Top Dog Tips - Common Canine AllergiesLast week I discussed preparing your dog for emergencies. It's an important issue that many pet parents don't think about. An equally important topic is common canine allergies. Many dogs suffer for months before their owners realize that they are suffering from an allergy. Sometimes the allergic reaction can come from something simple like the dog's diet, but all too often it isn't that easy to diagnose. 

This week I decided to research canine allergies, what can cause them and how they are treated. Pet allergies are one of the most common reasons for pet owners to seek veterinary care. But what is an allergic reaction?

An allergy is a state of hypersensitivity or over-reactivity of the immune system to an allergen. Typically, allergens are proteins. The allergen protein may be of plant, insect or animal origin. Being exposed to the allergen, usually on multiple occasions, sensitizes the immune system. Being exposed to the same or related allergen again causes an over-reaction.

Under normal circumstances, the immune systems response would protect your dog from infections and disease. However, when it comes to allergies, the immune systems response can actually be harmful to your dog's body. Each dog reacts to allergens in a different way and the symptoms can be varied and range from mild to extreme.

This week I decided to dig up some information on canine allergies to share with all of you. If your dog is experiencing symptoms such as itchy skin, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, runny eyes, runny nose, vomiting or diarrhea, seek veterinary help in diagnosing the underlying problem. It could be linked to canine allergies, but there may be other causes as well.

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8 Resources for Most Common Dog Allergies

Common Canine Allergies
Photo: Anne Swaboda

1. Pet Alliance of Grater Orlando

For a greater understanding of canine allergies, this resource from the Pet Alliance of Grater Orlando is a great place to start. They give a brief explanation of allergies and explain some of the most common types of allergies in dogs. This article also discusses the many things that can cause canine allergies.

  • A very large number of substances can act as allergens. Most are proteins of insect, plant or animal origin, but small chemical molecules known as haptens can also cause allergy. Examples of common allergens are pollens, mold spores, dust mites, shed skin cells (similar to “pet allergies” in humans), insect proteins such as flea saliva, and some medications.

2. Dog Health Guide features an article that has in-depth information about the four causes of canine allergies. They also show pictures of each type of allergy, which is great if you're trying to figure out which type of allergy your pet is suffering from.

As I mentioned, dogs react to allergens in different ways and the effects of the allergic reaction will differ greatly. Sometimes you'll notice the issue in a small area, and sometimes it may effect different areas around your dog's entire body. These pictures may be able to help you narrow down what is causing your pet's allergic reaction.

  • There are 3 causes of canine allergy:
    • Insects: Fleas (most common allergy, called flea allergy dermatitis) and other biting insects or parasites
    • Airborne Allergens: Pollen, Mites, Grass, Mold that are inhaled (canine atopy).  These allergens can also be absorbed through the skin.
    • Contact Allergies: Allergens that come in contact with the skin (contact hypersensitivity).
    • Food and Drugs: called food allergies

3. American Animal Hospital Association

A blog on the website for the American Animal Hospital Association talks about pet allergies and the importance of seeking veterinary help as soon as possible. Like most medical conditions, if left untreated minor canine allergies can turn into a much bigger problem. Respiratory issues can lead to infections and eye irritations could lead to sight impairment.

  • “If left untreated, dogs and cats with seasonal allergies will scratch or lick themselves constantly,” says Dr. Link Welborn, AAHA past president. “In an attempt to relieve themselves, dogs and cats often create sores that become secondary infections.”

Allergic reactions resulting in skin irritation are the most common. In fact, according to the Veterinary Institute of Integrative Medicine (VIIM), skin allergies (also known as atopic dermatitis or “atopy”) is one of the most common skin disorders diagnosed in canines in the country.

4. Veterinary Institute of Integrative Medicine

The VIIM have an article on their site that discusses atopic dermatitis specifically. You will learn about its causes, symptoms, how your veterinarian will go about diagnosing the condition, and some common treatments. Atopy cannot be cured without finding the cause of the allergic reaction. Therefore, many treatments will help the symptoms, but your pet will still be suffering with the condition.

  • Skin allergies can be controlled in most cases; but not cured without identifying and eliminating the specific allergen behind the allergy. Antihistamines, corticosteroids, and immune suppressants can offer relief to your affected dog. However, corticosteroids are potent drugs with severe side effects when used long-term.

5. Texas A&M's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

Texas A&M's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital has a very comprehensive website with information for all pet owners. They provide resources for small animals, cats, dogs, and even horses. Of course, they have an article about animal allergies. One thing I found particularly interesting was the section about how to tell if your pet is itching too much.

I don't think pet owners can always tell when their dog is itching more than normal. Many dog owners don't realize the extent of their canine's itching until they begin losing hair or they begin to bleed.

  • Licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, and scratching are all signs of pruritus (itch). Many times animals are itchier during the night when they are not preoccupied with other events. The face, ears, paws, armpits, groin, and rump tend to be the itchiest areas in allergic small animals…Every pet has its own itch tolerance which means the intensity and reason(s) for your pet's pruritus may not be the same as a friend's pet.

Food allergies are one of the leading causes of skin allergies in dogs. Food allergies in dogs manifest themselves in much different ways in canines than they do in people. A human who is allergic to wheat may vomit, have diarrhea or abdominal pain if they ingest it. A dog with a wheat allergy is likely to have itchy patches of skin, but otherwise seem fine.

Some food allergies result in the scratching and chewing of the hind end or chewing of the paws. The skin underneath the fur in those areas may look red or slightly swollen. If left untreated the itching could become unbearable and make your pet extremely uncomfortable.

6. Adopt And Shop

Blogger Estelle W. wrote a blog for in which she discusses her personal experience with canine allergies. She documents her dogs battle with itchy skin and how her vet treated it. One thing many pet owners don't realize is that treating a dog for an allergy is a multi-step process.

It's really more of a process of elimination than anything else. It can be time consuming, expensive and frustrating. If you have a bit of background knowledge, you may be able to weed out some of the most common underlying causes yourself.

  • In conjunction with keeping Boo Boo flea-free, my vet told me it was important to keep her dirt-free by giving her weekly baths.  Dogs like Boo Boo who have allergens working against them from the inside can also be susceptible to allergens from the outside (like seasonal pollen or other environmental factors).  Bathing her weekly washes away any surface allergens that she may have picked up and soothes her itchy skin at the same time. 

7. Michigan State University's Veterinary Medical Center

If you're interested in more information about canine food allergies, Michigan State University's Veterinary Medical Center has an in-depth article on their site. They discuss the most common ingredients that cause food allergies and some of the top commercial dog food diets that are beneficial to dogs with food allergies. They also share a list of breeds that are the most commonly affected by food allergies, which include:

  • Soft-coated Wheaton Terrier
  • Dalmatian
  • Collie
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Bichon Frise
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Cocker/Springer Spaniels
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Golden Retriever
  • German Shepherd

8. Pet Health Network

The last thing I'll leave you with this week is a little advice about Benadryl. Veterinarian Justine A. Lee has written a blog for the Pet Health Network about allergic reactions and the use of Benadryl. She strongly encourages all pet parents to speak to their veterinarians before using Benadryl.

Although Benadryl is commonly used to help with allergic reactions in humans, it may not be right for your pet. Be sure to consult your personal veterinarian first, as they know your dog's medical history and his specific needs.

  • With mild allergic reactions, you can consult your veterinarian about just treating with Benadryl at home (make sure the Benadryl doesn’t have any added other ingredients). The dose of Benadryl is typically 1 mg per pound of weight of your dog (so a 50 pound dog would get 50 mgs of Benadryl).

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.