Rising temperatures, longer days, birds chirping, and beautiful blooming trees … I LOVE SPRING! The one drawback? Allergies! I don’t know about you, but I get really bad seasonal allergies — tight throat, itching eyes, runny nose, and all-around discomfort. Well, get this: Like us, our canine companions can also suffer from allergies. While our dogs can’t simply tell us they aren’t feeling good, there are some warning signs.
What Are Allergies?
Like humans, canines have an immune system that helps protect them from harmful bacteria and viruses. But, sometimes a completely harmless substance enters or comes into contact with the body that the immune system perceives as a threat. These foreign substances are called allergens and when we’re exposed to them, the body releases a compound called histamines. This over-reaction causes inflammation, swelling, and itching. To put it simply, it triggers an allergic reaction.
What Triggers Allergies In Dogs?
Canines can suffer from seasonal, environmental, and food allergies. In this article, we’ll be focusing on seasonal/environmental allergies. Seasonal allergies tend to surface around a certain time of year (most commonly Spring and Fall) vs. food allergies are year-round.
While a large number of substances can be allergens, some common things dogs are allergic to include:
- Dust mites
- Shed skin cells (which is similar to pet allergies in humans)
- Flea saliva – Many dogs are highly allergic to flea bites
Warning Signs and Symptoms
When it comes to allergy symptoms, us humans typically experience respiratory symptoms. We may sneeze a lot and have a runny nose. Our eyes may feel itchy and our throat may feel tight and scratchy. Dogs, on the other hand, tend to experience skin issues.
You might see your dog:
- Intensely itching and scratching
- Red and inflamed paw pads, from excessive licking and chewing
- Brown saliva stains on paw pads due to excessive licking
- Hair loss, from all the scratching and rubbing
- Shaking head and ears: Ears can itch and/or become infected
- A yeasty smell: Be alert for any odors, open wounds, or skin breakdown from the excessive licking and chewing. These can be signs of infection and will need to be looked at by the vet.
- Runny nose and watery eyes can be present, but less frequently
The most commonly affected areas are your dogs:
- Base of the tail
- Around the eyes
A Big Concern With Canine Allergies
Since doggy allergies trigger skin issues, all of that scratching, biting, and licking can trigger a secondary bacterial or yeast infection. So, it’s important to take action ASAP.
How To Diagnose & Treat Allergies
Diagnosing allergies can be tricky. Similar to an allergy test for humans, your vet can do skin tests and blood tests to identify what your pup is allergic to.
Talk To Your Vet
Unfortunately, there’s no real cure for allergies. But, depending on the severity, your vet may want to treat with steroids or antihistamines. Your vet may also talk to you about “desensitization vaccinations”, which are similar to “allergy shots” in humans. The vaccine is formulated and then administered at home on a regular basis. Whether you want to go that route or not, it’s always a good idea to let your vet know what’s going on with your pup.
Consult With Your Vet Before Giving Over-The-Counter Allergy Medicine
Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec are all common antihistamines that are usually considered safe for dogs suffering from allergy symptoms/reactions. The dosage is different for dogs than humans. So don’t simply follow the directions on the back of the box and call it a day. In general:
- Benadryl: 1 milligram (mg) for every pound of bodyweight.
- Claritin: According to Valley Vet Hospital, a safe dosage is 5 mg daily if less than 15 lbs; 10 mg daily (or 5 mg twice daily) if 15-39 lbs; 10 mg twice daily if over 40 lbs
- Zyrtec: Only use plain Zyrtec (cetirizine) and avoid Zyrtec-D due to potentially serious side effects! According to Pet Coach, the dose for dogs is approximately 0.5 mg per pound 1-2 times per day, not to exceed 20 mg per dose. That means:
- 5 lb. dog = 2.5 mg, or 1/2 of a 5 mg tablet
- 10 lb. dog = 5 mg, or one 5 mg tablet
- 20 lb. dog = 10 mg, one 10 mg tablet or two 5 mg tablets
- 50 lb. dog = 20 mg, two 10 mg tablets
- 100 lb. dog = 20 mg, two 10 mg tablets
But, always consult with your vet about over-the-counter drug use and dosage first. Side effects may include drowsiness or hyperactivity.
Another note: Make sure your OTC allergy medicine only contains an antihistamine. Avoid anything that contains decongestants.
Natural Ways To Soothe Your Pooch
In addition to working with your vet to come up with an action plan, here are a few things you can do to help soothe and comfort your pup:
- Limit Exposure: Typically, the first thing to do if you know the cause would be to remove the trigger. But, since environmental causes are not that easy to remove, your best bet is to try and limit exposure.
- Keep the windows in your house closed to avoid letting in pollen, especially when the local pollen count is high.
- According to Pollen.com, “The pollen counts are the highest between 5 am and 10 am, so limiting your outside exposure during those times can be extremely helpful for diminishing your allergies.”
- Create a Barrier: Consider putting a tee-shirt on your fur baby to create a barrier between his skin and the environment. Remember to wash and change your dog’s clothes daily to remove lingering pollens.
- A Quick Clean: When your dog comes inside from a walk, wipe him down with a damp cloth or grooming wipe to remove surface pollen. Wipe his face, paws, the underside of his belly, underarms, groin, tail and anal/genital areas. As I mentioned above, these are the areas most prone to contact exposure while walking your pup. Here are the brands that I’ve used and really like:
- A More Thorough Rinse: Rinse your dog’s paws after an outing. I do this in the summer months before bed every night when my pups allergies act up and she gets instant relief. I just run her little paws under cool water for a few minutes while massaging her feet and paw-pads. Then I dry her off with a towel. She curls up in the bed and happily goes to sleep. Total relief – no biting or licking those little tootsies.
- Shampoo Therapy: Once a week bathing with a hypoallergenic shampoo can help to soothe itchy and inflamed skin. Plus, when your pup takes a bath, it also helps to rinse off allergens in their coat (which could later be absorbed into the skin).
- CBD Oil: Experts say CDB oil proves extremely effective when it comes to atopic dermatitis. Derived from hemp, CBD oil offers up many health benefits for dogs. I’ve added Cannanine Organic CBD Oil From Hemp to my Chihuahua’s breakfast every day for nearly 2 years. It’s worked wonders and I highly recommend it. Check it out HERE!
- Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. While I include it in some of my dog’s treats, you can also use it topically. When applied directly into your dog’s skin, it can help restore skin health and prevent future infections.
- Omega-3s: Studies have shown Omega-3 fatty acids may relieve atopic dermatitis. Speak to your vet about increasing fatty acids in your pup’s diet and possibly using an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
- Keep a Clean Home: Keep your carpets vacuumed and linens washed/changed to keep dust mites to a minimum.
- When washing linens, doggy beds, or anything else your pooch will come into contact with, don’t line dry them outside (to avoid the pollen)
- Change Air Filters Regularly: Use air filters to help reduce airborne allergens within the home. Make sure to change them regularly!