Scratch! Scratch! Scratch! Lucy wants to run and grab the ball, but this itchiness gets in her way. What a mood buster for Lucy! She looks up in doubt scratching around her collar, as the jingling sounds like Santa is coming. She shakes her head and flaps her long ears vigorously. Sprawling out on her tummy, she tries to find some rest. Moments later, she’s licking her paws like it was covered with peanut butter. Oh! It’s really getting out of hand. What is it that’s worrying Lucy ? Should you be concerned ? Is Lucy a dog with allergy symptoms ?
A dog with allergy symptoms will probably stay up all night licking and scratching, and flapping its ears. But, if you find your dog’s constant licking, ear flapping, gnawing or biting annoying, just imagine how uncomfortable your dog must be feeling. So, if you suspect that your dog has allergies, then you must be wondering what triggered it. To begin with, there are many different types of allergies that could be causing your dog’s different symptoms.
Just like in humans, seasonal and environmental allergies can cause irritation and be a temporary or constant problem for dogs. Since your dog can’t exactly tell you what’s wrong, it’s up to dog parents to look for the signs. But, what causes these allergies ? Let’s take a look!
What causes Allergies in Dogs ?
To handle a dog with allergy symptoms, one needs to know what is an allergy in the first place.
Basically, an allergy is a sensitivity to things found in our everyday environment like dust, pollen, fungi, plants, fleas, insects, animals, food, or medicines. The allergy-causing substance is called an allergen. Generally, an allergen is a substance that is recognized by the immune system and causes an allergic reaction. These allergens mostly enter the body while eating or breathing.
Typically, dust and other things do not harm dogs. Yet, the immune system may feel differently towards certain things, hence it reacts to an otherwise harmless substance. Normally, the immune system protects your dog from infection and disease, but when it comes to allergies the immune system can actually be harmful to the body.
When encountered with an allergen, the immune system responds by releasing histamines that can cause inflammation, swelling, redness, and itching. Inflammation then causes the various symptoms associated with an allergic reaction.
What are the types of Allergies in Dogs ?
- Skin Allergies
The most common type of allergic reaction in dogs is itching of the skin, either localized (in one area) or generalized (all over the body). Skin allergies, called allergic dermatitis, are caused mainly because of flea bites. Fleas are found in shady areas with long grasses or bushes, where they wait for a host (any animal). After a bite, it is the flea saliva that causes a sensitivity in the dog’s skin making it red, itchy and inflamed.
Food allergies and sensitivities can also cause an itching in a dog’s muzzle area, ears, eyes, and paws along with gastrointestinal symptoms. It is crucial to keep in mind that all skin allergies pose the risk of secondary infection. As a dog constantly scratches, bites, and licks his skin, he risks opening up his skin to fungal and bacterial infections that may need treatment.
- Food Allergies
Even though food allergies are not so common in dogs, some dogs do have a reaction to certain foods or ingredients. Generally, dogs are not going to react dramatically the first time they eat something they’re allergic to, but may show signs of an allergic reaction after a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, a dog that has eaten a food for years could suddenly become allergic to that food.
A food allergy symptom can range from dermatologic signs like itchiness, poor skin and coat, hives, facial swelling, gastrointestinal signs like vomiting, diarrhea, or a combination of both. In some very rare cases, a severe food allergy can cause a reaction resulting in anaphylaxis in dogs—similar to serious peanut allergies in humans, which can be fatal if not treated.
The most common food allergies in dogs are usually due to proteins like lamb, beef, chicken, eggs, corn, and gluten. Commonly, dogs can suffer from food intolerance, which is different from a food allergy. The indication of food intolerance can be an instant diarrhea or vomiting after a meal, and can be easily taken care of by simply discovering the ingredient causing the reaction.
- Acute Allergic Reactions
Dear dog parents, please be informed that the most dreadful of all the types of allergies in dogs is an acute allergic reaction. Dogs can go into anaphylactic shock (allergic shock) if they have a serious reaction to a very harmful allergen. This can be life threatening if not addressed and treated in time.
Even though allergic shocks are very rare in dogs, notably, a bee sting or a newly administered vaccine may cause a serious reaction in certain dogs. Hence, it is always a good idea to keep a close eye on your dog after he has been given any new vaccine, medicine, or food item.
- Inherited forms- Atopy or Seasonal Allergies
An inherited allergy may be atopy (hypersensitivity) or seasonal. This allergic reaction happens because a dog has inhaled some irritant from the environment like tree pollen (cedar, oak, ash, etc.) grass pollen, and weed pollen. Usually, these allergies are seasonal, so you may see your dog itching only during certain times of the year.
Some environmental allergens present all year around like house dust mites, mold, and mildew can also cause atopic dermatitis in dogs. When a dog breathes in these allergens, it shows respiratory signs such as: runny eyes, runny nose, and sneezing (hay fever).
A dog may also develop hives or facial swelling in response to an environmental allergen. While swelling of the face, muzzle area, throat, lips, eyelids, or earflaps may look like your dog is in serious trouble, it is rarely fatal, and can be treated with a vet-approved antihistamine (anti-allergy medicines/injections).
Usually, in most dogs, an inhalant allergy occurs with an itchy skin (pruritus). Clinically, the condition is also called inhalant allergic dermatitis. You may notice the dog rubbing its face, licking its paws, and scratching its underarms. Additionally, the symptoms of atopy can be controlled but a permanent cure is not generally possible.
## – Environmental allergens are one of the main causes of allergies in dogs.
What are the Allergy Symptoms in Dogs ?
The symptoms of an allergy in dogs depends upon the cause. For instance, a dog that experiences an allergic shock (anaphylactic shock) will have a drop in blood pressure followed by that shock. This symptom is very different from a skin problem like itching.
As we know, a dog with allergy symptoms suffers from an allergic reaction to a foreign substance by the body’s immune system. The various types of allergies in dogs – skin allergies, food allergies, and the environmental allergens can be problematic for dogs, as different allergies show different symptoms. Sometimes it gets challenging, because the symptoms of all these different types of allergies can possibly overlap.
However, dogs normally react to allergies by rigorously scratching or biting in a way to try and relieve themselves of the itching. Here are more symptoms that could be a sign of an allergic reaction in your dog:
- Constant licking paws or anus
- Itchy ears and neck
- Shaking head and flapping ears more than normal
- Head tilt and shaking one or both ears
- Smelly and/or dirty ears
- Coughing & wheezing
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Red spots (hotspots) from constant licking
- Itchy flaky and patchy skin (pruritus)
- Hair loss, especially around ears and paws
- Itchiness in muzzle area (mouth)
- Swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids, or earflaps
- Chronic ear infections
- Lethargy and breathlessness
Please note, some of these symptoms could also be a sign of another serious health condition. Hence, if your dog has ongoing symptoms and you notice a change in his behaviour, it is always recommended to take him to the veterinarian immediately to get a proper diagnosis and to help your buddy start feeling better.
How to diagnose Allergies in Dogs ?
Your vet may recommend ways to diagnose the cause of your dog’s allergies depending upon the symptoms the dog is showing. Well, allergies are a bit complicated to diagnose, even with various types of testing processes available. Some allergies are very easy to identify and treat, while some involve a lab diagnosis procedure.
If your dog is with allergy symptoms, the first thing your dog’s vet may choose to do is to either provide suitable medication (antihistamines, gastrointestinal medication, pain killers, etc.) to relieve the dog from the current agony. Or, in persistent conditions he may propose an allergy testing to try and determine the cause of the allergen that is causing the reaction. However, do keep in mind it may not always be possible to identify the cause of an allergy with testing.
Testing may work for skin allergies, but food allergies are often diagnosed using a food trial method – the elimination diet method. In a food trial, a dog is fed a novel source of protein and carbohydrate for 12 weeks, later on the diet is changed after identifying the source of the food allergy.
Flea allergy is typically the easiest allergy to detect. All one needs to do is to check for fleas on the dog’s body, and treat his skin with products that kills and keeps away fleas. This is done in multiple sessions from time to time to see if the issue has been solved.
How to Treat Allergies in Dogs ?
Precaution is better than cure, likewise, the best way to treat an allergy is to avoid the cause and allergen. However, this is not quite practically possible. But, where treatment is concerned, it depends on the type of allergy a dog has. For instance, the best method to treat flea allergy is to get rid of the fleas, whereas the best way to treat a food allergy or food intolerance is to adjust the dog’s diet.
Further, your veterinarian may also prescribe an antihistamine and other related medication for your dog that will help control the signs associated with the allergic reaction, such as itching and any secondary skin infections that might have developed as a result of the irritant.
If your dog has an acute allergic reaction, it is advisable to get him to the closest emergency veterinary hospital as soon as you can.
Natural Remedies to Help a Dog with Allergy Symptoms
Sadly, there is no cure for allergies and you can’t prevent your dog from having allergies. Your dog can come in contact with these allergens on his daily walks, or while playing with his other animal friends.
However, there are these little things you can do to help a dog with allergy symptoms to keep his discomfort under control. After you and your vet have identified the underlying cause of your dog’s allergy, be it seasonal, food, flea, etc., you can help your dog avoid those allergens by following these tips, which I have personally followed for both my dogs for the past 5 years:
- Skin supplements: These help to soothe, heal, and relieve irritated skin. Ask your vet to recommend a good supplement for your dog’s skin.
- Regular bathing with hypoallergenic shampoos: This can help eliminate possible allergens like pollen, dust mites, fleas and their eggs (if any), that your dog may come in contact with as part of his daily routine.
- More ways to help: Some people use remedies like tea tree oil, coconut oil, fish oils, organic turmeric, or other omegas and oatmeal shampoos, especially for treating and preventing skin and gastrointestinal disorders.
Since, your fur baby can’t tell you what’s wrong with her, you must keep an eye out for yelps and woofs, and treat any itchies in time. Remember, dogs are like kids, when left unattended they can turn a small scratch into a wound in a few minutes. So, address the first sign of allergy in your dog to make sure that it doesn’t turn to an infection. Allergies may be seasonal, but good health for your fur baby is always in season.