We’ve all experienced the stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy and watering eyes that accompany seasonal allergies, but did you know that your dog can fall victim to these environmental assaults, too? In fact, as many as 50% of our pups may suffer from allergies related to their food or surroundings.
The pawsitive news is that allergies are manageable. We just have to learn how to spot them when they manifest in our pets and know how to help when they occur.
Why do Dogs Get Allergies?
Allergic reactions can occur due to an overactive immune system response to a foreign substance known as an allergen in, on, or near a dog. While immune systems generally promote healthy function within animals’ bodies, this overreaction can be harmful as the mixing of allergens, antibodies, and blood proteins known as mast cells can produce the histamine response that we associate with a variety of allergy symptoms.
Dogs, just like people, can experience allergic reactions to various substances found in their environments, as well as seasonal allergens present in the air like dust, mold, or pollen. Repeat exposure to allergens can cause the immune system to become more sensitive to its effects, leading to a worsening in allergic reactions over time. That’s why it’s essential for dog owners to learn how to spot and treat an allergic reaction quickly.
How do you Spot Allergic Reactions in Dogs?
The three most common contributors to an allergic reaction in your dog are:
- Food allergies: These are allergies related to something your pup has ingested. The most common allergens in this category are animal proteins, soy, and wheat. Even if your dog has been eating the same food for years without incident, they can become allergic over time.
- Skin allergies: These are reactions related to something to which your dog has come in contact and appear as a result of bacteria on your dog’s skin caused by exposure to an allergen such as insect bites or grass.
- Environmental and seasonal allergies : These are closely related and sometimes only distinguishable based on the timing of an allergic reaction. Allergy symptoms show up in response to exposure to something in your home, yard, or any other environment your dog visits. The most common are pollen, mold, dust mites, and dander, but chemicals, cleaning products, fragrances, exposure to smoke, and more can also cause reactions.
Dog allergies can manifest in many ways, but some of your furry friend’s most common allergy symptoms are:
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues like vomiting, diarrhea, or chronic gas
- Dry or itchy skin, or changes in coat appearance or texture
- Chronic ear infections or inflammation
- Excessive itching, scratching, or licking
- Hair loss, hot spots, or secondary skin infections related to atopic dermatitis
- Sneezing, coughing, and sinus problems
- Mucus drainage from the eyes or nose
Allergic reactions can range in severity from minor sneezing and itching to serious anaphylactic shock, and the immune system’s response can worsen over time. Since many symptoms are shared between the different types of allergies, a veterinarian may recommend allergy testing to help hone in on the allergen(s) causing your sweet pup the most discomfort. Once diagnosed, you can work with your dog’s care team to craft effective long-term and incidental treatment plans to manage their allergic reactions.
How do you Combat Dog Allergies?
Like their pet parents, our hounds can be allergic to almost anything. There are a variety of natural, holistic, and medicinal remedies that can be used to combat dog allergies. Some basic forms of treatment include:
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has natural antifungal properties that make it beneficial for cleaning and treating irritations on your dog’s feet caused by environmental or seasonal allergens like pollen or grass. It can also be diluted and sprayed on your dog’s body to help with itching or serve as a flea repellent, or used as an ingredient in ear washes.
2. Baking Soda or Oatmeal Baths
Regular bathing is important for dogs that are prone to skin allergies, but adding baking soda or oatmeal to the routine can further reduce skin irritation. Both products offer natural anti-inflammatory properties and help to soothe and moisturize your dog’s skin. You can find many store-bought washes that contain these ingredients, or you can make your own.
3. Hypoallergenic Diets
Food allergies can cause GI and skin symptoms. The only way to confirm a food allergy in your dog is to subscribe to an elimination diet until you can pinpoint the allergen(s) causing their symptoms. To do this, you’ll switch your dog from their standard food to one (either pre-packaged or home-cooked) that contains proteins and carbohydrates that they haven’t been exposed to before. You then slowly add back individual ingredients found in their regular diet until a culprit(s) is identified. Once you know what works for their pet, you can make more informed decisions about what to feed them.
Coconut oil and omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil contain anti-inflammatory properties to reduce swelling, itching, and redness in dogs suffering from atopy or related allergic reactions. These fats also promote healthy skin and coat, and coconut oil can even soothe an upset stomach caused by exposure to food allergens. Just be sure not to overdo it when adding fats to your pup’s diet, as too much can cause diarrhea.
5. Witch Hazel
Itchy ears and frequent infections are often a symptom of environmental allergies. To help combat the discomfort that comes with these irritants, you can inspect and then treat your dog’s ears with witch hazel. Witch hazel works as a natural anti-inflammatory and astringent cleaner, helping to soothe and dry the ear canal to prevent the build-up of toxins and reduce the risk of infection. Simply put some on a cotton pad and wipe your dog’s ears clean.
Learn More About Dog Allergies
If your dog’s allergies are particularly bad or you notice that allergy symptoms are worsening, you can work with your veterinarian to find an appropriate over-the-counter antihistamine solution, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Claritin (loratadine), or Zyrtec (cetirizine) to manage symptoms. Your vet can also prescribe your dog more potent allergy medications like Apoquel (oclacitinib), Atopica (cyclosporine), or an allergy shot regimen in severe cases.
Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has an infection or you are otherwise concerned about their health.