How to know if your dog has allergies (and what to do about it)

If you've noticed your dog has been a little uncomfortable lately, scratching, sneezing and going to the bathroom a few too many times in a day, the problem might not be an illness or simply an overly irritable dog - your pup might have an allergy.

Figuring out specifically what your dog is allergic to can be a challenge in itself, and taking the correct steps to help your pup return to completely healthy again can be tricky - especially if the cause of the allergy is something that's constantly in your immediate surroundings.

Don't worry - we're here to help! We've put together a quick guide to dog allergies, which will hopefully help you to figure out what's causing your four-legged friend to react and, most important of all, how to help.

What is an allergy?

The best place to start, is understanding what exactly an allergy is.

An allergy in pets is similar to what humans experience. An allergy occurs when your pet's immune system reacts to foreign substances in the environment that are harmless to most other pets. Allergies can be present from birth, or develop over time, and are usually in reaction to food, environmental factors (like dust or pollens), or acute causes such as fleas or bee stings.

If you've ever had an allergy yourself, you know how uncomfortable and irritable it can make you feel. The same goes for your family dog.

Types of allergies in dogs

We can easily narrow down the types of allergies that dogs can experience to three main categories:

  1. Skin allergies
  2. Food allergies
  3. Acute allergies

Let's unpack these and delve into the main symptoms and causes of each.

Skin Allergies

Skin allergies are the most common type of allergy experienced by dogs, and are known as 'allergic dermatitis'. You'll be able to spot a skin allergy if your dog is showing signs of itchiness, swelling, hives, constant licking or red skin. This usually means there's something not quite right with their skin and they need your help.

Causes and solutions:

  • Fleas: When narrowing down the cause of a skin allergy, we'd suggest first checking for fleabites. Some dogs are allergic to the saliva of fleas, and can become extremely irritated and itchy as a reaction. If you can spot scabs and irritated skin near the base of the tail, or even see the fleas themselves, it's time to take action. Luckily, you can grab a tube of flea treatment from your local supermarket or vet, which should solve the problem.
  • Food: Surprisingly, what your dog eats can have a huge effect on your dog's skin health. Often, your dog will itch its ears and paws if it's a food allergy causing the problem, and the skin related symptoms will be accompanied by gastrointestinal issues. It could be time to take your dog to the vet to get a little help figuring out what specific food is causing the problem, and avoiding that from here on out.
  • Environment: Environmental allergens, such as dust, pollen, and mould, can cause an atopic allergic reactions or atopic dermatitis. Often these reactions are seasonal, and wont be present throughout the entirety of the year. However, as these catalysts are nearly always present, the easiest fix is to be conscious of your pup's environment. That means regular deep cleans and keeping your dog's bedding dust and dirt free. We can help with that!

Pet Food Allergies

Food allergies in dogs are not as common as other types of allergies, with only 10% of dogs reported with genuine cases. Food allergies can result in skin conditions (as explained above), cause gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and/or diarrhea, and, in severe cases, can cause an anaphylactic reaction.

It's important to note that when most people say that their dog has a food allergy, what they really mean is 'food sensitivity', which, rather than an immune system reaction, is a developed intolerance.

Causes and solutions:

  • What your dog is eating: somewhat self explanatory, these allergic reactions can be caused by absolutely anything your dog ingests. It can be really difficult to narrow down exactly what's causing the problem, but notable ingredients that have had negative effects of dogs are: pork, rabbit, beef, chicken, fish, lamb, egg, corn, soy, wheat and dairy. Make sure to check what's on the back of your dog food packet, and consider your options when it comes to what you're feeding your dog.
  • How to help: begin to isolate foods that your dog may be reacting to. Your vet will likely put your dog on an elimination diet to find the cause. From here, you can create a diet that doesn't contain any offending foods, and you'll have one happy pup.

Acute Allergies

If you have a pet, acute allergies are the rarest and perhaps most worrying of allergies. These occur when your dog experiences an anaphylactic reaction as a direct result of something in their environment.

When a dog goes into anaphylatic shock, their blood sugar level will drop, you may see facial swelling of the throat, lips, eyelids or ear-flaps. If it looks serious, always take your dog to the vet.

Causes and solutions:

  • Interestingly, before an acute anaphylactic reaction can occur, your doggo will have had previous exposure to the offending substance, and has later developed an allergy. Common causes of this type of reaction in dogs are; bee stings, nettle stings, chemicals (perhaps on a new carpet or rug), severe food allergies, insect bites, medications or vaccines. You'll probably be able to quite quickly identify what exactly has cause the reaction, and know what to look out for in future.
  • How to help: the main thing here is to react quickly, and take your pup to the vet. They'll remove the allergen if it's still present (such as the stinger of a bee), and will stabilize your unwell dog with either adrenaline, antihistamines or hydrocortisone to get the reaction under control. The good news is, if you act quickly, your dog will be okay!

My dog has an allergy - what can I do to prevent reactions?

The most common denominator across all types of allergic reactions in dogs (besides food) is your dog's environment. Because of this, it's really important that you keep on top of the places your dog frequents most.

  • If your dog plays outside a lot, make sure you mow the lawn regularly to lessen the amount of bees, fleas and other creepy crawlies that could be lurking in the lawn.
  • Keeping your home clean and regularly performing a deep clean of your carpets and rugs is vital for so many reasons. This will get rid of fleas, bugs, dust (and dust mites), pollen's, and generally keep your pup's environment nice and safe.
  • Don't stop at the carpets. Make sure to keep your dog's bedding nice and fresh as well. Any dirt and dust your dog accumulates outside will probably end up in their bed. If you're not sure how to clean your dog's bed without irritating them, we've put together a step by step blog to help you.

Wan't to make sure your pet's home is a safe and healthy environment? Download our FREE pet stain removal guide - it'll outline all of the best pet-safe product and how to use them.

Make sure to also check out our Ultimate Guide to Owning a Pet: Everything you need to know.

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