How To Know If Your Dog Has Allergies

Here's how to stop all that itching!

what to do when your dog has allergies

If your pup’s suffering from allergies, it’s hard to watch them be so uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are some easy things you can do to help them feel better.

Does your dog have allergies?

Just like people, dogs can develop allergies at any time in their lives.

“Allergies in dogs can manifest in a variety of ways including itchy or infected skin, ear infections and anal gland issues,” Dr. Meghan Carlton, a veterinarian at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon, told The Dodo.

If your dog displays any of the following symptoms, she could be suffering from allergies:

- Constant licking or scratching
- Diarrhea
- Ear itchiness or infection
- Goopy eyes
- Paw chewing or swelling
- Sneezing
- Snoring
- Vomiting
- Wet, irritated or scabbed skin

Types of dog allergies

To put it simply, allergies are your dog's body's response to allergens — substances like pollen, dust mites and certain foods — that trigger their immune systems to respond in an attempt to fight off the “intruder.”

According to Dr. Carlton, there are different types of allergies, but the most common are skin, food and environmental allergies.

Skin allergies

Skin allergies are the most common form of allergic reactions in dogs — you might notice her licking her paws more than usual, scratching her back or swatting her ear.

Allergic reactions affecting the skin can be caused by a few kinds of allergens, including those found in certain foods or in the environment.

For example, dogs who constantly scratch their backs or the base of their tails could be suffering from flea bite allergies. When this happens, a single flea bite could trigger a reaction that lasts for two to three weeks.

Seasonal environmental allergens like pollen can also cause itchiness on commonly affected body parts, like her paws or ears. Even certain food allergies or sensitivities can trigger itchy skin.

All that itchiness is very uncomfortable for her, but her scratching can be harmful — obsessive scratching could result in hair loss, scabs and crusts, and even a secondary bacterial or yeast infection. If you suspect your dog is suffering from skin allergies, take her to the veterinarian.

Food allergies

Like other allergies, your dog can develop food allergies during the course of her life. Common culprits include corn, beef, chicken, pork, soy and wheat.

Food allergic reactions can vary from skin allergies, like itching and hives, to gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea.

“If dogs have food allergies, it’s typically due to the protein or carbohydrate type in the food,” Dr. Carlton explained. In this instance, your vet will likely try to diagnose a food allergy by first placing your dog on a rigid prescription or hydrolyzed protein diet that is free of allergens until her symptoms go away — about 12 weeks.

After that time, you can then slowly reintroduce old foods one at a time to determine which one was triggering the allergic reaction.

“This trial should be done under the supervision of a veterinarian so they can discuss the rules, recommend a specific prescription diet, and supervise how long to continue this trial,” Dr. Carlton said.

Environmental allergies

Environmental allergies can be caused by outside factors, like pollen or dust.

If your vet does recommend environmental allergy testing, Dr. Carlton says that it’s sometimes done through a referral to a veterinary dermatologist.

“If environmental allergies are diagnosed, sometimes immunotherapy is used to try and reduce sensitivity to the allergen, or medications can be used to reduce itchiness and skin [or] ear infections,” Dr. Carlton said.

Common dog allergens

While dogs can be allergic to anything, a few common allergens include:

- Cigarette smoke
- Cleaning products
- Dander
- Drugs — prescription and over-the-counter (OTC)
- Dust mites
- Fabrics
- Feathers
- Fleas and flea-control products
- Foods (like corn, beef, chicken, pork, soy or wheat)
- Fragrances
- Mold spores
- Pollens
- Rubber and plastic
- Soap and shampoo

How to help your dog if she has allergies

The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to avoid your dog’s allergens.

If your dog experiences allergies due to seasonal or environmental conditions, make sure you’re keeping your home and her bedding extra clean. Wash her bedding weekly and vacuum at least twice each week. Bathing can help relieve itching and remove allergens from her skin, but be sure to ask your vet for shampoo recommendations that are safe for her sensitive skin.

If your vet can’t determine the cause of your dog's allergic reactions from seasonal changes or food eliminations, he or she might recommend diagnostics like skin or ear cytology, bacterial or fungal cultures, or blood work to see if something else is going on. These are most often performed by a veterinary dermatologist.

Allergy medications

Not every substance can be removed from your dog's environment. Often allergies have to be controlled with one or more medications. Airborne allergens are often treated with allergy injections that help your pet develop resistance to the allergen.

Antihistamines like Benadryl only benefit a small percentage of dogs with allergies. Fatty-acid supplements and sprays that contain oatmeal or aloe can help relieve skin irritation.

If the problem is severe, a corticosteroid like prednisone might be employed to suppress the immune system and prevent the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation.

“Overall, allergies are not cured, they are attempted to be managed long-term based on their cause,” Dr. Carlton said.

This means that if you find that your dog is suffering from allergies, it’s time for a vet visit to determine the cause. This will be your best bet in helping to find her some relief so she can go back to playing and cuddling like usual.