Dogs can have allergies, just like humans do. The symptoms are more likely to be skin-related than respiratory, though -- instead of sneezing, dogs with allergies will compulsively scratch, chew, or lick themselves. In fact, some dogs will scratch so much, they end up with bald spots or bacterial skin infections!
Here are the basic types of canine allergies:
ATOPY, OR ALLERGIC INHALANT DERMATITIS
The most common type of canine allergy is atopy, an allergic response to something inhaled (think ragweed, pollen, mold, and dust mites). Dogs with atopic allergies persistently lick or chew their feet, or rub their ears or face with their paws or against surfaces. Their ears may become inflamed or infected. An allergy-related ear infection may respond to antibiotics, but it will return once the dog stops taking the medicine.
Your vet can test your dog for atopic allergies. Once you narrow down what the allergen is, consider ways to limit your dog’s exposure to it. Be creative! For example, if your dog has an allergy to pollen, keep your grass short and don’t let him run in fields. You may want to start wiping the dog’s coat and feet with a damp cloth when he comes indoors to remove as much pollen as you can. If your dog has an allergy to mold, using a dehumidifier may help. Frequent vacuuming can be helpful for dogs with dust mite allergies. (You may also want to try a grain-free diet, as some dogs with dust mite allergies are also allergic to grain mites.)
Some dogs have allergic reactions to touching something that would not bother other dogs (i.e., it isn’t actually toxic). For example, your dog may get itchy, red bumps after coming into contact with wool carpeting. A specific form of contact dermatitis, called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), is caused by a sensitivity to flea saliva. A dog with FAD may remain very itchy long after the offending fleas are gone.
Non-flea-related contact dermatitis is relatively rare in dogs. If your dog
has itchy feet, it seems logical to assume he’s allergic to something
he touched with his paws, like carpet or grass. Believe it or not, though,
he’s much more likely to have an atopic or food allergy.
Food sensitivity includes food intolerance and food allergy, which are not the same thing. Food intolerance leads to vomiting and diarrhea, and the obvious solution is to immediately find another type of food. Food allergy, however, leads to similar symptoms as other allergies, including itchy skin, swollen paws, and inflamed ears. Note that the problem food doesn’t have to be new -- dogs can become allergic to ingredients in food they’ve been eating for years. The most common culprits are beef, chicken, milk, eggs, wheat, and soy.
Unfortunately, lab tests for food allergies are not very reliable. If you suspect a food allergy, you can try a food trial. Buy or make your dog a new food that consists of a protein that your dog has never eaten, like venison or rabbit, and a carbohydrate, like rice or potatoes. Make sure your dog does not eat anything else, including flavored medications and chew toys. If your dog is feeling better after at least 12 weeks, you can gradually introduce other ingredients to help pinpoint the allergen. It’s also possible that your dog is allergic to an artificial flavor, color, or preservative in commercial dog food, and that simply upgrading to an all-natural brand with fewer ingredients will resolve the issue. Some vets also recommend fish oil supplements to boost skin and coat health, even for healthy dogs.
Facial swelling and anaphylaxis are much rarer and more serious allergic reactions. You would see this type of reaction very quickly after your dog was exposed to the allergen -- typically an insect bite, a medication or vaccine, or something he ate. These reactions require immediate medical attention, as they can be life-threatening!
Remember that allergies are not the only possible reason your dog keeps scratching – he could have fleas, mange, intestinal parasites, or hypothyroidism, just to name a few. See a vet to find out for sure.
Once your vet has diagnosed an allergy, you have two main options: Do everything you can to remove the allergen from your dog’s environment, and treat the reaction. Treatment can include everything from frequent oatmeal baths to injections. Medications can take many forms, including hydrocortisone creams or sprays, oral antihistamines (such as Benadryl), and, usually as a last resort, injections and steroids. Skin infections caused by scratching may need antibiotics.
Source: South Branch Pet and Bird Clinic
Getting to the bottom of an allergy can be a frustrating process, but we hope these tips are helpful. We wish you and your dogs a long, comfortable, itch-free life!