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A Guide to Identifying and Treating Dog Allergies

Written by The Halo Team

May 23, 2024

If your dog is scratching relentlessly, is chewing at its paws or has red skin, it could be more than a passing irritation. These are common signs of an allergic reaction. Unfortunately, dogs develop several types of allergies. A particularly frustrating example is flea allergy dermatitis, caused by sensitivity to flea saliva.

Whether related to food, dander or other irritants, allergies cause discomfort. The good news is that there are ways to identify the source of your dog’s allergies through allergy testing.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the common types of dog allergies, how to spot the telltale symptoms and the treatment options available to help your furry friend feel its best.

How Common Are Allergies in Dogs?

You might be surprised to learn how common dog allergies are. Pet allergies are one of the main reasons people bring their canine companions to the vet. There’s no single answer to how widespread allergic reactions are in dogs, but a significant portion of our pups will develop an allergy at some point.

Types of Allergies in Dogs

Understanding the types of dog allergies helps you pinpoint the causes, making identification and treatment easier. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of dog allergies:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD): Even a single flea bite can trigger an intense reaction in sensitive dogs, leading to excessive scratching, skin inflammation and secondary skin infections. Strict flea control is crucial for managing FAD.
  • Environmental allergies (atopy): Dust mites, pollen and mold spores are just a few of the common allergens that can make your dog miserable. These sensitivities often cause itchy skin and chronic ear infections and may contribute to asthma symptoms. Environmental allergens can sometimes lead to a skin condition called allergic dermatitis.
  • Food allergies: Ingredients such as beef, chicken, dairy and grains can trigger allergic reactions in some dogs. Food allergy symptoms range from itchy skin to a runny nose and digestive issues. Identifying the problematic food through an elimination diet is the best way to determine possible food allergies.
  • Contact allergies: Less common are allergies caused by direct contact with certain substances, such as grasses, cleaning products and some fabrics. These often present as localized skin irritation and inflammation.

Recognizing the signs of an allergic reaction is the first step to helping your dog feel better. In the next section, we’ll cover the most common dog allergy symptoms to look out for.

Dog Allergy Symptoms

Dogs tend to show discomfort subtly at first. Pay close attention to these common signs that could indicate an allergy:

  • Itchy skin: Persistent scratching, licking, chewing or rubbing on surfaces is the most noticeable sign of a pet allergy. Redness, rashes or hair loss are also symptoms of skin allergies.
  • Skin infections: Constant scratching can cause skin problems, leading to bacterial infections that appear as inflamed, oozing or crusty patches.
  • Ear problems: Redness, discharge or a foul odor can indicate an underlying allergy, especially one that’s environmental or food-related.
  • Digestive issues: Food allergy symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and excessive gas.
  • Respiratory symptoms: Sneezing, coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing or a stuffy nose might indicate a pet allergy.
  • Anaphylactic shock: Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. Signs include difficulty breathing, facial swelling and collapse. Get your dog to an emergency veterinarian ASAP if it has any of these symptoms.

It’s important to see a vet for a proper diagnosis of any symptom. Other conditions, such as parasites, hormonal imbalances or stress, can cause similar issues.

Diagnosing Allergies in Dogs

Here’s how a vet typically diagnoses allergies:

  • Detailed history: Your vet asks questions about your dog’s symptoms, such as when they started and if you’ve noticed what might cause them.
  • Physical examination: The vet carefully examines your dog’s skin, looking for signs of skin irritation, inflammation or secondary skin infections.
  • Testing: To pinpoint the allergen, your vet may recommend allergy testing. Options include skin testing or blood tests, which help identify the problem.
  • Elimination diet: If your vet suspects a food allergy, a strict elimination diet under their guidance can identify the problematic ingredient.

Related article: Can Dogs Eat Blueberries?

Knowing the cause of your dog’s allergies is the key to effective treatment and long-term management. A diagnosis helps you avoid the allergen and enables your vet to develop an allergy treatment plan tailored to your dog’s needs.

Hands in blue protective gloves examine a puppy with allergies

Are There Allergy Medicines for Dogs?

If your dog has allergies, there are various treatment options to help you manage the symptoms. Your veterinarian can recommend an effective course of action for your pet.

Here are some common allergy treatment options:

  • Dog allergy medicine: Different medications target different allergy symptoms. For severe itching or inflamed skin, your vet might prescribe medications to provide relief. Antihistamines are sometimes prescribed to manage milder allergy symptoms.

Related article: Trazodone For Dogs: What You Should Know

  • Topical treatments: Medicated shampoos or sprays can soothe itchy skin, reduce inflammation and help manage secondary infections.
  • Allergy shots: This treatment involves administering small doses of the allergen over time to desensitize the dog’s immune system. It can be effective in managing atopic dermatitis and other environmental allergies.
  • Managing the environment: Reducing exposure to allergens is a critical step. This might involve regular cleaning to minimize dust mites or strict flea control for flea allergies.

Always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any medication, including over-the-counter and natural options.

Other Allergy Treatments for Dogs

There are natural and milder options that may help manage your dog’s allergy symptoms, such as:

  • Dietary supplements: Fatty acid supplements, including fish oil, can support skin health and reduce inflammation associated with allergies. Probiotics may help regulate the immune system and improve gut health, potentially lessening allergic reactions in some dogs.
  • Herbal remedies: While research on the effectiveness is limited, chamomile has mild anti-inflammatory effects and may soothe some of your dog’s allergy symptoms.
  • Bathing: Regular baths with hypoallergenic or prescription shampoos can remove allergens from your dog’s skin and provide temporary relief from itching.

Be sure to consult with your vet before introducing any natural supplements, herbs or homeopathic remedies. They can guide you on safe and appropriate choices for your dog’s allergies. Self-treatment might mask underlying problems or worsen your dog’s condition.

Make sure it’s easy to find your dog with a Halo Collar. Knowing where your dog is at all times is even more necessary when it has allergies.

What Are the Best Foods for Dog Allergies?

When your dog suffers from allergies, choosing the right food is crucial in managing its symptoms. Unfortunately, pinpointing the ideal diet isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. The best food depends on your dog’s individual allergies and needs.

Let’s explore some of the best food for dog allergies.

Types of Food for Sensitive Dogs

Understanding different diet options will empower you to make informed choices alongside your vet. Here’s a breakdown of dog foods customized for allergy management:

  • Hydrolyzed protein diets: These are specialized diets containing proteins broken down into tiny fragments too small for the dog’s immune system to recognize. They’re often a valuable option for dogs with severe allergies.
  • Novel protein diets: These include proteins your dog hasn’t encountered, whether that’s duck, rabbit or fish. The goal is to minimize the chance of triggering existing allergies.
  • Limited ingredient diets: These foods streamline the ingredient list, making it easier to control what your dog is eating. LIDs are helpful during elimination diets and may be a good long-term choice for dogs with milder sensitivities.

Things to Look For

Regardless of the allergy diet you choose, always prioritize high-quality ingredients. Select dog food with whole ingredients and a single, clear protein source. Avoiding artificial colors, flavors and unnecessary additives is necessary for food-sensitive dogs. Prescription diets may be the best choice in some cases, as they’re formulated with your dog’s unique sensitivities in mind.

Related article: Can Dogs Eat Strawberries?

Tips for Taking Proper Care of Dogs With Allergies

Successful allergy management requires a team effort. Your veterinarian’s guidance is essential to rule out other health issues and develop the right treatment plan.

Also, your dog’s allergies might change over time. Be prepared to adjust its environment or diet in the future if needed. Finally, patience is vital. It can take several weeks on a treatment plan to see substantial improvement in your dog’s allergy symptoms.

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