Allergies are unfortunately just as common in dogs as they are in humans. Some breeds of dog are more susceptible to developing allergies, and the German Shepherd is one of these.
It is believed that one in ten dogs will have to develop some type of allergy in their lifetime, and this number rises with German Shepherds.
Allergies can also be genetic, meaning that a German Shepherd with allergies is more likely to produce offspring who also have allergies.
What Does An Allergy Mean For German Shepherd?
An allergy is when the body’s immune system responds inappropriately to a substance, causing a reaction to something which normally would not pose a threat to the body.
The substances which trigger an allergic reaction in dogs include things such as different types of food, insect bites, medications, or environmental triggers such as dust or pollen.
The allergic reaction to this substance can cause a wide range of symptoms which may affect different body systems including the skin, eyes, ears and digestive system.
What allergies are German Shepherds more prone to?
Many things may trigger an allergic reaction in German Shepherds, including food products, environmental pathogens and insect bites:
- Dietary allergies or intolerances: Dogs can develop allergies or intolerances to certain diets over time which will lead to symptoms of an allergic reaction. In German Shepherds, food allergies are most commonly triggered by sources of animal protein, such as beef or chicken. They may also develop an intolerance over time to other food sources such as wheat, eggs, soy or milk. Food allergies and intolerances may cause symptoms to develop in both the digestive system and on the skin.
- Environmental pathogens: German Shepherds may develop an allergic reaction to many things which are present in the environment. Some of these are in the air itself, such as pollen, dust, perfumes or molds. Others are things your German Shepherd may come into direct contact with, including fabric fibers, plants and grasses, or chemicals such as shampoo or cleaning products. Some environmental triggers may be seasonal, such as pollen; others are present all year round. Environmental pathogens may trigger symptoms including wheezing, itching, sneezing and reduced energy levels.
- Insect bites: Some German Shepherds are allergic to flea saliva, leading to a condition known as flea allergic dermatitis. When this condition occurs the dog will develop irritated skin after just one flea bite, leading to incessant itching, red spots on the skin and inflammation.
Diagnosis of Allergies in German Shepherds
If you suspect that your German Shepherd may have an allergy you must seek veterinary advice promptly. The severity of symptoms of an K9 allergic response may only be mild at first but they can become more severe over time. The symptoms displayed during an allergic response can also be very uncomfortable for your German Shepherd and may lead to long term problems such as weight loss, hair thinning or skin thickening.
Your veterinarian may advise diagnostic tests such as blood tests, saliva tests or skin allergen testing. They may also recommend elimination trials, particularly when a food allergy is suspected.
Elimination trials involve feeding your German Shepherd a single type of food for 8 to 12 weeks, such as a gut friendly dog food like Jiminy’s Good Grub or Cricket Crave.
If your dog’s symptoms resolve after this time then you may wish to continue feeding just this diet, or you could start to reintroduce different food types to identify which one triggers an allergic response.
Sometimes it can be very difficult or even impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of the allergic response, even with extensive testing; in these cases the allergic response will need to be treated symptomatically.
Treatment of Allergies in German Shepherds
Eliminating the source of the allergy:
The ideal and often simplest way to treat an allergy is to remove the cause, for example by modifying the diet or using flea control products regularly. Insect allergies are probably the simplest to treat; a good flea prevention strategy including treating the dog and household environment should be sufficient to keep these pests away from your pet.
Eliminating the trigger in food allergies can also be simple; the hard work lies in the initial detective work to identify the source of the allergic response. There are many diets available for dogs with allergies. These may be marketed as hypoallergenic, meaning the proteins have been modified to reduce the allergic response; or other diets are available which contain just a single source of protein and carbohydrate, such as turkey and potato.
Environmental sources of allergens can be much trickier to eliminate, even if the source can be identified. Veterinary tests may show that your German Shepherd is allergic to specific types of pollen, such as grass or flowers.
Even if you could limit direct contact to these allergens you may find it almost impossible to eliminate airborne particles. Consider modifying your exercise routes or areas to avoid allergen hotspots, and avoid walking your dog at times of day when the pollen count will be higher, such as early morning.
Symptomatic treatment of allergies:
Symptomatic treatment is necessary when we cannot identify or remove the cause of the allergic response. It may be that the dog is allergic to a type of foodstuff which is impossible to identify, or a type of pollen which we cannot stop the dog being exposed to.
In these situations, your veterinarian may prescribe medication such as corticosteroids or antihistamines to limit the body’s overall allergic response. As a German Shepherd owner, there are many other ways in which you can help your dog feel more comfortable by treating the symptoms they are suffering from.
German Shepherds with allergies affecting the digestive system may develop symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss reduced appetite and excessive flatulence.
The key to relieving these symptoms is to remove the source of the allergic response with food elimination trials but this may take some time, so in the meantime, we need to look at ways to keep your dog more comfortable.
Whilst they are not a cure for digestive symptoms, probiotics may provide your German Shepherd with some symptomatic relief. Probiotics help to balance the levels of bacteria within the digestive system; making the digestive system more effective and reducing discomfort.
Corticosteroids may be recommended by your veterinarian to reduce intestinal inflammation or antihistamines to reduce the allergic response.
German Shepherds with allergies may show a range of different symptoms affecting the skin, including itching, licking, chewing, face rubbing, skin sores, infections, dry skin and dandruff. Your dog may also smell quite unpleasant and start to develop hair loss and thickened skin.
If your German Shepherd suffering with skin symptoms from allergies then washing them once or twice a week with a suitable shampoo can be a useful way to help alleviate symptoms such as inflammation and itching.
Washing your dog suffering from allergies helps to alleviate symptoms by removing allergens from the coat, rebalancing the levels of bacteria and yeast on the skin surface and rehydrating the skin. However, this must be done correctly to avoid making your dog’s condition worse – massage the skin gently when shampooing, make sure that all products are rinsed thoroughly and wipe your dog gently with a towel when drying.
When washing your dog ensure that you use a suitable product; your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise on the most suitable shampoo for your dog’s condition. For routine maintenance, something like an oatmeal shampoo can be very effective for rehydrating dry skin and reducing itchiness.
Commercial oatmeal shampoos are available but it is also a very simple shampoo to make at home – simply grind oats in a blender until they are a fine powder, and add to your dog’s bathwater.
Using a product such as coconut oil may help to relieve the symptoms of skin allergies; apply after a bath on localized areas of dry skin and smooth over the coat. Wiping your dog’s coat with a warm damp cloth can also be helpful, as it may remove or reduce the presence of allergens on the fur. Try making this part of your daily routine, for example when you return from outdoor activity with your German Shepherd.
German Shepherds are particularly prone to secondary ear infections as a result of allergies. Dogs with chronic ear infections may display symptoms such as shaking their head or scratching the ears. You may also notice a bad smell coming from the ears or discharge within the ear canal itself.
Recurrent ear infections can cause thickening of the ear canal over time which may require surgery to resolve, so a good ear care routine must be implemented in dogs with allergies to prevent this.
Prevention of ear infections lies in regular ear cleaning, this can be part of your weekly washing routine. Use an ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian and follow the instructions carefully to avoid damaging the delicate ear canal.
If you suspect that your German Shepherd has developed an ear infection then veterinary advice must be sought, as additional treatment may be required.
The eyes are a common location for allergic symptoms in German Shepherd and they must be monitored closely. The eyes may appear irritated, red and have a clear or cloudy discharge; tear staining may also be seen on the fur around the eyes.
Allergic symptoms of the eyes are generally caused by environmental pathogens, and this condition is known as allergic conjunctivitis.
As with ears, veterinary advice must be sought if symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis are seen. Your veterinarian may prescribe eye medication such as steroid drops to alleviate the symptoms.
Often it is possible to manage this condition by rinsing the eye twice daily with sterile saline as soon as symptoms start to develop. German Shepherd owners can also wipe their dog’s face twice daily, or on the return from outdoor exercise, with a damp cloth to reduce exposure to environmental pathogens.