Spring is definitely in the air. And for many people, that means insufferable runny noses and itchy, watery eyes. But what about our dogs? Can they suffer from allergies, too? And what about other types of allergens—can our pups become allergic to certain foods or materials like humans can?
Can dogs have allergies?
Yes, dogs can experience allergies just like humans do. In fact, allergies are fairly common across all dog breeds, typically appearing once a dog has reached the age of one or two years.
Some of the most common canine allergens include pollen, mold, dust mites, flea bites, and certain medications and foods. Fortunately, there are ways to treat and alleviate your dog’s allergy symptoms. But first, you’ll need to pinpoint what’s causing his reactions in the first place.
How are dog allergies diagnosed?
When it comes to diagnosing allergies in your dog, the path isn’t exactly straightforward. There’s no simple test that your vet can run to determine if your pet is actually allergic to something.
Because many canine health conditions such as mange and ringworm mirror the symptoms we see with an allergic reaction, it’s important to rule those out first. Your vet can run some tests to make sure your dog doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed.
Once he’s been given a clean bill of health, your vet will want a full rundown of your dog’s daily diet. If a food allergy seems plausible, your vet will most likely recommend a food trial during which your dog will be kept on a strict prescription diet for several weeks. Should his issues resolve, the presence of a food allergy is a safe bet.
Testing for environmental allergies in dogs looks a little different. Your vet may conduct a skin test in which he’ll inject a harmless amount of the suspected allergen underneath your dog’s skin, noting any subsequent redness or swelling.
Symptoms of allergies in dogs
While confirming allergies can be a complicated process, there are some common symptoms to look out for. If you have reason to believe your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction to something, take note of the following telltale signs:
- Scratching and biting—your dog may favor one specific body part to gnaw on, or he might itch all over
- Excessive paw-licking
- Red, itchy, inflamed skin
- Swelling of the face, ears, lips, or eyelids
- Extra shedding
- “Scooting”—or rather, dragging his rear end along the floor
- Difficulty breathing—your dog may also develop a cough or sneezing fit
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Chronic ear infections—dogs with ear inflammation are more prone to bacterial infections, according to PetMD. Because your dog’s ear canal is moist, dark, and warm, it’s an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to thrive. If you notice any ear discharge or your dog is scratching his ears more than usual, he could be suffering from an ear infection, requiring veterinary intervention.
Types of allergies seen in dogs
When you’re trying to get to the bottom of your dog’s allergy issues, it’s helpful to break down the types of allergies he can suffer from. Canine allergies fall into one of three main categories.
1. Skin allergies
Reactions caused by direct contact with an allergen are rarely seen in dogs. There are some dogs, however, who may be sensitive to certain materials such as wool or carpeting. They can also develop allergies to lawn pesticides or even the pyrethrins found in their flea collar.
2. Food allergies
Although relatively uncommon, canine food allergies can occur at any point during your dog’s life. A dog who happily snacked on carrots one day can suddenly exhibit adverse reactions to them the next day.
Food allergies may not manifest in your dog how you would expect them to. Instead of a miserable bellyache, it’s much more likely that your dog will experience adverse skin reactions such as itchiness or lesions. Some of the most common foods that dogs can be allergic to include soy and dairy products, wheat gluten, eggs, beef and lamb.
3. Environmental allergies
Seasonal allergy sufferers already know what an uncomfortable nuisance allergies can be. What you might not know is that our canine companions can also suffer from reactions to grass, pollen, and dust.
Pesky insects can also trigger an allergic reaction in your dog. Common offenders include spiders, ticks, horseflies, mosquitoes, and bees. But, by and large, the most common insect allergen seen in dogs are flea bites. For dogs with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), a single bite will lead to agonizing itching that can drive a dog to scratch himself so badly that he even removes some of his fur.
Treatment options for allergies in dogs
So your dog has allergies. Now what?
Truthfully—it depends on the type of allergy.
In most cases, avoidance of the allergen is the best route but, of course, it’s not always feasible. You can’t very well banish offending insects or stamp out all airborne pollen, after all.
Sometimes, dealing with dog allergies will require a minor lifestyle change. For food allergies, the only treatment option is to remove whatever foods trigger your dog’s allergic reaction. Protective booties can help a dog with a grass allergy (if he’ll tolerate them), as will a good wipe down of his feet after he’s been outside.
Aside from avoiding the irritant altogether, there are a number of treatment options you can explore.
Bathe your dog: Regular bathing can remove irritants that become trapped in your pet’s fur. Be sure to use a dog-friendly hypoallergenic shampoo, which can soothe raw, itchy skin. Your vet may also prescribe a topical treatment to manage your dog’s symptoms.
Not thrilled by the prospect of having to wash your pup on the regular? Consider hiring a professional groomer to do the dirty work for you.
Rinse your dog’s eyes and clean his ears: Using an ordinary eye cleansing solution can also provide Fido with some much-needed relief. Don’t forget his ears—the ear canals can harbor all kinds of irritating allergens, so using a pet-friendly ear solution to gently flush out any offenders is a good idea.
Get your flea situation under control: Fleas are never a good time, but for dogs allergic to flea saliva, they can become unbearable. It’s crucial that you follow your vet’s instructions for applying your dog’s prescribed flea and tick medicine. It’s equally smart to boost your vacuuming frequency and to use a dog flea comb from time to time.
Antihistamines: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like Benadryl can help take the edge off your dog’s allergic reaction. Just make sure you clear things with your vet before you go ahead and administer any new drugs to your dog.
Try supplements: Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have an anti-inflammatory effect, and they can help promote healthy skin. Talk to your vet about the benefits these supplements might provide for your dog.
Desensitization therapy: Weekly allergy shots are one treatment option to consider if you’re able to identify the cause of your dog’s allergies. Your dog will be injected with negligible amounts of the offending irritant until his immune system is adequately desensitized.
We all want the best for our dogs, and seeing them suffer from an allergic reaction can be incredibly upsetting. Don’t let your dog suffer needlessly—he’s relying on you to keep him healthy and allergy-free.