How common are allergies in dogs?

Allergies in dogs are relatively common, unfortunately—probably similar to the rates in people. I don't know exactly what they are in humans, but I bet somewhere between 25 and 30% of all dogs have some form of allergies and maybe even higher if you include things like fleas.

Dr. Michele Drake
The Drake Center

What are some common dog allergies?

Many dogs are allergic to flea bites, which you can imagine why that would be. Some dogs can be covered with fleas and they’re not even itching at all, but most dogs find them irritating and can have responses that are kind of over the top. Also, more commonly, we see contact allergies. These allergies occur when dogs are exposed to grasses, molds that are in the grasses, or mold or dust mites in our home. Dogs may also be allergic to pollens in the air that come and land. With humans, we have more aerosol allergies; dogs have mainly contact allergies. They can have inhalant allergies, but it's primarily contact or things that their bodies are coming in contact with.

How do allergies impact the health and wellbeing of my dog?

I've personally had about eight dogs that have had pretty significant allergies. And I can tell you that these dogs are pretty uncomfortable when they have allergy symptoms. The primary thing for dogs is licking their feet, scratching, and feeling just really uncomfortable. It varies tremendously between dogs, their symptoms, and the types of allergies they have, but I've seen some pretty uncomfortable dogs.

What are some signs and symptoms of allergies in dogs?

Again, you'll see scratching, itching, licking, rubbing their faces, and sometimes scooting their fannies on the ground. These are probably the most common signs of allergies in dogs.

Can I diagnose my dog's allergies at home?

No, you cannot because I'll have clients come in and say that they think their dog has allergies and frankly their dog just has fleas. Many clients don't even know their pets have fleas. And I would say, "Don't worry, that's my job. I'm a professional flea finder. So, don't worry if you couldn't figure that out." So, we always want to take care of external parasites first. If we rule that out and suddenly, the allergies go away, then it wasn't allergies at all. It was a flea infestation. So, you can see that your dog is scratching, itching. Dogs can also have bacterial or yeast type infections on their skin. That doesn't mean that they have allergies, although they can be in addition to allergies. If we get those things cleared up, and the dog stops itching, then that’s not really an allergy then; it’s an infection. Go to your veterinarian, have a conversation, and have them start to check into things.

How will a veterinarian diagnose allergies in my dog?

Quite often, allergies in the dog can be an exclusion, so we're going to remove any external parasites first. The other possibility is a tiny percentage of dogs have food allergies. So, we may do a food trial. When you go to pet stores, they always want to tell you it's food allergies; it really is not usually food. Although food can be an additional component that adds to the allergies, that’s a much lower component. But for the most part, when you come into us, we're going to start excluding things first, and we're going to begin to examine the skin.

We're going to look for things like bacteria or yeast. Many dogs have yeast infections on their nail beds that can cause problems and itchiness. So, we're going to look for things like that, and treat those things. And the owner needs to understand that this is a process. It can take a while, and you want a veterinarian who has the energy, the time, and the commitment to seeing the allergy situation through. It can sometimes be several months for us to get things under control. But we will help you get them under control.

veterinarian in encinitas
Dog ear exam

How are dog allergies treated using anti-inflammatory therapies?

There are so many excellent medications for dogs now that we didn't have when I started veterinary medicine a long time ago. We used to use a combination of topical therapies and corticosteroids. And now we have some amazing new medications that some great drug companies have produced for us, such as Apoquel and Cytopoint. Apoquel stops the itch, but you've got to make sure that also you get the underlying infections. There are many components to treating allergies, and topical therapy is also quite important.

How is shampoo therapy used for a dog's allergies?

Shampoo therapy is tremendously important because so many of these allergies are contact allergies. The shampoo removes the surface antigens, which are things like molds and spores and pollens, the low levels of bacteria and yeast, and, hopefully, the shampoo will also help to control those things again. Shampoos also help with the skin barrier, because dogs that have allergies do not have a normal barrier of their skin. And so shampoo therapy is vital, as are other topical treatments. Work with your veterinarian to find the best topical component for treating allergies because it's essential to the dog’s treatment.

What are dog allergy shots?

There's a treatment called hyposensitization, which is basically where we draw blood from your dog or perform skin testing, and we determine what things they are allergic to. When clients come into my center initially, and they're like, "What do you think they're allergic to?" I'll say, "Well, when we check, we look for almost 80 different things." So it's hard for me to ever look at a dog and say, "Oh, I think they're allergic to this." The testing will determine what things they are allergic to.  They may say, "Hey, there are four or five things, mold or a certain kind of pine tree, or a certain kind of pollen that your dog is allergic to." And then we're going to form a solution that allows us to give your dog small amounts of that so that they will decrease how they react to those particular antigens.

So, hyposensitization has a role in treating dogs with allergies, but I will say that now we have so many other excellent medications, there are combinations of therapy. We really can do a good job. It just requires that you understand, that you have some patience, and that you grasp that this is not something we can just get rid of immediately. It's a process. We generally don't cure allergies. We just learn to control them well, and every dog is different.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (760) 456-9556, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Allergies - FAQs

Dr. Michele Drake
The Drake Center

How can you tell if my dog has allergies?

When you come to The Drake Center to see me and your dog is itchy and red and kind of miserable, I'm going to start to have an idea that your dog may have allergies. But I'm going to begin to rule out other things first, including external parasites. Sometimes there may be a food component, depending on where they're showing me symptoms. We tend to see food allergies present with problems in the ears and on the back end. A flea allergy is there too. When dogs are chewing on their feet, they may have a combination of contact allergies and a yeast infection. So there are many things that we're going to do. But I always say it takes a process of you understanding what it is that we're doing to get a determination of what's going on. And you also need the patience to see how your pet is going to respond because every dog responds a bit differently.

How common are allergies in dogs?

Unfortunately, allergies are relatively common. I would say probably up to 30 or 40% of all dogs have some form of allergies. Some are super mild. We see them on occasion. And other dogs live with them all year round. And those are the dogs we want to spend a lot of time with, making sure we're treating them with the best possible medications and topical therapies we can.

What are the symptoms of allergies in dogs?

The most common symptom in dogs is chewing on their feet, scratching at their bodies or their ears, shaking their heads, licking their rear ends, and just being miserable and unable to settle. You'll often find that they're licking their feet and scratching through the night, which means something's not right.

What is a contact allergy in dogs?

Contact allergies refer to the primary allergies that dogs have when they're walking around or laying down in your house. Some dogs are allergic to house dust mites, and they're everywhere. No matter how clean your home is, you have house dust mites. And you probably have some mold there too. So the dog is exposed to them on their skin, and the antigens of these substances penetrate through the skin, and the dog's body creates what is essentially an over-response. And that's going to cause the histamine release, which causes the itching and discomfort for your dog.

How can you tell if my dog has a food allergy?

The only way to test for a food allergy is to do an elimination diet trial. You can home cook food, which is probably the purest form of doing that. And we would help you to formulate a diet. We also use a couple of effective commercial diets. The most crucial thing is when we do a food trial, you cannot feed anything else because that could contaminate and ruin our results. We generally would put a dog on a diet for a minimum of six weeks. And if we see the symptoms get much better, that's great. Unfortunately, many dogs that have food allergies also have other allergies, so it may be a combination of things. In general, though, a food allergy is a smaller component of what most dogs experience, but it can be a very significant one for those that have it.

Do dogs suffer from seasonal allergies?

For sure. We have dogs that I would notice in their chart that every September, they come in. And that's because we're going to have certain things bloom or pollinate during that time of year. And so that dog might be highly allergic to that thing. And I always tell people your dog may be allergic to numerous things. And as long as they stay in low amounts in the environment, it's not a problem. But as they increase, you're going to start to see symptoms. And as they decrease, the symptoms will begin to go away. And what we're going to do is we're going to help that dog during that peak time when they're having issues in the season with topical therapies and oral medications, making sure that we have the infections under control. And for those reasons, you do need to work with your veterinarian to make sure you're on the best treatment plan, so your dog can feel comfortable and you can all sleep well at night.

How are allergies in dogs different from allergies in humans?

Of course, I don't know human medicine that well. But human allergies are mainly of the inhalant variety. So we have hay fever-like symptoms, watery eyes, stuffy nose, even some coughing, and sometimes a postnasal drip. And dogs can have some inhalant components. But for the most part, dog allergies are contact-related. In other words, there are things that dogs are touching, laying down on, and are experiencing in the environment as they run through grasses and things that are causing contact allergies. So they are different, but they have some similarities also. But that's the main difference.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (760) 456-9556, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.