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Allergies in Dogs – Types of Allergies and How to Treat Them

If your dog is allergic to something in his food or his environment, he may exhibit signs of allergies.

July 6, 2022 4 min read
Allergies in Dogs – Types of Allergies and How to Treat Them

Just like humans, dogs can develop allergies that affect their health and happiness. In fact, allergies are quite common in dogs. Up to 20 percent of dogs will develop allergies over their lifetime, according to Richell, and the average time of onset is between one and two years old. Unlike humans that tend to outgrow certain allergies, allergies in dogs often worsen as the animal gets older.

The good news is that most allergies in dogs can be diagnosed and treated with help from a veterinarian. This requires a thorough examination of the dog and testing to determine which type of allergy the animal has developed. Learn more about allergies in dogs, what causes them, common signs and symptoms your dog may experience, and how to treat this condition. 

What are Dog Allergies?

In simple terms, an allergen is a substance that can cause an allergic reaction. It is a type of antigen that can trigger an immune system response, typically when inhaled, eaten, or when the allergen comes into direct contact with the skin. Allergies occur when the body sees a certain antigen as a harmful foreign body, causing the immune system to try and fight off the apparent threat.

While dog allergies are usually not life-threatening, they can cause discomfort for your pet. Some types of allergies can result in chronic respiratory problems, especially if left untreated for a prolonged period of time. It is not always clear that a dog has an allergy and a pet owner may bring their dog to the vet suspecting another medical condition only to receive a diagnosis of allergies.

Common Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs

Dog allergies can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on the type of allergy and its severity. Some of the most common symptoms of allergies in dogs include:

  • Scratching
  • Licking
  • Itchy skin
  • Face rubbing
  • Periodic chewing on certain body parts
  • Frequent sneezing or wheezing
  • Loss of fur
  • Skin redness
  • Recurrent ear or skin infections
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) signs

Types of Allergies in Dogs

Allergies in dogs can fall into several categories: skin allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies. Each of these types of allergies can pose certain challenges for pets and their owners. The more severe an allergy is, the harder it can be for pet owners to manage their dog’s condition.

1. Skin Allergies

Skin allergies also referred to as allergic dermatitis, is the most common type of allergic reaction that occurs in dogs. There are several causes of skin allergies in dogs, including flea allergy dermatitis, food allergies, and environmental allergens. Food allergies and sensitivities can result in itchy skin and gastrointestinal upset. Skin allergies also pose a serious risk of a secondary infection when a dog continues to bite, scratch, or lick the skin.

2. Food Allergies

While not as common as skin allergies, food allergies can occur in dogs due to an immune response. Symptoms of food allergies often affect the skin, causing symptoms like itchiness, hives, and facial swelling. Some dogs will vomit or have diarrhea, or a combination of both.

3. Environmental Allergies

Seasonal or environmental allergies in dogs can result in symptoms like scratching, licking, and face rubbing. Dogs can be allergic to a variety of things in their environment, such as pollen, grass, molds, trees, and dust mites. Many dogs are also allergic to flea saliva, meaning just a single bite from a flea could cause them to experience unbearable itching.

How are Dog Allergies Diagnosed?

Allergy testing in dogs can be performed for both seasonal and environmental allergies. However, BMC Veterinary Research has found that skin and blood tests for food allergies are not accurate in dogs. A study published by Veterinary Dermatology also revealed that hair and saliva tests for seasonal and environmental allergies are not accurate. Skin testing is typically the most accurate type of allergy test for dogs.

Before delivering a diagnosis of allergies, your vet will first rule out any other conditions based on your pet’s symptoms. During testing, your dog may receive mild sedation to keep him calm. If your dog receives a skin test, a small area of the fur will be clipped and allergens injected into the dog’s skin. If there is a certain degree of allergic reaction to the allergens, your dog may be diagnosed with an allergy.

What Is the Treatment for Allergies in Dogs?

Treatment for allergies in dogs is based on the type of allergy and the severity of the condition. For flea allergy dermatitis, the goal is to reduce symptoms like itching and skin irritation. This is often achieved by administering flea control medications.

Treatment for food allergies in dogs is generally a hypoallergenic diet for approximately eight to 12 weeks. A hypoallergenic diet has limited ingredients and is processed in a special way (hydrolyzed), making it less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Your vet may recommend eliminating any foods or treats outside of the hypoallergenic diet during this trial period.

Dogs with seasonal allergies may receive several treatments to reduce symptoms. These treatments may include oral medications, antihistamines, fatty acids, steroids, and injectable medications like Cytopoint. Your vet may also recommend frequent bathing.

With guidance from a veterinary professional, most pet owners can manage their dog’s allergies and reduce or eliminate symptoms. If you suspect that your pet has allergies, contact your vet about your concerns.

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