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Allergies In Dogs (Symptoms & Treatment)

Unlike humans, the first sign of allergies in dogs is discomfort usually displaying itchy, irritated skin. Some dogs also get a runny nose or eyes, sneeze or even suffer from vomiting and diarrhoea. Uncovering the source of the allergy can be quite frustrating for owners and veterinarians alike.

Some dogs are allergic to components in their diet. A food allergy can emerge early in life; usually the offenders are beef or soy products. The best way to determine if diet is causing an allergic reaction is to feed hypo-allergenic food for several weeks and see if the signs regress. To be altogether certain of a food allergy, you’d need to challenge the dog with the prior food and see if the signs recur.

In this in-depth guide, we’re going to explain the various common dog allergies, how to spot them and how they can be treated.

Ultimate Dog Allergies Guide

Hot Spots in dogs

One of the most common summertime complaints seen by veterinarians are hot spots – round hairless patches of tender, red, oozing skin which seem to erupt overnight. They are usually found on the rump, although they may appear anywhere on the body. Hot spots are especially prevalent in heavy-coated breeds and in any dog with skin allergies.

Hot spots probably begin as a focus of irritation caused by a flea bite, impacted anal sacs or other small annoyances. However, the more the dog licks and chews at the spot, the worse it feels, so the more the animal licks and chews. A small problem explodes into a large one. These lesions need to be treated promptly before you have a dog in agony.

Treatment of a hot spot begins with clipping away the surrounding hair and cleaning the surface of the wound. The area is then covered with a soothing spray, liquid or ointment. The veterinarian will attempt to find and eliminate the source of the complaint. Your dog may need to wear an Elizabethan collar (a plastic contraption similar to a lampshade) around his neck, to prevent it from attacking the area further, until the skin begins to heal. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed as well.

What is atopy in dogs?

A common canine allergic condition is known as atopy. Atopy refers to an inhalant allergy or a reaction to environmental components. Molds, plants, dust, even furniture stuffing fall into this category. Signs of atopy may be seasonal. The only practical way to discover what’s bothering this allergic dog is to ask a veterinary dermatologist to conduct an intra dermal skin test, much as is done with human allergy sufferers. Then you can try avoiding offensive material, or attempt hyposensitisation. These problems are also best discussed with a qualified dermatologist.

Where do dog allergies come from?

A few comments about some common dog allergies: many dogs are sensitive to flea collars, flea bites or dyes in plastic food dishes. These things are easily identified and corrected. If a flea collar irritates your dog’s neck, remove it and wash the area thoroughly with a mild shampoo. Switch to another type of product. And if your dog’s red, irritated nose is caused by an allergy to dyed plastic by replacing the plastic dish with metal or glass. If it’s an allergy, the condition should be resolved.

Dog food allergies are more common than many dog owners realise. Dog food intolerance or allergic reactions to certain nutritional elements of dog food cause dogs to display symptoms that are similar to human food allergies.

If asked about food allergies and intolerance, many of us would have a friend or relative who is unable to digest wheat or dairy or other food. In fact, it is so common that restaurants and retailers now cater for a wide range of intolerances and allergies, so why are we yet to consider our pets and their intolerances?

Like all allergic reactions, dog allergies are the result of an immune system reaction to a harmless substance. An allergen  provokes the dog’s immune system to overreact in the form of a number of different symptoms, most notably a skin irritation. Signs of an allergy can vary from one animal to another and if you suspect your dog may have an allergy you should speak with your veterinarian.

Unlike humans, the first sign of discomfort usually shown by an allergic dog is itchy, irritated skin but allergy symptoms can also be runny nose or eyes, sneezing or even vomiting and diarrhoea.

Uncovering the source of the allergy can be quite frustrating for owners and veterinarians alike.

The main types of allergies dog suffer from include:

Dog food allergies

Some dogs are allergic to components in their diet. A dog being allergic to their food is a problem. A big one.

We differentiate between dog food allergies, which cause reactions from the immune system to a given allergen, such as a protein, and intolerance to food when a sensitivity causes something other than an immune reaction.

The symptoms of dog food sensitivity include digestive tract symptoms and reactions affecting the skin and fur.

Another factor is the age of the dog. The younger the body, the more vulnerable it is.

Certain dog breeds can also cause predispositions to allergies. Irish setters, for example, are genetically predisposed to this disease.

Dog food allergy symptoms

The symptoms of dog food allergies include:

  • itching
  • scratching
  • redness of the skin over the entire body
  • chronic ear inflammation
  • pulmonary symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, diarrhoea, vomiting and flatulence

Dog food allergies (gluten)

Glutens are complex proteins from the glutenin, gliaden, and prelamin plant families. They are found in grains of wheat, barley, oats, rye and triticale. As a protein, it constitutes a factor that causes allergic reactions of an autoimmune nature.

Contact with the intestinal wall results in the destruction of the villi (finger like projections that increase the surface area of the intestine aiding water and nutrient absorption), which leads to symptoms such as loose stools, constipation, foul-smelling excrement, stomach pain, flatulence, weight loss, lethargy, and a reluctance to move and play.

This illness begins with gradual weight loss, slow muscle growth and failure to absorb minerals resulting in anaemia as a result of the dog not being able to absorb nutrients from the diet that are needed to function day to day.

These symptoms are not specific, and can be suspected to be caused by internal parasites such as worms, infectious diseases, improper food selection or problems with organ function.

Symptoms of gluten allergies in dogs

Gluten intolerance in dogs also can manifest itself as changes in the skin and in the appearance of the coat, or problems with the respiratory tract such as

  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • runny nose

Gluten intolerance is becoming more and more common in dogs. This condition is known as celiac disease. One breed that is genetically predisposed to this disease is the Irish Red Setter. Sensitivity to gluten affects both genders equally and it may affect dogs at every stage of life.

The illness becomes manifest when a genetic predisposition is present as well as a factor that initiated the allergic reaction. This factor may be feeding the dog a food containing a high wheat or barley content, stress, viral illness, surgery or pregnancy.

The dog cannot be fed fatty ground meat, sausage, pate, wieners, sandwich meats, dairy products, bread or sweets. A ready-made wet pet food that is intended for dogs containing no glutens whatsoever, such as Butcher’s tinned food, should be used, with easily digested animal proteins and no grain fillers.

Skin allergies in dogs (i.e. Atopy and Bacteria)

The skin is the largest organ and carries out a number of vital roles in the proper functioning of the body. It constitutes a barrier to the environment; has a sensory role because it contains the components that are able to sense touch, heat, cold and pain; controls the flow of blood and thermoregulation of the body; has secretory and excretory properties; is the site of synthesis of vitamin D and operates as a part of the local immune system.

Symptoms of dog skin allergies

The occurrence of skin and fur disorders is frequent among dogs. Most frequently, the cause is allergic in nature when it results from allergies to food, contact allergies, atopic allergies or the presence of skin parasites – fleas.

Of the causes of dog skin allergies that are not related to the immune system, notable are bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Among many ill animals, we frequently see sensitivity related to flea bites. Much like with food allergies, you may first notice signs through your dog’s skin. They may become more itchy and start chewing in certain areas, such as around the tail, rear end, thighs and back. The main cause of irritation from fleas themselves come from the saliva that irritate the skin.

The symptoms of a dog skin allergy can be caused by a large number of fleas, or only one flea causing an allergic reaction. In every case, the best prevention of dog skin allergies is flea protection in the form of dripping of flea repellent on the skin or flea collars.

Treat your dog for fleas regularly whether they show symptoms of skin allergies or not.

Dog nutritional experts also advise that to maintain a healthy skin and coat, a dog needs nutrients such as zinc and also the fatty acids Omega 3, an anti-inflammatory which helps to prevent skin irritation, and Omega 6, a key ingredient for a shiny and glossy coat. Salmon oil is rich in Omega 3 and has some Omega 6 content. Tripe is a known as a superfood for dogs as it is full of essential nutrients needed for good health, including the optimum balance of Omega 3 and 6.

Skin atopica in dogs

The next frequently occurring disorder manifesting itself in the skin is atopica. This is based on a reaction by the immune system to environmental allergens that enter the body through the respiratory system or through the skin itself. This disease affects dogs of every age and is typically seasonal with pollen, but there are instances of household dust also causing similar illnesses.

Seasonal allergies in dogs

Dogs can suffer from a range of seasonal allergies and environmental allergies just like humans. Seasonal allergies in dogs manifest in symptoms such as:

  • sneezing
  • runny or congested nose
  • watery and itchy eyes
  • itchy sinuses, throat, or ear canals
  • ear congestion
  • postnasal drainage

Can dogs be allergic to pollen?

Yes. Dogs can be allergic to pollen.

Some dog allergies may be seasonal and may bring other side effects with them, such as weight gain when prescribed a course of steroids to treat.

Case study: dog food intolerance in a German Shepherd

Oscar, a 4 year old German Shepherd is an active family dog. During the summer he suffered from an allergic reaction to pollen and was prescribed steroids.

During the course of medication, as a direct side effect, he gained weight.

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Once he completed the course of medication he maintained the heavier weight, prompting his owners to find a solution. After being assessed by Mike Mullan, Crufts judge and canine behaviourist working with pet food company Butcher’s Pet Care, he began a trial of Butcher’s Lean & Tasty dog food.

Over a 16 week period Oscar lost just over 5kg weight and appeared to have lots more energy. He subsequently had to go back on steroids this summer due to his allergies, but continuing his diet of Lean & Tasty, his weight was better maintained and he kept his energy.

If you are worried your dog suffers from allergies, whether dog food allergies or seasonal allergies, keep a diary of the signs and symptoms and speak with your veterinary surgeon.


Your dog’s allergy symptoms can be managed if you are able to identify the problem, and then, in the cases of dogs like Oscar, help them to live as happy and healthy a life as possible.

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