If your dog is scratching himself excessively, is constantly chewing at himself, or even vomiting and losing his fur, your dog might be suffering from allergies. Yes – dogs can, much like their human counterparts!, suffer allergies of different kinds, from environmental irritants to food allergies.
An allergy, simply put, is a reaction of the immune system to a particular substance. Some of the most common allergies in dogs are also the most common allergies in people – dust, mold, pollen, as well as the proteins found in some meats and plants. If your dog is one of the many dogs that experience allergies, there’s hope – you can help treat your dog’s allergies naturally by either eliminating the allergy itself or with some simple at-home treatments.
Allergies in Dogs: The Basics
Many pet owners become distressed when they learn their dog has allergies.However, dog allergies are common and by knowing the facts, you can help alleviate your dog’s allergy symptoms, allowing him to live a normal, happy life (and continue those runs through the wildflowers!)
How Common are Allergies in Dogs?
Allergies in dogs is extremely common. Most dogs who will experience allergies will show signs between one and two years of age.
Will My Dog Develop Allergies?
Many factors play into whether or not your dog will have allergies. Some allergies, such as those to pollen or plants, are thought to be inherited. However, your dog can develop an allergy to any substance that triggers his immune system.
What Can Cause Allergies in Dogs and What Are the Signs?
Knowing the common allergens than affect dogs can help you identify what may be making your dog itch, scratch, and chew like crazy.
Food allergy – A dog who suffers from food allergies is most likely allergic to certain animal or plant proteins. These proteins are mistaken by the immune system as a threat, and the body responds with an allergic reaction. Signs of a food allergy may be:
- Ear infections
- Skin infections
- Excessive scratching
- Digestive issues (vomiting, diarrhea and flatulence)
Very common food allergies in dogs are wheat, chicken, dairy, and beef. Because a food allergy can develop over time, your dog may not show any signs of a food allergy until he has been eating the food for an extended period of time.
Inhalant allergy – An inhalant allergy in dogs is known as atopy. These allergens are things like pollen and dust mites. Unlike humans who develop symptoms such as red, watery eyes, a dog’s symptoms will typically manifest through symptoms in the skin. Symptoms of food allergies may be:
- Hot spots
- Fur loss
- Red, itchy bumps
You may notice your dog chewing at himself to relieve the itching. Because a dog may scratch his skin raw, a secondary skin infection may occur.
Skin contact allergy – Dogs, just like humans, can be sensitive to chemicals or to their environment. An allergic reaction to something that comes into contact with the skin is called contact dermatitis. Your dog may be suffering contact dermatitis if he shows the following symptoms:
- Hot spots
- Rash or itchy, red bumps
Contact dermatitis in dogs may be caused from something as simple as shampoo or exposure to a contaminant in the air.
Treating Allergies in Dogs
If your dog is suffering from allergies, there are a number of steps you can take to alleviate his symptoms. First, you will need to discern, as best as you can, what is causing the allergies in your dog. Then, you can take steps to eliminate the allergen or treat the symptoms.
How Can I Tell What is Causing My Dog’s Allergies?
Because the signs of different kinds of allergies in dogs are so similar, it may be difficult to pinpoint your dog’s specific allergy. Your vet may ask you to watch and see if the symptoms change throughout the seasons, or to document when the symptoms occur so that it is easier to figure out what could be causing the allergies.
There are a number of diagnostic options one can use to determine if your dog has an allergy, and if so, what type of allergy he has.
Elimination is often used, for instance, in case of a possible food allergy. If the cause of the allergy cannot be found by elimination, the vet can do a skin biopsy, allergy test or blood test.
If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, a food trial using novel protein or hydrolyzed protein will help you figure out if your suspicions are correct.
Novel Protein Food Trial – substituting your dog’s food with a novel protein source can help you figure out if your dog is allergic to a specific protein in his food. What this means is substituting his regular food with a novel protein – meaning one he has not had before. Since plants as well contain proteins, be sure to include just the novel protein and a single carbohydrate source. For example, if your dog’s regular food contains chicken, try salmon and rice or venison and potato. If your dog’s symptoms lessen or disappear, chances are your dog’s allergy was due to the food he was eating.
Hydrolyzed Protein Trial – a hydrolyzed protein is when an intact animal protein is broken down into a very, very small molecule. These molecules are so small that the immune system does not misidentify them as an allergen. Hydrolyzed diets frequently contain potatoes and rice, as these carbohydrates are not typically recognized as allergens.
When performing a food trial, it is important that you feed only the trial food for a period of eight to ten weeks.This means no dog treats or flavored medications, or anything else that could skew the results of your trial. If your dog’s symptoms are reduced at the end of the eight to ten week period, you will then reintroduce the suspected food into the diet. If your dogs symptoms return, it is generally safe to assume that your dog’s original food contains the allergen. Discontinue the use of your dog’s old food and switch back to the novel protein.
Remember that food allergies can be developed over time, so just because your dog doesn’t elicit an immune response to a new food doesn’t mean he never will.
What treatment options are there against allergies?
Your course of action will entirely depend on the diagnosis. We are, in any case, against the use of corticosteroids; this is not a treatment but only symptom relief and makes an accurate diagnosis impossible.
Overall, the following treatment methods can be used:
- Elimination – avoid as many as possible of the substances your dog has an allergy to. Elimination is useful in food allergies, atopy and contact allergy.
- Hypoallergenic diets – useful in food allergies.
- Hyposensitization – making the dog less and less sensitive through repeated injections with an increasing dose of the allergen. Useful in atopy.
- Medication – Many medications are helpful in reducing the allergic reaction of the body. Consult your veterinarian before selecting an over-the-counter medication, especially if your dog is on other medications already.
- Shampoos – A hypoallergenic, soothing shampoo may soothe the skin and reducing the itching associated with allergies.
Natural Solutions for Allergie
There are several natural solutions when it comes to treating your dog’s allergies, whether your dog is suffering from a