Your dog has been scratching and licking himself a lot lately, his eyes are watery, and he keeps sneezing. Could it be a cold? Maybe fleas or other parasites? Possibly, but it’s also possible that your dog has allergies.

Some common canine allergens include:

  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Dander (from cats or even people)
  • Feathers
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Food ingredients (e.g. beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat or soy)
  • Prescription drugs
  • Fleas and flea-control products
  • Perfumes
  • Cleaning products/chemicals
  • Fabrics
  • Insecticidal shampoo
  • Rubber and plastic materials
  • Dogs may also be allergic to food (such as (beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat or soy), although it can often take some serious detective work to figure out exactly what food or ingredient is causing the allergy. Typical symptoms of a food allergy can include itchy skin, breathing difficulties, and gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea. Your vet will be able to help you figure out exactly which substance is causing the allergy, most likely via an elimination diet where certain things are cut out and/or replaced until the reaction stops and the culprit is identified.

    General allergy symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin
  • Increased scratching
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Itchy back or base of tail
  • Itchy ears and ear infections
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Snoring when a dog is not generally prone to it (this can indicate an inflamed throat)
  • Paw chewing/swollen paws
  • Constant licking
  • Dog wearing the "cone of shame."The raw, exposed skin from constant licking can also contract bacterial or yeast skin infections, which can cause hair loss, scabs, and crust on the skin. To prevent your dog from scratching and licking this exposed skin, your vet will most likely put your dog in an Elizabethan collar, more commonly known as the “cone of shame.”

    If you think your dog might have allergies, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. The vet will most likely want to conduct blood and/or skin tests, and possibly prescribe an elimination diet, to determine what the allergen is. In terms of allergy susceptibility, the ASPCA notes that terriers, setters, retrievers, and brachycephalic dogs such as pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers tend to be predisposed to allergies. However, any dog can develop allergies over the course of his life.

    Generally, allergies can be treated/prevented by removing the suspect allergens from the environment:

  • Make sure to use a flea control program for all your pets, for more on this, visit our post here
  • To eliminate dust and dust mites, clean your pet’s bedding once a week and vacuum at least twice a week (including rugs, curtains, and any other materials that can pick up dust)
  • Bathe your pet weekly with a prescription shampoo. Consult your vet to find out which shampoo is best for your pet.
  • If your vet prescribes a specific diet as a response to a food allergy, make sure to stick with it and not deviate from it.
  • If these methods don’t work or aren’t sufficient, other options do exist, including:

  • Allergy injections, which can help your pet develop resistance to the allergen
  • Antihistamines such as Benadryl; however, this is not effective on all dogs, so make sure to check with your vet
  • Fatty acid supplements to help relieve itchy skin
  • Prescription shampoos to prevent and skin infections and alleviate the discomfort caused by them
  • Drugs that modulate the immune system
  • Cortisone creams or injections; be warned, however, that these drugs are strong and can carry their own side effects. They must be used with caution and only under the guidance of a veterinarian.
  • As always, if your dog is showing signs of allergies or any illness, please make sure to consult your veterinarian before trying any over-the-counter remedies. While the internet can be a valuable tool for gathering information, only a vet can customize a treatment plan for your pet that will give him the best chance at the best health and recovery.

    Thank you to the ASPCA for furnishing this very valuable information!

    Photo credits:

    Top: Donnie Ray Jones via Flickr. Image is cropped.

    Bottom: Ewen Roberts via Flickr