Spring is coming, and for a lot of us, it hits like a freight train with all the allergens it brings with it. It’s hard to stop and smell the roses when they send you right into a sneezing fit. Unfortunately, the same thing can happen to our dogs. Imagine going out for a fun roll in the grass, only to have your paws and tummy itch uncontrollably. And on top of that, you don’t have the words to tell your mom how miserable you are.
Dog’s aren't always the best at letting us know when something is wrong. We have to interpret their behaviors to realize when they’re having a problem. If you have allergies, then you know how miserable it can be, and you don’t want your dog to have to suffer with no relief.
Fortunately, there are signs and symptoms you can watch out for that will help tip you off that a trip to the vet is in order. If you’ve noticed some changes in your dog, and you're wondering if they might be having a reaction, then you're in the right place. Keep reading to find out how to know if your dog has allergies.
What Can Cause Allergies In Dogs?
Seasonal allergies aren’t the only type of allergies your dog can develop. There are three things that your vet will consider if your dog is suffering from allergy symptoms.
Environmental allergies- Seasonal allergies to things like pollen and mold spurs fall into this category. It can also include things like smoke, air fresheners, or potpourri. This is the most common type of allergy in dogs.
Fleas- Fleas are terrible on a good day. The little critters cause itching on dogs that don’t even have an allergy. Unfortunately, some dogs have hypersensitivity to flea saliva that can cause extreme itching and inflammation. This is a flea allergy.
Food Allergies- Food allergies in dogs are often blamed on things like gluten and grains. The truth is, your dog is more likely to be allergic to the protein in his food. The most common food allergies in dogs are beef, chicken, and eggs.
What Are The Symptoms Of Allergies In Dogs?
Constant scratching and chewing- In dogs, the most common symptom of allergies is inflamed, itchy skin. This is even true of dogs with food allergies. You may see your dog chewing his paws, gnawing his rear, or just constantly licking.
Some dogs may lose their hair and get red, swollen patches and sores. The constant licking and chewing breaks open the skin making it very easy for your dog to get bacterial and yeast infections. You may notice your dog has a slight odor that isn’t his normal “dog” smell. This can be caused by an overgrowth of yeast.
Ear Infections- Watch out for red, crusty ears or extra discharge. You may also notice your dog constantly rubbing his head. Allergies and the extra wax buildup they cause make it easy for your dog’s bacteria and yeast to get out of control.
Ear infections caused by untreated allergies can cause damage to the ear canal. It can become scarred and narrow, which can make infections more difficult to treat.
Coughing and sneezing- Some dogs may get watery eyes, get a little cough, and even wheeze a little. Upper respiratory symptoms can lead to bronchitis from inflammation.
Vomiting and diarrhea- GI upset can be caused by food allergies, but it’s actually more likely to be caused by an environmental allergy to dust or pollen.
How Are Dog Allergies Diagnosed?
The first step to getting your dog allergy relief is making an appointment with his veterinarian. The vet will need to rule out any conditions that might cause similar symptoms. Signs of flea dirt and flea infestation are obvious signs that a flea allergy is the cause of itching and inflammation. Before further testing is ordered, flea treatment will be the first order of business.
Bloodwork and allergy testing may be ordered if allergic dermatitis is suspected. These include intradermal and RAST testing.
Intradermal allergy tests are performed by a veterinary dermatologist. For this, your dog is shaved, and small amounts of different allergens are injected under the skin to see which ones cause a reaction. Your dog will likely be anesthetized for this test.
If there are no veterinary dermatologists in the area, or you can’t afford the expense of an intradermal test, your dog’s regular veterinarian can perform the RAST test. This test only requires a simple blood draw. The RAST test is not as accurate as intradermal testing, but it can still be beneficial in coming up with a treatment plan for your dog.
If allergy testing does not reveal an environmental allergy, a food allergy may be the culprit. To diagnose a food allergy, your vet will put your dog on an elimination diet. After your dog shows relief from symptoms, you will slowly add things to their diet to see what causes a reaction.
Treating Your Dog's Allergies
The first step in treating your dog’s allergies is to eliminate the source, if possible.
Food allergens can be avoided, but you will need to carefully read labels to prevent accidental exposure.
Flea allergies will resolve after the flea infestation is removed. You will need to treat your dog’s bedding to make sure all presence of fleas is removed. And a flea preventative should be used to prevent reinfestation.
Obviously, not everything can be avoided. If your dog has seasonal allergies, you will need to work to relieve symptoms. Baths to soothe itchy skin, antihistamines, and short courses of steroids and oral anti-itch medications might be part of the treatment plan.
Immunotherapy shots are now being recommended more frequently. These shots prevent your pet’s immune system from going into overdrive and are very effective. 80% of dogs who are given this treatment see a major improvement in their allergy symptoms. To get the most from this treatment, your dog will need to consistently receive treatment for a year.
When your allergy symptoms start to flare, take a look at your dog to make sure he isn’t suffering in silence. With the right treatment plan, you and your dog can get through allergy season together comfortably.