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Can Dogs Have Allergies?

October 03, 2022 7 min read

Can Dogs Have Allergies

If you’ve noticed that your beloved dog seems to be sneezing and scratching a lot lately, it’s not just in your head — dogs can get allergies just like humans can. These allergies may be seasonal and caused by pollen or other environmental factors, but they can also occur year-round in response to other factors like fleas, diet, and more.

In this ultimate guide, we’ll delve into the types of allergies that dogs can have, explain the signs of allergies to look for, discuss how vets will diagnose allergies in your dog, and finally cover dog allergy solutions for managing their symptoms.

Types of Allergies in Dogs

There are several different kinds of allergies that dogs can have. Allergies typically don’t develop in dogs until they are at least six months of age, with most dogs showing their first signs of allergies between one and two years of age.

By far, the most common type is a contact allergy (sometimes called a skin allergy), which occurs when their skin or coat comes in contact with the allergen. There can be many different triggers for contact allergies, including seasonal causes like pollen and environmental causes like dust and mold.

dog scratching neck

Many dogs also experience flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), in which they experience severe topical reactions to even a single flea bite, especially around the base of their tail. Because the dogs scratch them so hard, these bites often become inflamed and scabbed.

Other dogs may experience respiratory symptoms, especially in response to seasonal or environmental triggers that can be inhaled, like dust or pollen. Their symptoms may be similar to that of humans with seasonal allergies, such as sneezing and having itchy, watery eyes. They may also develop eye boogers or nasal discharge. These are often accompanied by topical symptoms such as itchy skin, especially if they came in physical contact with the allergen.

Finally, some dogs do have genuine food allergies to certain types of kibble or treats for dogs, but this can be difficult to diagnose formally. Most dogs have food sensitivities, rather than outright food allergies. Food sensitivities and allergies can cause a variety of symptoms. Your dog may exhibit gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea, but they may also have topical symptoms such as itchiness or other signs like chronic ear or foot infections.

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In rare causes, a dog may experience anaphylactic shock, usually in response to either a vaccine or a bee sting. Symptoms to watch out for include difficulty breathing and hives or other signs of swelling (especially around the face). Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and you should take your dog to a vet or clinic immediately if you think they are experiencing anaphylactic shock.

dogs allergy symptoms list

Signs of Allergies in Dogs

There are multiple signs of allergies in dogs that you need to watch out for. Keep in mind that many dogs who are prone to allergic reactions often experience multiple kinds of symptoms. If they exhibit signs of skin contact allergies, they are also more likely to experience symptoms of respiratory allergies as well.

Some signs of allergies in dogs to look for include:

  • Scratching: Itchy skin is one of the common signs of allergies in dogs, and often gets worse after they go outside and are exposed to pollen or other environmental triggers. They may scratch themselves vigorously and also encourage humans to do it for them.
  • Red or inflamed skin: All of that scratching combined with the topical reaction to the allergen causes patches of inflamed skin, especially around the mouth, chin, paws, neck, and stomach.
  • Sensitive skin: Some dogs’ skin may twitch or crawl upon being touched, which can lead them to shy away from being petted or scratched.
  • Hot spots: If dogs perpetually lick and bite certain areas, they don’t have time to dry out and it results in hot spots and moist eczema.
  • Hives: Dogs may also experience hives, rashes, raised bumps, and other signs of skin inflammation, which can last for days or weeks.
  • Excessive licking: Instead of scratching at delicate spots like the belly, paws, and private parts, dogs will lick them instead to try to get relief from itchy skin.
  • Face rubbing: Dogs may rub their face or even their entire body against the floor or furniture to try to relieve itching.
  • Patchiness or bald spots: All of this scratching and licking can lead to hair loss, resulting in a patchy coat or even full-on bald spots.
  • Eye discharge: Irritated eyes can result in discharge, which may be watery and clear or be more viscous with a yellow or green tinge. The latter usually forms the classic dog “eye boogers.”
  • Puffy eyes: Some dogs may also experience eyes that are puffy, red, and/or swollen. One or both eyes may be affected.
  • Red, irritated, and infected ears: Dogs’ ears may become red, irritated, smelly, and/or stinky and even become infected as a result of allergies.
  • Head shaking: Dogs with infected ears often shake their head in an attempt to get relief and also may be averse to ear scratching or being petted on the head.

diagnose dog allergies

Diagnosing Allergies in Dogs

There are several different methods for diagnosing allergies in dogs. Your vet will work with you to determine the best course of action for diagnosing your dog’s particular symptoms. First, your vet will likely want to eliminate all other possible causes to ensure that a true allergic reaction is taking place. For instance, in the case of suspected flea allergy dermatitis, your vet will administer flea medication to your dog to see if that makes their symptoms better.

Your vet may want to conduct an intradermal skin test if they suspect seasonal or environmental allergies are the culprit. These tests involve mildly sedating your dog, shaving off a small section of fur, injecting their skin with the suspected allergen(s), and monitoring their reaction to it. These tests are best done when your dog’s allergies are at their height for the greatest accuracy. There are also blood tests available for diagnosing allergies in dogs, but they are typically less accurate than the intradermal skin tests.

If your vet thinks that your dog had food allergies or food sensitivities, they will likely recommend putting your dog on an 8- to 12-week hypoallergenic elimination diet. Simply changing from one pet food brand to another won’t cut it in this case. You will need to only feed your dog vet-approved food that is home cooked or get therapeutic meals that have been engineered to fall below allergenic symptoms. Table scraps, treats, bully sticks for dogs, supplemental fatty acids, and even medication with added flavor are all banned during the elimination diet. If this elimination diet results in an improvement in your dog’s symptoms, then that indicates they have food allergies.

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Treating Allergies in Dogs

Multiple strategies are available for managing allergies in dogs, depending on what their triggers are and how severe their symptoms are. In most cases, the most effective solution is to prevent exposing them to the allergen(s) as much as possible, though this might not always be feasible. For instance, you won’t be able to avoid taking your dog outside even if they are allergic to pollen, but you can wipe them down before you come inside to prevent pollen from sticking to their skin and irritating them.

giving pup a bath

If your dog struggles a lot with itchy skin and contact allergies, regularly bathing them with a medicated shampoo can help to relieve their symptoms. Not only does bathing them remove allergens, the shampoo contains ingredients that soothe their skin, reduce itching, and help promote healing. Medicated shampoo is specifically formulated to be non-drying and non-irritating to your dog’s skin so they can be bathed more frequently than normal if necessary.

There are also various anti-itch and anti-inflammation medications available for dogs that are effective for managing allergy symptoms. Corticosteroids and antihistamines are the two main classes of medications that your vet will likely prescribe, but there are other options available as well. For example, one of the most commonly prescribed oral medications for dog allergies — Apoquel® — is actually neither a corticosteroid nor an antihistamine. Long-acting injections are also available, though they are usually reserved for allergies that are non-responsive to other drug interventions first.

In some cases, you can even give your dog human allergy medications such as Benadryl. However, you should always consult your vet before giving your dog any medications since the dosage will need to be calibrated to their weight. Dogs should never be given drugs that contain pseudoephedrine, which can be lethal to them. You also should never apply topical products meant for humans on dogs, in case they lick them or otherwise ingest the product. Topical anti-itch treatments for dogs are specifically formulated to be non-toxic to them.

Your vet might also suggest exploring hyposensitization or desensitization therapy for certain antigens. This involves injecting your dog with a very small amount of antigens in an effort to desensitize their immune system to the allergen triggers. Injections are usually repeated weekly as the dogs build up a tolerance.

Food allergies typically need to be treated by long-term dietary changes. Even after the elimination diet period is over, your dog will likely need to remain on some kind of specialty diet if they do indeed have food sensitivities or food allergies. This can take many different forms, from buying certain types of kibble to home-cooking every meal with whole ingredients. Your vet will provide guidance on what your dog should and shouldn’t eat to manage their dietary limitations. Taking certain supplements — in particular, fatty acid supplements — can also help to relieve certain symptoms and also make certain medications more effective.

entice your dog with treats

Unless your dog is one of the rare pups who swallows pills without issues, having treats for dogs on hand is a must for getting them to take allergy medications. At Best Bully Sticks, we offer a wide variety of hard and soft treats for dogs of all sizes. Our treats are perfect for any scenario, whether that’s enticing them to take medications or rewarding them with antlers for dogs after a medicated bath. Order today and get free shipping on U.S. orders over $79!


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