Nearly all humans can agree that dealing with allergies sucks. But what about dogs? Can dogs have allergies?
As a matter of fact, they can. However, dog allergy symptoms are a bit different from their human companions – and much harder to identify. After all, your poor canine friend can’t explain that they’re suffering from allergies.
Let’s take a look at what dog allergy symptoms look like, the most common dog allergies you may encounter, and how to help your pup feel better.
Dog Allergy Symptoms
Allergies are basically your immune system’s way of getting rid of a foreign substance known as an allergen. Allergens can be found in anything from plants, to insects, other animals, or even certain foods you eat.
Frequent exposure to any particular allergen (or allergens) can make your immune system extremely sensitive.
As such, it overreacts whenever you encounter that allergen later. Normally, your immune system protects you against infection and disease, but this response can actually be harmful to the body.
Unfortunately, allergies are quite common in dogs, regardless of their breed, gender, age, or background. Some dogs will display symptoms after six months of age, while the majority will show signs when they’re one to two years old.
Skin allergies (also called allergic dermatitis) are very prevalent among dogs. Your dog may try to relieve their itchiness through excessive scratching, licking, or even chewing at their irritated skin.
Your dog’s face, ears, feet, belly, and armpits are the places most likely to become afflicted by skin allergies. Paying close attention to which areas of their body they scratch may help you figure out the cause behind it all.
Flea allergy dermatitis (or the allergic reaction to flea bites), food allergens, and environmental allergens (such as dust, grass, or pollen) are three of the most common causes of skin allergies.
In the case of flea allergy dermatitis, the allergen here is the flea saliva, not the bite itself. Flea saliva can make dogs feel extremely itchy, especially at the base of their tails. If left untreated, their skin may become red, inflamed, and/or scabbed.
Of course, you will need to monitor your dog’s behavior if you notice them itching themselves more than normal. You should also check if your dog’s skin displays any visible signs of redness, sensitivity, inflammation, or other signs of irritation.
All their scratching, licking, and chewing can eventually lead to a yeast or bacterial infection that will require treatment.
If your dog’s skin allergies seem to be especially severe or do not respond well to certain treatments, your veterinarian may then refer you to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist, who will run a full allergy test on your dog.
They may also inject a custom-made serum into your dog for a specific period of time. This will alleviate their symptoms or treat any underlying infections, which may then be followed up with oral treatments.
Hot spots (also known as summer sores or moist dermatitis) are moist, raw skin irritations that can be found on dogs and other household pets. They can appear anywhere on your dog’s body, and cause the areas surrounding the spot to rapidly deteriorate.
These can be the result of an untreated skin allergy or even a dog food allergy symptom. Since both types of allergies cause your dog to itch, nip, or excessively lick at their skin, they risk forming a wet scab on their fur or opening up their skin to bacterial contamination.
This can quickly escalate into further infections that require medical attention. These bacteria can form on surfaces that have the tiniest bit of moisture on them.
Even seemingly innocuous things – like a recent bath, swim, stroll in the rain, or play-time in water – can pose a threat to your dog if they have an open sore or wound somewhere.
If your dog is left to scratch or chew at irritated skin without treatment, this can result in not only bacterial-riddled hot spots, but hair loss as well.
If you want your dog’s coat to stay sleek and shiny, it is best to visit your veterinarian right away, especially if their itching persists or you notice their skin displaying some form of irritation or infection.
Obsessive Licking or Chewing
Obsessive scratching, licking, and/or chewing at the skin are very common symptoms of dog allergies.
Again, you should take them to your veterinarian to prevent the development of harmful hot spots, loss of hair, or patchy fur.
This behavior is often the result of severe food or environmental allergies. However, in some occasions, they may also develop a skin irritation called contact dermatitis, which happens if they come across certain allergens, like pesticides or soap.
Labored breathing or shortness of breath (often referred to as dyspnea) is a sign of a life-threatening emergency and should be dealt with as soon as possible.
Untreated respiratory problems can prevent oxygen from getting into their bloodstream, which will result in even more serious issues.
This symptom is most common in older pets that have fluid in their lungs or chest cavity. That, in and of itself, is a symptom of heart and/or lung disease.
Your dog may also have respiratory problems if they have:
- Foreign objects or allergens lodged in their esophagus or in their lungs.
- A sore or inflamed throat.
- Specific infections, like pneumonia.
- Injuries to their chest wall.
- Metabolic diseases.
- Diseases of the nose, throat, windpipe, lungs or the diaphragm.
- Kennel cough.
- Lung cancer.
Other, less common but possible signs of respiratory problems include excessive or obvious coughing or snoring.
What Common Allergies Can Dogs Have?
Food allergies or sensitivities can cause a wide variety of problems, including:
- Itchy ears, paws, wrists, ankles, muzzles, underarms, groin, skin, or scratching around the eyes and in between their toes.
- Lesions, scabs, or hot spots all over your dog’s body, including on their flanks, ribs, hips, or knees.
- Recurrent ear infections.
- Coat deterioration and/or hair loss.
- Gastrointestinal issues.
Typically, certain food allergens will not trigger an immediate immune response, and symptoms will instead appear gradually over time.
This allergen can be difficult to pick out, as even one offending ingredient in your dog’s food could be the cause.
The most common dog food allergies include:
As always, the best way to figure out what foods your dog is allergic to is to work with your veterinarian.
They can pinpoint the exact ingredient causing their allergies, as well as offer treatments for them to counteract this reaction.
This video goes into more detail about dog allergy symptoms in food.
Dogs get seasonal allergies, just like humans. In fact, dog allergies to grass, tree pollens (such as cedar, ash, or oak), weed pollens (such as ragweed), molds, mildew, and house dust mites are among the most common.
Some of these allergens only appear seasonally, while others will circle around your home year-round. When humans inhale these allergens, they may get runny eyes, a runny nose, sneeze, or cough.
Dogs, on the other hand, may find themselves growing itchier instead. It may be less messy, but it’s no less uncomfortable.
Itchy skin (otherwise known as pruritus) due to inhaling certain allergens is called inhalant allergic dermatitis and is an extremely common reaction to environmental allergens. Additionally, your dog may rub their face, lick their feet, and/or scratch at their axillae (or underarms) to relieve themselves.
Environmental allergens can also cause an atopic allergic reaction (or atopic dermatitis), which takes place on top of your dog’s skin or coat. Most atopic allergic reactions are seasonal, so you may notice your dog itching themselves during only specific times of the year.
Of course, there are several other types of dog allergies that display similar symptoms to environmental allergies. For example, both food and environmental allergies can cause your dog to have itchy skin, hair loss, skin infections, and ear infections.
They could also be dealing with other debilitating conditions such as skin mites, fungal infections, and endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s. As such, it’s important to not panic, but clearly evaluate any other signs you dog may be showing of discomfort.
It’s also important to pay attention to what times of the year your dog displays these symptoms. As their name suggests, dog seasonal allergies typically occur during specific seasons or certain times in the year, while your dog could potentially deal with their food allergies whenever they ingest that food.
Some allergies can even overlap with one another. Approximately 30 percent of all pets who suffer from food allergies also tend to get seasonal or flea allergies as well. Because the symptoms have the tendency to overlap, this makes consulting your veterinarian that much more important.
Bathing your dog with a hypoallergenic shampoo can help soothe their itchy or inflamed skin, as well as rinse out any harmful allergens still stuck to your dog’s coat.
Unfortunately, it’s possible that your dog may be allergic to the shampoo you are currently using to bathe them.
It helps to check in with your veterinarian if you suspect this to be the cause of your dog’s allergies, as they can then run a thorough allergy test on them and the ingredients in your dog’s shampoo.
There are many manufactured inhalant allergens that can irritate your dog’s nose as well, including:
- Cigarette smoke.
- Plastic and rubber materials.
- Cleaning products.
- Insecticidal shampoo.
You will know if your dog is suffering from a drug allergy if they experience any facial swelling, hives, itchy skin, dyspnea, lethargy, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abnormalities in their urine, and/or abnormal bleeding.
Of course, you should always take your dog to your veterinarian if they experience any of these symptoms, but just know that drug allergies are very rare and veterinarians rarely, if ever, diagnose this to be the case.
Flea allergies can be difficult to fully be rid of, even with thorough treatment. Even a few untreated bites can leave your poor dog itching themselves for weeks.
Be sure you are vigilant in applying the flea and tick medicine your veterinarian has prescribed, as irregular use of this medication can actually result in an even worse infestation.
You can also opt to use more natural treatment methods, such as rubbing coconut oil on your dog’s coat. There are plenty of other non-toxic, all-natural ways to prevent flea bites, but always consult with your veterinarian before applying certain products to your pet’s fur.
To ensure you fully get rid of this flea infestation, it definitely helps to vacuum carpeted surfaces on a regular basis.
It also helps to brush through your dog’s coat with a dog flea comb, and wash your dog’s bedding with hypoallergenic, non-toxic detergents, instead of other kinds of household cleaners that could contain harmful (or at the very least irritating) chemicals.
To ensure your dog’s environmental allergies do not act up, try to keep up a regular dusting and cleaning schedule.
You need to thoroughly clean your pet’s beds, toys, and blankets, as well as your family’s bedding, comforters, and sheets in hot water each week to get rid of any allergens stuck to these surfaces.
You should also dust or vacuum your carpet, drapes, curtains, sofa throws, cushions, and other furniture your dog frequently hops on top of. It is best to use a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter or some kind of high-quality secondary filter to keep the air in your house as dust-free as you can.
Finally, you should reserve these intense vacuuming sessions for when your dog is out of the house, as vacuuming can temporarily fill the air with allergens while you clean, which can cause their own allergies to act up.
Here’s a video with more detail on dog allergy symptoms.
Dog allergies are certainly troublesome, but, luckily, they are easily treatable as well!
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what allergy symptoms your dog may deal with over the course of their life, as well as the various treatment methods you can implement to make life a little easier for them.
What’s your best way of dealing with dog allergy symptoms?