Understanding and Managing Allergies in Dogs

Posted by Jackie Ly on

dog biting itchy skin

Allergies are common in dogs, and because they're unable to express the symptoms they are feeling, you and your physician work together to identify the problem and determine the best allergy treatment.

Every dog is unique, and just like dog training, you need to assess what products and treatment is best for them and their lifestyle. In case of allergy treatment, you need to properly determine what allergens triggered an allergic response to get the best effective anti-allergy solution.

Here are important things you need to know about dog allergies and how you can manage them.

Types of Allergies in Dogs

Skin allergies


Atopic dermatitis or atopy is often brought by allergens that were inhaled or came into contact with the skin. The allergens are found in your dog's environment and might include dust, dust mites, mould, fleas, shampoo, cleaning supplies, and even carpet fibres.

Tree pollen (cedar, ash, oak, etc.), grass pollen, weed pollen (ragweed), mould, mildew, and house dust mites are the main allergens. Ragweed, cedar, and grass pollen are just a few of the seasonal triggers. Mould, mildew, and home dust mites, however, are year-round concerns.

Most dogs with atopic dermatitis show symptoms when they're between 1 to 3 years old. Your dog may exhibit symptoms seasonally or all year long, depending on the allergen(s) they are sensitive to. The common sign is skin irritation. 

Skin irritation can affect certain parts of your dog's body (usually the paws and ears) or their entire body. They constantly lick their paws, leaving red stains from their saliva, or they chew certain parts of their body until hair falls out.


Skin allergies, referred to as allergic dermatitis, are the most common type of allergic reactions in dogs. Secondary infections can develop from any skin allergy. Your dog's scratching, biting, and licking at their skin exposes them to bacterial and yeast infections that may require treatment.  

Allergic dermatitis is triggered by the following reasons:


Direct contact with allergens, such as pyrethrins in flea collars, insecticides, grasses, and materials like wool or synthetics used in carpets or beds can trigger contact allergies. While it is the least common type of allergy in dogs, it can manifest itself in almost any way and at any age.

If your dog is allergic to any of the aforementioned substances, skin irritation and itching will develop at the points of contact, often the feet and stomach.  

Flea allergy

Flea allergy dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction to flea bites. Some dogs are sensitive to the saliva of fleas. Other insects also trigger allergic reactions such as spiders, ticks, blackflies, deer flies, horseflies, mosquitoes, and wasps but the most common insect allergies in dogs is flea saliva.

Most dogs with flea bites experience mild local discomfort. They experience severe local itching and they may bite and scratch themselves, losing a lot of hair usually near the base of the tail. 

Environmental allergens

Environmental allergens including dust, pollen, and mould can cause dermatitis or allergic responses in sensitive dogs. These allergies are typically seasonal and your dog may only itch at particular seasons of the year.

The paws and ears are the most commonly affected areas, but it can also affect their wrists, ankles, nose, underarms, crotch, and even around the eyes and between the toes.

Food allergies

According to AKC Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein, actual food allergies result in an immune response. Common clinical symptoms include skin conditions like face swelling and itching, gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhoea, and respiratory distress.

Food allergy can develop at almost any age, but actual food allergies are quite rare in dogs. 

Most people mistake food allergy with food sensitivity, or a food intolerance. Unlike actual food allergies, food sensitivities do not involve an immunological response and are only a gradual reaction to an irritating ingredient in your dog's food, such as beef, poultry, eggs, corn, wheat, soy, or milk.

Respiratory allergies

Respiratory allergies may cause your dog to show respiratory symptoms including itchy, runny eyes, coughing, and sneezing. They are often brought on by an inhaled allergen, such as plant pollen or dust mites. Symptoms could be yearly or seasonal. 

Compared to people and cats, respiratory allergies are less likely to happen in dogs.

Acute Allergic Reactions 

Acute allergic reactions in dogs are probably the most concerning type of allergy. Dogs can get anaphylactic shock if they have a severe allergic reaction, just like humans.  If not handled well, this might be fatal.

Your dog may experience an anaphylactic reaction in response to bee stings, and vaccines, that's why it's always important to closely monitor your dog after the injection of any new vaccine, medication, or food. Thankfully, anaphylactic reactions in dogs are uncommon.

Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs

Symptoms of allergies in dogs vary depending on the cause. For example, a dog experiencing anaphylactic shock would experience a drop in blood followed by shock, which is very different from a skin condition.

Skin problems are the most common allergy symptoms, but other symptoms also involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and respiratory system. Here are the most common signs of an allergic response.

  • irritated, red skin (in one part of the body or the whole body)
  • itching
  • itching on the hind quarters (especially in flea allergy dermatitis)
  • constant licking
  • chronic ear infections
  • chronic paw infections
  • hives
  • swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids, or earflaps
  • itchy, runny eyes
  • loss of hair (localised or generalised)
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting

Several of these signs and symptoms can also point to another illness. Schedule a visit with your vet to get a precise diagnosis.

How to Manage Allergies in Dogs

Be careful of known allergens in puppyhood

Prevention is better than cure. For example, with beef and chicken as known allergens, dog owners usually prefer feeding dog food with lamb as a main ingredient, and feeding chicken or beef in moderation. 

Do allergy testing

Allergy testing is expensive but sometimes the only source of accurate answers for your dog’s issues. Dog allergy testing partially depends on your dog's symptoms and what your veterinarian thinks could be causing them problems.

Depending on the allergen, there are a few primary types of allergy testing for dogs, including intradermal skin testing, blood testing, and elimination diet trials.

  • Intradermal skin testing - This involves giving several tiny injections of different allergens while keeping an eye on your dog's reactions. The information you provided is then used to create the personalised allergy serum desensitise your dog to their triggers.
  • Blood testing - Although this is less intrusive than intradermal testing because it simply calls for a blood sample, it may also be less accurate. Blood samples will be examined by a third-party laboratory, and the results will be used to create a unique allergy serum for desensitisation therapy.
  • Elimination diet trial - The best way to test for food allergies is through this technique. This approach includes collaborating with your veterinarian to put your dog on a diet with new ingredients for 8–12 weeks, followed by a gradual introduction of each food back into your dog's diet to identify the allergen.

Protect your dog from fleas and ticks

Treating a flea allergy requires an effective flea-repelling solution that kills fleas on touch and repels them without the need to bite. To protect your dog all-year long against fleas and ticks, make your house flea-free and all other pets in your home should also be kept on a regular preventative.

Bear in mind that an allergic dog might develop an itchy reaction from just one bite.


The findings from allergy testing are used in immunotherapy to make a special serum that contains the allergens that trigger your dog. A fixed schedule of injections of this serum will be given to your dog to gradually desensitise them to the allergens. 

This treatment is also known as hyposensitization or allergy shots.  

Give them medications

Most of the time, treating the allergic response with anti-inflammatory medication, such as corticosteroids or antihistamines, will stop the allergic reaction right away. 

There are more recent alternatives that prevent specific chemical signals related to itchiness. These medicines include long-acting injections like lokivetmab (Cytopoint®) and daily oral treatments such as oclacitinib (Apoquel®). 

If you're unsure about whether these drugs are right for your dog,consult your veterinarian.

Eliminate pollen

Remove pollen and other plant debris from your dog's clothing to reduce contact with their skin and the risk of them breathing in or swallowing it. To remove pollen from your dog's coat and paws after walks, wipe her down with an unscented dryer sheet. 

Teach your dog to accept being vacuumed or wiped downafter walks outside. Just be careful since the suction's force might hurt your dog. If you're going to try this, use a vacuum attachment made specifically for dogs.

Use medicated shampoos

Frequent bathing with a hypoallergenic shampoo helps relieve your dog's itchy, swollen skin. Taking a bath also removes allergens from the coat and body that might be absorbed via the skin. Anti-inflammatory chemicals are also found in certain therapeutic shampoos.

Consult with your vet on which type of shampoo would be best for your dog. Medicated shampoos work wonders for treating secondary skin infections, and some shampoos also promote normal skin health. Oatmeal shampoos relieve dry, sensitive skin but can exacerbate fungal infections, so always consult your vet. 

Follow the instructions on the shampoos’ packaging and avoid bathing your dog too often as some shampoos can dry their skin, making them more susceptible to infection.

Once you’ve suspected that your dog has allergies, it’s best to address it right away and talk to your veterinarian about it. Just like other health issues– skin allergies and joint problems– allergies should be treated quickly to lower its risk of conflicting serious harm to your dog.

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