How to Identify and Treat Dog Allergies

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

Just like people, pets can develop allergies. Unlike people, though, dogs can’t describe their symptoms, nor can they identify what is causing allergic reactions by themselves. If they suspect that their dogs have allergies, pet parents need to pay attention to their reactions so they can come up with a plan for helping to mitigate symptoms. Read on to find out everything dog owners need to know about how to identify and treat dog allergies at home and when to seek professional help.

Types of Dog Allergies

Just like allergic reactions in humans, dog allergies are produced by misguided immune reactions to foreign substances. The substances that produce allergic reactions vary. Some dogs suffer from environmental allergies, while others have skin allergies or food allergies. To complicate things even further, the symptoms of different types of allergies can overlap. When in doubt, pet parents should seek professional advice about dog allergies instead of going it alone.

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Skin Allergies

Sometimes referred to as allergic dermatitis, skin allergies are very common. Some dogs develop itchy rashes as a result of contact with environmental allergens or consumption of food allergens, while others are allergic to flea saliva.

Dogs will only experience flea allergy dermatitis if they have a current flea infestation, which makes this the easiest type of skin allergy to identify. Affected dogs develop red, itchy patches, often at the bases of their tails, and may form scabs due to excessive scratching. Pet owners will usually notice other signs of fleas as well, such as detritus or the fleas themselves.

Dogs who have food sensitivities may also develop rashes, but they typically manifest a little differently. Most dogs get food sensitivity rashes around their ears and on their paws, not at the bases of their tails. They typically experience gastrointestinal symptoms as well.

Identify and Treat Dog Allergies

Food Allergies

True food allergies are actually relatively uncommon in dogs. They can cause reactions ranging from skin conditions like allergic dermatitis or hives to gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. In very rare cases, anaphylaxis can also occur. Food allergies should be taken very seriously, as they can be fatal.

Food sensitivities are much more common than true food allergies. It’s important for pet owners to know the difference because food sensitivities don’t provoke an immune response. They can produce similar symptoms like itchiness and gastrointestinal distress though, so pet owners will need to place their animals on restrictive diets to find out what ingredients are causing the reaction.

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Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergens can also cause atopic dermatitis. More often than not, this type of environmental allergic reaction is seasonal. Dogs with environmental skin reactions typically get itchiest around their paws, ears, ankles, muzzles, underarms, groins, and around their eyes. Common causes of environmental allergies include exposure to mold, dust, and pollen.

All allergic reactions that cause atopic dermatitis can cause additional complications. Dogs tend to scratch, bite, and lick the affected areas, placing themselves at risk of developing secondary bacterial infections and yeast infections. When this occurs, pet owners should take their animals to the vet as soon as possible.

Acute Allergic Reactions

Acute allergic reactions differ from chronic environmental, skin, and food allergies in that they are more likely to produce anaphylaxis and other severe symptoms. Anaphylaxis can be fatal if it is not treated immediately.

The most common culprits for producing acute allergic reactions are bee stings, vaccine reactions, and new foods or drugs. Anaphylaxis is rare in dogs, but that doesn’t mean pet owners shouldn’t be aware of the danger.

Dogs experiencing acute allergic reactions can also develop hives or facial swelling. This symptom looks more serious than it is and can be treated at the vet with antihistamines. Take the pet in for professional care immediately to prevent more serious complications.

Diagnosing Allergies

The only way to really get to the bottom of what is causing a dog’s symptoms is to have the pet undergo allergy testing at an animal clinic or veterinary hospital. However, pet owners who have noticed excessive itchiness or hot spots can start by looking for fleas and flea bites and applying a product that kills the parasites. If that doesn’t work, take the animal in for testing.

For suspected food allergies, veterinarians will recommend an elimination diet, also referred to as a food trial. The pet owner will have to stick to feeding his or her dog just one source of protein and one carbohydrate for 12 weeks at a time, provided it does not produce an allergic response. From there, the pet owner can begin reintroducing foods and treats to see if any of them produce a reaction.

Treating Dog Allergies

Since different allergies have different causes, the first step is always to identify the cause of the reaction. More often than not, the best treatment for dog allergies is to help the animal avoid potential triggers. For dogs that suffer from flea allergy dermatitis, that means providing the animal with flea and tick preventatives. For animals with food allergies, that means sticking to a specialized diet.

It’s not always possible to avoid 100% of allergen triggers, especially when it comes to environmental skin allergies. When this is the case, pet owners can buy products designed to soothe the itching and prevent secondary skin infections.

For severe, acute allergies, the only way to help the animal is to get him or her to an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible after the reaction occurs. Anaphylaxis can be fatal, so don’t delay in seeking treatment.

The Bottom Line

Dogs are less prone to severe allergies than people, but skin allergies are relatively common. Keep an eye out for symptoms like excessive scratching, licking, and chewing and try to identify the cause of the reaction at home or make plans to take the animal to the vet. Untreated allergies can lead to problems with infections, anxiety, and depression, but most allergic triggers can be avoided and even those that can’t are often easy to treat at home using over-the-counter products or specialized diets.