arrive.

    While severe allergic reactions aren’t always common, they can happen to any pet. Keep a record of your pet’s preexisting conditions, sensitivities, and allergies to consult when shopping for topical products, food, supplements, and other products. This may help you avoid potential allergic reactions in the future–and better support your pet’s health!

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