Do you suspect your dog has allergies? Allergies include a vast range of causes and symptoms. For that reason, many dog owners often ignore that their dog's symptom is allergy-related. In addition, it can sometimes be confusing to understand what is triggering your dog's allergies, even if they do.
Dog allergies range from mild skin symptoms to acute allergic reactions that may be fatal in some rare cases. Allergies are sometimes confused with food intolerances or food sensitivities.
If your dog suffers from itchy skin, irritated skin, facial swelling, or itchy eyes, he may have an allergic reaction. We will discuss the different types of pet allergies, allergy testing, and allergy symptoms.
Types of allergies in dogs
There are three main kinds of dog allergies:
- Skin allergies: may include an allergic reaction to pollen, food ingredients, parasites, and more.
- Food allergies: an actual allergic reaction to food, and not just an intolerance.
- Acute allergic reactions: some dogs can go into anaphylactic shock if they have a severe reaction to an allergen.
If you suspect your dog of having seasonal allergies or of being sensitive to multiple allergens, it can be hard to diagnose but not impossible. The first step is to seek veterinary advice, as your vet can guide you and even suggest testing in some cases.
Skin allergies, or allergic dermatitis, are the most common dog allergies. These are allergies that cause visible damage to your dog's coat and skin and often are associated with obsessive behavior such as constant licking or scratching.
Skin allergies have three leading causes, and identifying the cause will help treat affected dogs.
Flea allergy dermatitis
Flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction to flea bites and, more specifically, to flea saliva. This cause can be tricky to diagnose because fleas are tiny, and just one flea is enough to trigger a skin rash after biting.
Also, some flea treatments only work after fleas bite, in which case it is too late for your dog. If you suspect this to cause your dog skin issues, put your dog under strict flea control. Please seek advice from your veterinarian for the best flea control that kills fleas before they get a chance to bite.
If the dog allergy symptoms disappear, this was most likely the cause of your dog's skin allergy.
Food allergies, or rather sensitivities, may cause allergic symptoms. For humans, food intolerances include dairy intolerances, and for dogs, it can consist of proteins like beef or grains like wheat.
Please remember that dogs are not truly allergic to the ingredient but relatively sensitive to it in most cases. It can explain why your dog's symptoms are still mild and not severe. So even though it may seem counterintuitive to associate food allergies with skin issues, they are directly linked.
Being intolerant to a specific ingredient will increase the inflammation in your dog's body. That inflammation may cause various external symptoms such as dry skin and itching, on top of typical gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Environmental allergens are well-known for many dog owners due to their visible nature and sometimes obvious cause-effect relationship: "when my dog goes outside, he comes back with a rash on his belly."
Like environmental allergies in humans, they can cause runny nose, eye infections, and itching.
Common environmental allergens include pollen, dust mites, and grass. Allergens like pollen are extremely difficult to avoid since they can even be present inside homes. In addition, direct contact with dogs' skin usually triggers irritated skin and itching.
Did you know that only about 10% of all pet allergies are food allergies? The confusion behind food allergies is the difference between a true food allergy and food intolerance.
A true food allergy results in an immune response and still causes skin issues such as hives, facial swelling, and itchiness. On top of these skin issues, food allergies also trigger vomiting and/or diarrhea most of the time.
Acute allergic reaction
While not the most common, the most alarming kind of pet allergy is an acute allergic reaction. Dogs can go into anaphylactic shock, fatal if left untreated.
Symptoms of skin allergies in dogs
According to veterinarians, about 90% of allergies are skin allergies. Even true food allergies are similar symptoms to skin allergies. Dog allergies may be hard to diagnose, but the list of symptoms is, in reality, well-known and may include:
- Itchiness, scratching, licking, chewing of paws, ears, eyes, and rest of the body
- Secondary infections: bacterial infections and fungal infections
- Hot spots, hair loss
- Swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids, or earflaps
- Red, inflamed skin
- Diarrhea, vomiting
- Chronic ear (including head tilting) or eye infections (including itchy, runny eyes)
A first step to solving your dog's allergies may be tracking the symptoms. You may use the Itch Tracker that we developed here at Petsmont. It is recommended to supplement your dog's diet with fish oil as it is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids that numerous studies have linked to healthy skin and coat.
Diagnosing allergies: is there an allergy test for dogs?
Allergy testing is not reliable for food allergies and intolerances, whether a blood test or a skin test. However, it can be a good option for seasonal and environmental allergies.
It is good to seek veterinary guidance before testing to rule out other potential causes of your dog's symptoms. Environmental allergy testing lets dog owners know what specific allergen their dog is sensitive to.
The most accurate tests are blood and skin testing, with skin testing being the most accurate one. A board-certified veterinary dermatologist performs most of the time, this type of test.
The dermatologist will proceed to clip a patch of fur and inject a small number of various allergens. Then, the degree of the allergic reaction in each spot will determine whether your dog is allergic to it. You should expect to spend between $300 and $700 on this type of allergy test.
Treating allergies in dogs
Dog allergies have various causes but common symptoms: this is why most symptoms tend to focus on the symptoms.
Treatments like cytopoints prevent your dog from feeling an itch but do not fix the root cause of itchy skin.
Other oral medications such as Apoquel also don't fix the cause of dogs allergies and may instead cause unwanted side effects.
On the other hand, dog owners report a few successful strategies for fixing the root cause of dog allergies. However, there are still some natural ways to soothe itchy skin when this is not possible.
Inspect your dog's diet
Dog owners should be aware that common kibble ingredients may trigger dog allergies. For example, if your dog has been on beef or chicken kibble for years, his stomach may have developed its sensitivity.
Main food allergens are proteins like beef, chicken, and dairy, followed by grains like wheat and corn. Soy should never be part of your dog's diet since it's linked to various health problems. Rice may also cause sensitivities.
You may switch your dog's diet to kibble with limited ingredients and none of the allergens above—for instance, a salmon and sweet potatoes recipe.
You may also start looking into home-cooking or the raw diet since both can bring health benefits when achieved correctly and with the help of a veterinary nutritionist.
Be also aware that table scraps and treats may also trigger dog allergies. In addition, dog treats and chews may include unnecessary fillers that can be dog allergens.
Consider adding Omega 3 fatty acids
You may have heard of omega fatty acids before: omega 3s, 6s, and 9s. Dogs need omega 3s and omega 6s since they can't synthetize them on their own. Numerous studies report the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically in dogs, for skin and coat (AAFCO approves this claim).
A great and high-quality source of omega 3 fatty acids is salmon oil for dogs. Many dog allergies subside after putting a dog on an omega-3-rich diet. Omega 3s are also suspected of boosting the immune system in dogs, which can better fight allergy symptoms. A more robust immune response often means fewer skin issues.
Feel free to look at our Petsmont Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil Formula for Dogs. It's 100% wild, which means it's cleaner than most alternatives, and includes Wild Alaskan Pollock Oil which is known to have a more pleasant scent than Wild Alaskan Salmon alone.
Try immune-boosting mushrooms
If you suspect a relationship between dogs' immune systems and allergies in dogs, you may be correct. A robust immune system can support the rest of the body, and not just against allergies.
While switching your dog's diet to a hypoallergenic diet or putting him on a food trial can be suitable temporary measures, it is also vital to support the rest of your dog's body. Most dogs and all dog breeds can benefit from immune-boosting mushrooms.
Certain mushroom varieties such as Turkey Tail have been involved in dog cancer studies.
There is one 2012 study that focused on dogs with canine hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive vascular cancer that affects middle-aged and older dogs. This study was small, but the results are very encouraging, as you can see below:
- Survival time with no treatment: 86 days
- Survival time with 50 mg-kg/day turkey tail: 117 days
- Survival time with 100 mg-kg/day turkey tail: 199 days
While this study is not enough to confirm the usefulness of turkey tails in dogs, more studies exist for humans and suggest the same health benefits.
If nothing else works, consider these natural skin soothers
Since a common symptom of a dog allergy is irritated skin, which can then trigger itchiness, you may want to soothe your dog's skin.
There are two effective natural ways to do so. The first one is great when the itchiness or dryness is located in a specific body part, such as your dog's paws.
Paw balm for dogs
Using a balm specifically made for dogs will not treat a food allergy, but affected dogs will still benefit from moisturized skin that will help not itch as much as before. You can search on Google for dog balms, or specifically paw balms. Look for an option that is safe to lick, and ideally, USDA Certified Organic to ensure it's void of chemicals.
While you complete your research, feel free to look at our Petsmont Organic Paw Balm. Each ingredient has been researched and is safe for dogs.
Coconut oil for dogs
Another option to soothe dog skin is coconut oil. Coconut oil is more versatile than a balm and is better to apply to your entire dog's skin and coat. A bonus is that it's a healthy treat for dogs!
Please remember that neither the balm nor the coconut oil will fix the root cause of your pet's allergy, but they will support the symptoms.
Feel free to look at our Petsmont Organic Coconut Oil for Dogs. It's 100% USDA Certified Organic which means it's of the highest quality and safe to lick.
Other home remedies
If you are curious and would like to find more ways to support your pet's allergy, please look at our 21 natural remedies for itching and scratching.