Understanding and Treating Allergies in Dogs

by Melissa Chichester

Did you know your pet can suffer from allergies just like you?

Why are you obsessively chewing on your paws? Why are you rubbing your ears against the furniture again? Why are your eyes so watery? If you have ever wanted to ask your pet any of these questions, they might be trying to tell you that they are suffering from allergies.

Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs

As your pet’s body struggles to rid itself of unwanted allergens, he or she may display respiratory, digestive, or skin abnormalities that a pet parent must take note of. These symptoms include:

  • Chronic ear infections and itchy, watery eyes
  • Excessive scratching, constant licking, and paw chewing
  • Sneezing and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hot spots

“Hot spots, otherwise known as acute moist dermatitis, are patches of irritation on the skin that are warm, wet and red. Hot spots grow quickly if left untreated, so it is necessary that your pet see a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible,” says Veterinary Technician Molly Bonacci.

Types of Allergies in Dogs

Allergies in pets can be classified as atopic allergies, contact allergies, or food allergies.

Atopic allergies are the second most common type of allergy dogs develop. Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease caused by reactions to environmental allergens. These allergens are caused by seemingly harmless things that dogs come into contact with on a regular basis through skin contact or inhalation, including the following:

  • Mold and dust mites
  • Pollen, trees, ragweed, and grass
  • Fleas

Contact allergies (known as contact dermatitis) are not as common as atopic and food allergies. In this instance, your dog will show sensitivity to something that has touched his skin, which can cause dry, itchy skin. Causes of contact allergies include:

  • Salt on a road
  • Poison ivy
  • Carpet fibers and rugs
  • Lawn chemicals, floor wax, and household cleaning supplies
  • Insecticides

The most common allergy in dogs, food allergies, account for up to 15% of allergy cases in pets.

Some foods have been commonly associated with allergic reactions in dogs, including:

  • Pork, chicken, and beef
  • Corn, soy, and wheat
  • Dairy

Diagnosis and Treatment of Allergies in Dogs

Allergies in your dog can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian, and the course of action will depend on what kind of allergy is diagnosed. The first action often includes avoidance therapy. For example, if atopic allergies are suspected, your veterinarian may recommend avoiding walks in long grass, going outdoors for long periods of time, and contact with carpeting.

With food allergies, an “elimination diet” in which potential allergens are gradually removed from the dog’s diet may be recommended.

During this process, which may take as long as 12 weeks, the dog’s diet will be limited to a single protein and carbohydrate (like chicken and rice) at any given time. Keeping a food journal is recommended during this stage, so a veterinarian can keep track of the reactions your dog may have.

Topical therapy, in the form of anti-itch solutions or regular baths with hypoallergenic shampoos, may provide short-term relief. Weekly or twice-weekly baths are not a cure but do provide relief during treatment. Baths with a moisturizing shampoo soothe the skin and add shine to the coat, as well as remove dirt and debris that may cause itching.

Supplements have also been used to improve coat quality, particularly omega-3 fatty acids (like fish oil) and biotin.

While biotin supports healthy skin and hair, one of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, EPA, supports skin health.

More intensive treatment may be directed by a veterinarian, including the use of antihistamines (like Benadryl), prescription allergy medication (like Apoquel and Temaril P), or even steroids if the allergy is serious enough. Steroids come in both injectable and tablet form and are typically reserved for the most debilitating allergy cases.