Inhalant Allergies in Dogs

Inhalant Allergies (Atopy) in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Inhalant allergies in dogs develop when the dog inhales the allergen. Certain dogs are genetically predisposed to allergies, in which case, the condition is called canine atopy. 

The leading causes of inhalant allergies are pollens, house dust, house dust mites, mold spores, dander, feathers, food particles, and certain synthetic and natural materials. 

Inhalant allergy or atopy in dogs is a life-long condition manifesting with itchy skin, obsessive licking or rubbing, coat staining, hair loss, hot spots, frequent ear infections, upper respiratory tract issues, and rarely stomach upsets.   

Treating an atopic dermatitis dog is challenging and multimodal. The treatment must be tailored individually and include topical therapy, medications, supplements, and allergy shots.   

What are Inhalant Allergies in Dogs?

Inhalant allergies in dogs are specific allergic reactions triggered by inhaled allergens from the environment (or, in rare cases, food particles in the air). 

Inhalant allergies, commonly known as atopy or atopic disease, are widespread in dogs and the canine equivalent of human environmental allergies (hay fever).

Understanding inhalant allergies requires understanding the atopy meaning. The term atopy denotes a genetic issue with the dog’s immune system, making it prone to allergic reactions to otherwise harmless environmental substances. 

Common causes of inhalant allergies or atopy in dogs include pollen (from trees, weeds, grass, and flowers), mold spores, mildew, house dust, house dust mites, and food. 

Cases of inhalant allergies in dogs are on the rise. Veterinary Record published a study in 2013 titled “Characterisation of Dog Sensitization to Grass Pollen in Western France from 1999 to 2010.” The study showed a significant rise in canine grass pollen sensitization, increasing from 14.4% to 27.7% between 1999-2002 and 2007-2010.


How does Inhalant Allergy affect the Dogs' Health?

Inhalant allergy affects the dog’s health by causing itchiness. Dogs exhibit scratching and rubbing behaviors, targeting the eyes, ears, armpits, and groin areas. 

Itchiness is disruptive and impairs the dog’s daily habits. Persistent itchiness leads to a decreased appetite and disrupts sleeping patterns, with the dog waking up intermittently to scratch. Constant scratching becomes destructive and causes secondary skin infections and lesions in severe cases. 

People with allergies develop respiratory issues, while inhalant allergies in dogs usually manifest as itchiness. Respiratory signs are infrequent and less pronounced than itchiness. 

Does Inhalant Allergy Lead to Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?

No, inhalant allergy does not lead to atopic dermatitis. Inhalant allergies in dogs develop when allergens are inhaled, while in atopic dermatitis, the allergies enter through a compromised skin barrier. 

Various types of dog skin allergies often coexist. For example, it is possible for one dog to experience an inhalant allergy and atopic dermatitis at the same time. 

What are the Factors that Trigger the Development of Atopy in Dogs?

The main factor that triggers the development of atopy in dogs is genes. Atopy contains a genetic component, making certain breeds more susceptible to its effects than others.

Inhalant dog allergies are prevalent among breeds such as Retrievers, Bulldogs, Boxers, Poodles, Shih Tzus, Spaniels, and German Shepherds. Dogs of these breeds have a higher-than-average risk of sensitivity to environmental allergens, increasing the chances of atopy.

Does Inhalant Allergy affect a Dog's behavior?

Yes, inhalant allergy affects a dog’s behavior. Inhalant allergies in dogs cause an itching sensation known as pruritus. A 2019 study published in Animals titled “Behavioural Differences in Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis Suggest Stress Could Be a Significant Problem Associated with Chronic Pruritus” found a correlation between itchiness and adverse canine behavior. 

The study noted that allergic itch in dogs increases the risk of problematic behavior such as mounting, chewing, eating feces, food begging, attention seeking, hyperactivity, excitability, and excessive grooming.  

What are the causes of Inhalant Allergies in Dogs?

The causes of inhalant allergies in dogs are listed below. 

  • Pollen: Pollen is a common dog allergen. Pollen from trees (cedar, oak, ash), shrubs, weeds, grasses, and flowers have the potential to trigger allergic reactions.
  • House Dust: House dust triggers allergies as it contains various allergens such as pollen, mold spores, insect body parts or droppings, and dander.  
  • Dust Mites: The bodies, feces, and secretions from dust mites carry specific proteins that have the potential to trigger allergies in sensitive dogs. 
  • Mold Spores: Mold spores, which are lightweight and float in the air, have allergenic properties that cause sensitivity reactions. 
  • Fungi: Certain fungi, apart from mold spores, lead to inhalant allergies. Airborne particles from fungal hyphae and additional fungal byproducts may trigger an allergic response.
  • Food Particles: Allergenic foods release proteins in the air if heated. The airborne food particles cause reactions in dogs allergic to the particular food. 
  • Dander: Shed skin cells or dander from people and animals carry proteins that trigger allergic reactions in sensitive hosts when inhaled. 
  • Feathers: Feathers and human or pet dander carry proteins or allergens. Feather allergies are associated with mites living in feathers. 
  • Certain Fabrics: Many synthetic and natural materials cause inhalant allergies in dogs. Common examples include wool and nylon. 

Is Atopy the most common type of Dog Allergy?

No, atopy is not the most common type of dog allergy. Inhalant allergies in dogs or atopy is the second most common allergy type, affecting around 10 to 15% of the canine population. 

The most common type of dog allergy is flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). The incidence of FAD in dogs has increased by 12.5% over the last decade, according to a 2018 health report by Banfield Pet Hospital  on “The Science Behind Skin Allergies.” The paper recommends that dog owners administer flea prevention year-round to mitigate its effects on a dog’s skin.


What are the Symptoms of Inhalant Allergies in Dogs?

The symptoms of inhalant allergies in dogs are listed below. 

  • Itching (Pruritus): Pronounced itchiness is the hallmark of allergies in dogs. Itchy dogs scratch themselves to the point of destructive behavior and develop secondary skin issues due to constant physical irritation. 
  • Rubbing and Licking: Rubbing and licking accompany scratching in many cases. Dogs rub their faces and tend to lick their paws, resulting in frequent paw infections. 
  • Coat Staining: Saliva-induced coat staining occurs in dogs that lick themselves to alleviate itchiness. Coat staining develops on the dog’s legs and paws, resulting in a reddish color. 
  • Skin Redness and Inflammation: Skin redness occurs when itchy skin becomes red and inflamed. The skin condition worsens if the dog develops a secondary bacterial or yeast skin infection.  
  • Hair Loss: Persistent scratching and irritation progress to hair loss and the development of bald patches. The affected skin on the bald patches is red, scaly, greasy, crusty, or flaky due to continuous trauma.
  • Hot Spots: Hot spots (known as pyotraumatic dermatitis) are characterized by specific skin lesions that are red, inflamed, oozing, and filled with pus. Hot spots are a typical sign of self-inflicted trauma. 
  • Frequent Ear Problems: Recurring ear infections (otitis) are among dogs' most common signs of allergies. Ear rubbing, head shaking, and tilting of the head indicate the presence of an ear infection. 
  • Respiratory Signs: Dogs with inhalant allergies commonly exhibit coughing, sneezing, and wheezing as attempts to eliminate the irritation-causing allergens. Observable respiratory signs of inhalant allergies include runny noses and eyes.
  • Stomach Upset: Inhalant allergies in dogs manifest with stomach issues, including vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness, reduced appetite, and abdominal pain in rare cases.

What season do Inhalant Allergies in Dogs start?

Inhalant allergies in dogs start twice a year, specifically during spring and fall. Dogs develop seasonal itchiness during their first or second year, and the itchy period’s duration increases with each passing year.  

Some dogs with atopy experience a non-seasonal itch if the allergens triggering the allergies are present in the environment throughout the year. 

How long do Inhalant Allergies in Dogs last?

Inhalant allergies in dogs are typically chronic conditions, and they can last throughout their lives. Allergies start when young dogs present with seasonal or non-seasonal itchiness, depending on the allergen’s presence in the environment.  

Inhalant allergy or atopy is a life-long condition. Proper management helps alleviate the inhalant allergy symptoms, and over time, some dogs get less sensitive to the allergens. Allergies do not completely disappear despite management efforts.    

How Long does the Airborne Allergens of Dogs Stay in the Air?

Airborne allergens in dogs stay in the air for several hours after dispersal. Allergens disperse widely before settling and, once settled, attach to surfaces. 

The settled allergen particles remain on surfaces until removed by cleaning or washing. These allergens retain the potential to trigger inhalant allergies in dogs. Some allergens stay in the environment for hours, days, or months. 

For example, pet dander (from cats and dogs) lingers in the environment for around six months, triggering an allergic reaction in dogs sensitive to other pets. 

How is Inhalant Allergy in Dogs Diagnosed?

Inhalant allergy in dogs is diagnosed based on clinical signs with an examination to exclude conditions with similar symptoms. 

The vet gathers the dog’s history and conducts a thorough physical exam to rule out potential causes such as food allergies or flea allergy dermatitis. 

The specific allergens triggering inhalant allergies in dogs are diagnosed through intradermal skin or blood testing. 

Intradermal skin testing entails injecting small amounts of different allergens into the dog’s skin and monitoring the reaction to pinpoint specific triggers. 

Blood testing involves analyzing the blood in a laboratory setting and is a less invasive alternative for allergen testing, albeit with lower accuracy than intradermal skin testing. 

What are the Treatment and Remedies of Atopy in Dogs?

The treatments and remedies for atopy in dogs are listed below. 

  • Allergen Avoidance: Minimizing the dog’s exposure to allergens is a natural, med-free approach to managing inhalant allergies in dogs, although complete avoidance is not always possible. Frequent cleaning (washing, dusting, vacuuming), purifying the air, and avoiding walking in areas with heavy vegetation help reduce allergen exposure. 
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids (prednisone) provide quick relief from allergy symptoms. The long-term use of corticosteroids is linked to various health risks, so steroids are used in a short-term, monitored time frame until other allergy control treatments take effect. 
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines (like Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec) reduce the effects of histamine, which is released from the immune cells and acts as the primary allergy mediator. The atopy treatment dogs need varies, and antihistamines are unsuitable for all cases. 
  • Immune Modulators: Immune modulators help modify the immune system to reduce overreaction to allergens. Immune modulators for dogs are available in oral and injectable forms. Popular options include Atopica, Apoquel, and Cytopoint.
  • Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots): Immunotherapy or hyposensitization is the process of reprogramming the dog’s immune system by introducing allergens into the body in small doses over an extended period. The effectiveness of allergy shots varies. Veterinary Record conducted a study, “Results of Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy in 117 Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis” in 2006. The study showed that following allergy shots, 18 of the dogs experienced an excellent response, 57 had a good response, 24 had a moderate response, and 24 had a poor response. 
  • Topical Treatments: Topical therapy involves frequent bathing to remove allergens from the dog’s skin. Therapeutic medicated shampoos are recommended for targeting specific secondary skin issues, while oatmeal shampoos offer itch relief. 
  • Fatty Acid Supplements: The most recommended supplements for dog allergy relief are essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega fatty acids reduce inflammation, support skin health, and prevent allergen penetration. 

Can CBD Oil for Dogs be Used to Treat Inhalant Allergies?

Yes, CBD oil for dogs can be used to treat inhalant allergies. Hemp-sourced, full-spectrum pet CBD oil is safe for dogs and aids with allergy control via several mechanisms. 

CBD for dogs works through the endocannabinoid system (ECS), closely linked to the immune system. CBD modulates immunity in the body, thereby managing the primary source of inhalant allergies in dogs.

CBD has proven anti-inflammatory and anti-pruritic properties. Its anti-inflammatory aspects decrease inflammation, which is the body’s initial response to the allergen presence, while the anti-pruritic potential reduces itchiness, which is the primary allergy symptom. 

The combined effects of CBD provide allergy relief for dogs with inhalant hypersensitivities. Pet CBD is all-natural and safe to mix with traditional anti-allergy medications and treatments. 

What other CBD Products for dogs that can be used to treat Atopy?

Other CBD products for dogs that can be used to treat atopy include CBD treats or chews, CBD peanut butter, CBD powders, CBD capsules, and CBD topical creams and balms. 

Pet CBD edibles are the most popular alternative to CBD oil. CBD treats are simple to administer, even to fussy dogs. The downside is that CBD treats or chews take more time to take effect, while CBD oil provides rapid allergy relief. 

Inhalant allergies in dogs cause itchy and irritated skin, which benefits from the topical use of CBD creams and balms. Applied directly on the skin, CBD is soothing and supports healing. 

When to contact a Veterinarian about Inhalant Allergies in Dogs?

Contact a veterinarian about inhalant allergies in dogs as soon as the symptoms become apparent. Inhalant allergies rarely progress into life-threatening anaphylaxis but are uncomfortable and adversely affect the dog’s quality of life. 

Diagnosing atopy is time-consuming and requires eliminating other skin diseases with similar signs and symptoms. Veterinarians typically recommend intradermal or blood tests to determine the precise allergens for suspected allergies.  

Can Dogs Die Because of Inhalant Allergies?

Yes, dogs can die because of inhalant allergies in extreme cases. Allergens in the air have the ability to trigger a condition known as anaphylaxis in susceptible dogs. 

Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic reaction is a specific type of rapid and fatal allergic reaction. Hives, swollen muzzles, difficulty breathing, and blue gums are typical signs of anaphylaxis.  

The muzzle swelling extends to the tongue and throat, leading to choking and difficulty breathing. Dogs experiencing anaphylactic reactions require immediate veterinary attention. 

What is the difference between Inhalant Allergies and Airborne Allergies in Dogs?

The difference between inhalant allergies and airborne allergens lies in the mode of entry for allergens into the dog’s body. 

Inhalant allergies in dogs develop when the allergen is breathed in or inhaled. Airborne allergies occur when the allergens are absorbed into the dog’s skin through faulty skin pores or impaired skin barrier.  

Inhalant and airborne allergies in dogs are triggered by similar allergens (pollens, dust mites, mold spores, mildew) and manifest with comparable symptoms, making it essential to distinguish between the two based on the manner of allergen entry.

What are the Causes of Dog Airborne Allergies?

The causes of dog airborne allergies are grass pollens, weed pollens (ragweed), flower pollens, tree pollens (cedar, oak, ash), house dust mites, mold spores, and mildew. 

Airborne food particles are a possible cause in rare cases among susceptible dogs. 

Airborne and inhalant allergies in dogs overlap. For example, dogs allergic to grass pollen are sensitive to grass pollen entering their skin when inhaled. 

Can You Get Rid of the Allergic Reaction from Allergens Permanently in Dogs?

No, you cannot permanently get rid of the allergic reaction from allergens in dogs. Inhalant allergies in dogs are life-long conditions, and the goal of treatment is symptom relief. 

Dogs with inhalant allergies require individually tailored management plans, including a specific combination of meds (corticosteroids, immune suppressants, and antihistamines), supplements (CBD oil, omega fatty acids), and allergy shots (desensitization or hyposensitization therapy) to treat the symptoms.