dog allergies - what you need to know - cesar’s way

By Henry Cerny, DVM, MS

Do you think your dog may have allergies?

Just like us humans, dogs can develop an allergic reaction to certain foods as well as particular environments. If you’re wondering how to cure allergies in dogs and tips for diagnosing dog allergies, you have come to the right place. Today, we’ll explain everything you need to know about symptoms of allergies in dogs and the best ways to treat allergies.

What Causes Allergies in Dogs? 

In both humans and pets, the cause of allergies is an overactive immune system. While it’s true that the immune system is designed to protect us, there are times it mistakes non-harmful environmental substances (allergens) as threats and, as a result, allergic reactions occur. For example, if your dog comes across ryegrass or ragweed and the dog’s immune system views it as a threat, an allergic reaction occurs.

What are Atopic Allergies in Dogs?

As you research the different types of allergies in dogs, you may come across the term atopy (allergic skin disease due to environmental allergens.) Atopic allergies in dogs is a type of allergy that occurs when your dog inhales a substance to which he is sensitive. Dogs affected by atopic allergies will frequently itch as well as cough and sneeze. In many ways, atopy in dogs is quite similar to hay fever or asthma in people. If you suspect your dog has atopic allergies, consult your veterinarian to determine the best treatment.

What Dog Breeds are Most Susceptible to Allergies?

In our practice, we see Atopy most commonly in Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. In a 2010 study published in “Veterinary Dermatology,” breed susceptibility was shown to vary among geographic locations.

Other common dog breeds susceptible to allergies include the American Pit Bull Terrier, Bichon Frise, Cocker Spaniel, Labrador Retriever, Boxer, and Dalmatian. Keep in mind, however, that any dog can develop allergies, even if the breed isn’t considered more susceptible to them.

What are the Common Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs?

The symptoms of allergies in dogs may vary, depending on the intensity of the allergies and how your pup reacts to them. In most cases, dogs with allergies will itch the affected area, as well as chew or lick themselves excessively.

As always, consult your veterinarian as soon as any unusual symptoms occur. Even if your dog doesn’t have allergies, these symptoms could be caused by another disease or injury.

Itching or Scratching

If you notice your dog frequently itching or scratching a particular area, there is a good chance he has allergies. In fact, Pruritus (itching) is one of the most common symptoms of allergies in dogs. Dogs may also roll on their back to scratch an itch. 

Itching may be localized, meaning the allergy only affects one area, or it may be generalized, meaning the entire body is inflamed. In both cases, dogs exhibit itching either by chewing the skin or scratching with their feet.

Licking or Chewing

Another common symptom of allergies in dogs is excessive chewing or licking. For many dogs, licking or chewing is simply another way to itch the affected area. The most common area for dogs to chew and lick is their paws.

Most Commonly Affected Areas

As mentioned earlier, allergies in dogs may be localized (affecting one area) or generalized (affecting the entire body). The most common areas affected by allergies include the face, ears, feet, belly, and armpit region.

What are Common Things Dogs May Be Allergic To?

There are many reasons your dog may develop allergies. In some cases, dogs become allergic to substances in their environment, such as pollen, dust mites, or grass. Other times, dogs are allergic to certain ingredients in their dog food. In both scenarios, allergies in dogs can be treated either through medication or by switching your dog’s diet. Before we take a look at treatments available for dogs with allergies, let’s take a closer look at what dogs may be allergic to.

Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Environmental allergies in dogs are often triggered by dust mites, fleas, molds, and pollen from grasses, trees, weeds, and flowers. If your dog is experiencing environmental allergies, he will likely develop symptoms at certain times of the year. Similar to human allergies, these symptoms occur the most during spring and summer.

Food Allergies in Dogs

Another common type of allergy in dogs is food allergies or food intolerance to certain ingredients, such as meat, chicken, fish, and soy. Dogs with food allergies may develop skin rashes as well as an upset stomach. If your dog is experiencing itchy skin, soft stools, or diarrhea, he likely has food allergies. While food allergies can occur anytime during your dog’s life, they are most common in dogs less than one-year-old.

How Can Allergies in Dogs Be Treated?

It is important to keep two points in mind when determining how to treat allergies in dogs. First, note that atopy (environmental allergies) can be managed but not cured, and second, re-checks are crucial to assess response and modify treatments. Here are some current treatment options for dogs with allergies:

  • Corticosteroids (i.e., prednisone, triamcinolone): Very effective for dogs suffering from atopy. Injectable products such as Depo-Medrol® are long-lasting and should be used cautiously. Long-term continual use is not recommended.
  • Antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl): Can help in some cases, but histamine is only one of many causes of itchiness. Your veterinarian will often use this class of drugs in combination with corticosteroids.
  • Cyclosporine (e.g. Atopica): Effective in most cases, typically fewer side effects than corticosteroids but can cause stomach upset initially. Expensive compared to most other medications.
  • Allergy Vaccine: Allergy vaccines can help reduce the symptoms in patients over time, from months to years.
  • Shampoos, Rinses, Conditioners: All of these are a vital part of therapy.

Most important of all is visiting your veterinarian as soon as you suspect that your dog may have an allergy. Itching leads to scratching and scratching can quickly lead to infection—so treat potential allergies seriously and seek a prompt professional opinion.

Henry Cerny, DVM, MS serves on the board of directors for the Lincoln Emergency Clinic and the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association. He practices at Yankee Hill Veterinary Hospital in Lincoln, NE.

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