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Dog Allergies

A weakened immune system can lead to various metabolic and hormonal changes in a dog’s body, disturb its balance and encourage the development of allergies. Dog allergies are conditions that occur due to the action of an allergen on the dog’s immune system, and they are manifested by a hypersensitivity reaction of the body to that allergen. Allergies to any type of allergen can occur at any time in a dog’s life.

There are different types of dog allergies, the most common of which are inherited allergies, allergies that occur due to certain environmental factors (seasonal and respiratory allergies from mold spores, pollen, dust, mites, dead skin cells; stings of some insects), allergies to certain plants and medications, skin allergies and food allergies. In this article, you can learn more about each of these types of allergies, find out what the symptoms for each of them are and how you can help your dog if he has an allergy.

Dog Skin Allergies

Some breeds of dogs are more prone to skin allergies than others. Breeds that are the most prone to skin allergies, ranging from most to least, are the following:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Boxer
  • Labrador Retriever
  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • German Shepherd
  • Maltese
  • Dogs of mixed breeds

Skin allergic reactions occur most often due to the action of some of the environmental factors, such as pollen, and some types of insects and their products, such as saliva and poison. The dog’s immune system reacts by sending the body’s defense cells to the site of the bite or sting. Local inflammation occurs at the place of the sting, and the venom or saliva is spread to other organs through the blood. The insects that most often cause allergies in dogs are fleas, ticks, spiders, mosquitoes, bees, wasps, hornets, ants, and others.

Flea bites irritate the dog, encouraging him to scratch

Flea bites irritate the dog, encouraging him to scratch, bite and lick. Due to the intense scratching, the dog will remove a good portion of the hair in that area and can make sores, so a secondary bacterial infection can develop. In addition, redness, itching, and scales appear on the skin.

Such changes on the skin can occur on the legs, abdomen, armpits, neck, muzzle, and ear area, but biting and hair loss in the region of his back before the tail is a characteristic symptom of a flea bite allergy. Also, saliva released by fleas during bites contains proteins that cause allergic flea dermatitis (FAD) in dogs. Live and dead fleas and their feces can be noticeable on the skin. All these symptoms can make the diagnosis easier.

Stronger allergy reactions in dogs can occur when insect venom enters the bloodstream. They can manifest in local swelling that can be larger or smaller, and can also occur in other parts of the body. Choking can occur due to swelling of the neck and closing of the airways.

Some food ingredients can stimulate the immune system to respond. These are most often ingredients of protein origin, which cause allergic reactions on the skin. Allergic reactions mostly occur on the peripheral parts of the body, such as the paws, nose, ears, and armpits. The reaction manifests itself in the form of redness, rash, and hair loss. The dog will lick and scratch the skin, which can lead to the appearance of open wounds, which are an ideal medium for the penetration of bacteria and fungi. This can lead to secondary infections that later require a more complex treatment system.

Dog Food Allergies

Ten percent of all allergies in dogs are food allergies

Ten percent of all allergies in dogs are food allergies.1WebMD. Retrieved 10 November 2020. Food allergies in dogs occur due to the reaction of the dog’s immune system to a certain component contained in the food. These are most often proteins and carbohydrates from dairy products. The most common allergies in dogs are those from milk, soy, gluten, wheat, rice, corn, eggs, chicken, lamb, and beef.

These products cause about 80% of all food allergies in dogs. But there are some dog breeds that are more susceptible to food allergies than other breeds. Those are:

The symptoms of food allergies in dogs are very similar to the symptoms of skin allergies. In addition, gastrointestinal disorders manifested by diarrhea and vomiting are very common. Due to a strong immune reaction of the body, and an intolerance to certain foods, the dog may experience anaphylactic shock.

Diagnosis of food allergies is performed using an elimination diet and food testing, which is carried out for three months. This means eliminating the food that is suspected to have caused the allergy and monitoring the health condition over time.

The Difference Between Food Allergy, Food Intolerance, and Food Sensitivity

The terms food sensitivity, food intolerance, and food allergy are often confused. The difference is that an allergic reaction occurs immediately after the intake of certain inappropriate foods into the body. Food sensitivity is a reaction that doesn’t happen immediately but gradually. It doesn’t provoke a response from the immune system, which means it doesn’t encourage the immune system to defend the body because there is no allergen that causes an “attack”. The symptoms of food sensitivity and allergies are very similar, but they can vary in time of occurrence and duration, and they can be recognized timely in consultation with a veterinarian.

Acute Allergic Reaction in Dogs

An acute allergic reaction is one that occurs due to a strong immune response of the organism to an allergen. The immune system recognizes and considers that a certain substance (antigen) is dangerous for the dog’s organism and sends target cells to destroy it. Those cells are called antibodies, and in the case of an allergy, those antibodies are immunoglobulins. Antibodies bind to the antigen and thus their complex is formed in which antibodies literally devour the antigen.

Allergic reaction is one that occurs due to a strong immune response of the organism to an allergen

In such cases, a strong reaction can occur, which is manifested by anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic reactions are rare in dogs, and even if they do occur, they are most common in cases of stings of some insect species and reptile bites. They can also occur when some vaccines are administered when new medications are introduced, or when new foods are introduced into a dog’s daily diet.

Swelling of the outer parts of the face (lips, cheeks, muzzle, eyelids, ears), followed by all other signs of inflammation occur as a response of the dog’s body to the allergen. However, much more serious symptoms can occur, such as shaking, choking, and falling to the floor. The mucous membranes of the oral cavity and other mucous membranes can become pale or blue, and foam can start to leak from the mouth. The seizure can be similar to an epileptic seizure, and if help is not urgently obtained, the outcome could be fatal. Antihistamines are used to help dogs in this condition.

Dog Allergy Symptoms

There are some general symptoms that occur in dogs that suffer from certain types of allergies. The manifestation of allergy symptoms depends on the cause of the allergy. You can very easily notice that your dog has a seasonal allergy if he shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Constant licking of parts of the body, like the abdomen and legs
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing

Allergy symptoms depends on the cause of the allergyIf there are noticeable tears in a dog’s eyes or if saliva is leaking from his mouth or nose, some kind of allergy may be suspected. These symptoms are most common when it comes to an allergy that causes respiratory problems (seasonal or environmental allergies). This type of allergy can also be recognized by the fact that it comes mainly in the spring, that is, it appears in accordance with the season in which the action of a certain allergen (dust, pollen, etc.) is most pronounced.

A dog that has an allergy can have clogged ears and blockages in the nasal cavity, which causes discomfort in the dog and encourages him to scratch excessively. Intense scratching can lead to the appearance of more serious skin problems such as foci and hair loss on certain parts of the body, redness, sores, open wounds, and scabs. These inflamed foci are most often evidence of a seasonal allergy that causes discomfort in the dog. The classic symptom of a clogged ear(s) is head shaking.

However, these symptoms can also be signs that could indicate other more serious conditions, so it’s definitely advisable to seek medical advice and take the dog to a veterinarian for further tests and evaluation.

A strong allergic reaction in dogs can be caused by the stings of various insects and can sometimes lead to anaphylactic shock. Symptoms that indicate an insect sting include swelling of that part of the body, rapid breathing, increased pulse, decreased blood sugar levels, excessive salivation, and shaking. In those moments, it’s crucial that the dog reaches the vet as soon as possible and is given antihistamines.

Dog Skin Allergy Symptoms

Depending on the cause of the skin allergy, the most common symptoms that occur are listed below:

  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Sneezing
  • Eye discharge
  • Itchy skin and itchy ears
  • Ear infection
  • Foul odor
  • Rubbing against the floor
  • Constant scratching, biting, or licking
  • Open wounds
  • Rash
  • Scabs
  • Hair loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

The areas of the body where some of these symptoms are most commonly observed are underarms, groin, muzzle, ears, paws, area around the eyes, area between the toes and ankles.

Dog Food Allergy Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms are quite similar to the symptoms of skin allergies, so sometimes it’s very difficult to tell if a dog is allergic to food or something else. There are a couple of symptoms that are very specific to food allergies. Those are mostly symptoms related to gastrointestinal disorders, such as vomiting, diarrhea, cramps or abdominal pain, bloating, and anal gland problems.

In addition to those already mentioned, the following symptoms may also occur:

  • Swelling of the face, ears, and muzzle
  • Hives or rash (specific to certain types of food)

The areas of the body where hives are most commonly noticed are ears, face, anal region, sides of the body, and limbs. The respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and asthma can also appear in these cases.

Dog Allergy Testing and Treatment

Diagnosis of allergies is very complicated and is usually based on conducting various types of tests

The diagnosis of allergies is very complicated and is usually based on conducting various types of tests in order to accurately determine the cause of the symptoms that indicate an allergy. If your veterinarian has ruled out other conditions and diseases that the dog may have and has concluded from the symptoms that it’s an allergy, he will perform an intradermal skin test.

An intradermal skin test is done by shaving a large part of the dog’s hair, mostly sideways on the body, and very small amounts of different types of allergens are injected into the skin by skin pricking. The skin’s reaction to them is monitored for 15-20 minutes. This test requires going to a dermatologist and anesthetizing the dog, which can significantly increase the cost of diagnosis.

If the intradermal skin test shows negative results for all allergens that the dog has been tested for, then a radioallergosorbent test (RAST) should be done. It’s not reliable in all cases of allergens, and it’s mostly done when a dog has atopic dermatitis caused by inhalation of an allergen. Also, this test can show the work of the thyroid gland by determining the levels of its hormones in the blood. This information can be very important for differentiation from other types of disease, e.g., hypothyroidism from an allergy because, in the case of reduced thyroid function (hypothyroidism), similar symptoms occur as in skin allergies: hair loss, oily or dry skin, with the appearance of redness or sores and scabs on it. These two tests are most commonly used in cases of an acute allergic reaction when the dog immediately showed symptoms upon ingestion of the allergen.

There are also saliva tests and hair tests that can be done if their need is indicated by some information from the anamnesis. In addition to all these tests, skin scraping can be used to isolate mites from the area of the skin where certain changes are located, if they are the cause of these changes.

One of the ways you can find out if your dog has an allergy before going to the vet is by using the dog allergy test at home. These tests are based on bioresonance technology that gives understandable results for owners.

Some hairs (10-15 strands) are analyzed as a sample, and the results are read after 7-10 days. The food intolerance test contains over 250 allergens of various origins, from protein components of food, additives, cereals, fruits, fats, and even seafood, while the environmental intolerance test contains up to 355 allergens from the environment.

If you take your dog to the veterinarian, he may also recommend that you try to eliminate some of the foods you give your dog for 60-90 days, to determine what isn’t right for him in his daily diet, so you can avoid it in the future (elimination diet). It’s also the easiest and best way to treat food allergy.

As for inhaled allergens, you can try to control the environmental conditions in which the dog resides by reducing the use of humidifiers. This will reduce the possibility of mold appearance, and you can reduce the concentration of pollen and dust with air purifiers and air conditioners.

There are some other ways to treat dogs for allergies, and one of them is immunization by allergy shots. There are two modules of immunotherapy by allergy shots: hyposensitization and desensitization. They work on the principle that small amounts of allergen in the form of injections are occasionally injected, for a period of a few weeks to a couple of months. The goal is to strengthen the dog’s body and to get used to the target allergen, which succeeds in 50% of cases.

A dog can also be subjected to a hypoallergenic diet, which is actually a replacement for a critical food component to which the dog is allergic. For example, if your dog is allergic to a protein or carbohydrate from eggs, chicken or beef, you need to provide him with replacement meals in which he will also have protein and carbohydrates but from duck, fish, potatoes, peas or pumpkin. You should consult with a veterinarian about this type of diet, because some dogs may have such strong allergies that it’s impossible for them to react positively to hypoallergenic food from the store, but instead, they must be provided with homemade food.

Supplements are certainly desirable in the daily diet, but of course in small quantities. However, when it comes to allergies, it’s advisable to introduce into the diet both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. They are produced in the form of capsules, powders, oils, and chewable treats for dogs.

When it comes to skin allergy, frequent bathing (once a week) with anti-allergy shampoo removes impurities and allergens from the hair and soothes the skin. Such shampoos may also contain some additives that have an antimicrobial effect. In the period between baths, you can use some of the sprays with soothing ingredients that will give the dog instant relief.

It’s best to use multiple testing methods to encourage the most accurate diagnosis and to approach adequate therapy. Combining a couple of methods in treating and managing your dog’s allergies will give better results and increase the chances of a successful recovery or even cure.

Allergy Medicine for Dogs

Allergy Medicine for Dogs

Antihistamines are medications that are usually first prescribed when an allergy is detected because they calm the allergy symptoms in at least a third of dogs. They should be used up to three times daily and work better in cases of skin allergies. The most commonly used antihistamines are the ones based on diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, hydroxyzine, desloratadine, cetirizine hydrochloride or clemastine fumarate. The risk of side effects is very low, and even if they occur, they are mild, such as sleepiness or hyperactivity. It’s generally necessary to give antihistamines cautiously, especially in dogs that already have certain health problems.

In cases of short-term allergies with few very pronounced symptoms, corticosteroids are often prescribed. They can be given by injection or orally. Given in large doses, corticosteroids act as immunosuppressants, that is by preventing the body’s immune response. These drugs reduce inflammation, but long-term use can lead to drug resistance, reduced susceptibility to infections or diabetes. Also given in excessive amounts, corticosteroids can lead to the weakening of ligament and muscle tone, increased blood pressure and liver enzyme levels, kidney disease, and many other complications; therefore, they should be given with great caution. Side effects of corticosteroids are manifested in various changes in behavior and mood, such as loss of energy, frequent urination, frequent need for food, thirst, and deterioration of health which is manifested in the prolongation of allergies and skin infections.

Dog Food for Allergies

There are many types of foods on the market today that can be used in the daily diet of dogs that suffer from some type of allergy. Most often the choice falls on hypoallergenic food, which is produced in limited quantities, or one of the foods with limited ingredients.

Dog food for allergies with limited ingredients is food that contains macronutrients from one source only. Proteins and carbohydrates from dog food can come from two or more sources (for example, eggs and chicken or lamb and beef). However, proteins and carbohydrates from dog food with limited ingredients come from only one source (for example, proteins only from duck, turkey, salmon, rabbit; carbohydrates only from potatoes or peas). Therefore, the diet is more balanced, and on the packaging of such food, you can find information that the food is produced with the full support of the Association of American Food Control Official (AAFCO) and that it’s safe for your dog.

Dogs can also be allergic to gluten, which is most often found in corn, rye, wheat, and barley.

The most expensive option is prescription dog food. It’s necessary to use it in cases when the dog has very pronounced symptoms that interfere with his daily activities. Such food is prescribed only by a veterinarian and a nutritionist.

The best dog food for skin allergies you can buy is food that contains a source of high-quality proteins (salmon), with the addition of vitamins and minerals, and the optimal amount of amino acids, which help improve the digestion of food. Dog food for skin allergies also contains probiotics and essential hypoallergenic ingredients. Cereals, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives should not be present in this type of food.

Home Remedies for Dog Allergies

In addition to the above-mentioned types of treatments for allergic conditions, there are some alternative methods that you can implement at home to help your dog. Using some natural products can greatly help reduce allergy symptoms. All the listed home remedies can alleviate your dog’s allergy symptoms, but you should be careful with their use and not use them until you consult your veterinarian.

One such product is a spray made from a combination of apple cider vinegar and water in a 1:1 ratio. This dilution is a natural antifungal and antiseptic. It can be used in cases when the dog passes through poison ivy or comes into contact with some plant that irritates his skin (mostly on the paws) and it becomes dry, red, and itchy. The apple cider vinegar solution relieves itching, but it shouldn’t be used on damaged skin as it will cause stinging. The paws can be dipped in this solution or the spray can be used topically on certain areas of the body.

Coconut oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties and is ideal for use in cases when a dog is stung by an insect or if he gets yeast infections or various types of allergies. It provides relief from itching and improves the quality of the skin and hair.

A plant that has an antifungal effect and can help dogs with sensitive skin is aloe vera. The effect it has on irritated or damaged skin is very similar to the effect of coconut oil.

An oatmeal bath made by adding ground oats in warm water is also very good for soothing an itch and for hydrating the skin. It’s desirable for the dog to soak in it for at least 10-15 minutes. The bath is non-toxic, so there will be no problems if the dog starts licking. The oatmeal bath soothes irritation, redness, and relieves itching. If the dog doesn’t like to bathe, you can prepare a paste of ground oatmeal and spread it directly on the affected area. Oatmeal is also found in hypoallergenic shampoos.

When the dog is extremely itchy, bites himself and makes wounds on the skin, lukewarm baths made of herbal teas can be used as treatment. Herbal teas that are used for the preparation of those hot baths are green tea, calendula, and chamomile. When the tea is used for the purpose of treating a local change in the skin, it is made from two tea bags, boiled, cooled, poured over the affected area and left to dry. Tea prepared in this way can also be given to the dog orally to soothe gastrointestinal problems caused by allergies.

Unsweetened yogurt, given in food or alone, in quantities up to a maximum of two tablespoons once a week can significantly improve the microflora of the dog’s digestive system. Yogurt has probiotic properties that help digest food and increase the number of “good” bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; it also has an antifungal effect.

You can introduce omega-rich fish oils into your dog’s daily diet and massage him with a cream that contains vitamin E, which is a very good antioxidant and hydrates the skin. To prevent the dog from being exposed to pollen particles, you can reduce the number of walks in the spring or take the dog for a walk only in the afternoon.

Dog Shampoo for Allergies

As for using dog shampoo for the purpose of allergy treatment, so far it has proven to be quite effective. Allergens can be absorbed and taken into the body through the skin. Bathing with hypoallergenic shampoo, in addition to removing dirt particles from the hair, also removes allergens that attach to the hair. Some of the hypoallergenic shampoos contain ingredients that have an anti-inflammatory effect, so they can alleviate the signs of skin inflammation and eliminate scratching because they soothe itching.


There are different types of allergies, but all of them can cause some very unpleasant conditions in dogs. The symptoms of food allergies and skin allergies are very similar. Consequently, sometimes it’s difficult to determine which allergen caused which symptom, and it takes patience and perseverance. See the “Dog Allergy Symptoms” section for more information about symptoms.

In case of suspicion of an allergy, you should take your dog to the vet to first determine the type of allergy and then start treatment based on medical advice. Antihistamines usually solve the problem, but if they don’t give the desired result, patience and persistence are needed, as well as combining several methods in treatment in order to achieve the best result. If you notice a bite or sting somewhere on your dog’s body, or if any part of his body suddenly swells, take the dog to a veterinarian immediately so he receives the appropriate antidote and treatment as soon as possible.

In some milder cases, such as seasonal allergies that don’t cause severe symptoms, some of the home remedies may relieve or eliminate allergy symptoms. However, you must be careful with their use and do not use them before consulting a veterinarian, because some symptoms, such as open wounds, can be the result of other conditions. In such situations, home remedies might worsen the condition of your dog. You can read more about it in the section “Home Remedies for Dog Allergies“.

Strengthening the immune system contributes to preventing the development of allergies. The use of some supplementary products in a daily diet, in certain doses and in consultation with a veterinarian, can help with allergies. For more information about treating allergies in dogs, see the “Dog Allergy Testing and Treatment” section.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Dog Allergies

Can Dogs Have Allergies?

Just like humans, dogs can have allergies. These can be seasonal allergies, food allergies, skin allergies, allergies to reptile bites or insect bites, and environmental allergies that cause respiratory problems. You can read about the symptoms that indicate that your dog has a certain type of allergy in the section 'Dog Allergy Symptoms.'

What Can I Give My Dog for Allergies?

In case of skin allergies, antihistamines first act on the causes of allergies and alleviate or eliminate symptoms. You can also supplement the dog’s daily diet with fatty acids, which can be found in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 capsules of fish oil. Coconut oil is also a well-known product that is great for reducing redness, itching and generally maintaining skin health. It is also desirable to brush your dog often. It helps eliminate allergens, dirt and dust from hair.

How to Treat Dog Allergies?

In case of allergy in dogs, diphenhydramine-based antihistamines can be used that act on a wide range of bacteria. In case they do not help, corticosteroids can be prescribed. Both of the antihistamines and corticosteroids block the reaction produced by allergies and belong to the group of anti-inflammatory drugs. They perform better in combination with fatty acids and fish oils. If you want to learn more about how to treat dog allergies read the 'Dog Allergy Testing and Treatment' section.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Allergies?

An allergy in your dog can be shown by his behavior and a couple of symptoms that you can spot by yourself. If his skin itches, the dog will scratch frequently, and this may indicate a skin allergy. If your dog has runny eyes, often sneezes or coughs or you notice saliva from his nose, some respiratory allergies may be suspected.

How Much Is a Dog Allergy Test?

Dog allergy tests are done according to the type of allergy. If a dog is suspected of having a skin allergy, then a skin prick test (SPT) is done and checked for just under 20 allergens. It costs about $200 and is very fast; the results are ready in 20 minutes. This test is effective and safe, but it’s one of the most expensive ways to check if a dog has an allergy.

Dr. Elvira Sefo-Kapidzic (DVM)
Dr. Elvira Sefo-Kapidzic (DVM)
Dr. Elvira is working as a field veterinarian and in a small animal ambulance in Sarajevo. She has a deep knowledge of toxicity in dog food. She has successfully completed a large number of seminars in her special fields. She is a proud mom of 11-years old labrador retriever “Bonny”.

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