If your dog has allergies, this article is a must read.
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Just like their owners, dogs can suffer from allergies. If you are one of the over 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies each year, you know just how awful it can be. The constant sneezing, the itchy, watery eyes, tissue boxes in every room of your home. Allergies are no fun for anyone.
Therefore, when Fido begins to show signs of allergies, as a pet owner, what can you do? How can you ensure that your dog isn't suffering from something more serious like canine influenza or a bacterial infection? Is Zyrtec safe for dogs? When is it time to call your veterinarian?
In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover all of these questions and more in order to help relieve your dog’s allergies.
Symptoms of Allergies
It is important for pet owners to be able to recognize the signs of dog allergies, as well as identify the differences between an allergic reaction and other conditions. The major way to differentiate allergies from dog influenza or a ‘cold’ is the itch factor.
Dog owners should look for signs of itching and irritation, typically in the form of redness, sensitivity, and inflammation. Monitor your dog's behavior for more itching than normal. If your pup is solely itching at their ears, be sure to check for an ear infection as well.
Dogs will typically attempt to relieve the itch by scratching, licking, or chewing the irritated area. The most common areas affected by allergies are the face, ears, feet, belly and armpit area.
The particular area the dog is itching is often a clue as to the location of the source of the specific allergen. For example, a dog itching their back near the base of the tail is oftentimes a sign of flea allergy.
Dogs that continually itch without relief may have atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a condition that involves severe irritation of the skin usually due to inhaled allergens. If atopic dermatitis is left untreated, it can then lead to secondary infections due to an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. A slew of other conditions can often develop including hair loss, scabbing of the skin, and overall discomfort and associated irritation.
While the primary sign of allergies is itching, dog owners should also be on the lookout for:
Poor coat condition
In terms of food allergies, vomiting and diarrhea are two additional signs that dog owners should be aware of.
Less common but other possible signs include coughing and snoring, but these signs may also be observed when the throat is inflamed.
Other Possibilities to Consider
It is important to recognize certain details about the itching, as it may be a sign of a different condition. For example, if there is intense itching accompanied by hair loss, your pup may have sarcoptic mange.
Sarcoptic mange is a condition caused by mites. However, there is a prominent difference between an allergic reaction due to mites, and a reaction from various allergens such as occurs with food allergies. Sarcoptic mange is incredibly contagious. The mites can quickly travel from dog to dog and burrow deep into the skin, causing a great deal of pain and discomfort.
Because a reaction may appear to be merely an allergy, but could also be a sign of something else, if the cause isn't clear, it's important to get an accurate diagnosis from your veterinarian.
Causes of Dog Allergic Reactions
The cause of dog allergies is generally similar to the cause of human allergies: an overreaction of the immune system. When the dog's body senses that it has come into contact with a potential source of danger (some substance or food, etc.), it flags it as a threat, even if it's not. The body then releases antibodies to attempt to relieve itself of the threat. When the allergen and antibodies become attached to mast cells in various tissues of the body, histamines are released. This is evident in the signs we can identify such as sneezing, congestion, irritation, itching, etc. The body is attempting to expel whatever danger it feels it may be facing. Therefore, it is not just the sinuses that are affected, but also the respiratory system, the digestive system, as well as the skin.
Types of Dog Allergies
Similar to humans, a dog can have a reaction to allergens by ingesting them, having their skin exposed to them (contact), or after breathing them in (inhalant). A dog can also have an allergic reaction to a flea bite. There are four main types of dog allergies, all varying in degrees of severity.
The four main types of dog allergies are:
Environmental (also called atopy)
You've likely witnessed your pup having an allergic reaction to at least one of these, even if you didn't realize it at the time. Allergies don't have to show signs of a full-blown allergic reaction to be considered allergies.
Environmental Dog Allergies
Consider the number of different environmental odors that you sense every day. Now think about your dog on a walk. Fido tends to love getting up close and personal with just about everything. This is why environmental allergies affect so many of our furry friends.
Common environmental allergens include:
Pollen (grass, weed, tree, or flower pollen)
However, these aren't the only allergens that can affect your pup. Again, consider how someone wearing too much perfume while standing in line at the grocery store might cause you to go into a sneezing frenzy. There are a number of manufactured allergens that can also affect your dog including:
Plastic and rubber materials
Dog owners should always consider that if they are being affected by allergens, their pup is likely affected too.
Seasonal Allergies Symptoms
The most common signs of seasonal allergies are:
Red, moist,or scabbed skin
Increased scratching and irritation
Itchy, runny eyes
However, signs of seasonal allergies can also include any of the aforementioned general signs of allergies.
Just like humans, dogs can also be allergic to their food. In fact, food allergies and allergies to food additives are relatively common in dogs. If your dog has ever had an upset stomach from new food, it's possible they were showing an intolerance to a new ingredient.
The list of possible allergens is extensive, but common culprits include:
Grains: corn, wheat, rice
Proteins: chicken, beef, eggs, pork, rabbit, fish, lamb
Root vegetables: potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams
Legumes: peanuts, lentils, peas, beans, soy
Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese
Food Allergy Symptoms
Food allergy signs differ from environmental allergy signs in the system in which they generally appear. Food allergies typically affect the digestive system. Therefore, signs will commonly include diarrhea, vomiting, or both.
Hypoallergic Dog Food
Here's where things can get tricky with food allergies. The main way to determine exactly what is causing the allergic reaction is by process of elimination. This can be quite time-consuming (let alone expensive), but trust us when we say that it's worth it. Food allergies are nothing to shrug off. In fact, a mild upset stomach the first time a food allergen is ingested can quickly turn serious and have life-threatening consequences if the dog is continuously exposed.
Luckily, hypoallergenic dog food is available. You may want to consider grain-free food substitutes, as many dogs seem to have sensitivities to grains. Talk with your veterinarian about the best food for your dog's individual needs.
Most dogs will face flea allergies at some point. Even a few bites can leave Fido itching for weeks. If your pup is currently suffering from irritation due to flea bites, consider natural ways to ease the itch, such as coconut oil for dogs. There are also a number of non-toxic, all-natural ways to prevent flea bites in the first place such as diatomaceous earth for dogs.
Skin Allergies | Contact Allergies
It may surprise pet owners to know that dogs may also be allergic to certain fabrics (i.e. that gorgeous feather comforter that you sleep under). Additionally, dogs can also be allergic to both cat and dog dander as well as human dander. You read that correctly, but don't worry! There are ways to treat these pet allergies.
Diagnosing Dog Allergies
The first step to treating dog allergies is diagnosis. You must ensure that your dog really has an allergy and not a different condition. Depending on the dog's specific signs, your veterinarian may recommend blood tests, skin tests, as well as a food elimination diet.
If you’ve had allergies, you're likely familiar with skin allergy testing, also known as an intradermal skin test. The same test is used when diagnosing allergies in dogs. While many small injections may be necessary, the test won't be traumatic for your dog.
The allergy test works by injecting different allergens into the dog's skin to determine if there is a reaction. Typically, within 15 minutes of the allergen being injected, a veterinary dermatologist will be able to recognize which substances are most problematic for your pup.
There are two different types of blood testing that your veterinarian may use:
RAST test (radioallergosorbent)
ELISA test (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay)
The blood tests check for antibodies in the dog’s blood triggered by allergens.
Once the vet draws the blood, it can be sent off to a lab and checked for antibodies to allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and mold. Blood testing is considered less accurate for other allergens, such as fabrics and food.
Dog saliva tests have proven to be neither accurate nor effective in determining your dog’s allergies. If you wish to know more, please ask your vet. In addition, you can refer to some of the sources listed at the end of this article.
Food Elimination Diet
We previously mentioned the main way to diagnose food allergies: the food elimination diet. A food elimination diet involves stripping down the dog's diet to the bare essentials and then slowly reintroducing ingredients until you see a reaction. The process can last up to 6 months (or even longer!) and can be quite tedious for a pet owner. However, once the food allergy is determined, dog owners will be able to more easily keep their dog healthy and allergy-free from that point forward.
Breeds At Higher Risk For Dog Allergies
It is estimated that up to 10% of all dogs suffer from allergies. Interestingly enough, certain breeds are at a higher risk of developing allergies. You'll find that several on the list are brachycephalic breeds (dogs characterized by their pushed in, flat noses). However, all dogs have the potential to develop allergies at some point.
The following breeds tend to be at a higher risk of developing allergies:
The geographic location, as well as the season or time of year may also place some dogs at a higher risk for allergies.
Allergy Relief = Allergy Prevention
Obviously, the best way to provide allergy relief is to prevent allergens whenever possible. Of course, not all allergies, particularly seasonal environmental allergies can be prevented. However, there are a few things that pet owners can do on a daily basis to keep their pup as itch-free as possible.
Pet owners should consider adding an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to their dog's diet. Fatty acid supplements help to keep the skin moisturized and soothe irritation and inflammation. Speaking of inflammation, if you see that your dog's skin looks red and irritated, aloe can do wonders to provide immediate relief. An oatmeal bath can also be a great, all-natural source of relief.
Relief for Fleas
Even a few flea bites can cause your dog to itch and itch for weeks. Luckily, there are a number of ways to ease your dog's irritation such as coconut oil. That being said, prevention is the best medicine. Talk to your veterinarian about the best flea preventative for your dog. The dosage and frequency of the flea preventative would depend on whether your dog is primarily kept outside or inside. Additionally, there are all-natural ways to prevent fleas and other critters from making their way into your home such as diatomaceous earth.
Finding Relief for Environmental Allergies
There are also several ways to find relief from environmental allergies.
If you determine that Fido (and likely yourself) has an environmental allergy caused by dust, be sure to wash the bedding regularly. Washing the bedding once a week can drastically reduce dust levels and significantly reduce the allergic response.
Regular bathing can also reduce allergic responses to dust. With that said, be sure to use a soothing shampoo that won't irritate your dog's skin. The last thing you want to do is resolve one allergy and create another.
Pollen & Dander Relief
If your dog has allergies due to pollen or dander, you'll likely see them in a sneezing or itching fit after getting back inside from a walk. Wiping your dog down with a damp towel or wipes after walks can greatly reduce the allergens from pollen and dander on their skin.
If you are still unsure as to source or cause of the allergic reaction, consider your dog's shampoo, specifically shampoo residue.
This is honestly the best-case scenario because it can be an easy fix. Simply give your pup an extra rinse or two after shampooing to make sure that all of the residue has been washed away. You may also want to consider switching to a gentler formula if possible.
Allergy Medicine for Dogs
So, you've determined that your dog has environmental allergies, but even after eliminating all the potential sources you can think of, Fido still hasn't found relief. What more can you do?
Many veterinarians may recommend allergy medicine that you are likely familiar with, two of the most popular being:
While many vets recommend Zyrtec and Benadryl for dogs in appropriate dosages, we want to warn our readers to give these medications with caution and as directed. Conventional allergy medications act as a band-aid. They don't resolve the underlying issue, but simply temporarily relieve the signs. When given consistently over a long period of time (several weeks to months), allergy medications may become less effective, and can have the potential for undesirable side effects.
Allergy shots (also known as immunotherapy) is another option for both humans and dogs in terms of allergy relief. The shots are actually injections of limited amounts of the allergens. Over time, the body builds up a tolerance for the allergen that once caused a reaction. Ultimately, the shots make the immune system less sensitive.
While this process does take time, it is highly beneficial in the sense that it retrains the body's reaction process rather than simply masking the signs of the reaction.
Apoquel for Dogs
While on the topic, we want to warn our readers about Apoquel for dogs, a medication that is often prescribed to treat allergies. While Apoquel can be effective, it can also have undesirable side effects.
Natural Allergy Relief
Luckily, there are a number of ways in which pet owners can provide natural allergy relief to their beloved furry companions, including coconut oil and oatmeal baths.
Dog Allergies: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, allergies are no fun for anyone. The constant irritation can be especially awful for dogs with allergies when they aren't able to understand its source. Again, we want to stress the importance of making sure that your dog does indeed have an allergy and not a different ailment. However, once allergies have been confirmed, pet parents can cooperate with vets to effectively treat dog allergies in a variety of safe, natural ways.
*This article has been edited and updated for publication by Petal Smart, DVM.
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