Common Allergies In Dogs: Signs, Symptoms and Remedies
There are many common allergies in Dogs. Can breeds renowned for being hypoallergenic to people, suffer from allergies themselves? Do poodle-mixes suffer from allergies?
Be it Cockapoo, Cavapoo, or Labradoodle, there’s something about these shagged coated dogs that steals our heart. How did we manage for so long, without them in our lives?
Of course the original hydrid, the Labradoodle, was a working dog, not a pet; bred as a hypoallergenic guide-dog to assist people with impaired vision who were allergic to dogs.
But what happens when we flip the coin? As a hypoallergenic breed, can poodle-mixes themselves suffer from allergies?
Poodle-Mixes and Allergies? A Definite ‘Maybe’
Allergies tend to run in the family. This is why certain dog breeds have a reputation for bad skin, with others breeds not so much.
Happily, the purebred poodle has little truck with allergies. But this is not true for one of their most pup-ular hybrid-partners, the Cocker spaniel. Indeed, the Cocker is to allergies what speed is to jet fighters, with lots of these drop-eared lovelies suffering the discomfort of itchy, allergic skin disease.
This can leave a lot riding on whether a Cockapoo pup takes after their poodle or Cocker parent.
Of course, all dogs are individuals with the potential to develop allergies (even the poodle). And with allergic skin disease affecting one-in-five dogs, it’s unheard of for a breed to escape altogether. So here’s what you need to know about common allergies in dogs.
Is Your Dog Allergic? Signs of Allergies in Dogs
Take a common allergy, such as hay fever. We experience a runny nose, sore eyes, and sneezing. But a dog with ‘hay fever’ suffers much more itchy symptoms affecting the skin.
Yes, the most common signs of allergies in dogs is itching and scratching. This can be to the point where the dog self-harms to the point of damaging their skin and developing complications such as a hot spot or bacterial infection.
Symptoms can show up from as young as six-months of age. Indeed, regrettably the itch intensifies over time, building year-on-year with each repeated exposure to allergens.
And if you’re wondering, an ‘allergen’ is the substance the dog is allergic to that triggers the reaction. This can be anything from pollen to perfume, food to fleas, or even dust mites.
That said, one of the commonest causes of allergies in dogs are flower, grass, or tree pollens. Thus, the dog may show signs in the spring and summer, but get a reprieve from the discomfort in the autumn and winter.
Clues your itchy dog may have allergies include:
- The itch is seasonal
- The scratching gets worse with age
- Licking and rubbing the paws, face, and groin.
- The dog gets regular ear infections
- They suffer frequent skin infections
Of course common things like fleas also cause the itchies. So always use an effective anti-parasite product regularly, before concluding an itch is an allergy.
Why are Some Dogs Allergic but Not Others?
It’s all in the genes…well almost.
A factor heavily influencing whether a dog has allergies, is their parents. A mother or father with allergies stands a greater chance of passing on their genes to produce puppies with itch-prone skin. But this isn’t the whole picture. (Are mixed breeds healthier than purebreds).
But a recent twist in the tale, is that researchers have spotted a link between the month the pup was born and the risk of developing allergies. For example, dogs born at the height of the pollen season are more likely to develop allergies than their winter-born compatriots.
The theory is that exposure super-early in life to high levels of allergens, sensitizes the immune system. This tweaks up the settings so the adult dog is overly sensitive and over-reacts to future exposure.
Another theory is that dogs that suffer allergies have weak skin. The skin is supposed to act like a shield, protecting the dog from the environment. But allergic dogs tend to have skin that’s more like a sieve than a shield, and so that pollen directly contacts the immune system.
And finally, the skin of dogs with allergies tends to be more ‘sticky’ than normal skin. We’re talking stickiness on a microscopic level, so bacteria can glue themselves down more easily to create skin infections.
The answer to ‘why’ is therefore a blend of genetics, exposure, and skin health. But how is an allergy diagnosed and what treatments are available?
What Are Dogs Allergic Too?
Just as some people are allergic to nuts but fine with dairy, where other react to seafood but are OK with nuts…so dogs can react to anything or everything.
Topping the charts of doggy allergens are pollens and grass saps. Hence, when nature is in full blood and the countryside at its greenest, that’s when the dog is itchiness.
But the story doesn’t end there. Some dog are allergic to mold spores, making them autumnal and winter itches when the weather is damp and favors mold. Whilst other have food allergies, and react to a particular ingredient in their diet.
How are Allergies in Dogs Diagnosed?
Another great question…because the answer is “With difficulty.”
The problem being, there’s no simple one-size-fits-all lab test for allergies.
Diagnosis is mostly a matter of ruling out other problems first, and then seeing how many puzzle pieces point towards an allergy.
When a vet is first presented with an itchy dog, they will first think about:
- Are they treated regularly against parasites?
- How long have they been itchy?
- Where is the dog most itchy?
These three simple questions reveal a ton of information.
For starters, if the dog is crawling with fleas…there’s no point even thinking of allergies. Only when the coat is clean and the dog is still itchy, can thoughts move in that direction.
As to how long has the dog been itchy…If it’s now mid-summer and the dog got itchy a couple of weeks ago, then an allergy is more likely. But if it’s mid-winter and the itch only just started, allergy is less likely (but not impossible!).
Then there’s the ‘where’…Typically allergic dogs are paw lickers. A white poodle with rust-colored paws is highly likely to be a paw licker, aka allergic to something. Other favored patches to rubbing or scratching include the face, ears, and groin.
What about Lab Tests?
OK, so your Cockapoo has rust-colored paws and started licking in the spring. How does the vet confirm a working theory of allergies?
There are blood tests that look at the levels of immunoglobulins to certain pollens and grasses. These are a helpful pointer, but not foolproof. Likewise, skin biopsies help rule out certain problems and point to skin inflammation, but are the smoke rather than the gun.
At the end of the day, when all other possibilities have been rules out, the vet has to take an educated guess and start treatment. If the dog improves, then hopefully they nails the diagnosis.
Treatments for Common Allergies in Dogs?
When we have hay fever we reach for the antihistamines. Bad news, pet parents. Antihistamines just don’t cut it for dogs and the results are disappointing. By all means give them a go, but prepare for underwhelming results.
Instead, it’s far more likely your dog with need medication from the vet. Here we have a good news: bad news scenario.
The good news is that now more than ever before, we have some impressive drugs that are effective and mostly side effect free. The bad news is these treatments are expensive. And when you consider allergies can only be controlled, not cured, this often means long term therapy.
OK, so what are the options for treating common allergies in dogs?
Steroids: Cheap and Effective, but at a Price
Corticosteroids such as prednisolone are fantastic at suppressing inflammation and relieving itchiness. They’re also inexpensive, which is great for those on a tight budget.
The downside are the side effects, such as increased appetite and thirst, and in the long term problems such as Cushing’s disease or diabetes. However, these risks can be cut by getting the pet stabilized on ‘alternate day therapy’.
Alternate day therapy involves taking meds every-other-day. This means the dog gets the anti-inflammatory benefits but without becoming hooked on the meds.
Atopica and Apoquel: Next Generation Drugs
First came Atopica. This drug was developed as a result of organ transplants in people. It modifies the immune system and stops it over-reacting. It’s highly effective at suppressing allergies and doesn’t have side effects such as increased thirst and hunger.
Then came Apoquel. This treatment is so effective that owners’ described it as a ‘miracle’. Indeed, when first launched everyone wanted it and the manufacturer couldn’t make it fast enough meaning supplies were rationed.
Apoquel is also largely side effect free, but you guessed it…expensive.
Cytopoint: Turning of the Inflammatory Reaction
Unlike the other options, Cytopoint is an injection and not a drug. Officially it’s a ‘biological modulator’, so called because it interrupts a natural biological pathway that leads to inflammation.
A Cytopoint injection contains antibodies that bind to and take out, a naturally occurring protein that causes skin inflammation. A bit like taking the key out of a locked door, without the key the skin can’t become inflamed.
Immunotherapy Vaccines: Toning Down the Immune System
Some allergic dogs benefit from having a bespoke immunotherapy vaccine developed for them. The theory here is that by giving micro-doses of whatever the dog reacts to, the immune system gets ‘used’ to exposure. This prevents it from over-reacting when exposed to the allergens in a real life situation.
These vaccines are expensive. In terms of effectiveness it’s a tale of thirds. Approximately one-third of patients respond well, one-third respond indifferently, and for one-third it makes no difference at all.
Big Picture Therapies
Dogs with allergies are prone to poor skin and secondary yeast infections, which complicate the picture. Think of the last time you had athlete’s foot and you’ll appreciate how itchy a fungal infection can be.
It’s therefore important to keep the skin clean and healthy. This can mean a course of antibiotics against a bacterial skin infection, or anti-fungal wipes or shampoos against yeast infections
How Can you Help your Poodle Mix at Home?
But not everything depends on prescription medication, you can help at home.
Feed a well-balanced, nutritious diet so the skin has all the raw materials it needs to grow healthy. In addition, a supplement rich in Omega 3 & 6 oils feeds the baby skin cells and helps regulate the immune system.
Keep the dog’s skin clean, by bathing with a moisturizing shampoo if they get very muddy or dirty. This decreases the number of bacteria on the surface of the skin, meaning fewer secondary infections.
Of course this also means hitting that sweet spot between bathing enough but not so much as to strip away the natural oils from the coat. Your vet may be able to suggest a medicated shampoo that moisturizes, cleanses, and decreases yeast on the skin surface.
Also, try rinsing those paws with water after a walk on recently cut grass. This physically washes away the sap allergens which set those paws itching.
The Last Word on Allergies in Dogs
If your dog is troubled by bothersome itching, don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away.
Unfortunately, one thing leads to another: Scratching quickly damages the skin and causes complications such as secondary infections. Even the simple act of licking makes skin moist and provides an ideal breeding ground for yeasts.
In short, act quickly to keep things under control. It takes lower doses of medication to prevent flare ups than it does to settle down a major upset.
Do everything you can to reduce the risk factors, but when this isn’t working then see a vet.
Remember, affect one-in-five dogs and are common…so the chances are your itchy dog may have an allergy and benefit from having a plan in place.
Dr Pippa Elliott BVMS MRCVS
Dr. Pippa graduated as a veterinarian from Glasgow University in 1987. Since then she has worked in companion animal practice and has a special interest in internal medicine. Pippa is housekeeping staff to a naughty puggle, three cats, and a bearded dragon.