It’s tough seeing our dogs scratching, sneezing, and just feeling miserable from their allergies. So how can you help your dog who is sufferings from allergies? We’ve prepared this overview for dog owners to get a better understanding about dog allergies and how we can help with them.
What Are Dog Allergies?
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system responds inappropriately to a substance, causing an excessive reaction to something which normally would not pose a threat to the body. The allergic reaction to this substance can cause a wide range of symptoms that may affect different body systems including the skin, eyes, ears, and digestive system.
Dogs may be born with allergies, or they may develop them later in life. Some allergies become worse over time, while others stay the same or even improve. This is normally a life-long condition, so learning how to treat and manage allergies is the most important step an owner can take towards helping a dog with allergies.
Types of allergies in dogs:
The substances which trigger an allergic reaction include things such as different types of food, insect bites, medications, or environmental triggers such as dust or pollen.
Dietary Allergies in Dogs
Dogs are rarely considered to be truly allergic to different foodstuffs, however, many do develop intolerances to certain diets over time which will lead to similar symptoms as an allergic reaction. Dietary allergies in dogs are commonly triggered by sources of animal protein, such as beef or chicken. Dogs 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.
Dog Allergies Caused By Environmental Triggers
Dogs may be allergic to pathogens that are present in the environment. Some of these are found in the air itself, such as pollen, dust, perfumes, or molds. Others are things with which the dog may come into direct contact, including fabric fibers, plants, and grasses, or chemicals such as shampoo or cleaning products. Some environmental triggers such as pollen may be seasonal; others are present all year round. Symptoms triggered by environmental pathogens may include wheezing, itching, sneezing, and reduced energy levels.
Insect Related Dog Allergies
The most common trigger of insect allergies is fleas. This occurs when dogs are allergic to flea saliva, leading to a condition known as Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD). Dogs with FAD develop irritated skin after just one flea bite, leading to incessant itching, red spots on the skin, and inflammation.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Allergies?
If you suspect that your dog may have an allergy, then it is important to seek veterinary advice promptly. The severity of symptoms of an allergic response may only be mild at first but they can become more severe over time. The symptoms displayed during an allergic response can cause your dog considerable discomfort and may also lead to long-term problems such as weight loss, hair thinning, or skin thickening.
The tests used to diagnose allergies include blood tests, saliva tests, or skin allergen testing. Your veterinarian may also recommend elimination trials, particularly when a food allergy is suspected. Elimination trials involve feeding your dog a single type of food for a couple of months, such as a hypoallergenic turkey and rice kibble. 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.
Your veterinarian may advise that your dog has skin testing for allergies, and you may be referred to a veterinary dermatologist for this. Skin testing is a specialist method with isolates specific allergens, taking the guesswork out of your dog’s allergy problem. The specialist may then recommend a course of serum injections that are custom-made specifically for your dog.
Although this can be an expensive process at first, it has a high success rate and can help reduce or even remove your dog’s allergic symptoms altogether. In the long-term, specialist allergy treatment may reduce discomfort to your dog and potentially expensive veterinary bills.
Sometimes it can be difficult or even impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of the allergic response, even with extensive testing. In this situation, the allergic response will need to be treated symptomatically. Your vet may prescribe medication to help relieve the symptoms and there are also many things you can do at home to make your dog more comfortable.
How Do You Treat A Dog With Allergies?
How to treat your dog’s allergy symptoms is not always clear. Depending on what is causing their allergy, the solution can be a multitude of things. You should always consult with a licensed veterinarian before giving your dog anything.
Eliminating the source of the allergy:
The ideal way to treat an allergy is to remove the cause of the allergic reaction. Insect allergies are one of the simplest to treat; a good flea prevention strategy that includes treating the dog and the household environment should prevent your dog from being bitten. Eliminating the cause of food allergies can also be simple once the source of the allergic response has been identified.
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. Other diets are available which contain just a single source of protein and carbohydrate, such as turkey and potato.
Even if the source can be identified, environmental sources of allergens can be much trickier to eliminate. Diagnostic tests may show that your dog is allergic to specific types of pollen – even if you could limit direct contact with these allergens you may find it almost impossible to eliminate airborne particles. Modifying your exercise routes to avoid allergen hotspots can help to reduce exposure, as well as walking your dog at times of day when the pollen count will be lower.
Symptomatic treatment of allergies:
Symptomatic treatment may be required when we cannot identify or remove the cause of the allergic response. Your dog may be allergic to a type of foodstuff that cannot be identified, or a type of environmental pathogen which is impossible to eliminate.
To help reduce the symptoms, your veterinarian may prescribe medication such as corticosteroids or antihistamines to limit the body’s overall allergic response. While these take effect there are many other ways in which you can help your dog feel more comfortable, such as bathing, grooming, and ear cleaning.
Dogs suffering from allergies affecting the digestive system may develop symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, poor appetite, and excessive flatulence. Probiotics may provide your dog with some symptomatic relief from these symptoms. Probiotics help to balance the levels of bacteria within the digestive system, making the digestive system more effective and reducing discomfort. Corticosteroids may also be prescribed by your veterinarian to reduce intestinal inflammation or antihistamines to reduce the allergic response.
It is important to monitor your dog’s weight regularly if they suffer from digestive symptoms. Weigh your dog regularly, either at home or at the veterinary clinic. A weight chart can be a useful tool to track your dog’s weight over time, helping you to quickly identify any ongoing weight loss.
Dog with allergies affecting the skin may show a range of different symptoms, 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.
Washing your dog once or twice a week with a suitable shampoo can be a useful way to help soothe symptoms of skin allergies. Washing your dog will remove allergens from the coat, rebalance the levels of bacteria and yeast on the skin surface and rehydrate the skin. However, washing must be done correctly to avoid making your dog’s condition worse. Use a shampoo product designed specifically for this purpose – your veterinarian will be able to advise you here. When shampooing, massage the skin gently, make sure that all products are rinsed thoroughly, and wipe your dog gently with a towel when drying.
Applying a soothing product such as coconut oil after a bath on localized areas of dry skin may help to relieve the symptoms of allergies. 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. Include this as part of your daily routine, for example when you return from outdoor activity.
Dogs with skin allergies are particularly prone to secondary ear infections, displaying symptoms such as head shaking and 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 is achieved by 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 dog 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 dogs; they 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, known as allergic conjunctivitis, are generally caused by environmental pathogens.
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. It may be possible to manage this condition by rinsing the eye twice daily with sterile saline as soon as symptoms start to develop. A good preventative measure is to wipe your dog’s face twice daily, or after outdoor exercise, with a damp cloth to reduce exposure to environmental pathogens.