Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.
Can dogs have allergies? Yes, they absolutely can. However, dog allergy symptoms differ from the typical allergy symptoms in people. While people will get runny noses, coughing, sneezing or red watery eyes, pets develop skin infections, ear infections and itchiness.
As a small animal veterinarian, I want to address the most common condition I treat at my animal hospital: pet allergies. Pet parents dealing with pet allergies commonly ask, “What are dogs allergic to? Why is my pet so itchy? What signs do I look for to know it’s an allergy? And, can you please do something to relieve his or her discomfort, so we can all can get some sleep?”
The Most Common Pet Allergies
There are two different types of reactions to foods in dogs: hypersensitivity and an intolerance.
A hypersensitivity reaction involves the body’s immune system, which produces a reaction when exposed to an allergen over time.
A food intolerance isn’t technically an allergic reaction and can occur with the first exposure to a food, especially in young animals.
It’s important to note that both types of reactions, hypersensitivity or intolerance, can present in the same way and are difficult to tell apart. Both reactions will cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain. Other symptoms may include respiratory issues, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, itchiness, rashes and hives. Seek veterinary guidance to determine which reaction your pup is having.
Pets with food allergies are generally allergic to the protein from animal or plant-based ingredients in their diet. The proteins are broken down into molecules that the immune system misidentifies as foreign and a threat to the body. Chicken, beef and eggs are just some of the most common types of food allergies.
Flea allergies are caused by flea bites and are a very common cause of allergies in pets. The saliva in the flea bite causes a severe itchy response and many times a secondary skin infection.
Common dog allergy symptoms of a flea bite include:
- hair loss
- biting intensely at the tail, hind end, and legs
- open and oozing sores
- skin damage due to scratching/licking
A pet may have allergies to environmental allergens, such as pollens, grasses or soils.
The most common clinical signs you may see are:
- licking at the paws (many times after coming in from outside)
- generalized hair loss
- scratching, chewing, or biting intensely
- skin damage due to scratching/licking
- ear infections
What Are the Treatment Options for Pet Allergies?
The first step is to work with your veterinarian to determine if your pet is suffering from allergies, and if so, the cause of the allergic reaction.
A food allergy requires placing your pet on a prescription hypoallergenic dog food diet.
If your pet is allergic to fleas, veterinarians can prescribe flea preventatives that are very effective and, most importantly, safe for your pets.
Environmental allergies to things such as pollen, grasses or soils are more difficult to treat, but there are treatment options available.
The second step is to have your veterinarian determine the type of infection your pet has so that he can receive the proper treatment. Many times, your veterinarian will recommend skin scrapes, skin cytology, cultures or bloodwork to assess the type of infection and treat accordingly.
What Can You Do to Relieve the Itchiness?
There are many treatments available, and every pet is unique. Treatment regimens need to be prescribed by your veterinarian. Here is my top list for treatment of allergies and associated skin infections:
- Hypoallergenic dog food diet if your pet has been diagnosed with food allergies (I like American Journey Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Lamb & Sweet Potato Dog Food)
- Weekly medicated shampoos prescribed by your veterinarian for active skin infection
- Omega-3 fatty acids supplements (I likeZesty Paws Allergy Immune Bites Digestive Health Dog Supplement, 90 count Zesty Paws Allergy Immune Bites Digestive Health Dog Supplement)
- Proper and effective dog flea and tick prevention treatments
- Hypoallergenic vaccinations
- If severe, referral to veterinarian dermatologist
Unfortunately, allergies are a common problem for our furry friends, but there are many things we can do to help. I try and stress to my clients that allergies in dogs are not treatable, but dog allergy symptoms are manageable. My goal is relieving your pet as much as possible to provide him or her with less breakouts, less itching and more comfort. Speak with your veterinarian to discuss an appropriate treatment plan for your pet’s allergies.