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Dog Allergies: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Like humans, dogs suffer from allergies. However, unlike humans, diagnosing and treating allergies in dogs is more complicated because dogs cannot tell what symptoms they feel and when they experience them.

This post looks at everything pet parents need to know about dog allergies, including types, causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Understanding Dog Allergies

An allergy refers to a damaging response by the immune system to a particular substance, also called an allergen. This can consist of foods or environmental factors that are usually harmless.

Allergens are substances that can get into your dog's system (absorbed through the skin, gastrointestinal tract or inhaled), and cause the immune system to react and release histamine and other natural substances that lead to inflammation and discomfort when in excess.

The primary causes of allergies in dogs are insect bites, food, and inhaling pollen or fungal spores. In other cases, your dog may get allergies when they lie down on a particular surface.

The inflammation can cause different symptoms in your dog, depending on the type and severity of the allergen.

All dogs can have allergies irrespective of breed or age. The best thing is to understand the various types of allergies in dogs, the symptoms to look out for, and the possible solutions.

Types of Allergies in Dogs

To understand allergies in your dog, you should look at: the type of allergen affecting your dog, how they got into your dog's body, how fast the allergic reaction occurred, and the clinical signs your dog is exhibiting.

That said, dog allergies are classified into three categories: food allergies, respiratory allergies, and atopic dermatitis/skin allergies.

Food Allergies

There's a reason we started with food allergies, and it's not because it's the most serious type of allergy in dogs, but rather the most misunderstood.

Protein sources like dairy products, eggs, chicken, beef, etc., can cause food allergies in dogs.

Food allergies in dogs can exhibit different signs, including gastrointestinal signals like vomiting and diarrhea, skin conditions like itchiness, facial swelling, hives, etc., or all the above.

However, an anaphylactic response to food is rare in dogs, and most pet parents confuse it with food intolerance or food sensitivity. But what is the difference between the two?

Food sensitivity involves a gradual reaction to a particular ingredient in your dog's food that's offending their system.

This can include wheat, milk, corn, chicken, etc. The major difference between food allergies and food sensitivity is that the latter doesn't involve an immune response.

Food sensitivity in dogs can present different symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, skin itchiness, and chronic ear and foot infections.

The only sure way to determine whether your dog has a food allergy is to work with a qualified veterinarian to determine the issue with your dog and what food ingredient is causing it.

Skin Allergies in Dogs

Skin Allergies are the most common allergies found in dogs. Skin allergies or allergic dermatitis results from your dog's skin reaction to something they didn't like.

The main causes of skin allergies in dogs include environmental allergens (dust, mold, pollen), food allergies (some protein sources can cause an immune response), and flea allergy dermatitis (some dogs are sensitive to flea bites).

Skin allergies in dogs exhibit different signs, including:

  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling
  • Dry skin
  • Rash
  • Peeling skin

The most common affected areas include the base of the tail, paws, around the eyes, ankles, wrists, underarms, and between the toes.

Skin allergies in dogs involve a lot of scratching, biting, and licking of their skin. This puts your pet at risk of secondary skin infection, as it can open the skin to yeast and bacterial infections, putting your dog at further risk if left untreated.

Respiratory Allergies

Much like humans, dogs can exhibit a respiratory reaction to allergens. Respiratory allergies in dogs occur when your dog inhales an allergen like dust or plant pollen.

This type of allergy is characterized by different respiratory symptoms including sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, runny nose, and other similar symptoms that humans with respiratory reactions exhibit.

Usually, respiratory allergy symptoms exhibit in the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, sinuses, and trachea) but rarely in the lower respiratory tract (lungs and airways).

Besides these symptoms, your dog may exhibit other respiratory allergy symptoms like snoring, wheezing, and panting.

Your dog may also show non-respiratory symptoms like itchy or inflamed skin, paws, and ears due to excessive scratching and licking.

Common Allergy Symptoms in Dogs

Your dog will exhibit different allergy symptoms depending on the cause. However, it’s likely the symptoms will include skin, respiratory, and gastrointestinal issues.

Here are the common allergic symptoms in dogs:

  • Itchiness
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Constant licking, especially around the paws and tail
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy ears
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling in the face, eyelids, ears, lips
  • Hair loss
  • Rubbing face
  • Hives
  • Recurring ear and paw infections

It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by another illness or condition (not just an allergic reaction). Contact your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis if you notice any of the above symptoms.

What Does Allergy Diagnosis in Dogs Involve?

Diagnosing allergies in dogs is a complicated process. The first thing your veterinarian will do is to determine whether your dog's symptoms are due to another underlying health issue.

If your dog has no other medical issues, the symptoms may be due to an allergic reaction. The type of allergy testing your veterinarian will do depends on the type of symptoms that your dog is showing.

For instance, veterinarians can use an elimination diet trial to test for food allergies. This testing involves feeding your dog a diet with one protein and carbohydrate for 8-12 weeks while avoiding other foods and medication.

After that, you will be required to introduce other foods into your dog's diet, one at a time, and observe how your dog responds. This way, you can identify what ingredient is causing the allergy in your dog.

Blood tests are another method used by veterinarians to test allergies in dogs. This method involves drawing blood from your dog and analyzing it in a lab. The results help to determine the best treatment plan for your dog.

Another option is intradermal skin testing which involves injecting small amounts of different allergens to see how your dog reacts. Like blood testing, the results help to determine the best treatment plan for your dog.

For flea allergy dermatitis, the diagnosis involves identifying fleas on your dog's body, then using an effective flea treatment to kill fleas and monitor how your dog responds.

Prevention and Treatment of Allergies in Dogs

The best way to keep your dog from allergies, is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. This can sometimes be challenging, as different causes can lead to allergies in dogs including environmental factors.

This leaves you only one option—finding the best allergy treatment for your dog.

Since there are different allergy treatment options for dogs, the best approach is to work with your veterinarian to help determine the best treatment for your dog's specific situation.

Your vet will consider your dog's symptoms and test for any underlying health conditions before prescribing medication for your dog.

In the end, the allergy medication prescribed will depend on what is causing the allergy in your dog and the symptoms exhibited. Here are your options:

Changing Diet

As stated, the most effective way to treat dog allergies is to eliminate the cause. For example, if your dog has a food allergy, the best solution is to avoid feeding your dog the culprit ingredients.

While some prescription medications could help relieve the symptoms, changing your dog's diet would provide a much better solution.

The best approach is to work with your veterinarian, who will prescribe a diet (hydrolyzed diet) to treat food allergies.

Hydrolyzed diets are created by breaking down proteins into small pieces (amino acids) to avoid an immune response during digestion.

Use Flea Treatment

If your dog has a flea allergy, the best solution would be to use an effective flea-preventive treatment.

For better results, don't just treat the infested pets; treat other pets in your homestead and the yard.

Atopic Dermatitis Treatment

Atomic dermatitis (skin redness and itchiness) is a common issue caused by allergies, regardless of the cause. Here are treatment options to consider if your dog has this condition:

●      Immunotherapy

This is a preventive treatment that may help dogs with atopic dermatitis. It involves gradually introducing (and increasing) doses of the allergen or substance causing allergy in your dog and monitoring it.

The results are used to make a custom serum that's introduced into your dog's system through injections or tablets to make them less sensitive to the allergen.

●      Baths

Medicated shampoos can be another solution for allergy symptoms in dogs, especially atopic dermatitis.

Shampoos can help with secondary skin infections in dogs due to itching and scratching.

These medicated shampoos can help with dry, irritated skin and relieve skin infections in your dog. However, since there are different shampoos formulated for different allergy symptoms, you should work with your vet to help choose the best shampoo for your dog's specific issue.

●      Dog allergy medications like Apoquel

Apoquel tablets for dogs are anti-inflammatory and anti-itch medicine that can be safely used in dogs but requires prescription approval.

Your vet will prescribe the correct Apoquel table dosage, frequency, and duration of use depending on your dog's allergy presentation.

Your dog will start relieving skin allergy symptoms like itching and inflammation within four hours of use.

Apoquel can be used in dogs one year and above and is effective for atopic dermatitis allergy, food allergy, and flea allergy.

The best part is that Apoquel is neither a steroid nor an antihistamine—it provides anti-inflammatory benefits without causing short-term or long-term side effects to your dog.

Always consult your veterinarian before starting your furry friend on any medication including Apoquel.

Wrapping Up                                                 

There you go! That’s what you need to know about dog allergies and the common treatments. As stated, the first step towards treating allergies in dogs is proper diagnosis. Consult your veterinarian if your dog shows allergy-like symptoms for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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