Allergies can be the culprit behind a host of symptoms, symptoms that overlap with those of other conditions. This can make dog allergies hard to pinpoint. It’s important to break down common types of allergies, their hallmarks, and holistic methods of addressing both the effects and the source of the problem. If there’s a way to tackle your dog’s allergies without expensive tests and stressful trips to the vet, we want to help you find it!
Just like human allergies, dog allergies are caused by the immune system having an extreme reaction to everyday substances. Allergens can be ingested or inhaled, or they can make contact with the skin. There’s no simple cure for allergies, but you can alleviate symptoms by decreasing exposure to allergens.
Allergies aren’t breed specific; any dog can suffer from sensitivities. But some breeds are more prone to allergies, including flat-faced dogs (e.g., bulldogs, boxers), terriers, and retrievers.
Since allergies and other conditions can look similar, it can be hard to diagnose allergies and beyond that, find out exactly what your pup is allergic to. Pay close attention to the symptoms and you may be able to rule out other conditions.
Note: If your dog’s symptoms are severe and include hair loss from excessive itching, open sores, persistent diarrhea, vomiting, facial swelling (anaphylaxis), swollen ear drums, or anything else that needs urgent attention, you will want to go ahead and schedule an appointment with a holistic veterinarian.
Otherwise, it’s time to talk about common signs of an allergic reaction, which include:
Skin reactions are the most common clue that your dog may have allergies, but you might see some of these digestive and respiratory symptoms. Before you assume your dog has allergies based on incessant itching and redness, you may want to make sure that your dog doesn’t have mites (also known as mange). Mites are microscopic, usually transparent insects, but their effects are easier to see than their bodies. Scaly, hairless patches and sores may indicate the presence of sarcoptic or demodex mange. You can usually recognize demodex mange because it starts with patches on the face and then moves down the body toward the tail.
Both types can be deadly if left untreated, but the case would have to be very advanced for your dog’s health to be in danger. If you suspect the presence of mites, bathe your dog with a gentle organic pet shampoo and warm water, and be sure to clean blankets, toys, beds, sheets, rugs, and cushion covers. You may need to get a special cream or shampoo from a holistic veterinarian to make sure the mites are gone for good, but cleaning your house and keeping your dog away from daycare, boarding, or dog parks for a while should help get rid of the infestation. If your dog often goes to public spaces, just make sure to give semi-frequent baths with a gentle-dog friendly shampoo and keep your home clean.
Keep in mind that even though itchy ears can and often do indicate allergies, the scratching and head-shaking could indicate an ear infection rather than just plain irritation. If you see rusty or dark residue in your dog’s ear, you may want to apply a natural ear mite and infection treatment. If your dog’s eardrum is swollen, make an appointment with a trusted veterinarian. It’s important to note that even though ear infections can occur independent of allergies, frequent ear infections may signal the presence of allergies. So, even if you discover an ear infection, you may need to keep your eyes peeled for other symptoms.
Assuming you’ve now ruled out mites, let’s move on to the different types of allergens that could be giving your pup some trouble.
Anything from an ingredient in a favorite doggie snack to the grass at the park could be the allergen that’s ruining your pup’s fun. You may need to do a little experimenting to rule out the perpetrator. Most allergens will fall into one of these four categories: food, environmental/seasonal, chemical products, or fleas.
If your dog eats processed food and treats, you may not have to look much further. Common triggers in dog food include beef, dairy, wheat, corn, soy, chicken, and eggs. The solution to a dog food allergy is usually pretty straightforward: switch to a high quality, grain free kibble (or even raw) diet that doesn’t contain common allergens. But this also applies to treats and any table food you might give your best four-legged pal. When you switch your dog’s food, you may want to slowly make the transition, mixing the two types of food together for several days to prevent even more digestive trouble.
Environmental allergies include culprits like pollen, mold, dust, and grasses. One thing that may help your dog is making sure you clean all your air filters frequently. You may also want to try vacuuming and dusting with a wet cloth at least once a week, and washing your dog’s bedding and toys frequently so they don’t get dusty. A gentle weekly bath with a hypoallergenic dog shampoo will help clear away allergens that might be clinging to your dog’s coat.
On that note, some dogs (like many humans) are allergic to harsh chemicals in household cleaning and hygiene products. If you send your dog to a traditional groomer, bathe her with harsh soaps with artificial fragrances, use a chemical flea and pest treatment (on your dog’s skin, your home, or your lawn), or frequently clean your home with strong chemicals like bleach, you may want to rethink the products you’re using. Switch to all natural pest control products for your yard, home, and your dog’s skin.
Another source of allergies may be a flea infestation. If your dog is allergic to flea saliva, she’ll develop flea allergy dermatitis, a condition marked by itchy, red, and sometimes thickening skin. If you find tiny brownish to black wingless bugs, or little black specks known as “flea dirt,” you may have spotted the cause of your dog’s allergy. Instead of running straight to the chemical dips, drops, or pills, use a gentle yet effective natural flea and tick spray and be sure to thoroughly treat the areas your dog has inhabited - fleas can spread to humans, too!
If you’re not sure what type of allergen is affecting your dog and minor lifestyle adjustments don’t improve the situation, you may need to visit a holistic vet who can help you find the source of the issue via skin or blood tests. If the allergy is severe, the vet may need to prescribe antihistamines or steroids that can help tame the symptoms while you investigate the source of the problem.
If your dog is coughing, she may have developed bronchitis after exposure to environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke. Visit a holistic vet if your dog has persistent coughing fits as this may indicate an inflammation or obstruction of her airway.
The best course of action for your pup is to treat allergies holistically, searching for the root of the problem and making lifestyle changes as opposed to merely treating the unwanted symptoms. You can make minor changes that could make a huge difference in your dog’s well-being by strengthening her immune system. Here are a few ways you can help your pup steer clear of allergens:
Dog allergies are often a complex issue, and treatment usually involves making some changes to the way you approach caring for your dog and it will take some time to figure out. Don’t get overwhelmed - make one change at a time. If you need guidance, work together with a trusted holistic vet to come up with a plan. A solution to your dog’s allergies is within reach, and treating the source of the problem rather than just suffocating the symptoms is going to make for a lot less work, discomfort, and inconvenience in the long run.
Dedicate yourself to investigating your dog’s allergies now so that your long-term solution - whether it’s implementing a new diet or using different products on your pooch - will be simple and straightforward.