Allergies In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Costs

by Lila Batiari, DVM
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Allergies In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Costs
Allergies in dogs are prevalent and can develop at any point in life. Learn more about common allergiea in canines and available treatment methods.

Does your dog constantly lick, chew, or scratch himself? Are you constantly wondering, Why is my dog so itchy?” These could be tell-tale indicators that your dog has allergies.

Allergies in dogs are quite common, accounting for one of the leading causes of vet visits in the United States.1 Dog allergies usually affect the skin and ears, though symptoms can appear elsewhere and range in severity. Unlike human allergies, dogs’ allergic reactions tend to get worse — not better — with age or exposure, and in some cases, they can even be fatal if left untreated.

If you or your vet suspect your pet dog has allergies, keep reading. This post discusses the classic symptoms of allergies in dogs, allergens that commonly trigger adverse reactions in canines, how to treat your pet’s condition, and more.

Use the links below to navigate to the information you need:

Can dogs have allergies?

If you’ve ever wondered, “Can dogs have allergies?” the answer is yes. Just like humans, pets can also have allergies to food and particles in the environment that trigger an immunological response upon contact. Dogs of any breed and age can develop allergies at any time.

How common are allergies in dogs?

Allergies are one of the most common health issues in dogs. About 20% of all dogs will develop an allergy at some point in their life, with symptoms initially typically occurring between one and two years old.2

According to experts, up to 20% of all dogs will develop allergies over their lifetime, and the typical age of onset is between six months and three years old.

Symptoms of allergies in dogs

A dog with allergies might show a range of symptoms depending on the source, severity, and location of the response. Usually, allergy symptoms in dogs often include:

  • Itchiness
  • Licking
  • Scratching
  • Red skin
  • Face rubbing
  • Fur loss
  • Recurrent skin, paw, and ear infections
  • Gastrointestinal issues symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Chronic cough
  • Sneezing
  • Runny eyes

How do dogs get allergies?

Dogs get allergy symptoms when they come into contact with a substance they are intolerant to (known as an allergen), triggering an immunological response in the body. Common allergens in dogs are:

  • Food
  • Insect bites
  • Pollen
  • Fungus spores
  • Certain surfaces

When affected dogs contact (touch, ingest, or inhale) an allergen they’re susceptible to, the allergen triggers an immune system response and spike in histamine production. Histamines are organic chemicals released by white blood cells whenever the immune system is perceived to be under a localized attack (i.e., at one specific spot in the body).

These chemicals act like internal bodyguards that fight to get rid of whatever is bothering the body and causing the local immune response. While this line of defense is certainly helpful in warding off pathogens that cause illness, most allergens don’t actually pose a health threat. High histamine levels in the bloodstream are responsible for the traditional symptoms of allergies in dogs. Most notably, histamines cause inflammation that leads to swelling, redness, and itching.

Why some dogs are more prone to allergies than others may be due to genetics. If you purchase a puppy from a breeder, it’s a good idea to inquire about allergies and other immunological disorders in the gene pool. Allergies can also be acquired over time.

Types of allergies in dogs

Dog allergies can be categorized in several ways, such as:

  • Route of entry into the body (consumption of food, contact with the skin, or inhalation)
  • The allergen (food, insect, etc.)
  • Clinical symptoms (respiratory issues, skin lesions, gastrointestinal symptoms)
  • Speed of the allergic reaction (a delayed or immediate response, otherwise known as anaphylaxis)

Food allergies in dogs

Dogs can suddenly develop food allergies at any point in life, regardless of whether they’ve eaten that particular variety or brand of dog food in the past. In fact, feeding your dog a single food for an extended period of time can actually increase their chances of developing an intolerance to one or more of those ingredients.

In most cases, food allergies in dogs are an immunological response to a source of protein in their diets, such as egg, dairy, chicken, and especially beef (one of the most prevalent ingredients in commercial dog food formulas). However, carbohydrates can also trigger dog food allergies.

The symptoms of allergic reactions to food in dogs often manifest as gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and/or diarrhea), skin disorders (itching, hives, face puffiness), or both.

Skin allergies in dogs

The most common type of allergy in dogs is skin allergies, also known as allergic dermatitis. Flea allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies are the three leading causes of skin allergies in dogs.

  • Flea allergy dermatitis, or an allergic reaction to flea bites, is the most common allergy in dogs. Some canines are sensitive to flea saliva and experience severe itching when bitten, often causing the skin to turn red, swell, and scab over. The most typical sign of flea allergy dermatitis is itchiness and irritation near the base of the tail, although other parts of the body may also be affected. Flea dirt or the actual fleas themselves may also be visible.

  • Food allergies might also cause itchy skin. Dogs with food allergies frequently scratch their ears and lick their paws, which may be followed by gastrointestinal issues.

  • Environmental allergens like pollen, mold, and dust can result in atopic dermatitis or allergic reactions. Since these allergies are typically seasonal, your dog may only itch at particular periods of the year. The paws and ears are typically impacted, just like with food allergies.

Secondary infections are possible with all types of skin allergies. Your dog runs the risk of being exposed to bacterial and yeast infections that may need to be treated by scratching, biting, and licking at their skin.

Acute allergic reactions

An acute allergic reaction — or one that triggers an immediate response — is the most frightening out of all the types of allergies in dogs. Dogs can go into anaphylactic shock if they have a severe allergic reaction, just like humans. Anaphylactic reactions are rare, but if left untreated, they could be fatal. Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Episodes of collapse
  • Respiratory distress

Some dogs may experience anaphylactic shock in response to bee stings and vaccines, among other triggers. For this reason, it’s always advisable to closely monitor your dog after the administration of any new vaccine, medication, or food.

Food allergies frequently share symptoms with seasonal or environmental allergies.

Signs your pet has seasonal allergies

Scratching and itching of the skin, licking (particularly of the paws), and face rubbing are typical signs of seasonal allergies. Red skin, hair loss, and recurring ear and/or skin infections are among possible symptoms in affected dogs. You might also notice red skin or hair loss on your pet's face, ears, lower legs, paws, belly, and armpits.

How to diagnose allergies in dogs

Diagnosing allergies can be challenging. Your pet's symptoms could be caused by a variety of conditions, so your vet may decide to rule those out first.

Elimination diets are frequently used to diagnose food allergies. A 12-week food trial involves giving a dog a single, novel source or hydrolysis protein source and carbohydrates.

The simplest allergy to identify is flea allergy dermatitis. Typically, it is determined whether your dog has fleas by locating them on their body and using a prescription flea control from your veterinarian.

Your vet might also suggest allergy testing to attempt and identify the allergen that is responsible for the reaction.

Working with your vet to manage your dog's symptoms and identify the item causing the response is the best way to diagnose and treat a food allergy.

Blood allergy testing

Since blood testing simply requires blood to be drawn, it is less invasive than skin testing, but it may also be less accurate. The blood will be tested by an outside laboratory, and the results will be utilized to create a unique allergy serum for desensitization therapy.

Skin allergy testing

With this type of testing, small injections of several allergens are administered intradermally while reactions in your dog are observed. A custom allergy serum is then made to desensitize your four-legged friend triggers. This is an expensive and labor-intensive process that does not provide immediate results.

How to treat dogs with allergies

The type of allergy your dog has will determine the course of treatment. For instance, killing fleas is the best approach to treat flea allergy dermatitis, whereas altering the animal’s diet is the best way to handle a food allergy.

Your dog's veterinarian may also recommend an allergy relief medicine that will help control the symptoms of the allergic reaction. They may also recommend antibiotics to treat secondary skin infections that might have emerged as a result of your dog’s allergy, in addition to any lifestyle adjustments that may be required.

If your pet experiences an anaphylactic allergic reaction, your best option is to take them to an emergency veterinary hospital.

Picking the best food for dogs with allergies

The best food for dogs with allergies should be chosen in consultation with a veterinarian.

Novel protein and hydrolyzed diets are only available by prescription, and are a much better choice than over-the-counter products. These are the best foods for dog allergies because they frequently contain trace levels of an allergen that helps build tolerance in pets.

Without consulting a veterinary nutritionist, randomly removing components of your dog's diet to identify the allergy source can lead to nutritional imbalances and is unlikely to reveal the true source of the issue. Also, when assessing whether a food allergy is truly the cause if your dog’s symptoms, it is very important to not provide any secondary treats or table scraps. These additives can mask the true efficacy of a prescription diet.

How to prevent allergic reactions in dogs

Here are a few things you can do to help manage any discomfort your pet might be experiencing as a result of seasonal allergies and lower the likelihood of more severe issues such as hot spots on dogs:

  • Avoid taking your dog for a walk in the late afternoon or early morning when pollen counts are usually at their maximum. In addition, avoid areas with lots of irritating plants, such as parks and fields.
  • To reduce the number of airborne allergens in the home, keep doors and windows closed, and change your air filters frequently. It will be more difficult for mold to grow in your home if you run an air conditioner or a dehumidifier that help remove moisture from the interior air. Reduce the amount of time your four-legged friend spends in wet areas like bathrooms, basements, or laundry rooms, as these areas are more likely to develop mold.
  • Vacuum at least once each week, and clean any rugs or curtains that may accumulate dust or pollen.
  • The bedding and surfaces your pet touches at night can also become covered in allergens, so make sure they are kept clean by sterilizing them with in hot water once a week.

Home remedies for dog allergies

If your dog won’t stop licking, scratching, or gnawing at their skin, the following tips may help provide allergy relief:

  • In consultation with your vet, give your dog a bath more frequently to prevent dry, itchy skin. Wash their fur with a mild, hypoallergenic anti-itch shampoo with a calming component like oatmeal, aloe, or evening primrose oil. Chamomile, green tea, and calendula also have cooling, soothing, and anti-inflammatory characteristics, making them excellent choices for a dog bath for itchy skin. Make sure to fully dry them after the bath, paying special attention to their ears to prevent secondary yeast infections due to a moist integument.
  • An epsom salt and cool water foot soak is another home remedy for allergies in dogs. This therapy can reduce inflammation and itching, especially when your dog returns from playing outside.
  • A natural nutritional supplement like fish oil that contains fatty acid (omega-3 or omega-6) can reduce itching and enhance general skin health. Coconut oil has also been shown to reduce allergic reactions in dogs and promote better skin.
  • Lastly, ensure that your dog is drinking plenty of water, and that the dish is kept clean and contaminant-free.

If the itching is ongoing, or your pet has red, irritated skin or hair loss, it’s best to make an appointment with your vet. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, your veterinarian can provide more aggressive treatments such as steroids, antihistamines, allergy shots, or antibiotics for a secondary bacterial infection.

Dog Allergy FAQs

What causes allergies in dogs?

Proteins — particularly those derived from dairy, beef, chicken, eggs, and soy — and gluten are the most common food allergens in dogs. Environmental allergens like dust, pollen, and mold tend to flare up seasonally, resulting in atopic dermatitis. Flea saliva also commonly causes an inflammatory reaction in dogs that are sensitive to it.

Are dog allergies genetic?

Since allergies are frequently genetic, they can be passed down through the DNA of parent dogs to their litter. However, just because a parent has allergies doesn't mean that the puppies will have them as well.

Are some dog breeds more prone to allergies than others?

English Bulldogs and French Bulldogs are some of the most frequent breeds I treat for allergies in dogs. Other dog breeds prone to allergies include:3

However, any canine can develop allergies.

How do you know if your dog has allergies?

Typical symptoms of dog allergies include:

  • Red, itchy skin
  • Licking
  • Face rubbing
  • Hair loss
  • Recurrent skin or ear infections

Only a veterinarian can diagose allergies in dogs with certainty.

What can I give my dog with allergies?

Prescription diets, regular baths, salt soaks, and natural supplements have aLL shown to be helpful in treating dogs' skin allergies.

Can dogs have Benadryl?

Benadryl is often recommended for canines with mild to moderate allergies, but it’s always best to consult your vet before administering any medications to your pet, especially Benadryl for dogs.

Does pet insurance cover allergies in dogs?

Allergies are one of the most common pet insurance claims. Luckily, many pet insurance policies cover allergy shots, medication, and allergy testing. Some plans even cover supplements and prescription pet food. Use Pawlicy Advisor to compare quotes from different pet insurance providers and find the one that best suits your dog’s needs.

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References

  1. TodaysVeterinaryPractice, “Top 10 Reasons Why Pets See a Veterinarian” Accessed Aug. 30, 2022.
  2. Richell USA, “The Most Common Dog Allergens and How to Avoid Them” Accessed Aug. 30, 2022
  3. MSD Vet Manual, “Allergies in Dogs” Accessed Aug. 30, 2022.

Veterinarian Lila Batiari

About the author

Lila Batiari, DVM

Small Animal Relief Veterinarian -

Lila Batiari, DVM is a relief veterinarian located in San Diego, California. She has a special interest in nutrition, pain management, and surgery! Dr. Batiari enjoys working with Pawlicy Advisor to help others avoid everyday situations that some of her clientele experience. She realizes that expensive vet bills for treatment costs could be much easier for patients with pet insurance.

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