You’ve noticed that your dog sneezes, gets a runny nose, coughs, scratches himself and even has rashes on his belly sometimes. Does this mean that he’s sick? Can a dog have allergies just like a human? Knowing whether or not dogs have allergies and then figuring out what to do if yours is indeed experiencing allergic reactions can help you keep your pup happy and healthy for years to come.
Do Dogs Get Allergies?
The answer is yes: dogs can have allergies, which are “a misguided reaction to foreign substances by the body’s immune system,” according to the American Kennel Club. There are a number of different types of allergies that your dog can have, including:
- Skin allergies
- Environmental allergies
- Food allergies
- Acute allergies
There is no single cause of allergies in dogs. Some allergies are inherited, while others spring up in a new pup, according to VCA Hospitals. Dogs of all breeds are prone to allergies, with most symptoms appearing after six months of age.
Let’s take a look at the different types of canine allergies and pet allergens.
The environment, food and fleas can all cause skin allergies. In terms of the environment, your dog may be scratching himself when there is a lot of pollen or dander in the air. Perhaps he only gets itchy in the springtime. he may be allergic to dog or cat dander, or be experiencing a negative reaction to dust or mold. If he is allergic to the environment, he may be itchy in many places on his body including his ankles, paws, ears, muzzle and in between his toes.
Your dog might also have an allergic reaction on his skin because of flea bites. Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva, and you’ll know your dog is one of them if his skin is red or inflamed, or if you notice some scabbing. Usually, if a dog has a flea allergy, he will try to scratch the base of his tail and his back. If your dog has a food allergy on his skin, he will most likely scratch his ears or paws.
Other causes of skin irritation for your dog may be caused by yeast infections, impetigo, dermatitis ringworm and seborrhea. Yeast infections typically strike in the ears or paws, since yeast can easily grow in those places, and your dog may have discolored skin. Impetigo usually occurs in puppies and shows up in the form of pus-filled blisters, while seborrhea, or dandruff, results in dogs having greasy and scaly skin. A fungus causes ringworm, and it comes out in the form of circular patches on your dog’s body. The most common areas include the ears, forelegs, paws and head.
If a dog is allergic to food, the allergy may manifest in the form of a skin reaction, a digestive issue or respiratory distress. For example, your dog may be itchy, vomit, or have diarrhea. He could also have a chronic infection or his foot or in his ear or have a poor coat and skin. Dogs are usually allergic to the carbohydrates or proteins in dog food that contains dairy, chicken or chicken eggs, lamb, wheat gluten, soy and beef.
Along with mold, dust, and pollen, your dog could also be allergic to manufactured allergens such as fabrics, cleaning products, perfumes, cigarette smoke or plastic and rubber objects. These are all common allergy triggers for pets that can lead to skin irritation, itching, and inflammation. If your dog is experiencing environmental allergic reactions, he may have a runny nose, cough, sneeze, have itchy and runny eyes, scratch himself or have scabbed and red skin.
It’s possible for your dog to have an acute allergy, and then experience a serious reaction like anaphylactic shock, hives or swelling in the lips, throat, eyelids or face. A vaccine or a new food in your dog’s diet can cause an acute allergy to flare up. A bee sting or the introduction of new drugs to your dog’s system could also result in a bad reaction.
Testing Dog Allergies
If you believe your dog has an acute, environmental, food or skin allergies, you’ll need to take him to the veterinarian right away. There is no way for you to determine exactly what is wrong on your own without him being tested.
However, you should note when you recognize the signs and symptoms of allergies in dogs as they appear in your furry friend. That way when you get to the vet, you can properly describe your dog’s symptoms and get a faster diagnosis for your pup. For example, if you notice that your dog has a sneezing fit when you’re getting ready in the morning, perhaps he is allergic to your perfume. Maybe he starts scratching when it gets warm outside – which could signal a flea or environmental allergy – or he has vomited after eating string cheese in the past.
To determine if your dog has an allergy, your vet will ask you questions about your dog’s eating habits and living situation to try to gauge what happened before the reaction occurred. Then, according to VetStreet, your vet will do one of two tests. They are intradermal skin testing and serum allergy testing.
With intradermal skin testing, your vet will shave an area around your dog’s abdomen on the side of his body to get access to his skin. Then, he will inject different types of allergens into your dog using a thin needle. If your dog’s skin turns red or develops physical irritation, then that is a sign that he’s allergic to the contaminant that had been tested. If your dog has a serious reaction, your vet will be there to treat him right away.
During the serum allergy testing process, your vet will take a sample of blood from your dog. Once the sample is treated in a lab, the vet will be able to see which allergens are causing what type of reaction, whether it’s mild, medium or severe.
Allergy testing is typically very safe. Once the results come in, you and your vet can figure out a treatment plan for your pup.
Treating Dog Allergies
Depending on what type of allergy your dog has, your veterinarian will recommend a different type of treatment for canine allergies.
For example, if your dog has a food allergy, your vet will put your dog on an elimination diet to see which ingredient is causing the irritation. You will try out various dog foods and eliminate ingredients to try and pinpoint the one that’s causing the allergic reaction. Your vet may recommend that you buy hypoallergenic dog food with limited ingredients in order to feed your pup.
Your dog may react well to shampoo treatments if there is something wrong with his skin. Remember to only use dog shampoos, since human shampoos can cause problems for dogs in their skin and fur.
Your vet may prescribe your dog antihistamines or corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs that can help with things like environmental allergies, pollen, and dander.
If your dog is allergic to flea saliva, it’s best to try and prevent fleas from affecting your dog in the first place. You’ll want to buy flea treatment medicine and apply it on your dog once per month. Also, if the fleas are living in your yard, you should call an exterminator to spray dog-friendly flea poison to create a clean, flea-free environment. Giving your dog a flea bath should help as well.
Keeping your dog’s bedding clean by washing it once per week is going to reduce the chance of him having an allergic reaction to dust and dander. You’ll also want to vacuum and dust your house regularly, and use natural cleaning products that won’t irritate your dog. If your pup is suffering from a common allergy trigger that can easily be removed from their environment, than it’s up to you to remove that allergen to prevent irritated skin, itchiness, and other symptoms for your four-legged friend.
Thankfully, you can also use over-the-counter medicine to treat your dog instead of paying for pricey pet drugs. Benadryl and Zyrtec can be highly effective and give your dog temporary relief. As with any medicine, always talk to your vet before giving your dog any type of supplement.
If you’re into natural treatments, give your dog a homemade oatmeal bath regularly and rub him skin with coconut oil, which will help reduce flaking. It’s always important to test a small area of his skin to make sure he isn’t allergic before applying it all over his body. Another easy way to protect your dog’s skin and coat is to feed them a daily allergy relief dog chew treat.
Keeping Your Dog Healthy
In general, feeding your dog a well-balanced diet of healthy proteins, fats and carbohydrates, giving him at least a 30-minute walk per day, and providing him with a clean place to play and rest will significantly contribute to your pup’s overall health and well-being in the long run.
It’s never easy watching your four-legged companion suffer from a pet allergy. While you can’t control all his allergies, you can monitor them and do your best to keep them at bay. Always remember to defer to your veterinarian when it comes to allergies and to follow his advice to ensure your pup has a long and healthy life.
Camille is a co-founder of PetHonesty and VP of Pup Parent Education. After watching her own family dog suffer from joint issues for years she became passionate about improving dogs’ quality of life. With the help of a team of veterinarians and dog nutritionists she now helps educate other dog owners about the small but powerful things they can do to positively impact their dogs’ health and wellness! She lives in Austin, TX and loves cuddling puppies, being outside and reading.