If your dog has never been diagnosed with allergies, it may surprise you that dog allergies are even a thing! Just like humans, though, dogs can experience allergies to different substances in foods or the environment.
According to the American Kennel Club, “allergies are a misguided reaction to foreign substances by the body’s immune system” (2).
What are the symptoms of allergies in dogs?
Dog allergies can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Swelling of the face or ears
- Skin redness and inflammation
- Runny/watery eyes or nose
- Excessive licking
- Chronic ear infections
In rare cases, anaphylaxis (a severe respiratory and/or systemic reaction involving extreme swelling and difficulty breathing) can occur. If this happens, your dog should be seen by an emergency vet immediately.
What are the most common dog allergies?
Common allergens for dogs are similar to those that people experience:
- Bee stings
- Flea/insect bites (actually, their saliva)
- Dust mites
Allergies in dogs can be divided into three main categories:
- Skin allergies
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies
Skin allergies are the most common allergies in dogs. The main symptom of skin allergies, and the one you will probably notice first, is itching. Redness, inflammation and scabbing are common symptoms of skin allergies as well.
Also called allergic or atopic dermatitis, skin allergies pose a risk of bacterial or yeast infections of the skin from all the scratching, biting and licking.
True food allergies are often confused with food sensitivities. It is much more common for your dog to have a sensitivity or intolerance to a certain food than to have a true food allergy. Generally, the onset of symptoms for a food sensitivity is more gradual than it would be for an allergy.
The distinction between a food allergy and intolerance in your dog can be difficult to determine on your own, so it’s best to consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog is not tolerating a certain food normally.
Dogs with food allergies will likely have itching as they would with skin allergies. Most commonly, itching will be most prominent in the paws and ears. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting are associated with food allergies as well.
Like food allergies, environmental allergens can cause skin symptoms in dogs. Many environmental allergens are seasonal, so you may notice your dog seeming excessively itchy only at certain times of the year.
What causes dog allergies?
Allergies in dogs are likely inherited through genetics. Over time, as a dog is exposed to an allergen repeatedly the immune response will become more severe and begin to present as an allergy.
Most dogs with allergies will begin to show signs by the time they are 3 or 4 years old.
Which dog breeds are most prone to allergies?
Any breed of dog can have allergies. Some specialists believe, though, that certain breeds are more susceptible to certain types of allergies (6).
Breeds Prone to Skin or Environmental Allergies:
- Chinese Shar-Pei
- Wirehaired Fox Terrier
- Golden Retriever
- Boston Terrier
- Labrador Retriever
- Lhasa Apso
- Scottish Terrier
- Shih Tzu
- West Highland White Terrier
Breeds Prone to Food Allergies:
- Labrador Retriever
- West Highland White Terrier
- Cocker Spaniel
How are dog allergies treated?
The primary treatment for allergies in dogs is avoiding the allergen as best you can.
Your vet may also prescribe an antihistamine or another medication to treat the symptoms of the allergy (such as a skin cream for itching or inflammation or drops for an ear infection). Keeping your dog’s coat healthy and ears clean are helpful in managing skin discomfort associated with allergies.
Dogs with food allergies will likely require a specific food, so make sure to ask your vet for recommendations if your dog has a food allergy. The best food for dog allergies varies by specific allergen and veterinary preference, along with your dog’s individual nutritional needs. You will also need to be especially careful to keep your dog away from human food if she has allergies.
Another option is immunotherapy, which is a treatment with the intention of building up the dog’s tolerance to the allergen through allergy shots or drops. Your vet will likely want to use a mix of various treatments, and you should follow her directions closely and bring your dog in for examinations regularly.
Severe anaphylactic reactions may require epinephrine and/or other more extreme medical interventions (intravenous fluids, breathing tube).
It’s important to note that none of these treatments are a cure for your dog’s allergies. The goal of allergy treatment is to minimize and manage symptoms.
What are the costs of dog allergy treatment?
Of course, costs can vary greatly based on treatment options, how severe your dog’s allergy is, and where you are located or where you bring your dog for treatment. Allergy testing alone can cost up to $350, not including the examination fee (4).
Allergy treatment is almost always a long-term, ongoing process. So, any costs from medication and treatment definitely add up over time. Since pet insurance does not cover pre-existing conditions, you will want to enroll your dog in a pet insurance policy early on to lock it in before your dog is old enough to present an allergy.
When should I see a vet about my dog’s allergies?
When you notice your dog exhibiting symptoms of a possible allergy, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. The symptoms of allergies in dogs can also be symptoms of other health conditions, so it’s best to have your vet verify that it is an allergy and not something more serious.
Additionally, your vet can help you treat an allergy if there is one so you can help keep your dog more comfortable and will know what to do if a severe reaction occurs.
Some allergies, but not all, can be detected through allergy testing. Food allergies, though, are usually only determined through food eliminations which usually involve eliminating potential allergens from your dog’s diet for an extended period of time to see if the reaction diminishes or goes away.
If your dog presents ANY symptoms of anaphylaxis, you should take her to an emergency vet immediately. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Very sudden, extreme itching
- Large red hives or bumps
- Swelling of the face or muzzle
- Sudden, excessive drooling
- Extreme or incessant diarrhea or vomiting
- Difficulty breathing (panting, gasping, excessive coughing)
- Cyanosis (bluish color to lips/tongue/gums)
Can allergies in dogs be prevented?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to prevent an allergy. For that reason, it’s important to monitor your dog closely when he ingests a new food or medication or receives a new vaccine so you can catch a reaction before it becomes severe.
- Banfield Pet Hospital. How Do Pets Get Allergies? Retrieved from https://www.petfinder.com/dogs/dog-health/how-pets-get-allergies/
- Burke, A. 2017. Dog Allergies: Symptoms & Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-allergies-symptoms-treatment/
- Cothern, L. Dogs with Allergies are Expensive! Retrieved from https://www.moneymanifesto.com/dogs-with-allergies-are-expensive-1664/
- UW Veterinary Care. Allergy Testing for Your Pet. Retrieved from https://uwveterinarycare.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Allergy-Testing-2018.pdf
- Ward, E. 2016. Anaphylaxis in Dogs. Retrieved from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/anaphylaxis-in-dogs
- White, S. & Moriello, K. (2018). Allergies in Dogs. Retrieved from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/allergies-in-dogs