As most of us pet parents know all too well, allergies can be a source of discomfort and concern for both ourselves and our pets. Redness, itching and scratching are some hallmarks of allergies for both humans and dogs. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the causes and symptoms of dog allergies as well as preventative measures and treatment to help you best manage your pup’s allergies.
What are Allergies?
Allergies are a complex and often frustrating immune system response to substances that are typically harmless to most dogs. These substances, known as allergens, trigger an exaggerated immune reaction in individuals with allergies, leading to a range of symptoms that can vary from mild discomfort to severe reactions.
Allergies: The Role of the Immune System
To understand allergies, we need to first delve into the basics of the immune system. The immune system is the body’s defense mechanism against harmful invaders like bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. It identifies these invaders using specialized cells and proteins and mounts a response to neutralize them.
In the case of allergies, the immune system goes awry in its recognition of harmless substances as dangerous invaders. These substances can be anything from pollen, dust, certain foods, insect venom, or even certain medications. For most dogs, these substances are innocuous and don’t trigger any immune response. However, in those dogs with allergies, exposure to these allergens sets off a series of reactions.
In order for an allergic response to occur, the body must first be exposed to the allergen. At this point, the immune system becomes sensitized, meaning it recognizes the allergen as a potential threat and produces specific antibodies. Upon subsequent exposures to the same allergen, the antibodies signal immune cells to release various chemicals, including histamines, which are responsible for the classic allergic symptoms.
Common Causes of Allergies in Dogs
- Food Allergies: Just like people, dogs can develop allergies to certain ingredients in their diet. Common allergens include beef, chicken, dairy, wheat, and lamb. Food allergies are often not seasonal and occur all year round. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is to perform a diet elimination trial with either a hypoallergenic diet or a novel protein diet.
- Environmental Allergies (Atopy): Dogs can be allergic to pollen, mold spores, dust mites, and other environmental factors. These allergies are often seasonal, with flare-ups occurring in spring and summer.
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis: Fleas are a common external parasite that can trigger allergies in dogs. Some dogs are hypersensitive to flea saliva, causing severe itching and discomfort even from just a single flea bite.
- Contact Allergies: Dogs can also develop allergic reactions when their skin comes into direct contact with certain materials, such as certain fabrics, cleaning products, or plants like poison ivy.
Common Symptoms of Dog Allergies
Regardless of the cause, symptoms of allergies can be relatively similar, with the most common symptoms of allergies in dogs as follows:
- Constant Scratching and Biting: One of the most noticeable signs of a skin allergy in dogs is persistent scratching, licking, and biting at the affected areas.
- Redness and Inflammation: Allergic reactions often lead to skin redness, inflammation, and irritation.
- Hair Loss: Continuous scratching and biting can lead to hair loss, creating bald patches on your dog’s skin.
- Ear Infections: Allergies can lead to recurrent ear infections, causing your dog to shake its head and scratch its ears.
- Vomiting and Diarrhea: Although not as common, gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can occur, particularly with food allergies.
Prevention and Management of Allergies
Now that you know the causes and symptoms of allergies in dogs, let’s talk about how to prevent and/or manage allergies if your dog is suffering from them.
- Allergy Testing: Allergy testing is only accurate for environmental and contact allergens. It cannot tell you if your dog has a food allergy, as this requires a diet elimination trial. Consult your veterinarian for allergy testing to pinpoint the specific allergens affecting your dog. This can help you take targeted preventive measures.
- Diet Trial: As mentioned, the only reliable way to confirm whether your dog has food allergies is to perform a diet trial. This means feeding your pet a hydrolyzed or novel protein diet (such as Wild Earth) for 8 weeks. During this time, your dog is not allowed to eat any other treats or table scraps. Typically gastrointestinal signs improve within 2-3 weeks, and skin signs usually improve anywhere from 1-2 months. If your dog does improve over this time, in order to confirm food allergies, it is recommended that you challenge your dog by reintroducing the suspected offending allergen. Typically symptoms will return within 2-3 days, but can take up to 2 weeks.
- Quality Diet: Of course it is important to feed your dog a high-quality, balanced diet whether or not they have allergies. If they have allergies, however, choosing a diet becomes even more important. If they have food allergies, then it is important to feed a food that is free from common allergens, such as a hydrolyzed or novel protein diet. A diet high in omega -3 fatty acids can also help dogs with any type of allergy since dogs with allergies have a compromised skin barrier. Omega -3 fatty acids can have anti-inflammatory effects on the skin and may help alleviate some allergy symptoms. Wild Earth dog food does not contain any of the most common allergens for dogs, and it has guaranteed levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
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- Regular Grooming: Regular baths and grooming can help reduce the buildup of allergens on your dog’s coat and skin. If your dog suffers from environmental allergens, make sure to wipe them down with a moist towel when they come in from the outdoors to remove allergens from the coat.
- Parasite Prevention: Ensure regular and effective flea control to prevent flea infestations and flea allergy dermatitis. Remember many parasite preventatives are flavored with chicken or beef, so if your dog does have a food allergy to either then speak with your vet about switching to an unflavored preventative.
- Medication: Consult your veterinarian for appropriate medications or treatments, such as antihistamines, steroids, or immunotherapy, to manage allergy symptoms.
Consult Your Veterinarian
Understanding the causes, symptoms, and prevention of dog allergies is essential for maintaining your furry friend’s well-being. If you suspect allergies, consulting a veterinarian is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. By being vigilant, providing proper care, and seeking professional guidance, you can help alleviate your dog’s discomfort and ensure they lead a happy, itch-free life. Remember, each dog is unique, so what works best for managing allergies may vary from one pet to another.
Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA
Dr. Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva is the Professional Services Veterinarian here at Wild Earth. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Brown University, and attended veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in general practice, on telehealth platforms, and in animal rehabilitation. She has worked tirelessly to gain expertise in the field of canine nutrition through numerous certifications and coursework, and plans to pursue her Masters in Animal Nutrition.