what can I give my dog for allergies
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Chewy EditorialHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

What Can I Give My Dog for Allergies?

Skin allergies are very common in dogs, and if your dog’s skin is itchy and red, then you are probably wondering, “What can I give my dog for allergies?”

Skin allergies in dogs are grouped into three main categories:

  1. Flea allergies
  2. Food allergies
  3. Environmental allergies, such as seasonal allergies.

Allergies can manifest in many ways, including itchy skin, red skin, skin with red bumps or scales, hair loss, skin odor, raw hot spots, itchy, red, infected ears and skin infections.

Learn more about allergies in dogs.

Not sure what to give dogs for allergies? Fortunately, there are many ways to alleviate the signs of allergies in dogs, including easy home remedies for dog allergies and over-the-counter options that only require a visit to your local drug store.

It is always advised to talk to your veterinarian before starting any treatment for allergies, and to work with your veterinarian to determine and eliminate the root cause of allergies in your dog, if possible.

How to Treat Dog Allergies With Over-the-Counter Options

If you’ve noticed signs of seasonal allergies in your dog, then there are several over the counter options you can try—and no, coconut oil is not one of them!

Antihistamines

A majority of dogs respond well to human over-the-counter allergy medicine that you can purchase just about anywhere. The most common antihistamine prescribed for dogs is diphenhydramine, brand name Benadryl. Also found in Pro-Sense Dog Itch & Allergy Solutions Tablets, diphenhydramine is safe in most dogs, and the suggested amount is 1 mg of diphenhydramine per pound of body weight given by mouth. For example, if you have a 25-pound dog, then you would give 25 mg of diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine may make some dogs sleepy, and other dogs hyper, and is not safe for all dogs, so talk with your veterinarian before giving it to your dog.

If Benadryl doesn’t work for your dog, there are other OTC antihistamines available, including loratadine (brand name Claritin), chlorpheniramine and cetirizine (Zyrtec). Talk with your veterinarian about which option is best for your dog, and the correct dosage to administer.

Anti-allergy Wipes and Shampoos

If your dog has seasonal allergies due to pollens and molds, then giving oral antihistamines in conjunction with washing allergens off your dog is very helpful in preventing itching. You can either wipe your dog off with a pet wipe, like TropiClean Oxy Med Allergy Relief Wipes, after she goes outside and rolls in the grass, or you can bathe your dog periodically with a hypo-allergenic shampoo, like Vet's Best Hypo-Allergenic Shampoo for Dogs or Perfect Coat Gentle Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoo. You could also try using a shampoo designed to reduce itching, such as Nootie Medicated Anti-Itch Dog Shampoo. Veterinary shampoos and conditioners like Virbac Epi-Soothe Shampoo and Cream Rinse are also formulated to quickly reduce itching and dryness.

When bathing a dog for allergies, it is important to leave the lather on your dog for 5-10 minutes before rinsing, and to thoroughly rinse the shampoo with lukewarm water. Do not use hot water because it can dry the skin and make the itching worse.

Over-the-Counter Supplements

Some dogs with seasonal allergies respond well to fish oil supplementation. Studies have shown that fish oil supplements like Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Soft Gels help reduce inflammation associated with skin allergies, and help skin cells maintain a strong barrier against allergens. You can give a dog too much fish oil, however, and fish oil is not indicated for all dogs, so consult with your veterinarian on the appropriate dosage before giving fish oil to your dog.

Read more about fish oils for dogs.

Remember: If your dog has a skin infection, external parasites or food allergies, using an over-the-counter product may not help, and may make it worse. If your dog is not responding to baths, antihistamines or fish oil, consult with your veterinarian.

How to Treat Dog Allergies With Prescription Medicine

Sometimes, home remedies for dog allergies are not enough, and you need something from your veterinarian that is prescription strength to stop the itch. Fortunately, there are many products available that can be used alone or in combination with home remedies for dog allergies to provide the right amount of relief for your dog.

Prescription Topical Treatments

If your dog has an itchy, red hot spot, then Animax Ointment, a prescription topical treatment that combines a corticosteroid, an antifungal and an antibiotic, may help. GentaSpray, an anti-inflammatory topical spray made by Butler Schein Animal Health, combines an antibiotic with a steroid, and is often prescribed for local itchy hot spots as well.

Prescription Oral Treatments

If OTC oral antihistamines, fish oils and topical products aren’t cutting it, then it’s time to explore prescription allergy medication options for your itchy dog. In the old days, the only oral prescription options available were steroids, like prednisone, prednisolone, triamcinolone and betamethasone. While these medications did stop allergy symptoms, they also came with a whole host of negative side effects, including increased appetite, increased water consumption and urination and increased susceptibility to infections, to name a few. Steroids are also less effective with food allergies. Oral and injectable steroids are still used and prescribed in some dog allergy cases, but there are new medications available that still stop itching without the negative side effects.

Atopica is the brand name for cyclosporine, a prescription allergy medication that is often prescribed for dogs with allergic dermatitis. Atopica is generally considered safe, but can cause vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite in some dogs. You can lower the chance of negative side effects by keeping Atopica in the freezer. Atopica must be given one to two hours before food or two hours after food. Most veterinarians will require annual bloodwork and an exam to fill this prescription. Atopica takes four to six weeks to provide relief, and steroids may be prescribed to your dog in the interim to control allergy symptoms.

Apoquel is another newer prescription allergy medication that is touted to have even fewer side effects than Atopica. Apoquel takes effect within four hours and can be started or stopped at any time to control itching. Apoquel works by targeting and inhibiting the itch and inflammation signaling pathway. It is effective in treating all three types of allergies in dogs, is administered twice daily for up to 14 days, and can be given long-term with a low incidence of side effects. Apoquel should not be given to dogs with existing parasitic skin infestations or pre-existing cancers.

Your veterinarian may also recommend treatment with Temaril-P, an oral prescription allergy medication that combines the antihistamine trimeprazine with the steroid prednisolone. This medication can be given to control seasonal or flea allergies.

As prescription strength products can have unwanted side effects and possible safety concerns for people, they should only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Allergy Shots

If your dog cannot tolerate oral medications or you do not want to give oral medications over a long time period, then you may want to talk to your veterinarian about giving allergy injections, commonly known as allergy shots, instead. There are two main allergy shots available.

The traditional allergy shot requires that you take your dog either to your local veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing. Allergies are tested with a blood test or with a skin prick test. The skin prick test is considered more accurate and is usually only done by veterinary dermatologists.

Once the test is done, an allergy serum is created. This allergy serum is administered via a series of injections, and is intended to desensitize your dog over time to the allergens which cause him grief. Allergy shots are the only way to truly reduce the instances of allergy symptoms. All other treatments are aimed at controlling symptoms.

Cytopoint is another new option. Cytopoint is administered as an injection. It starts providing relief within one day, and controls allergic itching for four to eight weeks. It works by targeting and neutralizing interleukin (IL)-31, a chemical messenger in your dog’s body that makes him itchy. Cytopoint is only available through your local veterinarian and has a low incidence of side effects. Cytopoint may be a good option if your dog cannot tolerate oral medications, isn’t responding to oral medications, or has concurrent diseases that prohibit the administration of other allergy medications.

Treating Dog Food Allergies

Even though food allergies are less common in dogs than atopy or flea allergy, they still occur. If your dog has allergies year-round, or has itchy skin that flares after eating certain foods, then your dog may have a food allergy, and may need a dog food for dogs with allergies.

Food allergies can only be diagnosed by a food elimination trial. The basic gist of a food trial is this: You work with your veterinarian to choose a prescription hypoallergenic diet for your dog (more on that below), and then after you slowly transition your dog to the new food over three to five days, you will feed only that food for eight to 10 weeks. That means that nothing else other than the hypoallergenic food will go in your dog’s mouth—no other treats, table food, flavored medications or chews, etc. Your dog must consume only that food.

The reason you must only feed the hypoallergenic diet for eight to 10 weeks is to diagnose a food allergy. Since it takes about 20 days for canine epidermis (skin) to turn over and at least six weeks for previous allergens to clear out, diet trials must last eight to 10 weeks.  If all the itching goes away on the new diet, then it is likely that your dog has a food allergy. If that is the case, then you have two options: either stay on the hypoallergenic diet, or slowly start to reintroduce foods into your dog’s diet and see if the symptoms return. Most pet parents understandably don’t want the itching to return, so they elect to keep feeding their dog the hypoallergenic diet.

If your veterinarian has recommended a diet trial, it is important to follow their food recommendations precisely. Over-the-counter diets are not considered good hypoallergenic choices for food trials because they are often manufactured on machines that make other diets. Hypoallergenic diets generally are created on dedicated machines that are meticulously cleaned to prevent cross-contamination with allergens.

There are two main types of food to choose for diet trials: hydrolyzed diets, which are foods that are manufactured to remove allergens, or novel protein diets, where you feed your dog a protein and carbohydrate that he has never eaten before.

Popular dog food for dogs with allergies that are used by veterinarians for diet trials could include:

Treating the Environment

If you have a dog with allergies, then you also need to think about treating the environment your dog lives in, especially if your dog suffers from flea allergies or atopy.

If your dog has a flea allergy, then the bite of just one flea can drive him crazy. Use flea control on all dogs and cats in the household consistently throughout flea season to keep flea allergies under control. (Be sure you use a flea and tick treatment formulated specifically for each type of pet. In other words, don’t give your cat a flea and tick treatment formulated for dogs, and vice versa.)

Learn more about getting rid of fleas on dogs.

If your dog is prone to seasonal allergies, then you need to reduce exposure to allergens. Use a HEPA filter in your furnace, plug in some air purifiers, cover bedding with an allergen barrier, and wash pet bedding once a week during allergy season with a gentle laundry detergent.

So, what can you give your dog for allergies? The answer is more complicated that you might have thought. Controlling allergies takes some trial and error, and usually requires a combination of therapies. Working with your veterinarian, you can discover what to give your dog for allergies, and stop the itching for good.

By: Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM
Dr. Sarah Wooten is a practicing veterinarian, certified veterinary journalist, author, speaker, landlord, tea tavern owner, mom and warrior goddess. When it is time to play, she can be found either skiing in Colorado, diving a coral reef or triathlon training with Team LC.

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