Have you seen your pup scratching more? How about hair loss? Hives? What you might be seeing your poor pup suffer through are allergies, which are fairly common in dogs and can manifest in many ways, from skin and ear infections to itchy and red skin.
Fortunately, there are many options for allergy relief in dogs, including treatments from your veterinarian, easy home remedies for dog allergies and over-the-counter (OTC) options that only require a visit to your local drug store. And we’ll discuss it all.
Of course, it is always advised to talk to your veterinarian before starting any treatment for allergies and to work with your veterinarian to determine and eliminate the root cause of allergies in your dog, if possible.
All About Dog Allergies:
Diagnosing Dog Allergies
Veterinarians group skin allergies in dogs into three main categories:
1Flea allergy dermatitis
This is caused by an allergy to flea saliva and is the most common type of allergic reactions in dogs.
- The classic sign of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in dogs is hot spots, either around the base of the tail or around the neck.
- Dogs who are allergic to fleas are so itchy that they attack their own skin, pull out hair, and make raw, reddened “hot spots.”
Flea allergy dermatitis can be so intense that it takes just the bite of one passing flea to make a dog miserable.
2Environmental allergies, such as seasonal allergies
This is called atopy, and about 15 percent of the U.S. dog population suffer from seasonal allergies.
- Dogs with atopy are seasonally itchy around their face, paws, and armpits.
- Recurrent ear infections are common with atopy.
Atopy is usually first seen in dogs ages 1 to 3 years of age. Secondary skin infections with yeast and bacteria are common.
This is when a dog reacts to an ingredient in the food, usually a source of protein. While less common than other issues, about 10 percent of dogs can suffer from food allergies. Dogs who have a food allergy often have concurrent flea allergy dermatitis and/or atopy as well.
- Dogs with a food allergy are itchy around their rump, armpits, groin, face and in between their toes.
- The most common allergens in dogs are protein in nature and include chicken, beef, pork, egg, soy, and dairy.
Food allergies tend to be non-seasonal (year-round), and affected dogs are usually fed the offending ingredient for two years before developing signs.
In general, the following symptoms are associated with allergies in dogs:
- Excessive itchiness as evidenced by increased self-scratching, chewing, licking and/or rubbing skin on carpet or furniture
- Red skin
- Hair loss
- Swelling of face, lips, eyelids, or ears
- Red bumps or pimples on skin (skin infection)
- Increased skin odor
- Thickened skin that is darkened (chronic yeast infection)
- Red paws that may be stained brown from excessive licking
- Increased odor, discharge and itching from ears (ear infection)
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Excessive dandruff
- Vomiting, diarrhea, excess gas (typically seen with food allergy)
- Sneezing or coughing
Treating Dog Allergies
Treating Seasonal Allergies
If your dog has a skin infection, external parasites, or food allergies, using an over-the-counter product may not help and may make it worse. If your dog is not responding, consult with your veterinarian.
Many dogs respond well to human OTC allergy medicine that you can purchase at most drug stores. The most common antihistamine for dogs is diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl). Also found in ProSense Dog Itch & Allergy Solutions Tablets, diphenhydramine is safe in most dogs if given in the recommended dosage of 1 mg of diphenhydramine per pound of body weight given by mouth. For example, if you have a 25-pound dog, then you would give 25 mg of diphenhydramine.
Giving dogs Benadryl may make some dogs sleepy, and other dogs hyper, and is not safe for all dogs. So, talk with your veterinarian before giving it to your dog.
If Benadryl doesn’t work for your dog, there are other OTC antihistamines available, including hydroxyzine, loratadine (brand name Claritin), chlorpheniramine, clemastine, fexofenadine, and cetirizine (Zyrtec). Talk with your veterinarian about which option is best for your dog, and the correct dosage to administer.
Anti-allergy Wipes and Shampoos
If your dog has seasonal allergies, then giving oral antihistamines in conjunction with wiping or washing allergens off your dog is very helpful in preventing itching. You can either wipe your dog with a pet wipe, like TropiClean Oxy Med Allergy Relief Wipes after they go outside and roll in the grass, or you can bathe your dog periodically with a hypoallergenic shampoo, like Vet’s Best Hypo-Allergenic Shampoo for Dogs or Perfect Coat Gentle Hypoallergenic Shampoo.
You could also try using a shampoo designed to reduce itching, such as Nootie Medicated Anti-Itch Dog Shampoo. Veterinary shampoos and conditioners, like Virbac Epi-Soothe Shampoo and Cream Rinse, are also formulated to quickly reduce itching and dryness.
When bathing a dog for allergies, it is important to leave the lather on your dog for five to 10 minutes before rinsing and to thoroughly rinse the shampoo with cool water. Do not use hot water because it can dry their skin and make the itching worse. Aim for bathing itchy dogs no more than one to two times per week to control itching.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Some dogs with seasonal allergies respond well to fish oil supplementation. that fish oil supplements, like Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Soft Gels, help reduce inflammation associated with skin allergies and help skin cells maintain a strong barrier against allergens. You can give a dog too much fish oil, however, and fish oil is not indicated for all dogs. So, consult with your veterinarian on the appropriate dosage before giving fish oil to your dog.
The omega-3 fatty acids that help dogs with allergies are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). While dogs can convert GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) and ALA (gamma-linolenic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, respectively—the fatty acids found in evening primrose oil and flaxseed), they do so poorly, and benefit the most from fatty acid supplementation from fish or krill oil. Also, many OTC fish oil products do not have high enough concentration of omega-3 fatty acids to help with allergies. Ask your vet for a specific dosage for your dog.
Some dogs with seasonal allergies benefit from taking a probiotic.
Allergies are due to inflammation and an abnormally hyper reactive immune system. The largest immune system in the body is called the GALT, and it is in the gut. Unhealthy or inflamed intestines with abnormal gut bacteria can contribute to allergies, which is why supplementing an allergic dog with probiotics may help reduce inflammation in the body and rebalance their gut immune system.
Do not supplement dogs with human probiotics as human gut bacteria is different from canine. Use a canine-specific product, like Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets FortiFlora Powder Digestive Supplement for Dogs.
Quercetin may benefit dogs with allergies in much the same way that antihistamines do. Quercetin reduces inflammation and histamine release associated with seasonal allergies in dogs, and it works synergistically with bromelain to create a more potent anti-inflammatory effect. So, look for a supplement that contains both.
The dosage is 5 to 10 mg per pound of body weight twice daily. For example, a 20-pound dog would take 100 to 200 mg twice daily.
You can purchase quercetin anywhere supplements are sold. Just make sure it doesn’t contain other ingredients, like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. When in doubt, ask your veterinary care team for safe supplement recommendations.
Sometimes, home remedies for dog allergies are not enough, and you need something from your veterinarian that is prescription-strength to stop the itch. Fortunately, there are many products available that can be used alone or in combination with home remedies for dog allergies to provide the right amount of relief for your dog, including:
- Prescription topical treatments
- Prescription oral treatments
- Allergy shots
Always make sure you tell the vet what OTC and holistic remedies you are currently giving your dog, as they can potentially interact with prescription meds.
If your dog has an itchy, red hot spot, Animax Ointment (a prescription topical treatment that combines a corticosteroid, an antifungal and an antibiotic) may help. Topical sprays containing a steroids, like Genesis Spray by Virbac, are often prescribed for local itchy hot spots as well.
If OTC oral antihistamines, fish oils, and topical products aren’t cutting it, then it’s time to explore prescription dog allergy treatment options for your itchy dog.
In the old days, the only oral prescription options available were steroids, like prednisone, prednisolone, triamcinolone, and betamethasone. While these medications did stop allergy symptoms, they also came with a whole host of negative side effects, including increased appetite, increased water consumption and urination, and increased susceptibility to infections, to name a few. Steroids are also less effective with food allergies.
Oral and injectable steroids are still used and prescribed in some dog allergy cases, but there are new medications available that still stop itching without the negative side effects.
Atopica is the brand name for cyclosporine, a medicine for dogs with allergies.
- It’s generally considered safe but can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite in some dogs. You can lower the chance of negative side effects by keeping Atopica in the freezer.
- Atopica must be given one to two hours before food or two hours after food.
- Most veterinarians will require annual bloodwork and an exam to fill this prescription.
- Atopica takes four to six weeks to provide relief, and steroids may be prescribed to your dog in the interim to control allergy symptoms.
Apoquel is another newer prescription allergy relief for dogs that is touted to have even fewer side effects than Atopica.
- Apoquel takes effect within four hours and can be started or stopped at any time to control itching.
- It works by targeting and inhibiting the itch and inflammation signaling pathway.
- It’s administered twice daily for up to 14 days and can be given long-term with a low incidence of side effects.
- Apoquel should not be given to dogs with existing parasitic skin infestations or pre-existing cancers.
Your veterinarian may also recommend treatment with Temaril-P, an oral prescription allergy medication that combines the antihistamine trimeprazine with the steroid prednisolone.
- This medication can be given to control seasonal or flea allergies.
- As prescription-strength products can have unwanted side effects and possible safety concerns for people, they should only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian.
If your dog cannot tolerate oral medications or you do not want to give oral medications over a long period of time, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about giving allergy injections, commonly known as allergy shots.
There are two main allergy shots available:
- Traditional allergy shots created by a skin or blood test
- General prescription option, Cytopoint
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy is less common but something to potentially discuss with your vet.
Traditional Allergy Shot
The traditional allergy shot requires that you take your dog either to your local veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing. Allergies are tested with a blood test or with a skin prick test. The skin prick test is considered more accurate and is usually only done by veterinary dermatologists.
Once the test is done, an allergy serum is created. This allergy serum is administered via a series of injections and is intended to desensitize your dog over time to the allergens that cause them grief. Allergy shots are the only way to truly reduce the instances of allergy symptoms. All other treatments are aimed at controlling symptoms.
Cytopoint is another option that is administered as an injection. It starts providing relief within one day and controls allergic itching for four to eight weeks. It works by targeting and neutralizing interleukin 31 (IL-31), a chemical messenger in your dog’s body that makes him itchy.
Cytopoint is only available through your local veterinarian and has a low incidence of side effects. It may be a good option if your dog cannot tolerate oral medications, isn’t responding to oral medications, or has concurrent diseases that prohibit the administration of other allergy medications.
Platelet Rich Plasma and Stem Cell Therapy
Platelet Rich Plasma and stem cell therapy, both of which have been used to treat joint disease for quite some time in dogs, have also been shown to have a positive effect in dogs who are suffering from seasonal allergies. Talk to your vet about these cutting-edge therapies.
Treating Flea Allergy Dermatitis
For dogs with flea allergy dermatitis, over-the-counter medications include the following:
- Topically applied wipes and shampoos
- Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help with promoting skin health but not with treating flea allergy dermatitis
As for prescription medications, they include:
- Genesis Spray
Treating Dog Food Allergies
Even though food allergies are less common in dogs than atopy or flea allergy, they can still occur.
If your dog has allergies year-round or has itchy skin that flares after eating certain foods, your dog may have a food allergy and may need a dog food specifically formulated for dogs with allergies. Check with your vet for suggested options.
Here are the basics for treating dog food allergies:
- Food elimination trial
- Hypoallergenic diet
- Hydrolyzed diet
- Novel protein diet
Food Elimination Trial
Food allergies can only be diagnosed by a food elimination trial.
The basic gist of a food trial is this: You work with your veterinarian to choose a prescription hypoallergenic diet for your dog (more on that below), and then after you slowly transition your dog to the new food over three to five days, you will feed only that food for eight to 10 weeks. That means that nothing else other than the hypoallergenic food will go in your dog’s mouth—no other treats, table food, flavored medications, or chews, etc. Your dog must consume only that food.
The reason you must only feed the hypoallergenic diet for eight to 10 weeks is to diagnose a food allergy. Since it takes about 20 days for canine epidermis (skin) to turn over and at least six weeks for previous allergens to clear out, diet trials must last eight to 10 weeks.
If all the itching goes away on the new diet, then it is likely that your dog has a food allergy. If that is the case, then you have two options: Either stay on the hypoallergenic diet, or slowly start to reintroduce foods into your dog’s diet and see if the symptoms return.
Most pet parents understandably don’t want the itching to return, so they elect to keep feeding their dog the hypoallergenic diet.
If your veterinarian has recommended a diet trial, it is important to follow their food recommendations precisely. Over-the-counter diets are not considered good hypoallergenic choices for food trials because they are often manufactured on machines that make other diets. Hypoallergenic diets generally are created on dedicated machine that are meticulously cleaned to prevent cross-contamination with allergens.
Hydrolyzed Diets vs. Novel Protein Diets
There are two main types of food to choose for diet trials: hydrolyzed diets, which are foods that are manufactured to remove allergens, or novel protein diets, where you feed your dog a protein and carbohydrate that he has never eaten before.
Popular dog food for dogs with allergies that are used by veterinarians for diet trials could include:
Treating the Environment
If you have a dog with allergies, then you also need to think about treating the environment your dog lives in, especially if your dog suffers from flea allergies or atopy. They include:
- Flea control
- Reduce expose to allergens
- Combination of therapies
If your dog has a flea allergy, then the bite of just one flea can drive him crazy. Use flea control on all dogs and cats in the household consistently throughout flea season to keep flea allergies under control. (Be sure you use a flea and tick treatment formulated specifically for each type of pet. In other words, don’t give your cat a flea and tick treatment formulated for dogs, and vice versa.)
Reduce Exposure to Allergens
If your dog is prone to seasonal allergies, then you need to reduce exposure to allergens. Use a HEPA filter in your furnace, plug in some air purifiers, cover bedding with an allergen barrier, and wash pet bedding once a week during allergy season with a gentle, hypoallergenic laundry detergent.
Combination of Therapies
So, what can you give your dog for allergies? Every dog is unique and causes and severity can vary so the answer might be more complicated than you may have thought. Controlling allergies takes some trial and error and usually requires a combination of therapies. Working with your veterinarian, you can discover what to give your dog for allergies and stop the itching for good.
Dog Allergy FAQs
Q: What causes dog allergies?
A: In dogs, allergies can be caused by pollen, dust, mold, dander, and other allergens, just like in humans. Dogs can also be allergic to flea saliva when they are bitten by fleas, and insect bites and stings. Dogs can also develop allergies to ingredients in their food, resulting in itchy skin and digestion abnormalities.
Q: Can dog allergies go away?
A: Once a dog develops an allergy, it typically doesn’t go away on its own. Treatment is aimed at reducing itching and avoiding the offending allergen as much as possible.
The only way to really minimize allergies is by having a dog tested for allergens and then started on a series of allergy shots, where a dog receives a series of injections that contain very small amounts of allergen, thereby desensitizing the dog to the allergen over time and curing the allergic response. Shots won’t cure allergies, but they can greatly enable the body to get used to them. In time, symptoms will get better, and the pet may not have symptoms as often.
Q: Can dog allergies cause diarrhea or coughing?
A: In dogs, the most common symptoms associated with allergies are those related to the skin, i.e., itching, scratching, and hair loss. In some cases, allergies can also affect the digestive system such as when a dog eats something they are allergic to, which can cause skin signs and digestive signs, including vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive gas.
Q: Can you give a dog Benadryl?
A: Yes, dogs can tolerate diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl. The standard dosage is 1 milligram per pound. Not all dogs can tolerate Benadryl, however, and Benadryl may interact with other medications. Always check with your vet before giving your dog Benadryl.
Q: Can you give a dog Claritin? If so, how much Claritin can I give my dog?
A: Loratadine, the active ingredients in Claritin, is a safe drug to use in dogs for allergies. Typical dosage is 0.1-.05 mg/pound of body weight. Loratadine can cause side effects and does interact with some other medications and should only be administered under the supervision of a veterinarian. Check with your vet before giving loratadine to your dog, and never give a dog Claritin D because it contains pseudoephedrine.
Q: What is the difference between Benadryl and Claritin?
A: While both Benadryl and Claritin are antihistamine medications, the active ingredients are different. Benadryl contains diphenhydramine, and Claritin contains loratadine.
Q: Can you give dogs Pepto pills?
A: Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) is safe to offer most dogs; however, salicylates in the medication can, in rare cases, cause gastric bleeding, and the bismuth in the medication often turns stools black. Offer no more than one to two doses after talking to your veterinarian; and if symptoms don’t improve, call your vet.
Q: Can you give a dog Zyrtec? If so, how much Zyrtec can I give my dog?
A: The active ingredient in Zyrtec is cetirizine and is a safe drug to use in dogs for allergies. Typical dosage is 0.5 mg/pound of body weight, with a maximum dosage of 20 mg. Cetirizine can cause side effects and does interact with some other medications and should only be administered under the supervision of a veterinarian. Check with your vet before giving cetirizine to your dog, and never give a dog Zyrtec D because it contains pseudoephedrine.