How common are allergies in dogs?

Very common, actually. Generally speaking, about one out of three visits to veterinarians with dogs are for allergies. It's just that commonplace and really throughout the US, and in some areas, it is more common than others. We live in North Carolina and the Southeast, an incredibly common problem for veterinarians and pet owners.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What are some common dog allergies?

There are four different types of allergies that we see in dogs. I'll give you the order in which we see them. The most common one we see is what I call seasonal allergies. These are from seasonal pollens, spring, summer, and autumn. The second most common one would be household allergies or what I like to call environmental allergies, primarily from house dust and dust mites. The third most common are food allergies. That's a whole other discussion on its own. Then the fourth one, and this is what most dog owners suspect when their dog is itching, are flea allergies. That's the least common allergy we see because we have so many great flea products for our pets nowadays.

How do allergies impact the health and well-being of my dog?

They impact the health and well-being of not only your dog's quality of life but your own quality of life. There's nothing more frustrating than having a dog licking, biting, scratching, itching, and chewing all the time, where you constantly have to turn to your dog and say, stop. They will stop briefly, but the itch is too much. Imagine if you had a poison Ivy and you can't help scratching at it. And then somebody tells you to stop doing it. Five minutes later, you can't help but start scratching at it again. Imagine your dog feels the same sort of sensation. It definitely has a huge impact on their quality of life. You could imagine if you had poisoned Ivy how miserable you would be, but imagine this with a dog. This can be an ongoing problem throughout the year or during certain seasons of the year. So it has a significant impact on the quality of their life.

What are some signs and symptoms of allergies in dogs?

They're so numerous. At first, we see dogs coming in, and it might be something as simple as a dog just biting, scratching, licking, itching, and chewing. As it becomes more progressive, we see dogs that may start literally ripping their hair out, and then they may start to develop a bacterial infection, and they become red and raw. They can get yeast infections and ear infections. Unfortunately, some of them start getting a kind of a funky odor about them, and that's when people start getting annoyed because their dogs smell because of all these oily secretions from the allergies. Sometimes, dogs will start becoming depressed, so to speak, or just lethargic just because they're itching all the time nonstop, 24/7, or they can't get any rest. There are so many different ways that allergies will manifest, but that'll give you an overview of some of the simple things we see.

Can I diagnose my dog's allergies at home?

Dr. Google, of course, you can. It's pretty simple. If you've got a dog that's constantly biting, scratching, licking, itching, and chewing, the diagnosis is pretty straightforward. Your dog is having an allergic reaction to something in all probability. I would say conservatively about 99% of the dogs we see biting, scratching, licking, itching, chewing, that's why. These are the dogs that have seasonal allergies, environmental allergies, meaning household contaminants, such as house dust, food allergies, and flea allergies. Fleas can be seen in many cases, but not all the time. That gives you an overview that, yes, you can diagnose your dog, but the next issue is treating them.

How will a veterinarian diagnose allergies in my dog?

Quite simply from an examination. First, we need to see the dog and be able to get an overview of what's going on with your pet at that particular point in time. Much of the diagnosis actually comes from your observation. I ask quite a few questions to get some context around the itching. Is this something that's just started, or has it been going on for a while? Is it year-round, or is it just a certain time of the year? Are they getting an ear infection? What parts of the body are the itching? These are all fundamental questions to get a better sense of trying to diagnose and get a better sense of the source of the allergy that is causing the problems.

How are dog allergies treated using anti-inflammatory therapy?

We have about three different products that we commonly use in veterinary medicine, each with its own place. One that I commonly reach for in many cases is steroids or cortisone. We're limited on how often we can use those, but they can be a huge help for these dogs that are intensely itchy and have a lot of irritation on the skin. One of the things I really like about the cortisone is that it's very reliable and it's also very affordable, which makes it a good choice. But again, we are limited in how often we can use it. Two other medications are by prescription only. A lot of people are familiar with the one because they've seen television commercials for a tablet called Apoquel.

It doesn't work with every dog, but we get great results with Apoquel in about 80 to 85% of the dogs we started on. The other medication is called Cytopoint. I love Cytopoint, and it is an injection. Unfortunately, it does require having to come to see us for the injection. It is not something that you can give at home, like the Apoquel pills. But the beauty of the Cytopoint is that it has virtually no side effects. Like the Apoquel, it doesn't work with every dog, but we get great results with the vast majority of the dogs we give it to.

How is shampoo therapy used for dogs' allergies?

People need to recognize that shampoos will never cure a dog's skin problem. We always have to find what the root cause of it is. What is the source? Is it seasonal allergies, environmental allergies, food allergies, or is it from fleas? Once we get a better determination, we can start looking at what's in our toolkit to try to help that dog. Shampoos are one important benefit, but I do want to make something clear about shampoos because there's so much mythology about the use of shampoos. Yes, you can bathe your dog as often as you want, depending on the shampoo you're using. You want to make sure that you have a cooperative dog because if your dog doesn't like a bath, or if it's challenging for you to get your dog into a tub or to get them to cooperate with you, then I'm not going to promote bathing, but shampooing can be extremely beneficial.

What we generally find with shampooing is that it buys about one day of relief, which for dogs that are really in a very miserable condition, that one day can at least buy them some short-term relief and improve the quality of life. But you can, in fact, bathe dogs two or three times a week, depending on the shampoo you're using, and for the love of God, please don't use Dawn. That's great for your dishes, but keep it under the kitchen. It doesn't belong in your dog. There's nothing magical or mythical about it. I like aloe and oatmeal shampoo. That's my go-to. Make sure it's a dog shampoo. Understand that shampoos can be an extremely valuable part of healing for your dog with allergies, but it's not a cure.

What is hyposensitization or desensitization therapy for dog allergies?

Great question. With the hyposensitization or desensitization, that's not something that we do. You would need to see a veterinary dermatologist for that. There are two different techniques for doing it. Before getting into the techniques, understand that when you go to a veterinary dermatologist for the desensitization or the hyposensitization, it's much like people who have allergies who have to go to an allergist, in which case you first identify what you are allergic to. And you do that through either skin testing or blood testing. In animals, we do both skin testing and blood testing. We're looking to see what environmental conditions or seasonal allergies are, like pollens, dust, molds, mildews, weeds, and grasses. We're looking to identify specifically what trees, what grasses, what weeds, and what types of pollens or molds are actually causing the allergies in the first place. Then we create, I'm not going to call it a vaccine, but it's a medication you would give to your dog either through injection or oral drops. That can be very beneficial. In fact, in rare cases, it can be curative if you start at a relatively young age.

Of course, it does come with an expense, and it does not work for every dog. When we do the desensitization, we get about one out of three dogs that do extremely well with it, one out of three dogs that do pretty well with it, and about one out of three dogs don't respond that well at all to the desensitization process. The beauty of it is that, other than the expense, it does have great benefits. We don't have to go with steroids or medications that can have side effects. The nice thing is we can, in unusual circumstances, get a cure if we start early enough.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Allergies - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What are the common treatments for dog allergies?

First, let's identify. There are four different types of allergies we see. In order, the most common ones we see are seasonal allergies followed by indoor or what we call environmental allergies. The third would be food allergies, and the least common, surprisingly to most people, are flea allergies. The treatments depend on what the allergy is. If it's fleas, we have to get the appropriate flea medication. If it's food, we're going to try to identify what the source of the food is and then change the diet and get away from that ingredient. When it comes to seasonal and indoor allergens, it becomes a lot more complex mainly because we want to identify the season or seasons of the year causing the problem or if it's a year-round problem. There are lots of ways we can try to manage those problems. We generally have three different medications we'll commonly reach for. One is cortisone, or what we call Kenalog. That's an injection that we commonly give. Many veterinarians use prednisone tablets. Perhaps you've had an experience with prednisone or prednisolone to manage allergies. The newer products we've had for 6, 7, 8 years now. One is called Apoquel, and the other's called Cytopoint. Apoquel is a tablet, and Cytopoint is an injection. They don't have the side effects that cortisone does, so it makes them a great choice. We have to see the pets in order to decide what's going to be the best course of action to try to manage or treat the allergies.

How are flea and insect bites on my dog treated?

First, get rid of the fleas. It's pretty simple. It's so easy nowadays, but please don't run over to Walmart, Costco, Sam's club, or pet stores to buy your flea products. What most pet stores are using is either Frontline, which you probably heard of before, which is now a 30-year-old product, or a generic version of Frontline. We have products that do a beautiful job of taking care of fleas. They're much safer and light years more effective. The two that we generally reach for dogs are Bravecto, which is a three-month or one-month product, and Simparica, which is a one-month product. We also have two heartworm medications that also incorporate flea protection. One of those is the Simparica trio. It's for heartworm, fleas, and ticks. Then we have Trifexus, which is for heartworms and fleas. We have another one called Advantage Multi, which is a topical product for heartworms and fleas. As far as what we can do to try to help treat your pets goes, once they have them, first get rid of them. That's crucial. It will be an ongoing issue if you don't get rid of the problem. What you can do in a pinch is give them a bath, and please don't use Dawn. Although if you don't have anything else and want to try it, that's fine. Just don't make a habit of using Dawn. It's for your dishes. It's not for your pets. You do not need to go out and even get a flea shampoo. Simply bathe your dog. Any shampoo will be able to wash off some of the fleas. That's definitely going to make a big difference. But first, at least take the fleas out of the environment, and give them some relief with a bath. Sometimes, if they're really itchy, you can go to the local pharmacy and get a cortisone spray for itching that can work in a pinch. Otherwise, a lot of these dogs come in and are absolutely miserable. They've ripped all or a lot of the hair out, their skin is raw and oozing, and we definitely need to see them. We will typically reach for a cortisone injection, or we can use Cytopoint or Apoquel. I like to use cortisone because it works effectively. It works for about three to five weeks, allowing that skin to start healing. Those are the best ways to try to treat or manage those dogs with flea problems.

What medicine is safe to give dogs with allergies?

The ones that I've just mentioned. Cortisone is safe, but I have to admit, we cannot use it regularly. It's a powerful drug, but it's a great drug, but it does come with some side effects, so we do have to use it cautiously. The second is Apoquel. The Apoquel tablets that I mentioned are great for managing allergies. It doesn't work with every dog, but it can be a great resource. And third is Cytopoint. Cytopoint is an injection. We do have to see them for the injection, but it works with a vast majority of dogs. I love the way it works with virtually no side effects. Those are the first three things I'm going to at least consider depending on what I see with the pet in front of me. At home, if you don't have anything else and you want to try one of the over-the-counter antihistamines, you can try Benadryl, Allegra, Claratin, or Zyrtec. They are safe. Obviously, safety is the issue here, but they just don't work well. If you want to try them, I have dosages on one of our handouts. Keep your expectations low. But the bare-bones minimum is to bathe them. If you have nothing else that you can start with, get them in the tub. If you're not able to bathe your dog, take a wet towel or wet cloth and hold it onto your dog in those itchy areas. It's only going to last for a short while, but it's better than nothing. Hopefully, that'll give you some tips on things you can try before you get them to us. Anything to keep your dog from being uncomfortable because these dogs are really miserable when they have allergies.

Are there any holistic options to treat their allergies?

I have to be honest. I don't know about holistic products. Although, I will say that we have had clients come to us who mention they have tried things that were holistic with very limited success or benefits. I still think the basic things like bathing them are better. If you want to try an over-the-counter antihistamine in a pinch, those will always be available. Keep your expectations low with the antihistamines like Benadryl, but it's better than nothing. As far as holistic medications go, I don't have much experience, and what I hear from the feedback is that clients don't get many results.

Is there anything I need to do in my home environment for my dog's allergies?

The key thing with allergies is keeping it as dust-free as possible because we see many people with household issues with house dust, dust mites, molds, and mildews, so cleanliness can make a huge difference. If you're a smoker, it's a tougher issue because we see dogs with cigarette smoke issues. If you're a smoker, start smoking outside, but you have to clean up your house. Wash your furniture best. You can wash the curtains and try to eliminate that smokiness in your house to minimize that problem. As far as the environment goes, there are other things that you can do. One other thing I'm going to suggest is that you can also get what's called ionizers. They will help better filter the air to get these particulates of house dust out of the air. That could really help a lot of people who might suffer from all household allergens from dust mites, molds, and mildews. They can also work well for your pets, but lots of vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning will help.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.