Just like us humans, dogs get allergies too. And unfortunately, dogs tend to struggle more with their allergies as they age.
If your dog licks, scratches or chews himself excessively, he may have allergies. But how can you tell for sure? And what can you do?
Here are the most common signs of dog allergies, the kinds of allergies, and what you can do to help your pet.
Common signs of an allergy
Look out for any of the following which could be a sign of an allergy in your pet:
- Face rubbing
- Red, itchy, or irritated skin
- Loss of fur
- Digestive problems
- Skin or ear infections that seem to keep coming back
There are different types of allergies where one or more of the above signs might appear.
Flea allergies are common in dogs. If your dog is allergic, even one flea bite a week can make him itch.
If you suspect your dog may be allergic to fleas, look at the area around his tail. Other areas of his body may be itchy, but often your dog’s skin at the base of his tail could be irritated.
Seasonal or environmental allergies
Seasonal allergies like hay fever can affect dogs too. Sometimes, there’s something in the environment that your dog is allergic to, such as certain grasses, pollens, or mold.
Look out for itchy skin, lots of licking of paws, face rubbing, or fur loss (especially your dog’s paws, lower legs, ears, armpits, face, and stomach). Sometimes recurrent skin or ear infections are due to these types of allergies.
The signs for food allergies are similar to the ones described above for seasonal or environmental allergies. Sometimes your dog might experience symptoms of gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting or diarrhea.
Treating allergies in dogs
Before looking at treatments for allergies, your vet will determine what exactly is causing the symptoms. You’ll first want to rule out other causes for your dog’s allergy symptoms.
If your vet suspects a seasonal or environmental allergy, your vet may carry out allergy testing, which involves looking at the blood and skin.
Skin testing is the most accurate (as opposed to hair or saliva testing) and needs to be carried out by board-certified veterinary dermatologists. Your dog will need mild sedation. Your vet will then clip your dog’s fur in a small area and inject tiny amounts of allergens into the skin. By determining your dog’s reaction to each allergen, the vet will be able to tell what your dog is allergic to.
For food allergies, blood and skin testing, hair testing, or saliva testing don’t yield accurate results. The only way to know if your dog has a food allergy is to feed him a hypoallergenic diet for about 8 to 12 weeks.
Hypoallergenic diets have foods that your dog has not been exposed to before (such as an uncommon protein source). The idea is that your dog won’t be allergic to a food that it has never encountered.
To choose the correct diet for your dog, consult with your vet, as hypoallergenic foods sold in stores are not considered suitable for a food trial to yield accurate results.
The hardest part of a hypoallergenic diet is that you may have to eliminate treats, human foods, and medications during this time. Again, working with your vet will give you the best results.
For flea allergies, there are a lot of effective medications and products available. Some of these are applied directly to the skin; others are taken orally as chews. Consult with your vet to see what’s best for your dog.
For seasonal or environmental allergies, if you have had a test done and know what your dog is allergic to, then the best strategy is to avoid that allergen. Unfortunately, avoidance isn’t always possible, so sometimes vets will use immunotherapy (allergy shots) to support the immune system and make it less reactive.
If your dog hasn’t had an allergy test, you need to treat the symptoms as you don’t know the cause. There are medications available but consult with your vet first. Steroids are sometimes used but are not recommended for long-term symptom management due to possible significant side effects.
Lots of love and cuddles
In addition to the treatments mentioned above, your dog will appreciate lots of love and cuddles. It isn’t fun having allergies, and we all need a bit of extra affection when we aren’t feeling our best. Have extra snuggle time with your pet on your bed, perhaps with a Chasing Tails or another dog ramp available for easy access to your dog’s favorite spot at your feet. They deserve to be spoiled!