The most common signs of allergies in dogs are:
- Itchy skin, which may or may not become infected; and
- Chronic or recurrent ear infections
Dogs with allergies may scratch, lick, chew, or rub. Allergies often cause secondary infections, and infected skin can make dogs even more itchy, so it can be a vicious cycle. Dogs can be allergic to many different things, including fleas, food, and environmental allergens. Some dogs have multiple allergies.
Flea allergy dermatitis is very common, and we see fleas year-round. Oftentimes, owners will never see fleas, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there! Dogs that are highly allergic only need to be exposed to a very small number of fleas before reacting. Therefore, the first step in controlling your dog’s allergies is to institute year-round flea control using a veterinarian-recommended product.
Dogs can develop allergies to specific components of a diet at any age, regardless of the quality of the food they are fed. Most often, dogs are allergic to protein sources in the diet, such as beef, chicken, or pork. Dogs with food allergies will have itchy skin and/or itchy ears year-round. The only way to diagnose food allergies is to complete a food trial. A food trial involves feeding a prescription hypoallergenic diet, such as Hill’s z/d, for a 3-month period to assess for improvement or resolution of signs. During a food trial, the ONLY food your dog should receive is the prescription diet, as treats or table scraps can interfere with the trial. If the prescription diet helps provide relief from itching, it should be fed for the rest of your dog’s life.
Environmental Allergies (Atopic Dermatitis)
If your dog is receiving a year-round flea control product, and a diet trial did not provide any relief from itching, your dog likely has environmental allergies, also known as atopic dermatitis. Allergens in the environment can include pollens, molds, or dust mites. Most dogs with environmental allergies will have flare-ups at specific times during the year, such as spring or summer, when pollen levels are high. Atopic dermatitis can be diagnosed with skin testing by a dermatologist, or by process of elimination.
Can Allergies Be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is not a cure for allergies. However, most dogs can be managed with the use of flea control products, a therapeutic diet, and/or medications to provide relief from itching and secondary infections.