Allergies in Dogs

The most common sign of allergies in dog is itchiness. Pretty simple, huh? Nope. If your dog itches, he or she could have any one of countless conditions, including allergies…to just about anything.

Joy the Puppy Scratching an Itch

The most common sign of allergies in dog is itchiness.

Pretty simple, huh?

Nope.

If your dog itches, he or she could have any one of countless conditions, including allergies…to just about anything.  Allergies cause itchiness, but itchiness does not invariably signal an allergy problem.

My Dog Does Itch! Now What?

Work with your veterinary team to rule out non-allergy causes of itching.

Get rid of allergy complicators. Often allergic conditions will cause secondary conditions, most often otitis (ear inflammation) and dermatitis (skin inflammation), which also need to be treated while the allergies are being diagnosed and treated.

Keep your dog comfortable. I do not want to be one of those Ask-your-doctor-if-WonderDrug-is-right-for-you types, but I will say that your veterinary team has all sorts of options available to relieve your dog’s itchiness, including steroids, antihistamines, immune modulators, omega 3 fatty acids, shampoos, conditioners and sprays.

Downsides to symptomatic treatment (treating the symptoms instead of the underlying cause):

  • Some medications will interfere with some diagnostic tests.
  • Masking symptoms may make allergy diagnosis and treatment more difficult.
  • All medications have potential side effects.  Long term use increases risks.  (Yeah steroids, I am looking at you!)

Whenever possible, identifying and dealing with the allergy itself, through direct treatment or avoidance, is ideal.

Bringing Order Out of Chaos – Allergy Diagnosis and Treatment

Dogs are generally allergic to one of three things:  fleas, environmental allergens or food protein.

Flea Allergies

If you and your veterinarian suspect allergies, start your pet on a flea preventative/treatment if one is not already in place.  Whereas most dogs need a pretty impressive number of fleas on board to cause discomfort, a dog who is allergic to fleas becomes almost unbearably itchy after even a single flea bite.  You may not even see any fleas. If signs abate with flea prophylaxis, look no further!  You and your veterinary team have just diagnosed and treated allergies in such a way that your dog never has to suffer from allergies again!  VERY rare scenario in the world of pet allergies!

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies are diagnosed with serum testing or intradermal skin testing.  Either can be tailored to specific allergens in your pet’s environment.  Usually complete allergen avoidance is not possible (“You may come in contact with these pollens, but not those…”), and immunotherapy based on test results is initiated.

Very small doses of the offending allergens are prepared in injectable form.  The veterinary team administers the treatment in a decreasing dose and increasing interval over a span of several months.  Pet owners can take over treatment if they are comfortable doing so.  Most dogs experience some relief, and some are completely freed of allergy symptoms with immunotherapy.  Downsides include the long course of treatment and the unpredictability regarding which dogs will respond and to what degree.

Food Allergies

The only accurate way to diagnose food allergies is with a strict, several week long food trial.  Choices of food for the trial include:

  • Novel protein prescription diet (a diet containing a single protein, which hopefully your pet has not been exposed to in the past, for example, Royal Canin Venison and Potato diet)
  • Hydrolyzed protein prescription diet (a diet in which proteins in the food are “hydrolyzed” – broken down enough to not be recognized by the immune system, for example, Science Diet z/d)
  • Limited ingredient homemade diet concocted by you and your veterinary team

Generally food trials will be between six and twelve weeks long.  The biggest drawback to a food trial is that NO other foods may be given during this time.  Easy for me to say, very difficult to do in Real Life!

If improvement of symptoms is seen, the food trial is complete, and a diagnosis of food allergy is achieved.  Next, simple proteins (chicken, beef, etc.) are introduced back into the diet one at a time.  If signs reappear, not only do we have a food allergy diagnosis, we also have a specific diagnosis.  From that point forward, treatment consists of avoiding any food and treats containing the offending allergen(s).

Success!

Allergies are rarely completely cured, but can almost always be controlled.  Achieving allergy diagnosis and optimal treatment will take time, sometimes several months or even a few years of cycles through the seasons.  Our goal is comfort. If your dog is usually not itchy and almost never has major skin or ear issues secondary to allergies, we have succeeded.

38 thoughts on “Allergies in Dogs

  1. So far I am doing the elimination process with my vet we think my dog (Buster) has hayfever, a short course of steroids helps (to ease the itching) and atm he is on evening primrose oil

  2. No vax, no microchips, natural diet and use only natural remedies. Improve your dog’s immune system – don’t destry it by using conventional treatment.

  3. It’s the dry and wet food you’re feeding your carnivores. They need raw meat organs and bones to be a healthy pet. Why do you think there are so many sick pets out there? Cause you are feeding them like a horse? http://www.raw-instincts.com

  4. I have yet to see a dog switched to a raw diet ( away fro cooked grain ) that didn’t have all skin and coat issues disappear.

    1. Erica…Some pets need steroids short term to get them through the intense discomfort of allergies. You are right that they are powerful things though, and not to be used lightly! I use them as sparingly as possible, but they are warranted in some situations. Sounds like your pup is on the road to health, Jessica!

  5. My black and tan coonhound Rylee is allergic to all protiens except fish…so she is on a grain free fish based food…as well as fish oil, and we are trying Bee Pollen…so far I am happy with the results :). I am hoping by Spring she will have enough Bee Pollen in her to help with her spring allergies…her environmental allergies. We are also looking into ASYRA testing to find out more 🙂

  6. Jason…that’s how I discoverd my dog was allergic to chicken! I certainly wasn’t going to buy her steak, so I found kibble without chicken in it.

  7. My Boxer had severe allergies as a puppy. Our vet, prior to having the allergy test done, recommended trying different foods as she suspected a food allergy. After wasting money on expensive foods, we opted to have her tested, and found she is allergic to fleas, dust, and pollen. Our Boxer was given steroid shots, benadryl, and oatmeal baths. I did some research and opted to go for more natural and holistic route. Salmon, salmon oil, cod liver oil, and Omega 3 fatty acid pills worked best for her. She is now 6 years old and has not had to have any steroid shots and rarely takes Benadryl. I also switched to a higher quality food that contains Omega 3 fatty acids to ensure she is always getting what she needs. For any pet that is suffering with allergies, try the natural route, it may work for you as well.

    1. Great job with your Boxer pup! So glad she is doing so well all these years later. That will be encouraging too to everyone here who is at the beginning of the allergy road (including us with Joy the Puppy…)

  8. My first dog (a peek a pooh) and my current dog, a golden-doodle have had problems with allergies. Changing diet worked for us. We changed to Blue Buffalo Salmon recipe. I’m sure you’ve been told this but, the goal is to feed them something they’ve never encountered….fish, venison, lamb. Now it takes around 6-9 weeks before you’ll see changes. It’s worked for my dogs…no more constant licking, dry skin, ear infections…I recommend it. Good luck! =)

  9. My dog is allergic to chicken, fish, venison, rice, milk, turkey, brewer’s yeast and corn. Luckily we had a blood test done for allergies. I never would have figured it out otherwise.

  10. Baxter finally got the skin testing after trying everything else. it turns out he is allergic to most grasses, trees, weeds, molds, cats and birds. we are just beginning the allergy shots.

  11. Once you go raw…you NEVER go back. If you have one or two dogs…its easy…If you have multiple dogs…its ends up being cheaper than kibble. Hard part is finding a good source for your proteins. In three hours time…I can make 2 months worth of food to feed 4 seventy pound dogs. Plant a garden if you can…helps with costs. Its a lot easier than looks.

  12. I have a lab Shepard mix that is allergic to fleas…We make do with weekly baths and using preventative…but sadly with 3 other dogs we can’t stop all the fleas. No awful outbreaks on him, though, mostly just itching and light irritability from that.

  13. My dog Colette had the worst allergies my vet had ever seen. She got us set up on an elimination diet and she was eating only fish and sweet potato, after a while we discovered rabbit was okay too. Then just this year ( Cole also has seasonal allergies) we discovered Vet’s Best brand seasonal allergy support. Finally! She’s doing great!

  14. I feed RAW simply because nothing was helping my then 2 year old with his allergies. 2 weeks after starting RAW he was on the mend! That was 5 years ago and I have never looked back. Would never feed anything else!

  15. OMG people! If you would eat the same thing day in and day out would you become allergic? Dogs cats need a variety in their diets. There is NO such thing as a healthy or good for them dry or wet food. They don’t have molars like cows horses or even like us humans to chew. They have teeth designed to rip and tear their foods. That’s why there is an epidemic in gum disease in our pets. A raw diet prevents it along with other diseases. For example, dogs will NOT get fleas if they have a healthy immune system.

  16. I agree with you 100% Erica. I simply cannot understand why people would want to feed their much loved pets kibble, when it has been proven that many of the well known ones contain DNA of CAT and DOG, not to mention the barbituates they were put to sleep with along with any disease they may have had.

  17. We have had an awful time with our dogs now and the dogs we had before. So I think it has something to do with our yard. They eat Blue and are on frontline plus. Summer time is worse than winter. We have a wooded yard with pine straw. So now with Shots, benedryl, sprays…I am at my wits end. I was really looking forward to moving to Massachusetts from here in middle Georgia knowing that the environment change would help. But now that we are not moving, I do not know what else to do. I just want my girls to stop itching…I feel so bad for them. 🙁

    1. SO sorry to hear Kori! Would immunotherapy shots be an option? (If it is seasonal allergies) If it is maybe food, would a food trial be an option? Blue is great but if they are allergic to an ingredient, that could set them off. Poor things!

  18. This is a forum for both the experienced and the inexperienced pet owner. Tolerance and allowance for difference of opinions is preferable to preaching your religion of choice. Any animal can develop allergies whether they are fed kibble or are on a raw diet.

  19. That happens when their diet is not right. A hair analysis will tell what your pet is missing in their diet or if there are any under lying medical issues going on that a blood test will not show until it’s too late. The body is a machine that can repair itself if given the right nutrients.

  20. You are all being really proactive about getting on top of your dogs’ allergies! Dogs have molars 😉 Ours have always done great on commercial kibble. It is good to hear how much raw diets have helped some of your allergic (and nonallergic) dogs too though. Joy the Puppy (who is actually not a puppy, she is 2 1/2) is at the beginning (week 2) of a food trial, so allergies have been on my mind! I will let you know how it goes.

  21. My grrrls do fine on lamb&rice kibble but no way corn&wheat. The pittie just developed flea allergies aftr a 3wk jaunt aftr the chow/rottie punchd a hole in the fence to chase a skunk,found by miracle&pix by city warden(who just pushd breed neutral thru city council yay). 3wks almst killd me, evn tho chippd. Who knows what ate…neem oil in baff &tea tree hot spots best repel&tx hv found. But mixed 1:10! Never pure on skin! E me if intrstd.

  22. My dog had allergies we went to a dermatologist. It was air born allergies like pollen etc that she was allergic to in Australia the main culprit is acacia trees. We changed her diet to increase her omega intake and the food has added enzymes and nutrients for her coat called royal canin skin support. I bathe her in an oil that moistens her coat. Hair has grown back. The raw diet sounds fine except my other dog doesn’t react well with too much meat in her diet. She vomits or has runny stools, she refuses to eat heart, liver any internal organs. She won’t make a great wild dog. So they have fish mainly and on occasion meat and they get bones.

  23. My boxer pit mix is allergic to most grass (and if I am not watching she will eat it). We have been to the vet and he just suggested benedryl or claratin and told me that it is not an upset stomach, just something she likes to eat – it hasnt helped. Also if she gets her paws wet her pads will crack and she will bite at them and cause nasty scabs. I dont want her to get injections, any recommendations?

    1. Hi Kristen…Maybe have another veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist check her out? Lots more options if Benadryl or Claratin do not help…and her poor pads! Lots of options for that too, if they are just really sensitive, there are lots of topical medications that can help.

  24. A grain free diet helped my rare breed dog. I had no idea how much wheat, corn and other grains are in most dog foods. Canines don’t need all that!!

  25. I was wondering if anyone of you has heard of or used Dermapaw? Any feedback would be very welcome! Thanks in advance.

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