Can dogs have allergies? Of course they can. Just as with people, dogs can have all sorts of allergies for all sorts of reason. In this article, we review the types of allergies common to dogs, describe their symptoms and offer sound advice regarding treatment options. Read on to learn more.
What Types of Allergies Can Dogs Get?
As in humans, allergic symptoms are a an immune system reaction to a foreign substance. Dogs may experience allergic reactions to environmental conditions, food, care products and many other sources. Often, a dog with a sensitive system will have allergic reactions to a number of different things, and this can cause a very complicated situation.
What Are Skin Allergies Like In Dogs?
Just as with humans, skin allergies (allergic dermatitis) can present with symptoms such as itching, rash, blisters, hair loss and the like. Skin allergies may be caused by environmental conditions, ingredients in food and/or fleas or other parasites.
A condition known as atopic dermatitis is caused by allergens in the environment and is often seasonal. The main culprits in atopic dermatitis are mold, dust and/or pollen. A dog suffering allergies with environmental causes may sneeze and have itchy, watery eyes. His mouth may itch. He may also have itchy feet and ankles, flanks and the area under his front legs.
Dogs with food allergies may also have very itchy skin, especially around the ears and on the paws. Food allergies may also cause gastrointestinal distress, such as diarrhea and/or vomiting.
Dogs with flea allergies can exhibit overall itchiness, but it is usually most pronounced at the base of the tail. Fleas tend to congregate here because it is often an area dogs can’t reach to scratch and disrupt their endeavors. A dog with severe flea infestation may develop a severe (even bloody) rash. In severely infested dogs, you will see the fleas moving around, and you may also see flea dirt (feces) and scabby blood.
Skin allergies of all sorts can become very complicated and serious because when your dog chews, licks and scratches the itchy areas, he causes breaks in the skin. These can allow germs, yeast and other contaminants to enter.
What Other Problems Can Food Allergies Cause?
Genuine food allergies are rare in dogs, but food sensitivity is quite common. A food allergy is caused by an immune response. As mentioned, food allergies can cause vomiting or may cause loose stools or diarrhea.
Symptoms may present on the skin as a rash as described above, or they can be more serious. A severe food allergy may cause facial swelling and/or hives as a skin symptom.
In very severe cases, a food allergy can cause swelling in the throat (anaphylaxis) and block the animal’s ability to breathe.
The difference between food allergies and food sensitivity is that allergy symptoms develop quite suddenly. A food sensitivity develops gradually and may manifest as a combination of symptoms that grow more intense with the passage of time if the offending food is not removed.
Dogs with food sensitivities often have chronic diarrhea, ear infections, poor skin and coat condition, perpetually itchy toes. Common ingredients that cause food sensitivity include milk, soy, corn and wheat. Less often, dogs may be sensitive to eggs, chicken or beef.
What Does An Acute Allergic Reaction Look Like?
Just as in people, an acute allergic reaction in a dog can be very alarming. The most alarming is anaphylactic shock, which may be caused by ingredients in food (just as peanuts may cause this reaction in some humans) or by events, such as vaccines or a bee sting. Naturally, since anaphylactic shock blocks the airway, it is very likely to be fatal. Fortunately, this allergic reaction is very rare in dogs.
Other acute allergic reactions include facial swelling, hives, swelling of the ears, eyes, lips, throat and facial area. Don’t take these symptoms lightly as they can increase and cause real distress. Contact your vet right away.
What Other Allergy Symptoms Affect Dogs?
Dogs’ allergy symptoms are many and varied and can be compounded and complex. For example, in addition to blocking the airway, an anaphylactic reaction can be followed by a sudden blood sugar drop and full-blown shock. If your dog experiences anaphylaxis, you need to be prepared to address all of these problems.
Generally, though, these are the symptoms you should watch for and be ready to report to your vet if they occur:
Be aware that it’s always important to contact your vet about these symptoms because they could indicate another, more serious condition.
How Do You Diagnose Dogs’ Allergies?
Allergy diagnosis in dogs is very much like allergy diagnosis in people. Your vet will probably perform a complete physical exam and may take some blood, urine and fecal samples to rule out other conditions. This may be followed by allergy testing, such as a patch test.
If your vet suspects food allergies, he or she may propose an elimination diet. This is done by giving the dog a single protein and carbohydrate source for three months at a time. If the dog’s symptoms abate, you know that they were caused by whatever the dog was eating before. This type of testing may need to be repeated until the allergen is identified and a workable food formulation is developed.
One type of skin allergy that doesn’t need extensive diagnosis is flea allergy dermatitis. If your dog has fleas, it should be obvious to you and your vet. Flea allergies are usually addressed with baths and flea products that kill off the immediate infestation. The dog’s quarters may need to be thoroughly cleaned and treated with a flea spray or wash. Oral medications can be used to prevent re-infestation.
What Are Some Treatments For Dogs’ Allergy Symptoms?
The most effective way to treat a dog allergy is to simply avoid contact with the allergen. In the cases of some allergens (e.g. fleas or food ingredients) this is fairly easy to do. In the case of pollen, mold or dust allergies, it can be quite difficult.
Environmental and lifestyle changes may be necessary for dogs suffering from seasonal or environmental allergies. For example, you may need to perform a thorough cleaning to deal with dust and mold, and you may need to clean more often to eliminate these substances from your environment.
You may need to install a specialized filter on your heating and cooling unit to keep dust, mold and pollen out of your home, and you may need to keep your dog in as much as possible during high pollen or high mold count days. Your vet may also prescribe antihistamines to help your dog cope with his allergies.
Don’t let your dog’s skin issues go by unnoticed or untreated
Ideally, you want to remove the risk of contact with allergens so that these allergies can’t develop. Keep them inside on days of high pollen, watch out for insect infestations and check their skin regularly. Yet, this is a bit like telling a hay fever sufferer they are cured if they don’t go outside in the summer. Dog skin allergies will flare up and will need treatment to ease the symptoms. The question is whether to stick with the antihistamines or try one of those alternative approaches.