Every Dog Owner’s Manual to Allergies in Pets
Do you suspect that your dog has an allergenic reaction to something? It might be time to visit your veterinarian to protect your ‘best friend’ or ease his/her suffering. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 50 million American suffer from the potentially life-threatening effects of allergic reactions, and just like human beings, our canine companions are susceptible to the debilitating effects of allergies.
How do you identify that your pup has an allergic reaction? What are the potential antigens? Might your dog be suffering from a more serious condition? Which remedies are available to prevent and alleviate the symptoms of dog allergies? These are questions that all pet owners should ask – this article has all the relevant answers.
How to Recognize Symptoms of Dog Allergies
The signs and symptoms of allergic reactions in dogs vary depending on the causative antigens. They may range from mild, uncomfortable, to severe. Below is a list of symptoms that dog owners should keep an eye on:
- Runny nose
- Inflamed skin and hives
- Itchy ears and Ear infections
- Swelling of the ear-flaps, eyelids, lips, armpit area, and face
- Constant chewing, licking, and scratching of the irritated area
- Snoring and even coughing in some instances
Identifying the symptoms of dog allergies is not as simple as it sounds. While some signs such as a running nose and sneezing might seem obvious, they may also signify another condition such as a cold or dog influenza. So how do you differentiate allergy from other conditions? One primary cue; itching.
Itching, which is the primary symptom of dog allergies may help you to pinpoint the specific allergen responsible for your pup’s misery. For example, if you notice that your pooch tends to scratch at their back more than usual, he/she might be suffering from a flea allergy. Please note that prolonged itching without relief may lead to Atopic Dermatitis, which is the irritation of the skin that may leave the dog susceptible to bacteria, yeast, and other infections
But itching is not a sure bet for an allergic reaction. It might also be a sign of Sarcoptic Mange – a contagious skin disease caused by mites also known as scabies. The difference between a response to allergens and a reaction to mange/scabies/mites is intense itching and hair loss.
What are the Possible Causes of Allergenic Reactions?
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) defines an allergy as a “chronic condition involving an abnormal reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance called an allergen” – this definition holds for both humans and animals. As part of the body’s defense mechanism, the white blood cells produce IgE antibodies. The antibodies cause the release of histamine and other potent chemicals by attaching themselves to mast cells. This results in the dilation of capillaries so that the affected area becomes itchy, swollen, and hot – visible as symptoms of allergies (discussed above). In a nutshell, your dog’s immune system overreacts to a certain allergen by flagging it as an intruder.
(*Advisory Tip: Dog allergies are additive – the severity of symptoms increases with the number of allergens.)
All dogs are at risk of developing allergies in their lifetime – that’s the sad reality of life. However, some have a higher chance than others based on their geographic location, season, age, and breed.
Specifically, the following breeds are likely to develop food, skin, or environmental allergies: German shepherds, Irish setters, Terriers, Beagles, Dalmatians, Boxers, Bulldogs, pugs, and Golden Retrievers. Senior dogs are the least susceptible to allergic reactions – not because of their wisdom and experience, but simply because their cells are not as efficient at releasing histamine as with younger pets.
There are Different Types of Allergies
The type of allergy affecting your canine companion depends on the causative antigen. Dogs may have allergic reactions due to one or more of the following factors:
- What comes into contact with your pet’s skin (fabrics, soaps, fleas, other animals, dust mites, etc.)
- Airborne allergens such as cat dander, perfumes, pollen, mold, smoke, and other particles. It is important to note that dogs are also affected by seasonal allergies, especially during Spring.
- What your dog consumes (dyes, preservatives, additives, foods, etc.)
Methods of Diagnosis
So, you suspect that your beloved pooch might be suffering from allergies based on the symptoms highlighted earlier in this article. What is the next step? Visit a veterinarian for a series on medical diagnostic techniques to narrow down on the exact cause and severity of the allergies – intuition is not enough when dealing with his/her health. Your medical practitioner may recommend various tests depending on the reported symptoms.
- Food Elimination: As the title shows, this diagnostic method involves a tedious process of stripping a dog’s diet to the constituent ingredients. The aim is to reintroduce each of these bare essentials until you identify an allergic reaction. Although this method is costly and time-consuming, it’s crucial – continuous exposure may evolve from a mild stomach upset to a life-threatening condition.
- Blood Test: A blood test helps identify environmental allergens by checking for corresponding antibodies in the dog’s blood. Your veterinarian may recommend either the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or radioallergosorbent (RAST) test.
- Skin Test: An intradermal skin test is used to diagnose allergies by inserting potential antigens into your pup’s system. Within a few minutes, the medical professional will be able to identify a problematic substance.
- Saliva Test: Saliva tests are often used to determine food intolerance's and sensitivities.
Management and Treatment of Dog Allergies
If you have an allergic reaction to peanuts, the safest and most logical remedy is simply avoiding anything with peanuts. Even the slightest hint or mere mention of peanuts activates your flight response – the same applies to dog allergies. After diagnosing your pup’s allergies and identifying the culprits, ensure that you enforce relevant measures such as regular cleaning (dust allergens), adopting a hypoallergenic dog food diet (food allergies), and using diatomaceous earth around the exterior of your home(flea allergies) among other dog-specific measures. But what about environmental allergies that cannot be explicitly prevented? Your veterinarian may recommend a combination of pharmaceutical medication.
Medication for Dog Allergies
Is your dog still suffering from allergies despite your best efforts to eliminate all potential allergens? Benadryl and Zyrtec for dogs are very common allergy medications prescribed by vets. Please note always be cautious when giving these type of medications to your pet and only give to your pet after receiving your veterinarians permission. Alternatively, you may find relief through allergy shots – injections of suppressed allergens to build the body’s tolerance. Unlike pharmaceutical medications, which only masks the symptoms, allergy shots provide long-term relief.
Although allergy medication for dogs is generally deemed safe under the appropriate dosage, drugs such as Apoquel can have serious side effects – counteractive to the primary objective of facilitating your dog’s well-being. This risk prompts concerned dog owners to explore alternative treatments for their pets’ allergies.
Various natural remedies can provide relief to your pup without the adverse side effects or high costs of their pharmaceutical counterparts. A good example is an oatmeal bath or coconut oil to sooth the allergenic irritation.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on the latest and hottest news stories, you might have heard Cannabidiol (CBD) mentioned in many news briefs. CBD, which does not cause psychedelic effects (does not get you high) is a compound extracted form the hemp plant and has been widely touted to remedy a plethora of medical issues. Pet owners can be glad to know that the therapeutic benefits of the hemp extract are not limited to humans. Both human and animals have a body system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that reacts with CBD to bring about numerous health benefits. CBD has been shown to be an effective method of reducing the symptoms caused by allergies. Dog owners can administer the cannabinoid in treat form or CBD oil spray tinctures.
Allergies are a hindrance to the quality of life! It’s worse for your dogs when they can’t play in the park or eat their favorite snack just because these activities expose them to allergens. The information provided in the article should give you an informed idea to identify the symptoms of dog allergies, their causes, and what to expect when you visit a veterinarian. Don’t let your best friend suffer – take action!