If you are a dog owner, you either have a dog that has suffered from allergies, or knows someone who does. Seeing your dog scratch or bite themselves until sometimes they bleed can be stressful.
Also, the sight of your dog with missing patches of hair is unpleasant. So naturally you want to provide relief for them as quickly as possible.
So If your dog is itching because of allergies, what are the causes?
How do you diagnose an allergy?
What are some of the most effective ways to treat allergies in a dog?
To answer these questions let’s look at some of the most common causes of allergies in dogs.
Flea Bite Allergies
This is probably one of the most overlooked cause of allergies in dogs. Many pet owners don’t realize that dogs can be allergic to flea bites. Dogs who are allergic have an exaggerated response to flea bites resulting in hair loss and severely irritated skin.
Even though the skin can look really bad, flea allergies are probably the easiest to treat out of all the causes of allergies. Treatment involves keeping your pet on consistent and effective flea treatment. The problem is many pet owners believe just because they don’t see fleas on their pet they must not exist. Understand fleas are like ninjas, they can easily avoid detection in pets.
So if your pet is having any signs of skin allergies and is not on any flea prevention that should be your first line of treatment. It is important that the treatment choice is effective. Most flea shampoos and flea collars are not effective for dogs suffering with flea allergies. These products are short lived and often not effective enough to help provide relief to a flea allergic dog. Therefore it is recommended a topical or oral flea product is used instead.
This is probably the most common allergy owners think about when they see their allergic pet. Usually the first thing they reach to treat an allergy is a grain-free diet. While some dogs can have skin allergies due to grain, they also can have allergies to animal proteins as well. The most common being beef and chicken. So reaching for a grain-free diet is not a guaranteed fix for your dog’s allergies.
Surprisingly dogs can be allergic to anything in the environment much like their human counterparts. The most common offenders in dogs include grass, molds, leaves, pollen and trees. Some less common causes of environmental allergens include, cotton, cat fur, and insects.
Diagnosis of Allergies
The cause of allergies can be determined based on how dogs respond to treatment when allergies occur, a food allergy trial, and allergy testing.
An example of a response to treatment includes applying an effective flea treatment and noting improvement in the skin. A dog responding to an oral treatment for allergies may confirm they exist but not necessarily the cause.
When your dog’s allergies are the worst, it may be a big clue in their possible cause. If your dog’s skin problems occur all year around, then there is a strong possibility that food may be related. This is compared to skin allergies that tend to occur only in the warmer months which may indicate environment as a cause.
A food allergy trial requires feeding a strict diet preferably a diet labelled as hypoallergenic for a period of six weeks, then re-challenging with a normal diet. If there is significant improvement in skin during the trial which worsens when back on normal diet, that may confirm food is the culprit.
Allergy testing in dogs is similar to human testing which involves using a skin prick test and seeing the response to potential allergens injected under the skin. There are also blood tests that can help determine sensitivities to environmental allergens and food. These are generally not as accurate as the skin prick tests.
Treatment of Allergies
Allergy treatment in dogs can be challenging because not every dog responds the same way to each treatment.
Here are some of the most common ways allergies are treated:
Antihistamines: These include medications such as Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec. A dog’s response to these can vary greatly and depends on how severe the allergies are. In most severe cases, antihistamines are ineffective.
Shampoos: These work well as an adjunct with other medications but they will rarely work well on their own.
Steroids: These are probably the most common and most effective treatment for allergies. But they often lead to undesired side effects such as increased thirst and urination. Chronic use can also lead to other medical issues as well.
Allergy Injections: This treatment is based on the result of allergy testing and involves giving injections of potential allergens. The goal is to desensitize dogs to allergens over time.
Apoquel: This a relatively new and highly effective medication for allergies. The reason it is so effective because it stops the stimulus for itching at the molecular level. Another benefit of this drug is it can be just as effective as prednisone except without the side effects.
Allergies can be a challenge to treat in dogs. What works in one dog won’t necessarily work in others. If your dog is suffering from allergies, the best way to treat it is to find out the specific cause whenever possible.
Dwight Alleyne, DVM
Dwight Alleyne, DVM is the author of the Animal Doctor Blog, a blog that provides veterinary information about cats and dogs through articles and product reviews. He has almost 20 years of animal experience with 10 years as a veterinary technician and more than 9 years as a veterinarian. He currently practices in Georgia at a small animal practice where he provides veterinary services through surgeries and medical consultations. When he is not working, Dr. Alleyne enjoys spending time with his wife, daughter, and 7 year old cat named Queen.