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The Most Common Causes for Your Dog's Allergies


By hannah hollinger

Published: 06/05/2019, edited: 09/07/2022

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When a dog is affected by allergies, their discomfort becomes pretty apparent. Your dog will begin to itch and scratch, and they may have ongoing ear infections. These symptoms, among others, can point to a reaction to an allergen.

People who have allergies typically have itchy watery eyes, and they sneeze a lot. Canines display their discomfort mostly through the skin. The constant biting, licking, and chewing is a sign that your pet needs veterinary attention. Testing can determine whether the allergies are due to food, environmental causes, or other factors. When you take your dog to the vet to discuss allergies, they may want to rule out all other potential reasons for the skin problems at the same time as the allergy investigation.

Read on for a primer on the four categorized allergen types, typical allergy symptoms, how to figure out what your dog is allergic to, and information on allergy relief for dogs.

What Are The Symptoms Of Allergies In Dogs?

Because allergies manifest through the skin, the appearance of inflammation, redness and rawness indicates that something is affecting your dog’s immune system. Allergens, often substances that your furry buddy encounters every day, sensitize the immune system which then has an abnormal response to the item. It may be an ingredient in your pet’s food or an inhalant allergy like grass or pollen. Histamines are released, which then lead to itching and scratching.

Other ways your dog’s body goes on alert against allergens can be:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loose stools or diarrhea
  • Poor coat condition
  • Loss of fur
  • Redness and thickening of the skin, sometimes oozing
  • Warm feeling to the skin
  • Inflamed ears which are often infected
  • Watery, bloodshot eyes
  • Runny nose and sneezing

Although rare, canines can have an immediate and life-threatening reaction to an allergen. Symptoms include sudden diarrhea, shock, vomiting, seizures, drooling, pale gums, cold limbs, and coma. Death may occur.

What Are The Most Common Allergens?

When pet parents learn that their canine buddies can have allergies just like people do, they wonder what are dogs allergic to? Veterinarians have categorized allergies into four types to make them easier to understand and manage, but it must be noted that they cannot be cured. The management of allergies is a life-long endeavor, but a worthwhile one when it comes to the health of your pet.

Environmental Allergens

Environmental allergies in dogs occur when a canine reacts to every day (and otherwise harmless) substances in the environment. Also called atopy or atopic dermatitis, this type of allergy manifests itself through the skin. Redness and inflammation appear on the groin, armpits, elbows, abdomen, ears, feet and face. About 15% of canines affected by atopic dermatitis will have inflammation inside the nose and asthma; these dogs will often sneeze and have discharge from the nose.

Often described as airborne allergies, reactions to environmental allergens occur when your dog reacts to substances like mold (for example, mold that can grow in wet leaves), pollens like ragweed, house and dust mites, and dander. Your pet’s bedding can also be an irritant. Cedar chips inside a dog mattress are a common culprit.

Environmental allergy testing for dogs is a possibility, but sometimes the exact cause is hard to pin down. Flare-ups can be seasonal depending on the climate where you live and the allergen. Treatment may include topical medication, controlling secondary infections, and even allergy shots (called immunotherapy), which are effective in about 60% of dogs.

Natural remedies for dog allergies to grass, for example, will include trying to avoid the allergen, meticulous coat care (including wiping down the fur every time your dog comes inside), and oatmeal baths to help soothe the itching. Choose dog toys other than stuffed animals and change your dog’s bedding if the vet suspects it may be the culprit.

Contact Allergens

Many allergens can lead to a contact allergy. The point of contact with your dog is the area on the body where the skin shows irritation. Symptoms may be redness of the skin that becomes inflamed, scaling of the skin, and fluid may leak from sores. Irritation of the skin, left untreated, can evolve into a secondary infection.

Common contact allergens are synthetics used in carpets and dog bedding, lawn pesticides, floor cleaners, and medications like pyrethrins in flea collars. Carpet deodorizer, laundry products with a strong scent, plants like southern crabgrass and wandering jew, and some products used in renovations are other known contact irritants.

Your veterinarian will know best which type of testing to do; most commonly, blood testing and intradermal testing are done. With a blood test, the blood is analyzed to see if a reaction occurs to food, pollens, and materials like nylon. Intradermal testing must be done when your pup is sedated. Tiny amounts of the suspected allergen are injected under the skin to see if a reaction occurs.

Depending on what is discovered, your dog may need canine allergy medicine like glucocorticoids or topical medication to resolve the problem. Your vet may recommend a sulfodene spray. Natural remedies that can be utilized at home are the wearing of a jacket and booties when outside, and permanent avoidance of the suspected allergen (such as keeping your pet away from crabgrass or disposing of their bed in exchange for a non-allergenic type). Bathing your best buddy as instructed by the vet and with a vet-recommended shampoo is essential to improvement.

Flea Allergens

While allergic reactions to many types of bugs like bee stings, spider, tick, horsefly, and mosquito bites can occur in dogs, the most common type of allergy to insects is flea allergy dermatitis. A dog will have severe itching in response to even one bite. The saliva of the flea is the allergen, and your dog may chew their limbs and tail to the point of hair loss and bleeding. Between the back legs is another favorite nesting area for fleas; the warmth attracts them. Your dog’s fur may be stained brown from excessive licking and the hair may break off. If your companion is suffering from a flea infestation, the discomfort can be unbearable.

Flea bite allergy is also called flea bite hypersensitivity. The resulting flea bite allergy dermatitis does not typically occur in dogs under one year of age, pointing to the fact that the age of onset is an important diagnostic tool. The presence of flea dirt (feces) is key. Dogs who groom excessively because of the allergy and itching may not exhibit the presence of fleas easily, as the fleas can burrow deeply into the fur. Intradermal testing may be done, but often the presence of fleas and the ruling out of other possible skin conditions will allow for a positive diagnosis.

The treatment against this allergen is threefold: eliminate the fleas, clean and eradicate fleas from the pet’s environment, and prevent reinfestation. Your vet can safely assist you in the process. Do not use over the counter products because an adverse reaction to pyrethrins and permethrins in the collars and topical sprays or shampoos is highly possible. Dogs with an allergy to one thing often have multiple allergies and it is best not to take a risk.

Your home will have to be treated; the veterinarian will have safe and reliable products, as well as informed instructions on how to do so. A preventative against a reinfestation is necessary. If your pet has a secondary infection of the skin, topical medication will be required. Allergy pills for dogs as antihistamines may be recommended to help reduce the itch. Giving your dog coconut oil is thought to be like a natural antihistamine for dogs as it tends to lessen the reaction to flea bites. Use in combination with fish oil supplements.

Food Allergens

Food allergens can cause your dog to suffer from itchy and scaly skin, along with diarrhea and other allergy symptoms like poor coat condition. You may see your dog lose their appetite and be hesitant to eat. Dogs can chew incessantly at their limbs as a way of trying to relieve the pain and itching.

Common allergens are eggs, corn, soy, milk, wheat, beef, and chicken. These are typical ingredients found in dog food and diagnosing a food allergy will take a period of time where the suspected ingredient is entirely eliminated from the diet. If the symptoms resolve, then a food allergy is suspected. Your dog will be placed on a strictly limited ingredient diet for a period of up to three months. At this point, ingredients are slowly reintroduced one at a time per your vet’s instructions to determine the ingredients that cause the allergy.

Is My Dog’s Breed A Factor?

Allergens and the intensity of the effects can be breed predisposed. For example, common Labrador Retriever skin problems that are exacerbated by allergies are hot spots and itchiness around the muzzle and face. The Cocker Spaniel is known to be predisposed to food allergies. Speak to your veterinarian to see if your dog is on the list. Some of the breeds with a predisposition to allergies include:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Boxer
  • Bulldog
  • Dalmatian
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Maltese
  • Pug
  • Shar-Pei

What Can I Give My Dog For Allergies?

Giving your dog supplements to lessen the intensity of their health condition, especially at the beginning of allergy season in the case of environmental allergies, for example, try quercetin-rich foods like strawberries, yellow bell peppers, and broccoli. Give a supplement that contains bromelain and quercetin. Vitamin C is also thought to be effective against allergies, as is coconut oil. You can also speak to your veterinarian about purchasing vet-formulated supplements to add to your dog’s diet.

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