You might be wondering, “Can dogs get allergies?” and the answer is yes! We’ve already discussed that dog allergies are a common cause of concern for pet owners. After all, allergies in dogs can cause itchy, uncomfortable skin, hair loss, skin or ear infections and more! If you notice that your dog is scratching more than usual, shaking their head a lot, or chewing on their skin rather than their chew toy, he or she may be combating allergies. As vets, we receive questions about dog allergies every day, and one of the most common is, “what is my dog allergic to?”
The short answer: dogs can be allergic to anything you can be allergic to, too! From insect bites to ragweed pollen, household cleaners to something in their diet, your dog’s immune system can develop a sensitivity to anything they encounter and have an allergic reaction. Since we can’t place your sweet little pooch in a bubble for their entire life, read on for the most common dog allergens—and how to minimize your pet’s exposure to whatever has your furry friend itching up a storm.
Fun fact: a flea allergy is far and away the most common allergy in dogs. Over 50% of dogs with allergies will be allergic to flea saliva—and when a flea bites an allergic dog, severe itchiness ensues. How do dogs get fleas? Unfortunately, fleas are extremely common in environments all around the country (see our blog post about fleas for more). However, this is one of the few allergens that pet owners can effectively eliminate from causing your dog to be itchy and miserable.
To help keep your dog and home free of fleas, you need two lines of defense:
- Prescription-strength flea prevention – Although over-the-counter flea preventatives work fairly well in most parts of the country, they are usually not effective enough for pups suffering from flea allergy. Just one flea bite can leave an allergic pup itchy for two whole weeks—so it’s important to protect them with reliable and effective prescription-strength flea control. These products are tested to be safe, and are available in chewable tablets or topical drops that are administered once a month or every three months. Ask your veterinarian what products work best for your local area’s flea population.
- A clean home and yard – Fleas love to hide in overgrown grass and shrubs. By maintaining your yard, you’ll lessen the chance of a flea infestation.
If fleas do get inside, they can quickly establish a lovely environment to create…more fleas! The best way to prevent this from occurring is to frequently vacuum your carpets and upholstered furniture, and make sure to wash your bedding every other week. Surprise—once your dog is on prescription-strength flea prevention, they will also serve as a “living flea vacuum” to help prevent a true flea infestation in your home. That’s a win-win for both you and your pup!
Just like with people, pollens and grasses are common dog allergens. Unfortunately, pollens can be especially troublesome if they are directly inhaled or contacted by your dog. Be on the lookout for dog allergy symptoms to identify clues that your dog has allergies to things they come in contact with.
How would your beloved pooch come in contact with pollen? The same way your car is covered with pollen during certain times of the year! It falls from trees and even gets blown down the street. Once your dog walks through grass coated with pollen, or lays down for a good roll, they may be exposed to an environmental allergen that causes itchiness, skin rashes, and more.
To that end, these plants are the biggest culprits for pollen allergies:
- Trees – Trees generally start to bloom in the early spring. That’s when their pollen levels are peaking. Plus, some trees naturally have higher pollen levels than others. These include cedar, juniper, birch, elm, oak, walnut, and willow trees. In the southeastern United States, veterinarians know that mango trees are a common culprit for dog allergies!
- Grasses – Pollens for grasses can be bi-seasonal. While grass begins to bloom in the spring, it can sometimes drop off in the hottest months of the summer before surging again in the early fall. The types of grass that most often cause allergies are Bermuda, Bahia, brome, bluegrass, meadow fescues, and timothy grass.
- Weeds – Weed pollen typically reaches its peak in the fall. In the winter, freezing temperatures kill annual weeds and reduce pollen count. Ragweeds and Chenopods can be major sources of allergens.
Since pollen can be carried over long distances by the wind, it’s impossible to entirely eliminate the presence of this allergen around your home. Instead, try limiting your dog’s outdoor time when pollen counts are high.
Here are some other tips to minimize your dog’s exposure to pollens or grasses:
- Keep your dog off of your lawn for at least an hour after mowing
- Bathe your dog regularly to remove any pollen from the fur and skin
- Wipe your dog’s feet, groin, and armpit areas with a damp cloth when they come in from outside. This physically removes many of the residues from grass and pollen that might otherwise stay on the surface of their skin, and breaks the cycle of inflammation and itchiness.
#3 Dust Mites and Storage Mites
You might be familiar with dust mites and storage mites when evaluating your own allergies. Many people are already aware that mites are plentiful in all homes—and just like you (are you noticing the theme?), your dog can be allergic to them, too. But if you can’t even see dust and storage mites, how do you get rid of them?
Dealing with Dust Mites
While you may not be able to see dust mites, you can follow these steps to ensure they don’t wreak havoc on your home:
- Use mattress and pillow barriers
- Wash your dog’s bedding in hot water
- Dry your dog’s bedding in the dryer on high for at least 20 minutes
- Vacuum and replace your furnace or air conditioning filters often
Dealing with Storage Mites
Storage mites feed on the mold that grows on food. They’re most frequently found in foods made with grains like flour, cereals, and dry pet foods.
Here are some ways to keep storage mites at bay:
- Keep these types of food stored in airtight containers
- Buy your dog food in smaller quantities (about enough to last you 30 days). This prevents storage mites from having the time to reproduce and infest the food.
We all know that breathing in mold is bad for our health, and the health of our dogs. Not only can molds cause sneezing and watery eyes, but if your dog is allergic to molds, they can also lead to the classic symptoms associated with dog allergies.
Indoor mold growth most commonly occurs in warm, dark, humid environments—which means that bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements are common offenders. Mold can also contaminate air conditioning filters and ducts, as well as evaporative coolers.
To minimize the risk of this allergen in your home:
- Make sure bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements are properly ventilated with exhaust fans
- Change your filters and evaporative cooler pads frequently
- Use a HEPA filter or air-purifying filter to improve your home’s air quality
Mold can also grow in outdoor areas. Since mold usually collects near the ground, it can be dispersed into the air when you mow your lawn. To keep your dog from inhaling or coming into contact with this pesky fungus, make sure you wipe your dog’s paws off when they come inside. It’s also a good idea to limit your dog’s access to freshly mowed lawns.
#5 Cleaners and Detergents
Many household products—like cleaners and detergents—can cause sensitivities in canines. Again, just like people, dogs can be allergic to any of the common substances we use to keep our homes clean and fresh. In addition to cleaners and detergents, other products that may lead to allergy or respiratory symptoms in your dog are:
- Air fresheners
- Floor cleaners (just think of how much time your dog is in contact with the floor!)
- Detergents and fabric softeners
- Shampoos and conditioners
- Scented candles
- Essential oils
- Cigarette smoke
Limiting your use of these products inside will have a huge impact on your dog’s skin and respiratory health. Better yet, REPLACE these products with hypoallergenic products when possible. Using hypoallergenic laundry detergents and fabric softener when you wash any of your dog’s bedding, and using hypoallergenic floor cleaners are two easy ways to minimize your dog’s exposure to something they might be allergic to!
Finally, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite allergen…FOOD! While many pet owners assume that food is the cause of their dog’s allergies, only ten to twenty percent of dogs with allergies are allergic to something in their diet or have a food intolerance. Shocking, right? It’s not nearly as common as your local pet store employee might want you to think!
Even more surprising, dogs are very rarely allergic to fillers, corn, or grains in their diet. If a dog has a food allergy, it is almost certainly an allergy to a protein source. Chicken is the most common dog food allergen, for the simple reason that it is the most common protein that dogs eat in today’s commercial diets.
Other possible protein allergens in your dog’s diet include beef, lamb, venison, salmon, or turkey. Dogs who have a food allergy typically experience some level of itchiness all year round. If they are also allergic to anything in their environment, then they can have seasonal flare-ups, too!
Some dogs are so allergic to a particular protein that ANY residue of that protein can trigger their allergy symptoms—such as itchy paws, skin irritation, ear infections, or a skin infection. Over-the-counter limited ingredient diets have been found to have residues of other protein sources (in addition to the protein listed on the bag) about 80% of the time.
For this reason, the ONLY way to diagnose your dog with a food allergy is to feed a special hypoallergenic diet or limited-ingredient prescription food to your dog for two to three months. These diets are made in facilities that are sterilized, cleaned, swabbed, and tested to ensure that NO other protein residues are present in the food.
Performing a successful food trial is tougher than it sounds. During the trial, if ANYTHING else passes your dog’s lips (like table scraps from a well-meaning houseguest, or food dropped from a toddler’s high chair), the “clock” for the food trial starts over. Needless to say, a food trial is not possible in every household, and each member of the household has to be diligent about sticking to the rules of the food trial in order for it to be successful.
However, if your dog DOES have a food allergy, then you can completely eliminate their exposure to an offending allergen. This means that food is the only allergen on our list, other than fleas, that you could have almost complete control over!
If you think your dog might have a food allergy, talk to your vet about whether or not a food trial is right for your pup. Our veterinarians can also help you determine the likelihood of success with a food trial, or answer your questions about the logistics of performing one in your household
Combating Common Dog Allergies
While it’s impossible to completely avoid most of the common dog allergies, you can use these strategies to minimize how often your dog’s allergy flare-ups happen, and how severely they are affected when they do experience an episode. Our veterinarians are available around the clock 24/7 to help you address your dog’s allergy symptoms and learn how to treat dog allergies.
By taking these steps, you can help keep your furry friend comfortable, happy, and symptom-free. An allergy-free pup is a happy pup, and a happy pup is a happy you.
All you have to do is AskVet.
Allison Ward, DVM
Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.