Just like people, dogs can show allergic symptoms when their immune systems begin to recognize certain everyday substances—or allergens— as dangerous. Even though these allergens are common in most environments and harmless to most animals, a dog with allergies will have an extreme reaction to them. Allergens can be problematic when inhaled, ingested or contact a dog’s skin. As his body tries to rid itself of these substances, a variety of skin, digestive and respiratory symptoms may appear.
If your dog seems to have an allergic condition, it’s important to get an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you can.
What Are the General Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs?
The symptoms of allergies are usually like those of any other nasal allergy. They include:
- coughing and wheezing
- red, itchy eyes
- runny, itchy, stuffy nose
Allergic dogs may also suffer from secondary bacterial or yeast skin infections, which may cause hair loss, scabs or crusts on the skin.
Less common, but more severe allergic reactions include:
- Urticaria (hives)
- Angioedema (facial swelling)
- Anaphylaxis is a rare, life-threatening, immediate allergic reaction to something ingested or injected. If untreated, it can in some cases, result in shock, respiratory and cardiac failure, and death.
These symptoms usually appear within 20 minutes of being exposed to the allergen, which can include drugs, chemicals, insect bites, or something eaten.
If your pet has a history of a severe allergic reaction, you may want to discuss various options with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may give you a prescription for an epi-pen which is a special syringe and needle filled with a single dose of epinephrine. If your pet has an anaphylactic reaction or severe angioedema, inject the epinephrine using the epi-pen and seek emergency veterinary assistance immediately. Be sure to take the epi-pen with you on any trips or hikes.
What Substances Can Dogs Be Allergic To?
- Tree, grass and weed pollens
- Mold spores
- Dust and house dust mites
- Cigarette smoke
- Food ingredients (e.g. beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat or soy)
- Prescription drugs
- Fleas and flea-control products (The bite of a single flea can trigger intense itchiness for two to three weeks!)
- Cleaning products
- Insecticidal shampoo
- Rubber and plastic materials
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
|Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels
Flea allergy dermatitis, which is actually sensitivity to flea saliva, is a very common condition in dogs. It’s not the bite of the flea that causes most of the itching in dogs with FAD, it’s the saliva.
The saliva causes irritation way out of proportion to the actual number of fleas on the pup.
If you suspect or know fleas are a problem for your dog, I recommend you comb her at least once daily, every day during pest season with a flea comb. Do this on a white towel or other light colored cloth so you can see what’s coming off your dog as you comb. Flea ‘dirt’ (actually flea feces) looks like real dirt, but when suspended in a little rubbing alcohol or water will dissolve and release a red color (blood) allowing you to discern real dirt from flea dirt.
Bathe your dog often. A soothing bath will kill any fleas on your dog, help heal skin irritation, and make her feel more comfortable and less itchy. Also, clean animals aren’t as attractive to fleas. Pick a non-grain (no oatmeal) herbal shampoo.
Make liberal use of an all-natural pest repellent like Natural Flea and Tick Defense during flea season.
For some dogs with a serious case of flea allergy dermatitis, I prescribe an oral drug called Comfortis. It is a chemical, but it’s considered the least hazardous of all similar drugs. All drugs can have side effects, but Comfortis has reportedly fewer than topical insecticides.
Dogs with a food allergy will commonly have itchy skin, breathing difficulties or gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and vomiting, and an elimination diet will most probably be used to determine what food he is allergic to. If your dog is specifically allergic to chicken, for example, you should avoid feeding him any products containing chicken protein or fat.
Please note that food allergies may show up in dogs at any age. It often takes some detective work to find out what substance is causing the allergic reaction.
In addition to flea saliva and certain foods/ingredients, your dog can also be allergic to an infinite variety of irritants in the environment. These can be outdoor allergens like ragweed, grasses and pollens, as well as indoor irritants like mold, dust mites, cleaning chemicals and even fabrics like wool or cotton.
As a general rule, if your dog is allergic to something inside your home, he’ll have year-round symptoms. If he’s reacting is to something outdoors, it could very well be a seasonal problem.
How Can Dog Allergies Be Treated?
The best way to treat allergies is to remove the offending allergens from the environment.
- Prevention is the best treatment for allergies caused by fleas. Start a flea control program for all of your pets before the season starts. Remember, outdoor pets can carry fleas inside to indoor pets. See your veterinarian for advice about the best flea control products for your dog and the environment.
- If dust is the problem, clean your pet’s bedding once a week and vacuum at least twice weekly—this includes rugs, curtains and any other materials that gather dust.
- Weekly bathing may help relieve itching and remove environmental allergens and pollens from your dog’s skin. Discuss with your vet what prescription shampoos are best, as frequent bathing with the wrong product can dry out skin.
- If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, she’ll need to be put on an exclusive prescription or hydrolyzed protein diet. Once the allergy is determined, your vet will recommend specific foods or a home-cooked diet.