Your Simple Guide to Allergies in Dogs
Written by FOTP Team
Allergies in dogs could affect as many as a quarter of all pups. Just like in humans, allergic reactions in dogs can be triggered by everything from pollen to parasite bites, to the proteins in their food.
This means that if your pet is sniffling and sneezing, scratching and fussing—or displaying more serious symptoms like ear infections and diarrhea—there’s a good chance it could be an allergy. A trip to the vet is the best way to find out what’s up and rule out any other conditions.
Here’s what you need to know if your furry friend has an allergy—and what you can do to make them feel much better.
What Causes Allergies in Dogs?
Allergies in dogs—like allergies in all species—happen when their immune system mistakenly responds to something that’s usually harmless.
In simple terms, a foreign substance shows up, like pollen or dust, and the body thinks it’s dangerous. As a result, the immune system floods the body with histamines, namely chemicals whose job it is to remove this substance. It’s these histamines that cause common allergy symptoms like a runny nose or itchy eyes.
Technically, allergies always involve this immune response. But we often use the word allergy when we mean intolerance. If your dog is intolerant to something, like a certain food, it can make them feel unwell—but it won’t cause this immune reaction.
In practice, allergies and intolerances can be pretty hard to tell apart. They can have similar causes, symptoms, and treatments—and both can make for an unhappy pup.
The Most Common Types of Dog Allergies
There are three main types of dog allergy: skin allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies.
- Skin allergies (or contact allergies). Caused by skin contact with something irritating, like bee stings or flea bites, skin allergies affect about 10% of dogs. Usually, the symptoms—like a red rash—are localized at the point of contact.
Flea allergy dermatitis deserves a special mention. It’s an allergy to flea saliva and one of the most common skin allergies in dogs. Flea bites are itchy and annoying enough already. But if pup’s scratching a lot and their skin’s inflamed, they could be allergic to fleas.
- Food allergies. A reaction caused by something in a dog’s diet. Allergies to food aren’t very common, with only about one in 500 pups affected. But many dogs can have intolerances to what they eat. According to one big study, beef, dairy products, chicken, wheat, and lamb are the most common offenders.
Older dogs can develop new intolerances to foods they’ve happily eaten for years. It may seem odd, but it does explain why favorite foods like beef and chicken are up there as common allergens.
- Finally, environmental allergies (or seasonal allergies). Allergies to pollen, mold, dust, mites, and pollution are all reasonably common in dogs. Symptoms are like a doggy hayfever, with sore eyes, itchiness, and sneezing all common.
Note: Other common symptoms that dog owners see caused by various types of allergies are excessive paw licking and excessive itching. These issues are mentioned by a lot of our customers when they come to FOTP, and our supplements help alleviate them.
How Can You Tell If a Dog Has Allergies? Common Symptoms
Symptoms of allergic reactions in dogs tend to be similar across all types of allergies, with only some small differences. Here’s what can show an allergy might be the problem:
- Itching. Itchiness—particularly itchy ears—are common in all allergies, including those to food. Environmental allergies can cause itchy eyes, while contact allergies tend to only cause itchiness locally. Look out for hair loss and hives, which can be caused by excessive itching.
- Sneezing. Usually the sign of an environmental allergy.
- Fussiness and licking. It’s caused by itchy skin. But keep an eye out for hair that changes color from excessive licking.
- Diarrhea and vomiting. A sign your pup might have a reaction to food. Digestion problems are often accompanied by itchy ears.
- Ear infections. If your dog’s developing ear infections regularly, an allergy—including to food—may be the underlying cause.
- Lethargy. Allergies are tiring and frustrating, and can make a dog low on energy.
- Anaphylaxis. A very serious allergic reaction to a trigger like a bee sting, snake bite, or a certain food, anaphylactic shock can be life-threatening. If you notice any of the following symptoms, take your dog to a vet immediately:
- Sudden diarrhea
- Difficulty breathing (or loud breathing)
- Excessive salivation or drooling
- Swollen face
- Bluish tongue or gums
By the way, allergies in dogs don’t tend to happen before their first six months of age. And they become much more likely as they get older.
How Do I Know What My Dog is Allergic To?
If your dog is showing allergy symptoms, it’s time to find the cause.
Skin allergies are typically the easiest to identify. Symptoms are usually localized, and they can often be traced to a single cause: fleas. If you can ensure your pup’s flea-free, you’ll make diagnosis easier.
An expert opinion can help you out here. Here’s what you and a vet can do to identify the problem—and get your dog on the way to feel better:
- Rule out similar conditions. Allergies and intolerances are not the only things that could be causing your bestie discomfort. Mites, yeast or bacteria infections, or thyroid problems can all show similar symptoms. Skin and blood tests can help diagnose the issue.
- Environmental or food allergy? These two allergies can be tough to tell apart, but there are some things you can look out for. Diarrhea and vomiting, for example, are usually associated with food reactions—but very rarely with seasonal allergies. Similarly, it would suggest something in the environment is the cause if symptoms worsen after playing outside—or at certain times of year.
- The elimination diet. Identifying the precise culprit of a food allergy in dogs relies on an elimination diet. That means avoiding everything your pup may have previously eaten and feeding them one type of protein (maybe salmon, kangaroo, or something else that’s totally new to them) until their symptoms clear.
This usually takes about eight weeks. Only then should you reintroduce different foods, slowly, to see which is causing the problem.
Preventing Allergic Reactions in Dogs
Now that you have a good idea of what your dog is allergic to, what can you do to prevent allergic reactions? Unfortunately, there’s only one foolproof method. That’s to avoid the allergen.
The steps you’ll need to take will depend on the allergen. But the following could help:
- Ensure there are no fleas around the house. This will seriously reduce the risk of flea allergy dermatitis.
- Bathe your pup regularly. If your dog has skin problems from their allergy, bathing them can soothe the discomfort and remove any allergens—such as pollen or dust. Wash gently around the eyes, ears, and paws, particularly after they’ve come in from exercise.
- Avoid peak pollen. Walking or exercising together in the mornings or evenings can help you dodge the moments when seasonal allergies are at their worst.
- Vacuum the house and mow the lawn often. This way, you’ll keep possible allergens like dust and pollen to a minimum.
- Feed them the right things. If your dog has a food allergy, it’s really important that they don’t eat the offending food. Unfortunately, this can mean no treats or scraps from the table.
What Can I Give My Dog for Allergies?
The best treatment for allergies in dogs is prevention. But there are products out there that can ease the symptoms. Looking out for products that are vet-approved and science-backed is your best way to help a poorly pooch.
Here are some options that fit the bill:
- The One. At Front of the Pack, we’ve brought together eight of the world’s best natural and clinically-proven ingredients into one dog supplement. It helps soothe and alleviate the symptoms of all types of allergies, including itchy skin, poor digestion, lethargy, and low mood. You can find everything you need to know about the evidence here.
- Antihistamines. Drugs like cetirizine, loratadine, and diphenhydramine are often prescribed to pups to help with their allergy symptoms. There’s evidence to show that they can be highly effective—but there is the risk of side effects, including drowsiness, lethargy, increased heart rate, and difficulty urinating. Always speak to your vet before medicating your pet. Antihistamines have a relatively short action so must be given multiple times across the day and consistently to help manage symptoms.
- “Natural remedies”? Many brands sell products, such as quercetin, bromelain, and thyme, that they claim provide “natural” relief for dog allergies. While there’s evidence that aloe vera and oatmeal may help soothe doggy skin irritation (such as this study and this study), many others just aren’t backed by facts. To get the best for your pup, always follow the science.
Allergies in Dogs: The Bottom Line
Allergies in dogs can be really tough—for you and your pup. But they don’t need to get in the way of a normal life. Finding the cause is your first step in making the condition manageable. Vet-recommended supplements are key to keeping symptoms under control.
The One supplement alleviates allergy symptoms, and is backed by science. It’s combination of proven ingredients helps ease the symptoms of allergies and intolerances, including itchy skin and digestive problems.
Simply sprinkle the recommended number of scoops onto your dog’s food once a day. You could see positive improvements as soon as four to six weeks