The Best Allergy Medicine For Dogs, According To A Veterinarian
Stop the sneezing 🤧
If you notice your dog sneezing and itching a lot more than normal, it’s possible that your poor pup has allergies.
And her symptoms are probably bothering her a lot more than they’re bothering you!
So, you’ll want to give her relief fast — and you’re probably wondering what allergy medicine for dogs can help.
The Dodo reached out to Dr. Lydia Harbour, a veterinary dermatology resident at Dermatology for Animals in Arizona, to find out what prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can give your dog for allergies.
Prescription allergy medicine for dogs
Prescription allergy medications are way more effective than anything you could buy OTC, and making a vet trip to get a prescription will be totally worth it.
So if you notice signs of allergy (which include excessive itching, licking or biting at the skin and paw), you should call your vet ASAP.
Here are some prescription medications that are often recommended as treatments for dogs with allergies.
This is an anti-itch injection given by your veterinarian that lasts four to eight weeks. So you’ll have to keep going back to the vet clinic when another injection is needed.
Cytopoint works by preventing your dog’s urge to itch herself.
“This is a monoclonal antibody that targets the itch mediator (IL-31) and prevents the signal of itch from going to the brain,” Dr. Harbour told The Dodo. “This is canine-specific — there is no drug like this in cats.”
Apoquel is an oral medication that's a pretty popular option among pet parents.
It works by suppressing a dog’s immune system so it doesn’t react so strongly to allergens and trigger all those annoying symptoms.
“This is an immune-modulating medication given in the form of a pill that helps with both itch and inflammation,” Dr. Harbour said. “This is only approved/labeled for use in dogs — we will sometimes use this in cats off-label.”
Cyclosporine and Atopica
“This is also an immune-modulating medication given in the form of a capsule,” Dr. Harbour said. “This does much more for the inflammatory aspect than the other two.”
Both cyclosporine and Atopica are also used pretty often for cats who suffer from skin allergies.
If your dog is having a really bad allergic reaction, your vet might prescribe a round of oral steroids.
“These are very potent anti-inflammatories ... used for acute and severe cases to ‘put out the fire,’” Dr. Harbour said.
Steroids aren’t good to prescribe long-term, so they’re most useful in reducing really severe allergic reactions when needed.
“Generally we try to avoid long-term steroids if possible, since there are many potential short- and long-term side effects,” Dr. Harbour said. “But sometimes, if nothing else works, or if financial limitations prevent the use of other drugs, these can be used for maintenance control.”
Allergy shots for dogs
Allergy shots — aka allergen specific immunotherapy (ASIT) — are considered to be the only true cure for pet allergies, as other methods only mask the symptoms, but ASIT can stop the body from reacting altogether.
“It is the ONLY thing that can change the actual immune response,” Dr. Harbour said. “Once [other] medications are stopped, signs will return.”
Allergy shots are a series of injections that contain small amounts of the allergen, which lets the immune system become familiar with it so it’s seen as less of a threat. That way, allergy symptoms won’t be triggered when your dog comes into contact with the allergen in her daily life.
“Over time, the immune system starts to change how it responds to the allergen and develops ‘tolerance,’” Dr. Harbour said.
If you notice your dog developing allergies, it’s important that you get her started on allergy shots as early as possible.
“Allergies are a life-long disease, so the earlier that immunotherapy with ASIT is started, the fewer symptoms that the patient will hopefully experience over time,” Dr. Harbour said.
Keep in mind that allergy shots are not 100 percent effective, and results vary among individual dogs.
“It's about 70 to 80 percent effective, but that's along a spectrum,” Dr. Harbour said. “Some patients will completely improve, others will have less severe flares and we can potentially reduce their medications over time, and [in] others it may be hard to notice actual improvement, but it may be simply preventing progression/worsening of disease over time.”
Over-the-counter allergy medications
“Unfortunately, we don't have great OTC options for allergic dogs and cats,” Dr. Harbour said.
But if you need to give your dog relief and don’t have prescription options available to you, there are definitely some OTC solutions for your dog.
Dr. Harbour recommends antihistamines, which can relieve some of your dog’s symptoms.
Keep in mind that not all commercially available antihistamines are safe for pets. Sometimes they’ll include things like decongestants and alcohol (which are dangerous for dogs), so it’s important to make sure that the product contains antihistamines only.
Benadryl is a dog-safe OTC allergy medicine you can use (ideally with guidance from your vet). If you give your dog Benadryl, you should only give .9 to 1.8 milligrams of the medication per pound of body weight once or twice a day, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
“Allergies can be treated with antihistamines, but these work best for the hay fever signs of allergy (sneezing; red, watery eyes), and much less so for the eczema (atopic dermatitis) aspect that most of our patients experience,” Dr. Harbour said.
Since antihistamines don’t exactly address the skin issues that result from allergies, she suggests using them alongside an omega-3 fatty acid supplement for dogs.
“There is evidence to support the use of antihistamines in combination with oral omega fatty acids,” Dr. Harbour said.
There are also some medications you can use directly on the skin, like a shampoo, mousse or spray.
“Topical therapies that reduce bacterial and yeast overgrowth on the skin, support the skin barrier and moisturize the skin can be extremely helpful, and most of these are not prescription,” Dr. Harbour said.
Dr. Harbour recommends something with chlorhexidine, ceramides and sometimes climbazole, miconazole or ketoconazole.
“The best shampoo/mousse/spray option should be decided with guidance from your veterinarian,” Dr. Harbour said.
With just one trip to the veterinarian and one (or a few!) products, you can put a stop to your dog’s itching and sneezing — and she’ll be back in good health in no time!
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