Allergies in Dogs and How It Affects Them
With the change of the seasons, many of us humans find ourselves reaching for a box of tissues, eye drops, and our trusted daily allergy medications. What you might not know is that we’re not the only ones who suffer. Allergies in dogs are more common than you may think.
The thing about allergies in dogs is that they don’t usually present in the same way as they do for humans. Most often, dog allergies involve itchy skin, feet or ears. You may also see respiratory symptoms, swelling, or gastrointestinal issues as well.
When it comes to allergies in dogs, you will most often see two types of allergies:
- Seasonal/Environmental Allergies
- Food Allergies
Today we’re going to talk about the symptoms of these different allergies in dogs, how common they are, and what you can do to help your furry friend find relief fast.
Most dogs will show symptoms of allergies between 6 months and their 3rd birthday so if your dog is suddenly exhibiting symptoms of discomfort and falls in that age range, you are in the right place!
Seasonal and environmental allergies in dogs
Seasonal and environmental allergies in dogs usually manifest in the form of extreme itching of the entire body, localized itching, itchy ears, or itching between toes and on paws. Sometimes you will see hives, other skin irritations, or notice your dog sneezing and coughing. These types of allergies are usually caused by your dog inhaling the allergen.
Because itching is the main symptom, allergies can lead to a lot of secondary issues such as infections, skin lesions and hot spots which further your dog’s discomfort and compromises their immune systems.
Common culprits of seasonal allergies in dogs are dust, pollen, and grass. If your dog is suffering from outdoor seasonal allergies, you will see a spike in symptoms at certain times of the year. If you live somewhere warm all year round or the allergen is in the environment of your home (like dust), your dog’s suffering may be all year round.
What to do if you suspect seasonal allergies in your dog?
Unfortunately, allergy testing in dogs is often very expensive and inconclusive because you need to test for specific allergens. So more likely, your vet will have you take a symptom-management approach to their symptoms.
However, if your dog’s allergies seem severe or you don’t mind spending the money, you can discuss a skin test with your doctor which will allow you to pursue immunotherapy shots for your dog. This is a huge money and time commitment but is highly effective (source).
What does symptom management for seasonal allergies in dogs look like?
Unfortunately, our rescued German Shepherd suffers from pretty severe seasonal and food allergies, in addition to having a thyroid disorder. Symptom management (and medication) is key to his comfort. Keeping his coat and skin as healthy as possible makes a huge difference in his day-to-day.
Symptom management can also come in the form of medication. If things are really out of control or your dog is suffering from secondary infections or issues as a result of their allergy antibiotics, steroids, and antihistamines can be effective and very helpful.
- Steps to increase the health of their coat and manage itching: regular brushing, weekly oatmeal baths, daily fish oil supplements or other forms of Omega-3s.
- Antibiotics if deemed necessary
- Steroids if deemed necessary
- Benedryl or other over the counter antihistamines, given under the supervision of your vet for dosing purposes
Cone or other Elizabethan-style collar to prevent severe itching
- Nasal spray if deemed necessary
- Immunotherapy shots
Food allergies in dogs
Food allergies in dogs often present very similarly to seasonal allergies, this is what makes figuring out your dog’s allergies so tricky! If your dog has a food allergy or sensitivity they will often also be very itchy to the point of severe hair loss or creating hot spots. Unique to food allergies are severe and recurrent ear infections, vomiting, and diarrhea.
When it comes to diagnosing a food allergy, again things are tricky. Usually, the first step is switching your dog to a limited ingredient diet or dog food. It can take up to 3 months for food allergens to fully leave your dog’s system, so this is a long-term commitment to see improvement.
The most common food allergens for dogs are chicken, beef, eggs, corn, wheat, soy, and milk. For this reason, vets often recommend trying food with a more unique protein source your dog has never been exposed to such as bison, salmon, or venison. For the carbohydrate look for varieties with sweet potato.
Sometimes, simply switching to a higher quality dog food can do the trick because it is a preservative or filler ingredient that they are allergic to.
Read more about choosing the right dog food for your large breed dog and choosing the healthiest dog treats
What can you do to manage your dog’s food allergy symptoms?
Beyond switching their diet and waiting to see if you see results, you will do a lot of the same symptom management strategies as you would for seasonal allergies.
- Help their coat health with fish oil supplements or another source of Omega-3s
- Brush them regularly and do oatmeal baths to calm itchy skin
- Treat hot spots by trimming the hair around the affected area and clean the area with an Apple Cider Vinegar and water solution (always consult your vet if hot spots are new to you or your dog)
- Give Benedryl (under your vet’s supervision) to manage itching
- See your vet about medicated ear drops for recurring ear infections
Other types of allergies in dogs
Most allergies that will affect your dog are food or environmental. One other very common allergy is to fleas or other insects. In a dog with a flea allergy, their reaction to a case of fleas will be far more pronounced with severe itching. We had a case of fleas in our house one fall and it was very clear that our Lab was allergic while our Husky was not based on their reaction to the bites.
The best way to prevent flea and insect allergies? Always utilize tick and flea prevention in the form of a collar or topical treatment. These are highly effective at keeping them away.
Ready to address your dog’s allergies?
Getting to the bottom of your dog’s excessive itching or other uncomfortable symptoms can be a frustrating and lengthy process. But once you figure out what’s affecting them, you can help limit their exposure and prevent reactions.
In the meantime, follow the advice to manage their symptoms as best as possible and always consult your vet about allergy-related issues. Hopefully, Fido will be feeling more comfortable and back to themselves soon!
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