Like a lot of dogs (not to mention people), my dog has seasonal allergies that crop up a couple times a year and lead to itchiness, congestion, and general discomfort. Dog allergies are incredibly common, but they can take a bit of detective work to identify and treat.
What is an Allergy ?
Allergies are familiar to most of us: they’re immune responses to substances like pollen, dust, food, or fur that can cause discomfort and illness. Over time, exposure to those substances, called allergens, can sensitize the immune system and cause a harmful over-reaction.
Do dogs get allergies? You bet! Some of the most common dog allergens include :
– Tree, grass, and weed pollens
– Mold spores
– Dust and house dust mites
– Dander (yep, your dog can be allergic to fur)
– Food ingredients (corn, wheat, soy, or specific animal proteins)
– Flea saliva (flea allergy dermatitis is very common)
– Prescription drugs
– Perfumes, cleaning products, shampoo, and certain fabrics and plastic
Your dog can’t come out and tell you, “Hey mom, I’m allergic to that new plant in the yard,” but his behavior will clue you in. Common signs of a mild to moderate allergic reaction in dogs include :
– Excessive paw-licking
– Scratching and butt-scooting
– Hair loss, either an all-over thinning or bald spots
– Coughing, sneezing, or asthma
– Tummy trouble like vomiting and diarrhea (for food allergies)
– Swelling of the feet, face, or joints
Itchiness is by far the most common way allergies show themselves in your dog. Left unchecked, it can lead to scabbing, hot spots, recurring skin infections, and more.
If you find yourself wondering, “is my dog having an allergic reaction?,” consider how long and how severe her symptoms have been. If you notice any of the above reactions, and they don’t clear up within a week or two, it’s time to take your pet to the vet.
How to Treat Dog Allergies
The first, most basic form of allergy treatment is prevention. You want to remove the allergens from the environment as much as possible.
1. Wipe off your dog’s paws after walks
There are even specific pet allergen-blocker wipes. Bonus: they use natural ingredients.
2. Use a hypoallergenic shampoo
You can buy this and related anti-itch shampoo over-the-counter; look for soothing ingredients like aloe or evening primrose oil. The latter is the main ingredient in this highly-rated choice.
3. Try supplements such as biotin or omega-3s
These help to suppress itching and improve coat health.
4. Switch to a limited-ingredient diet
Address food allergies by adjusting your pet’s diet in consultation with your vet.
If your dog’s allergies are more severe, the vet may recommend further intervention to treat symptoms. Common therapies include:
– Anti-inflammatory therapy.
Treatment with drugs like antihistamines or corticosteroids can block the allergic reaction, so symptoms don’t get out of hand. These drugs are commonly prescribed for dogs with seasonal, environmental allergies to allergens that are near-impossible to avoid.
– Shampoo therapy.
In addition to over-the-counter options, your vet may prescribe a medicated shampoo to treat secondary sores and infections.
– Hyposensitization therapy, or allergy shots.
If your dog goes through allergy testing, a series of shots can be given to help desensitize their immune system.
How Allergies are Diagnosed
Allergies aren’t curable, but they are usually manageable with a combination of limiting exposure to allergens, medication, veterinary therapies, and/or specialized diets.
The first step to identifying and treating your dog’s allergies is to visit the veterinarian. Your vet will start with a complete health history and physical exam, and may ask a lot of questions about your dog’s diet and environmental factors. It’s possible your vet will determine the cause of your dog’s allergies at that first visit, and prescribe a simple treatment plan.
Your vet may also refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for more extensive testing. If you’ve ever had allergy tests yourself, this should all be very familiar, as the process for dogs is a lot like the one for humans! The dermatologist will conduct an intra-dermal allergy test (similar to the human “scratch test”) or blood tests to identify allergens.
Can I give my dog Benadryl and if so, how much ?
Benadryl, also known by its generic name diphenhydramine, is one of the few over-the-counter drugs that veterinarians routinely have owners administer at home. While it is generally well tolerated and has a wide safety margin, there are a few things owners should keep in mind before dosing it at home:
1. What is Benadryl used for ?
Benadryl is an antihistamine, blocking the H-1 receptors on smooth muscle and blood vessels. Some of its most common indications are the treatment of environmental allergies, allergic reactions to insect bites or stings, and pre-treatment of vaccine reactions. It also has some efficacy in the prevention of motion sickness in dogs and as a mild sedative.
2. When should I not use Benadryl ?
Benadryl is contraindicated with certain conditions, such as pets with glaucoma, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. It’s always best to contact your veterinarian for guidance before administering any medication to your pet, including Benadryl.
3. How much Benadryl should I give ?
The standard dosage for oral Benadryl is 1 mg per pound of body weight, given 2-3 times a day. Most drug store diphenhydramine tablets are 25 mg, which is the size used for a 25 pound dog. Always double check the dosage before giving an over the counter medication. In addition, many formulations are combined with other medications such as Tylenol so make sure Benadryl tablets contain only diphenhydramine.
4. When should I contact my veterinarian ?
Oral Benadryl is considered a mild to moderately effective antihistamine. If a pet is having an acute allergic reaction with facial swelling or difficulty breathing, skip the oral medications and go straight to the vet. Many allergic diseases require a combination of medications and treatment of underlying infections; if your pet is not responding to the medication, talk to your vet for other options.