Dogs, just like people, can be allergic to a variety of things. Some common dog allergens include various foods, mold, and even cigarette smoke.
When exposed to an allergen, your dog’s immune system responds as if it is under attack from bacteria or a virus. When this happens, histamines are released to increase the flow of blood to the area of your dog’s body that the allergen has affected. The resulting inflammation allows additional chemicals from your dog’s immune system to begin repairing the damage the allergen causes. Symptoms show in the form of sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes as your dog’s body continues to try and rid itself of the allergen.
An allergen can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Once an allergen has entered your dog’s body, it can continue to be absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract. Unfortunately, your dog can develop allergies at any point in its life.
Dog Allergy Symptoms
Allergy symptoms in dogs can show on the skin and within the respiratory and digestive systems. For instance, atopic dermatitis, a chronic skin condition linked to environmental allergens, can manifest as constant licking, scratching, and chewing. It is also one of the most common skin diseases that a dog suffering from allergies can develop. Additionally, up to 15 percent of dogs with allergies suffer from nasal inflammation and asthma.
Finally, itching and scratching in dogs with atopic dermatitis can occur anywhere on the body. However, some of the most common areas include the feet, ears, and face as well as the front legs and abdomen.
If your dog suffers from a food allergy, symptoms can appear as an ear infection, diarrhea, or vomiting. However, food allergies can also cause skin-related issues, such as itching, bald patches, and hot spots.
Additional symptoms that might indicate your dog is suffering from a food or environmental allergy include the following.
- Wet, irritated, or scabbed skin
- Discharge from eyes
- Paw chewing or swelling
Common causes of Dog Allergies
Food Allergies in Dog
Although any breed can develop a food allergy at any time, Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, and Labrador Retrievers might have an increased risk.
Some common food allergies include wheat, soy, and corn. Unfortunately, these ingredients are so widely used, they can be found in a variety of dog foods. Other common ingredients that are known food allergens include pork, chicken, and beef. Finally, the age at which an allergy to food can develop varies.
Environmental Factors That Contribute to Dog Allergies
Environmental allergies include airborne particles, such as pollen, mold spores, and dust mites. Additionally, many dogs are also allergic to the flea saliva that accompanies a flea bite. Mixed as well as pure breeds are susceptible to developing an allergy to airborne particles.
However, the following breeds are typically predisposed to developing an environmental allergy.
- Shih Tzus
- Wirehaired Fox Terriers
- Golden Retrievers
- West Highland White Terriers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Chinese Shar-Peis
- Boston Terriers
- Scottish Terriers
The age of onset for an environmental allergy is typically between six months and three years. Additionally, this type of allergy is typically seasonal. However, depending on the allergen, your dog can suffer from an environmental allergy throughout the year.
Additionally, it may surprise you that your dog can be allergic to things in the environment that many people are also allergic to. For instance, your dog might be allergic to feathers, fragrances, or some cleaning products. Your dog might also be allergic to certain soaps or shampoos. Other common allergens include cigarette smoke, rubber, and plastic. Finally, and oddly enough, your dog may be allergic to human dander.
Remedies for Dog Allergies
Unfortunately, there is no reliable skin or blood test available to diagnosis a food allergy. Therefore, to diagnosis a food allergy, your veterinarian might recommend an elimination diet. An elimination diet is designed to be nutritionally complete and balanced and is comprised of ingredients that your dog has never eaten.
Ensuring that your dog does not consume anything other than what your veterinarian recommends is the key to a successful elimination diet. Therefore, it is important to discontinue any treats, including table food, as well as things like toothpaste and flavored medications.
If you include an ingredient that your dog has been exposed to in the past, your dog might be allergic to that ingredient, and the elimination diet will not work. Said differently, the point of an elimination diet is to resolve the issue by eliminating the ingredients that are causing the allergic reactions.
Another common remedy used to alleviate a food allergy is for your veterinarian to place your dog on a hydrolyzed protein diet. Through the process of hydrolysis, water is used to break down protein into pieces that are so small that your dog’s body no longer recognizes them as food. As a result, your dog’s immune system will not react to the particles. As with the elimination diet, you should not give your dog anything other than the food or treats your veterinarian has prescribed.
Regardless of the chosen approach, your dog will stay on the specialized diet for approximately 12 weeks. If there is a marked improvement or the symptoms subside, your dog is most likely suffering from a food allergy. However, to ensure the improvement was not a coincidence and to confirm the existence of a food allergy, your veterinarian may then help you systematically reintroduce foods.
During this time, you will watch for any allergic reactions to determine what food or foods are triggering the problem. Your dog’s symptoms can recur as quickly as one hour, or it might take up to two weeks for a reaction to occur.
If a food allergy is confirmed, your dog will continue with the elimination diet until symptoms disappear. Finally, because your dog might be allergic to more than one ingredient, this process must be continued until all previously consumed ingredients have been tested.
Hypoallergenic dog food
Once you have determined the ingredients that are causing your dog’s allergies, feeding your dog a hypoallergenic dog food can be a great option. This specially formulated dog food is comprised of a variety of unique protein sources that are not recognized by most dogs’ systems. As a result, the likelihood of an allergic reaction is dramatically reduced. In terms of nutrients, many hypoallergenic dog foods incorporate the following ingredients as they help to alleviate the symptoms of allergic reactions.
- vitamins A and E
- omega-3 fatty acids
- carbohydrates that don’t trigger allergies
Hypoallergenic dog treats
As noted previously, the ingredients in dog treats can also cause your dog to suffer from food allergies. In fact, many dog treats are comprised of ingredients that are known to trigger allergic reactions in dogs, such as by-products, fillers, and artificial flavors. When choosing hypoallergenic treats, you should look for ones that do not contain any common food allergens and are comprised of a small number of ingredients.
Additionally, you should look for treats that include novel animal proteins. For instance, the cricket-based treats from Jiminy’s are an excellent source of a novel protein for your dog. Jiminy’s treats are also hypoallergenic.
In terms of novel carbohydrates, treats that contain peas or sweet potatoes are a good option. Finally, when choosing a dog treat, you should avoid ones that contain grains as well as artificial flavors, preservatives, or colors.
What you can do
Something simple you can do is bathe your dog each week with a dog shampoo that contains aloe and oatmeal as these ingredients can help reduce itching. However, you should be sure to choose a shampoo that does not contain soap. If your dog is prescribed a medicated shampoo, you should be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions.
Regarding outdoor allergens, such as grass, you should wipe down your dog’s feet and coat to help decrease the number of allergens that enter your house. It is also recommended that you purchase a foam dog bed as foam beds are less likely to trap allergens.
If possible, you should also wash your dog’s bed cover each week in a detergent that is free of dye and fragrance. You might also want to consider placing a hypoallergenic liner on your dog’s bed. It is also recommended that you replace your dog’s bed every year.
Finally, you should be sure to keep your dog on an effective flea program throughout the year as a serious flea allergy can develop at any time.
Identifying the exact environmental allergen that your dog is sensitive to can be difficult. Often, diagnosis is dependent on such things as breed, age, and symptoms. Additionally, because many allergens cannot be removed from your dog’s environment, your veterinarian might recommend medication. In fact, many times, your veterinarian will prescribe more than one medication.
For instance, your dog may be prescribed an antihistamine. That said, antihistamines are effective for only a small percentage of dogs. In terms of skin irritations, your veterinarian might recommend a spray that contains aloe or oatmeal as well as some fatty-acid supplements.
When it comes to airborne allergens, your veterinarian might recommend allergy testing be conducted by a veterinarian that specializes in dermatology. Once the offending allergen is determined, immunotherapy, also referred to as allergy shots, will then be administered. Allergy shots are comprised of customized serums, and the specific serum that your dog receives is based on the results of his or her allergy testing.
During immunotherapy, your dog receives a steeped dosage of an allergen for a specific duration. This slow process of exposure is designed to help your dog develop a resistance to the allergen. Usually, results are seen within six months, but results might not be conclusive for up to one year. It is important to note that immunotherapy does not cure your dog’s allergies. Instead, the purpose of immunotherapy is to decrease your dog’s sensitivity to the allergen, which, in turn, decreases the severity of subsequent reactions, resulting in allergies that are much more manageable.