Reference Guide to Identifying & Combating Canine Allergies
Dog allergies are one of the most frustrating conditions for dogs and their owners. There are a variety of treatment options because there is no one safe and effective treatment. Scratching is just one sign your dog might have an allergy.
Allergies can affect different body parts in different ways. There are four main allergy categories: airborne, flea dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and food.
Here in our house, we have dealt with all but the flea allergies (thanks to our regular prevention regimen). There’s a lot of good information out there, but when you’re going through it with your dog, it can be difficult to find resources that zero in on what you need in a manageable way.
With that in mind, here’s a quick reference guide to dog allergies. Please consult your vet if your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms.
These occur when your dog inhales particles that he’s allergic to.
- Agents: pollen, dust mites, and mold
- Symptoms: sneezing, pawing at or rubbing face on floor or furniture, chewing/biting/licking skin, recurring ear infections
- Notes: Airborne allergies are mostly seasonal.
This occurs when your dog has a reaction to a flea bite. You can pretty easily prevent this by giving him regular flea prevention.
- Agents: flea bites
- Symptoms: Same as airborne, but can become more severe, resulting in hives and anaphylaxis.
- Notes: More common in dogs that have outdoor access. If you give your dog a topical flea prevention treatment and you still have flea problems, ask your vet about prescribing an oral medication.
This occurs when your dog touches something that he’s allergic to.
- Agents: household cleaners, detergents, grass, plastic
- Symptoms: appearance of red bumps/irritation on points of contact (like paws, stomach, and tail), scratching/chewing/licking, hair loss, hot spots
These kick in when your dog ingests something he’s allergic to.
- Agents: Can be anything, but the most allergenic foods are protein sources like beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Soy, corn, and wheat are also common food allergens.
- Symptoms: GI upset indicated by audible stomach gurgles, vomiting, and diarrhea. May also cause respiratory issues.
- Notes: Dogs aren’t born with food allergies; they get them after eating a certain food for a while. The most thorough way to diagnose a food allergy is to do a diet trial or put your dog onto hypoallergenic food so you can figure out what might be the culprit. Your vet can help you with this.
Treatments Options for Allergies in Dogs
There are many ways to tackle allergies. Depending on the type of allergy, the allergen, and the dog, you might have to try a few things (or a combination of things) to find the right treatment. Remember to enlist the guidance of your vet when commencing this battle. I’ll start with the easier strategies and work up to the more serious treatments.
- Air filters: To help combat airborne allergens, use an air filter or two in the house. You might even see a difference in yourself!
- Allergy shots: These are expensive and intense, but a lot of dogs benefit from them. They work a lot like human allergy shots. Ask your vet about them.
- Antibiotics: These are typically prescribed if the allergy has given rise to a bacterial or yeast infection.
- Antihistamines: Over the counter human meds (such as Benadryl or Zyrtec) are safe to give your dog to help curb itching, but you must work with your vet on dosage. Be aware that antihistamines don’t address the allergy itself; they just ease the symptom to prevent your dog from giving himself an infection from scratching or biting.
- Apoquel: A new allergy medication on the market that has been shown to be very effective in dogs.
- Brushing: Brushing your dog regularly can help keep allergens from settling on his fur and skin.
- Depomedrol: Is a type of steroid; see under steroid.
- High quality food: Work with your vet, nutritionist, or local independent pet food provider to find a food that is high-quality and made with ingredients that don’t cause allergic reactions. A grain free food or limited ingredient foods are options your veterinarian may discuss.
- Nutraceuticals/Supplements: Adding sources of Vitamin C, Omegas, Vitamin A, Selenium, Zinc, and other power-packed nutrients to your dog’s food (and sometimes water) can help address the root cause of all kinds of allergies.
- Paw wiping: If your dog goes to town on his paws after being outside, simply wiping his paws off with a towel or prescription-medicated pads from your vet can do a lot to get rid of allergens. Do this every time he comes inside, and you might see a big difference.
- Prednisone: Is a type of steroid; see under steroid.
- Steroids: These are prescribed when the antihistamines don’t work. They are pretty powerful though, and can have some substantial side effects.
- Switching food/water bowls: This is a strategy that is more commonly used with cats versus dogs. If you notice your dog getting acne or irritation around his mouth area, it could be the bowls you’re using. Try switching to glass or ceramic and see what happens.
- Topical creams, ointments, and shampoos: These are prescribed to help heal visible hot spots, irritation, and infections that are a result of the allergy. There are different varieties that have different levels of medication.