Did you know that dogs, just like humans, can have allergies? The most common types of things that trigger allergies in dogs are food, flea bites, and exposure to environmental allergens, like pollen. That's right: the same types of environmental allergens that trigger a reaction in people can also irritate your dog (including dander, grasses, weeds, trees, insects, pollen, and mold). If you're struggling with seasonal allergies, your dog might be, too.
While allergies in both humans and dogs have traditionally been thought of as being triggered through inhalation, new research is suggesting that it is the absorption of allergens through the skin that is causing the problem. Veterinarians have found that dogs are more likely to absorb allergens through their skin or their paws, since they have such close contact with the ground. Unlike food allergies that will cause symptoms year-round, seasonal allergies only pop up during certain times of the year.
Dog Allergy Symptoms
Any dog breed can develop seasonal allergies, but terriers, setters, retrievers, and flat-faced breeds like pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers seem to be more likely to show symptoms of allergies than others.
We all know that dogs scratch themselves from time to time, but the biggest sign of allergies is when your dog is scratching more than usual or has developed hives or scabbed skin in certain areas.
Other common dog allergy symptoms to look for include:
- itchy, runny eyes
- itchy or red ears, or frequent ear infections
- red, irritated skin
- hair loss
- large, open sores around feet
- constant licking
- swollen paws
Note: Any of these symptoms could also indicate that something else is going on with your dog, so it never hurts to get a vet check-up if you are concerned about your dog's health.
What to Do if Your Dog Has Allergies
Allergies can create what veterinarians call an “itch-scratch cycle." The dog has an allergy of some sort that makes their skin itchy, so they scratch it. Then the scratched spot becomes infected, which makes them lick and scratch more and causes additional problems. Unfortunately, there's no way to cure allergies, so management is key to avoid making an annoying problem worse.
The good news is that allergies can often be managed at home. Here are a few interventions you might try if you think your dog has seasonal allergies:
- Flea preventive: A good precaution since fleas are the cause of flea allergy dermatitis. Use this after your dog has had a bath and is totally dry.
- Anti-itch sprays or creams: These can provide temporary relief.
- Dog shampoo: Shampoo can wash away things that might be in your dog's fur, causing its skin to react and can also soothe and hydrate inflamed, itchy skin.
- Leave-on conditioners or after-bath rinses: These products work best after a bath, when the hair is still wet and can prolong the skin's contact time with soothing ingredients.
- Fatty acid supplements: These can help support your dog's skin and coat.
- Avoid the allergens: It's hard to keep a dog from going outside, but you can limit how much time they're outdoors on high pollen days.
- Vet-prescribed medication: A veterinarian can prescribe steroids to help with itching as well as antibiotics to clear up any secondary skin infections. Medications such as these are sometimes needed before at home options will become effective.