Dogs can develop allergies just like their human family members—and those allergies can be dangerous, or at the very least, a total drag.
It’s often difficult to diagnose allergies in dogs, because our four-legged friends cannot talk and tell us exactly what’s bothering them. There are many times in a pet parent’s life that they wish they could communicate via telepathy, but instead we have to pay close attention to a dog’s behavior and body language in order to figure out what is going on.
So what are the signs of dog allergies? How are they diagnosed, and what are the treatments? We’ll cover the basics and beyond so your pup can get some relief.
- Allergies (in both dogs and humans) are the result of the immune system’s hypersensitivity-or overreaction- to a specific substance.
- Dogs can have skin allergies, food allergies, environmental allergies, and even seasonal allergies.
- Signs of allergies can include itchiness, inflammation and redness, swelling on the face, diarrhea, vomiting, chronic ear infections, runny eyes, sneezing, and constant licking.
- Allergies are diagnosed through blood tests, skin tests, or through testing your dog’s diet.
- Common allergy treatments for dogs include: anti inflammatories, immune modulators, special food, or allergy shots.
What is an allergy?
Allergies work pretty similarly in both dogs and humans. In dogs, allergies usually develop during the first few years of their life.
An allergy is the result of the immune system’s hypersensitivity—or overreaction—to a specific substance. Those substances, called allergens, can be pollen, dust mites, certain foods, plants, animals, or insects such as fleas.
None of these allergens are inherently harmful to humans or animals, but if your pup is allergic, contact with these substances causes the immune system to read them as harmful. That kicks off a reaction. Your dog’s body releases histamines, which cause allergy symptoms such as inflammation, itching, and redness.
In short, allergies result from the immune system reacting to something it doesn’t really need to respond to.
Signs of allergies in dogs
There are a number of different types of allergies that are common in dogs. Dogs can have skin allergies, food allergies, environmental allergies, and even seasonal allergies.
Some common allergic symptoms to look out for:
- Itchiness, especially in the paw, face, and rear-end area
- Inflammation and redness
- Swelling on the face
- Chronic ear infections
- Runny eyes
- Constant licking (likely to relieve a particularly itchy spot).
Skin allergies, which manifest as itchy skin and redness, might be caused by flea dermatitis, food, or allergens in the environment. Food allergies can also present as skin irritation, and may be accompanied by gastrointestinal distress and vomiting and/or diarrhea. Likewise, environmental allergies, both seasonal and not, can also present as skin irritation.
Diagnosing your dog’s allergies
As you can tell, diagnosing allergies in dogs can be quite difficult, especially if you’re not a professional. The complexity is twofold:
- The symptoms for allergies in dogs overlap with many other potential illnesses.
- The symptoms for various types of allergies also overlap within each other.
Oof. With humans, it’s often pretty clear what’s a food allergy and what is an environmental allergy. In dogs, the symptoms are so similar, it can be hard to distinguish.
When you notice your pup displaying signs of allergies take them in to their veterinarian to get them checked out. The veterinary team will first rule out any other potential problem before diagnosing allergies.
In terms of diagnostics, flea dermatitis is the easiest type of allergy to diagnose. Flea dirt (which is actually—ugh—the feces of adult fleas) and fleas themselves are not difficult to identify. A flea allergy is also one of the easiest allergies to treat, because it mainly requires just keeping the fleas at bay.
Good flea control is widely available in the form of pills, spot treatments, or a flea collar. If this is what your pup is facing, relief should be just around the corner.
What if it’s not something as easy to spot as fleas? Once it is decided that your dog does indeed have an allergy, there are a number of diagnostic tools that your vet can use to figure out what type of allergies your dog is suffering from.
To see whether your dog is suffering from skin or environmental allergies, the veterinarian will probably want to do some allergy testing. There are two main types of allergy testing for dogs: a blood test, and a skin test.
Because it is convenient and easy, the blood test is the most common allergy test used. Your pup’s blood is tested for a reaction to various allergens such as pollen, mold, and dust. The issue with blood tests is that they can be somewhat unreliable.
Skin tests are more comprehensive than blood tests. They are also more invasive. For the test, your dog will be sedated, and small amounts of various allergens will be injected under the dog’s skin. (The vet will need to shave a patch of your pup’s fur first.) If your dog is allergic to one or more specific allergens, there will be a reaction at the injection site. This type of test is the most reliable, but again, they are more invasive and complicated.
Diagnosing food allergies
True food allergies are actually quite rare in dogs, but in the case that your veterinary team or allergist suspects one in your dog, they will ask you to put your pup on a hypoallergenic diet for about 12 weeks to see if it helps alleviate the symptoms.
There are three types of diets they might suggest:
- A limited ingredient diet, in which the ingredients of your dog’s diet are limited until it becomes clear what is causing a reaction
- A novel ingredient diet, in which new foods are slowly added to your dog’s diet
- A prescription diet composed of hypoallergenic ingredients.
Always consult with a vet before putting your dog on any special diet.
Treating your dog’s allergies
Once your dog has been diagnosed with allergies your veterinary team will create a treatment plan. Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies, other than avoiding the offending allergens, but luckily there are ways to manage them.
|Treatment||What it does|
|Anti-inflammatories||Helps block some allergic reactions|
|Immune modulators||Decreases your dog’s immune response to the allergen|
|Over-the-counter food and dietary supplements||Helps improve your dog’s response to steroids and antihistamines|
|Bathing||Helps remove allergens that your dog has been exposed to, and help treat secondary infections|
|Anti-allergy shampoos||Contains anti-inflammatories, which can provide some relief|
|Allergy shots||A minuscule amount of the specific antigen your dog is allergic to is injected on a regular basis, helping to build your dog’s immunity to the substance|
Your dog is one-of-a-kind, and so are their allergies, and there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Again, it’s important to work closely with a professional vet if you suspect that your dog is suffering from allergies.
Before we go…
Allergies are a common health condition your dog may show signs of at some point in their life.
If you’re thinking about getting pet health insurance, the earlier in your dog’s life, the better! You’ll get more coverage for diagnostics, medications, and treatments for allergies if your furry friend is insured before they show any symptoms or are diagnosed (at which point allergies would be considered pre-existing conditions).
Click below to get started with Lemonade Pet—it only takes a few minutes.