Canine Allergies

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itchy dog at vetThere are many different causes of dog allergies. You first need to learn how to diagnose the problem and then you can start treating the annoying symptoms.

Humans have allergies and the symptoms can be very frustrating, particularly if the cause isn’t known.

It’s a different story if it happens to your pet. They can’t describe the symptoms and you’re not always there to check on what they eat or touch in some way. You have to reduce the list of possibilities.

Allergies Explained

A dog gets an allergy when his immune system has an over-the-top reaction to foreign matter (antigens or allergens) to which they become exposed.

These reactions can appear as:

Local or general inflammation and  skin itchiness.

  • Wheezing, sneezing or coughing and  breathing problems.
  • Digestive problems such as diarrhoea  and/or vomiting.


Causes of Allergic Reactions

Lots of things can be allergens. Some of them are: mould, venom, toxins, drugs, pollen, dander, protein, foods and feathers.

A major allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and this sends you into a life-threatening shock caused by hypersensitivity.

Sadly, a vet can’t look at your pet and know what’s causing the allergy. All animals have both immediate and delayed reactions to things they’re allergic to. That’s what makes it hard to determine what is triggering the reaction in your pet. Genetics can cause allergies in some pets. An inhalant allergy known as atopy is the most popular allergy.



 If people are sensitive to certain allergens from pollens such as moulds, grass, dust mites and plants, they can sneeze and have a runny nose and their eyes can become watery. Dogs can be allergic to the same things but their symptoms will more commonly be dermatitis, itchiness and various other skin issues. There are some allergies that are only seasonal which means your pet will only react when it’s that season of the year and the specific pollen is around. However, if pets have seasonal allergies, they’ll commonly become worse as time passes and the itchy feeling then seems to happen all the time.

If your dog has an allergy, he may scratch, lick or chew virtually any body part but the most common place is his feet. If your pet has light-coloured hair, his saliva will often stain it. So if he licks constantly, his paws may go red or brown. Don’t assume that diarrhoea and vomiting are the most common allergic symptoms because itchiness is the single most annoying, persistent symptom. Dogs will have ongoing ear problems as well as itchy feet and allergies more frequently than any other type of pet.


Different Allergies and Reactionsdog at vet

Contact dermatitis

This may be caused by irritations or allergies. Contact dermatitis is the probable cause if the inflamed, itchy skin is on the lips, muzzle, the perineum or ventral abdomen, which are the least hairy parts of the dog. There’s often a distinct, sharp line that divides the inflamed, naked skin and the normal, hairy skin. Contact dermatitis can be caused by various substances including: shampoos, medicines such as ointments and creams, flea products, plants, synthetic and wood fibres, and detergents and disinfectants.

If your dog has an allergy to grass, he’s really allergic to the grass’s pollen, not the physical grass blades. The pollen is in the air the dog breathes. If you can keep your grass as short as possible, that can help a lot because it won’t pollinate.


Food allergies

Young dogs often develop allergies to food and any breed of dog can suffer. Skin lesions may be created by food allergies and the itchiness always exists. Generally the feet, ears, groin, distal limbs and axillae (underarms) are all affected and frequently there’s also a Malassezia infection or secondary bacteria too. Be careful if you have a dog under six months with an allergy to food because it will take more than six months for the dog to develop atopy.

Another typical issue is an intolerance to food. The most common foods are wheat, dairy products and beef but other foods can also affect your dog and they include: eggs, rice, chicken, soy and corn. If possible, work out what foods your dog can’t tolerate and never feed him those foods. Then you’ll prevent skin and bowel problems from happening.


Flea allergy dermatitis

If a flea bites your dog and then he has protein allergen injections, he can get flea allergy dermatitis. He’ll suffer immediate and delayed reactions to this problem, ranging in time from 24 hours to 10 days after he has been bitten by the flea. It’s possible for your dog to only have one or two fleas but the damage can still be done. Sometimes the flea will land on the dog, bite him and then jump off again so you won’t find any fleas when you check. If your dog has allergies to fleas, he’ll often also have other allergies.


Solving the Allergy Puzzle

The ideal method for assisting your pet if he has allergies is to first identify what he’s allergic to and then remove that from his environment. Sadly, it’s not as easy as it seems because the majority of pets have numerous allergies.

One way to help is to decrease your pet’s exposure to whatever it is that he’s allergic to. Reducing exposure will decrease the amount of itching and make him feel better as well. The two best methods for determining triggers are through a food elimination diet and by doing allergy testing.


Allergy testing

You can test for allergies in the following ways:

  • Sending off blood samples to a lab.
  • Sending a hair sample to a naturopath.
  • Using a dermatologist to do skin testing.


General lab tests won’t assist you in ruling out allergies but they can eliminate other issues and also monitor whatever medications your pet needs to be given.


Food elimination diet

You can’t keep your pet away from all triggers but you’re certainly able to control what he eats. Food is a great method for decreasing the allergenic load.

You can use the food elimination diet as a tool to determine which foods cause the allergic reactions in your pet. You must choose a protein source that you haven’t fed your dog before because it’s unlikely that it won’t be the allergic trigger. Try pork, kangaroo, duck or fish. You also need a source of carbohydrates you haven’t fed your dog before. Choose barley, sweet potato, porridge, pumpkin or potato. Make sure you check the ingredients if using kibble as many brands contain rice which is not suitable.

Only feed your dog these choices for six to ten weeks and then try a new food every week. You’ll notice symptoms within 24 hours of your dog eating the trigger food. He may have diarrhoea (it may be bloody), more problems with itchiness and extra pustules, welts or wheals on his skin.


What to expect

If you use the food elimination diet, your pet should have less itchiness and fewer gastrointestinal problems. Many dogs with allergies to food can also have an allergy to fleas or could have atopy so any improvement may only be a partial one. You can confirm your diagnosis if you’re using a normal diet and then you add a suspected allergen which makes the symptoms worse.

If you have trouble restricting your dog’s diet, you can use allergic testing instead. However, the best option is a strict diet but lots of people do struggle with this.

If you must give your pet medication with his food, there are certain foods that you can easily do this with. If he’s on a restrictive diet, you could mix his diet with vegemite, Devon or eggs. Be careful of rawhide chewy toys because lots of dogs have allergies to them. The diet can’t work if your pet has an allergy to dairy products.

If you have put your dog on a digestive diet, adding foods such as Weet Bix or other high fibre foods can help him. Many pets may handle eating rice and chicken but it should only be done in the short term because this isn’t a well balanced diet. It’s recommended that you give your pets vitamin supplements if his diet is restricted, to avoid further problems.

If you think your dog has a food allergy affecting his gastrointestinal tract, you first must increase the fibre in his diet and decrease the antigen load. You can use Flagyl tablets to do this and they’ll also suppress any cell-mediated cellular reactions. They are also good at the start because of their antibacterial and antiprotozoal benefits. The use of probiotics can balance any bugs in your pet’s bowel. If he has an allergy to food and it affects his skin by causing rashes and itchiness, an antibiotic is recommended to eliminate bacterial infections. Cortisone or an antihistamine is also wise to use to ease the initial itching.

You should talk about food allergies with a vet because there may also be other allergies and/or problems to consider. Antifungal or antibiotic treatments may also be required to manage secondary infections before assessing any changes in the itchiness.

You must be very strict with your elimination diet right from the beginning to prevent you from needing to repeat it again. If you do it properly, you should be able to reduce your pet’s issues significantly within a few months.


Allergy Treatments

You won’t always be able to get rid of allergens or avoid them. If this is true in your situation, here are some tips to help you manage the problems.


Anti-inflammatory meds

 In the short term, your pet will get a lot of benefit from these drugs. The allergic reaction can be stopped by these meds in most situations but it will only happen while you’re giving your pet the meds.

You can give corticosteroids either by adding it to his food or by using an injection if the oral tablets are too hard to give him. If you need to use steroids, you’ll be taught how to use them properly. Corticosteroids have side effects so they’re not good as a long term solution or for problems that keep occurring. Cortisone can make your pet drink more often and then urinate more as well. It can reduce his immunity so he can become more susceptible to infections and other conditions and it may also affect his behaviour.

You can combine antihistamines with steroids to treat some allergies. In certain cases, the antihistamines may decrease the need for the higher amounts of steroids required to give your pet the relief he needs. Sad to say, they only work if combined with other medications and they only work when a high enough dose is used that it sedates your pet.

You can add fatty acid supplements to your combination treatment of antihistamines and steroids. These acids are also called omega 9 (canola, sunflower and olive oils;) omega 6 (evening primrose oil) and omega 3 (also known as fish oil.) The latter is the only essential fatty acid so supplements are ideal. If you use all three remedies, you’ll most likely see major improvements in your pet. However, this isn’t a specific approach and it doesn’t treat the allergy itself. It only treats the allergy’s symptoms.

The negative about using fish oil is that you must use 1000 mgs per 5 kgs of weight to ease the itchiness so it’s a very high dose. You may use Krill oil which is a smaller capsule and is simpler to give your pet.


Shampoo therapy  

 Your pet’s skin can absorb some allergens so if he has allergies, frequent bathing and the use of a non-allergenic shampoo may help. It’s believed that it will help decrease antigen exposure through your pet’s skin. Apart from getting rid of surface antigen, bathing your dog will ease the itchiness and may let you use a lesser quantity of steroids. Certain shampoos also contain fatty acids which can be absorbed through your pet’s skin and will act as a local anti-inflammatory.



 This is the ultimate best choice. You get a blood sample sent to be tested in a lab. The tests will identify the allergens that exist. Then the pet is injected with tiny doses of that antigen each week to help reset his immune system.

Over a period of time, he’ll react less to that allergen. Realistically, most dogs will have a lot less itchiness and sometimes it may even stop completely after this process is complete.



If your dog damages his skin by scratching, chewing and licking, he becomes very susceptible to various bacterial infections within his skin. Antibiotics should be used to remedy this situation. The infection maybe very frustrating and the dog could get even itchier. Lots of dogs get a yeast or Malassezia infection which means they also need antifungal meds.


 Atopica (cyclosporin)

 This will take roughly two weeks to work properly and reveal improvements but it’s better used in the long term. It takes longer than cortisone to do its work. You start by giving it to your dog on an empty stomach every day. After the initial month, you reduce it to every other day and then once or twice weekly in the longer term. In the beginning, it costs more than cortisone but there are fewer side effects.


Flea control

 It’s critical to control fleas if your dog has allergies because they’re often allergic to fleas as well as other things. You don’t often see fleas on a dog but they still need a barrier protector to prevent fleas from getting onto them.


Topical sprays, ointments and creams

 If your pet has itchy skin and/or pain, anything that is directly applied to the skin can often help ease the symptoms that exist.


Information is Power

 You may try every possible treatment known but you won’t be able to fix your pet’s problems until you know what his allergic triggers are. Work with your vet to isolate the causes and then plan the most effective treatment combinations.

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