Allergies in Dogs: Common Causes & Treatments
Just like people, allergies affect animals, including dogs. And unfortunately, just like their allergy-prone owners, dogs' allergies are a condition that can significantly affect the quality of life of your pet.
Many dogs, mixed breeds or purebred, are frequently diagnosed with allergies. These can include environmental, food related and inhalant.
Allergies in dogs can be troublesome. Late diagnosis or untreated allergies can lead to severe health complications even for their owners. There is an obvious need to create effective, sustainable allergy management strategies for allergic reactions in dogs.
In this article, we'll cover the key signs and causes of dog allergies, plus how to treat – and most importantly, manage – future reactions.
Dog Allergies Defined
An allergy is a condition of hypersensitivity or over-reactivity of the immune system to a substance known as an allergen.
When a dog is exposed to a substance they are allergic to, usually, on multiple occasions, their immune system sensitizes and overacts, creating histamines which then cause numerous allergic reactions such as licking, itching, vomiting, chewing, diarrhea, etc.
Essentially, the immune system should protect the dog against diseases and infections, but with allergies, the immune system responds in ways that can be harmful. Allergies may, thus, be thought of as a misguided normal immune reaction to a benign foreign substance.
For example, if the immune system encounters dust, pollen, or an ingredient in the dog's food, it treats these substances like foreign invaders and over reacts.
Different Types Of Allergies In Dogs
Not all vulnerable dogs experience the same condition. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe or affect different body areas.
There are various types of allergies in dogs. Food, skin, and environmental allergies are the most common in dogs. What makes things more complicated is that all these different types can have overlapping symptoms. Some dogs may suffer from just one type of allergy, while others may experience multiple types.
Skin allergies, commonly referred to as allergic dermatitis, are among the most common allergies dogs experience. Skin allergies are mainly caused by three allergens:
- Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergens
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is dogs' most common skin allergic problem. FAD is an allergic reaction to fleabites. Technically, dogs aren't allergic to fleas; instead, they are allergic to flea saliva. This makes sensitive dogs extremely itchy, but the itchiness is different from the regular response to a bug bite. Rather, dogs with flea allergies often lick and scratch compulsively after a bite and chew their skin raw causing infections.
Food allergies can cause skin reactions as well. Dogs with food allergies experience itchy skin in areas such as paws and ears, sometimes accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms.
Environmental allergens can cause atopic dermatitis or atopic allergic reaction in dogs. In most cases, skin allergies from environmental allergens are seasonal, and you may only notice itching during particular times of the year.
Note that all skin allergies in dogs increase the risk of a secondary infection. When dogs bite, lick and scratch their skin, they make the skin raw and risk inviting bacterial and yeast infections.
It's true that food allergies in dogs are not as common as most dog owners think. However, it's still crucial to consider this type of allergy. Food allergies cause an immune response, including skin conditions, gastrointestinal issues, or a combination of the two.
The appropriate way to determine if you dog has a food allergy is to feed a limited-ingredient / novel protein diet for a minimum of 4-6 weeks.
It's critical to note that a dog may have symptoms resulting from food sensitivity or intolerance. This differs from a true food allergy since the immune response is not involved and is instead a reaction to difficulty processing or digesting a certain ingredient in the food.
Seasonal & environmental allergies
Environmental allergies in dogs occur when they are exposed to allergens outdoors or at home. Like humans, environmental allergens result in seasonal allergic reactions since they depend on the area's climate. This includes mold, dust and dust mites, pollen from trees, grass, weeds, and more.
Usually, allergic symptoms occur when dogs inhale these substances, but direct contact can also cause reactions due to the oversensitivity of the immune system to these allergens. Seasonal allergies may sometimes worsen and persist to become a year-round problem over time.
Acute allergic reactions
Acute allergies in dogs are perhaps the most alarming. Like humans, dogs can experience anaphylactic shock from a severe reaction to a certain allergen which, if not treated, can be fatal.
Common acute allergies that can cause an anaphylactic response in dogs include vaccinations and bee stings, among others. Therefore, it is always best to monitor the dog keenly after administering a new vaccine or drug. The good news is that anaphylactic reactions are rare in dogs.
Common Symptoms Of Dog Allergies
The symptoms that show allergies in dogs may vary based on what caused it in the first place. A dog that suffers from an anaphylactic shock, for instance, may have an extreme drop in blood pressure and then a shock, a symptom extremely different from a skin condition. Discussing allergic dog symptoms is complicated because most of the signs overlap, and symptoms can look the same regardless of the cause.
Generally, here are the most common symptoms of food, skin, and environmental allergies in dogs:
- Skin or ear infections
- Itchy or red skin, especially around the groin, belly, paws, ears, and face.
- Hot spots or skin wounds caused by persistent licking or scratching of the affected area
- Hives, swelling, rashes, or bumps on the skin
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or any other gastrointestinal conditions
- Sneezing, runny nose, coughing, or wheezing
- Hair or fur loss
- Itchy, puffy, red, or watery eyes
Dogs may display multiple symptoms simultaneously or just one or two. If any of these symptoms occur frequently, it's enough to consider allergies to be a possible cause. Make an appointment with a vet to get a proper diagnosis and help the dog get accurate treatment.
What Causes Allergies In Dogs?
The immune system normally protects the body from infection by creating inflammation conditions that restrict pathogen growth and replication. Like people, allergies in dogs happen when the immune system causes inflammation in reaction to harmless substances such as food or environmental allergens.
According to experts like Susan Wynn, the causes of allergies in dogs is a multi-factorial issue. Dog allergies tend to be inherited or genetic.
Although the environment plays a key role, most dogs have a genetic predisposition for the allergic response to express itself. Some breeds are also predisposed and more susceptible to allergies. Still, any dog breed may be affected. In addition, diet can also expose dogs to allergies. If you constantly feed your dog the same protein or any imbalanced diet, the dog may develop sensitivities to that particular food.
How To Treat & Prevent Allergies In Dogs
While curing an allergy may not be possible, there are things you can do to treat or manage an allergy. However, treatment will depend on the type of allergy your dog is suffering from.
- Food allergies: Dogs must be subjected to a strict diet with foods that don't cause any allergic reactions. A vet can help you know what your dog is allergic to and find alternative foods. One type of diet to ask about is a raw food diet - which feeds dogs the diet they evolved to eat – meats and greens that are fresh, uncooked and wild.
- Flea allergies: Dogs who are allergic to fleabites should be on frequent quality flea control. Typically, fleas could affect dogs even if you can't see them or during off-seasons like winters.
- Environmental and seasonal allergies: Unfortunately, these are the hardest to control since changing the pollen count is impossible. Seasonal allergies may require long-term treatments- either regularly or occasionally during flare-ups depending on how serious the symptoms are. Immunotherapy or desensitization therapy is also a helpful treatment for environmental allergies. This involves weekly injections customized for the dog after testing. They contain small amounts of the substance your dog is allergic to so that it slowly develops a tolerance.
- Skin allergies: All resulting skin issues from whichever type of allergy must be treated promptly to avoid worsening.
There are other things you can do to prevent or treat allergic reactions, including home remedies. They include:
- Clean the home and change air filters frequently
- Give your dog medicated baths with allergy shampoos containing antimicrobial and antifungal agents or any allergy-relieving ingredients.
- Keep an eye on the pollen count and avoid outdoor tours when counts are high.
- Allergy and skin supplements such as omega fatty acids
- Keep pollens and other allergens off by wiping the dog's belly and paws with a pet wipe or clean cloth after a walk.
- Antihistamines under the guidance of your veterinarian.
- Improve your dog's nutrition to treat symptoms from the gut.
A Note On Antibiotics & Medications
Though medication prescriptions may effectively manage dog allergies, they have gradual side effects that can affect your dog's health.
Raw Bistro doesn't recommend these as a standalone treatment. In other words, antibiotics are a band-aid and don't get to the root of the problem.
The best thing is to fix the actual problem: diet and environmental factors. Allergies are managed, and long-term side effects of medications like antibiotics and steroids can impact the length of life of your dog or kill off the good gut bacteria.
One key example of this is the once-popular allergy drug Apoquel. Marketed as the "miracle allergy drug", Apoquel was meant to be a fast-acting and safe treatment for acute and chronic canine allergies.
However, studies have shown negative side effects, leading to new labeling updates by the FDA warning of neoplasia and death.
Patience Is Key When You Have A Dog With Allergies
Allergies in dogs can be frustrating and complicated both for the dog and the owner who can't find lasting relief for their dog's itchiness.
Fortunately, with resilience, vigilance, the right treatment plan, and patience, you can help your dog feel better over time.
The bottom line is that successful management of these allergic reactions requires multi-modal solutions to control the flare-ups. A proper diagnosis by an expert veterinarian and the owner's compliance, as well as frequent follow-up care, is necessary to maximize the chances of treating or controlling the affected allergic dog. With allergy concerns, it's always a good idea to be proactive whenever possible.