Dogs can suffer from allergies, too! But before you make any rash decisions, animal behaviorist Tamar Geller offers tips on providing relief for your itchy pet.
Dogs, just like people, can suffer from allergies — and just like people, their suffering can be caused by something in the air, in their food or on their skin, and be seasonal as well as year-round. As a dog with allergies ages, his allergy to any one item can become more severe and he usually develops allergies to additional things.
It's estimated that one in five dogs in the United States suffers from some type of allergy and the number is on the rise. Dog allergies usually start to develop between one and three years of age, and may start as late as age six or eight.
Dogs with allergies commonly show one or more of the following symptoms:
- Chewing on paws (paws are the only place where dogs have sweat glands, which become inflamed with allergies)
- Scratching, licking or chewing their body
- Recurrent ear infections
- Hair loss or "hot spots"
- Coughing, sneezing or wheezing
- Redness of eyes and/or eye discharge
- Rubbing their face on the carpet or couch
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
Diagnosis of an allergy and determination of the cause is made in one of two ways — either by eliminating things from your dog's food or environment until the culprit is identified, or allergy testing performed by a veterinarian.
Here are some of the common types of allergens and what you can do to help ease your dog's suffering:
Skin parasites (fleas, ticks, etc.) are the easiest to diagnose and most common during summer months. It only takes one or two fleabites to set off a reaction. The flea itself is not the culprit, but their saliva that causes the allergic reaction. What you can do: Keep your dog on a flea or flea and tick prevention program and check him regularly for fleas, flea droppings (small black flecks) and ticks (if you’ve been hiking or walking in areas where ticks are present).
Food and food additives
Some of the most common food allergens include wheat, corn, soy, beef, dairy, fish and preservatives.What you can do: Conduct a food trial eliminating all the possible allergens from your dog’s diet by only feeding him meals consisting of a protein and a starch that he has not eaten before (consult your vet). Then gradually add foods back into his diet, one at a time for a week. When symptoms return, you’ve found your culprit. And don’t forget to consider treats and chew sticks/bones as possible causes.
Just as in people, environmental allergens are the biggest category and hardest to diagnose. Here are several of the most common environmental allergies seen in dogs:
- Trees, grass and pollen
What you can do: Keep your dog indoors when the lawn is being mowed, keep the grass cut short, keep him indoors during high pollen season and rinse your dog off after periods in high grass and weeds.
- Dust and dust mites
What you can do: Keep your dog out of the room when vacuuming and for several hours afterwards. Keep him in uncarpeted rooms and wash his bedding in very hot water.
What you can do: Keep your dog out of the basement and use dehumidifiers around the house.
- Second-hand smoke
What you can do: If you or someone in your house smokes, do so outside whenever possible and keep the house well ventilated (as you would with your kids). Make sure your dog gets plenty of fresh air by taking him on frequent walks.
Regular bathing and grooming may be necessary to remove allergens from your dog’s coat. Cool baths in a shampoo or rinse containing aloe vera or oatmeal may help soothe itchy skin.
Always consult your veterinarian regarding diagnosis and treatment if you suspect your dog has an allergy. Make sure to give your vet any clues you may have to help determine the cause. To minimize his suffering, bring your dog in when you first notice symptoms — when itching first manifests itself to avoid the possibility of secondary skin infections caused by excess chewing and scratching, and right away if you notice vomiting or diarrhea, which could be caused by a more serious underlying medical condition.
Please don't train your dog when he's itchy or uncomfortable from allergies — you know how difficult it is to concentrate on work or school when you're suffering from allergies!
Thank you to Alexander Moller, D.V.M. for his veterinary advice. Additional information is available at and .