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Yes—your dog can get allergies. Here’s how to treat them

Dogs can get allergies? WOOF!

A dog scratching his chin Credit: magdasmith / Getty Images

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I lived in New England for 25 years, and every spring and fall, my dog Denny had to wear a cone of shame. The culprit? Seasonal allergies. Once pollen counts skyrocketed, she would lick and bite her paws incessantly to relieve the itching

Like humans, dogs are often affected by environmental allergies. From dust and grass to mold and fungi, there are several allergens that can trigger symptoms.

I’ve been battling canine allergies on behalf of my pup for nearly a decade, so rest assured we’ve tried every type of treatment: topical products, steroids, over-the-counter allergy meds, injections, diet changes, and more.

I spent some time talking about pet allergies with a veterinary technician, as well as chronicling my own battle with allergies over the years to provide you with a little more information about how allergies happen and how you can treat them (both at home and with your vet).

So what exactly causes dog allergies?

Christine and Denny
Credit: Reviewed / Christine Hayes

Just like us, dogs can get allergies from pollen.

“Canine allergies are food related or environmental, meaning they stem from an allergen such as dust, fungi, mold, etc.,” Maria Putnam explained to me. Maria is a veterinary technician in San Diego who is currently pursuing her LVT (Licensed Veterinary Technician) degree at Ashworth College.

“Environmental allergies are more common than food allergies in dogs, but the allergens your dog is exposed to are based on the area you live,” Maria told me. This made a lot of sense to me, since I had experienced this first-hand. Denny lived with seasonal New England allergies and responded well to one course of treatment, but once we switched climates, she developed a new set that needed more targeted treatment.

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“While human allergies are triggered by inhalation, dogs absorb allergens through their paws and skin,” Maria explained. “This is called an atopic reaction.”

The first symptoms of the atopic reaction are itchiness and skin irritation including hives, welts and redness. This happens because your dog’s immune system releases histamines to eliminate the allergen that’s triggering a reaction. Other symptoms may include chronic ear infections, coughing, wheezing, sneezing, and discharge from the eyes and nose. More severe canine allergies can result in gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and vomiting.

“Symptoms vary depending on the cause of the allergy—whether it be environmental or food related—and the individual dog,” Maria said. “Different breeds are also predisposed to developing allergies, such as Boxers, Retrievers and Staffordshire Terriers.”

Dog eating human food
Credit: AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

It's cute when dogs eat our food, but they may actually have allergies to some foods.

Denny primarily gets environmental allergies, but as Maria explained, food-related allergies are common among many dog breeds. Identifying and treating food-related allergies involves more trial and error, particularly when you try a dietary elimination process. Consult your dog’s vet for a treatment plan and calculated adjustments to your pet’s diet.

“Hydrolyzed diets are popular with food sensitivity, since the proteins are broken down into small pieces that can be hidden from the immune system,” Maria said. “There are no diets that are completely ‘hypoallergenic,’ but the most commonly reported food allergies in dogs (and cats) are chicken, beef, and
dairy.”

What dog allergies look like (and how we've treated them)

Denny in comforter
Credit: Reviewed / Christine Hayes

Dogs just want to lay in bed when their allergies are acting up, too.

Honestly, dog allergies look a lot like human ones—minus the licking. Here's what Denny's allergies have looked like, along with what my vet has recommended for us.

When Denny was about five years old, she started driving me crazy with her constant itching and paw-licking. Then New England fall came around and she was on another level. She quickly chewed and licked her paws raw, and the vet rewarded her with her first cone of shame and round of steroids. This cone-and-steroid combo became a biannual tradition, so I decided to explore more long-term options that could help mitigate symptoms before she needed to be forcibly separated from her paws.

To combat the less severe environmental allergies during off-season, my vet recommended I give Denny Benadryl or Claritin daily. I also switched her to grain-free food in case food-related allergies were contributing to her symptoms. During hayfever season, she would get Cytopoint injections from the vet. Cytopoint, which is essentially a dog antibiotic, targets and neutralizes one of the proteins that causes dogs to itch. I’ve found it to be the most effective and convenient forms of treatment, as the injection relieves allergies for weeks.

For some reason, I thought Denny’s allergies would clear up when we moved to Florida, as the seasons are more mild and the temperatures are much warmer. Let me tell you—I was incorrect. Plants and grass are constantly in bloom down South, so it feels like allergy season never ends. Denny’s little coughs that signaled the arrival of seasonal allergies were consistent and not so little anymore. We switched to year-round Cytopoint injections, which helped a lot.

But the local flora wasn’t the only source of allergens. Because Florida’s flea population isn’t decimated during winter like New England’s, the vet wondered if Denny was experiencing FAD or Flea Allergy Dermatitis. This happens when the dog’s immune system overreacts to flea bites. I learned that dogs don’t need to have fleas to be affected. Sometimes fleas just bite and… flee without setting up shop, but not before injecting some saliva that contains histamine-like compounds and enzymes. To treat this allergy addition, the vet recommended I apply Denny’s flea and tick prevention product twice as frequently.

Other common ways to treat dog allergies

Denny
Credit: Reviewed / Christine Hayes

Denny in the summer vs. Denny in the fall.

Thankfully, there are lots of products out there that can treat your dog’s allergies. I’ve talked through some that work for me, but you should always consult with your vet before introducing new medication or food in your dog’s diet.

A quick and easy way to improve the quality of air in your home may be picking up an air purifier, which can help you set up a relaxing home environment for your pupper.

Here are a few common ways to treat dog allergies:

Topical Allergy Treatment: For mild allergies, you can use topical products to relieve your dog’s symptoms including anti-itch wipes, shampoos and sprays. To reduce the risk of Flea Allergy Dermatitis and other health issues, you need to keep up with flea and tick prevention, too. This includes pet collars and topical treatments that can keep your pup safe.

Allergy medication: With input from your vet on dosing, you may be able to relive your dog’s allergy symptoms with over-the-counter allergy pills like Benadryl and Claritin. Your vet can prescribe Apoquel tablets, which address the underlying cause of irritation and mitigate allergic reactions. It can be used for short- or long-term treatment. You can also ask your vet about Cytopoint injections if your dog is suffering from severe allergies that just won’t quit.

Certain supplements and treats may help soothe allergy symptoms with ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acid, antihistamines and probiotics. Denny and I like these zesty bites from Chewy.

Before you make adjustments to your dog’s diet or medication, speak with your vet. The most effective allergy treatment for your pet depends on many factors, and it’s essential that a professional guide your choices.

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