How can I tell if my dog has allergies?

If your dog is experiencing allergy issues, you may observe excessive itching and scratching, red and watery eyes, sneezing or runny nose, vomiting or diarrhea, and a variety of other symptoms.

What are dogs allergic to?

Dogs are allergic to many of the same things that humans are including pollen, mites, fleas, detergents, and some food ingredients. 

How are allergies in dogs diagnosed?

Allergies in dogs may be diagnosed with food trials, blood tests, and skin tests.

How are allergies in dogs treated?

Allergies are managed rather than cured with flea prevention, lifestyle adjustments, symptom management, and weekly allergy shot therapy to build your dog's tolerance to allergens.

If your dog has allergies, they may scratch and lick their skin every hour of the day and even wake you up at night. Perhaps, you've also observed signs of intestinal discomfort or typical allergy symptoms in your dog. While these types of allergy reactions are mild, it's best to determine the source of your dog's allergy issues before itchy spots become open wounds and runny noses become respiratory infections. Here's what you need to know about managing your dog's allergic condition.

cute small dog shedding his fur

Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs

Allergies are a result of an overreaction of your dog's immune system to harmless substances in the environment such as dust, pollen, fleas, or certain food ingredients. Your dog's immune system is wired to respond to pathogens like viruses, bacteria, or fungi. When there is an aggressive response to non-pathogenic substances, that reaction is referred to as an allergy.

During an allergic reaction, histamine is released causing inflammation. The most typical allergy signs in dogs are as follows:

  • Redness and itching around your dog's paws and belly.
  • Ear or skin infections.
  • Puffy, red, or watery eyes.
  • Fur loss.
  • Coughing or wheezing.
  • Scooting their rump on the floor.
  • Sneezing or runny nose.
  • Swelling, hives, rashes, or bumps on your dog's skin.
  • Wounds from scratching or licking affected areas.
  • Secondary bacterial or yeast infections of your dog's skin.

The most serious sign of an allergic reaction is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that manifests as facial swelling, difficulty breathing, sudden diarrhea or vomiting, and collapse. Fortunately, this condition is rare in dogs, but if you notice these signs in your pet, take them to the vet immediately.

Common Allergies in Dogs

Not all allergic dogs experience the same symptoms. Mild to severe symptoms are possible and may impact different parts of the body. Your dog may be hypersensitive to a wide range of allergies. Some dogs may only have one sort of allergy, while others may have several. The most typical dog allergies are: 

  • Seasonal & Environmental Allergies. Indoor and outdoor allergens like mold, dust, dust mites and pollen from plants, grasses, and trees cause symptoms when inhaled, but symptoms can also be brought on by direct contact with an allergen.
  • Flea Allergies. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is actually caused by flea saliva and results in skin infections and rashes after as little as 1 to 2 bites.
  • Dog Food Allergies. Allergies to ingredients in dog food are comparable to allergies to shellfish or peanuts and can develop over time or suddenly.
  • Protein Allergies. Proteins from cattle, lamb, chicken, soy, or wheat are common food allergies in dogs.
  • Contact Allergies. Detergents, chemicals, and other substances can cause rashes and other allergic reactions in dogs in addition to inhaled chemicals such as perfume or smoke. 

Most allergies are hereditary or genetic in nature. Bulldogs, Chinese Shar-Peis, Retriever and Terrier Breeds, Shih Tzus, and Lhasa Apsos are a few dog breeds that may be more prone to allergies. However, any breed of dog can be affected. If your dog is predisposed to allergies, they manifest between 6 months and 3 years old. Canine allergies may change with the seasons or if your dog moves to another region.

Diagnosis of Allergies in Cats

Testing for allergies takes time. Your veterinarian will start by eliminating any medical or emotional disorders that could result in comparable symptoms. For instance, microscopic skin mites can create sensations on the skin that resemble allergies, yet some allergy therapies can actually make skin mites worse. Additionally, like some people chew their fingernails, an anxious or bored dog could lick or chew their skin.

The following are typical next steps if allergies are suspected:

  •  Food trials are used to test for food allergies by putting your dog on a strict diet for 1-3 months that excludes any food that is likely to give your dog allergies, then adding possible allergens back one at a time.
  • Blood testing is not as accurate as food trials but can be used to check your dog's reaction to a number of allergies that contribute to atopic dermatitis by testing for allergen-specific antibodies.
  • Skin testing involves injecting small quantities of up to 60 allergens into your dog's skin and is usually done under sedation or anesthesia, followed by strict monitoring. 

These tests are frequently tailored to include allergens unique to your dog's region, state, or city.

Treatment for Allergies in Dogs

Keep in mind that treating allergies means managing them, not curing them. You may set reasonable expectations, prevent disappointment, and develop the best long-term management strategy by keeping this objective in mind. Managing your dog's allergies may include actions such as:

  • Using high-quality, year-round flea prevention.
  • Following a strict diet for your dog.
  • Injecting weekly allergy shots to gradually build your dog's tolerance.
  • Keeping an eye on pollen/allergen counts in your dog's area.
  • Bathing your dog in allergy shampoos.
  • Applying skin ointments and lotions to treat minor flare-ups.
  • Giving your dogs supplements, including probiotics, and fatty acids.
  • Cleaning your dog's paws and tummy after walks.
  • Using Benadryl or prescription antihistamines to manage flare-ups as directed by your dog's vet.

Your dog's allergies can be frustrating for both you and your dog. Fortunately, you can make your dog feel better so they are able to enjoy all their favorite activities with you, itch-free, by being patient, vigilant, and following your veterinarian's instructions.

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