Does your dog have allergies? Worried about vet bills? No problem! Here’s how you can cure them at home, naturally
By Diane Small
If you’ve ever had a pet, you’ll know they’re basically just like us, but furry. They have the same emotions, likes, dislikes, and even health problems as we humans. For example, they can get arthritis, diabetes, and even allergies. Especially if you have a purebred dog. (Yet another of the millions of reasons to adopt a street dog instead of buying from a breeder!)
So, what do you do if your dog is scratching, losing fur, or even vomiting due to allergies?
Of course, you should get to your vet asap. But if you suspect your dog has allergies, or if s/he has been diagnosed as such, you might want to try to cure those naturally, at home, first. We asked the experts at The Pet Lab for their advice.
What causes dog allergies to develop?
Any pure breed and mixed-breed dog can develop allergies, but certain breeds are genetically predisposed. These include:
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- French Bulldogs
- West Highland White Terriers
…just to name a few.
Allergies in dogs tend to run in families since this can be a genetic condition. So, when choosing a puppy, it’s appropriate to ask about allergies in their parents.
Atopy typically starts between the ages of six months and three years. If your ten-year-old dog just started itching, it is less likely to be due to allergies. However, food allergies can develop later in life. And mild atopy can be missed when dogs are young. So, if you’re going to buy a bred dog, it’s important to discuss this with your vet.
Different kinds of dog allergies
Canine atopic dermatitis (atopy), commonly known as seasonal or environmental allergy, is a common inherited skin disorder. Seasonal allergies to tree (ash, cedar, oak), grass, and weed (ragweed) pollen typically flare in spring and fall.
Some dogs with atopy are allergic to dust mites. These microscopic organisms settle in mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpeting, drapery, stuffed animals and pillows. Dogs with allergy to dust mites usually show year-round symptoms. House dust, containing dead skin cells and mold spores, can also trigger allergies.
Mold and mildew are another frequent trigger. Mold spores exist both indoors and outside. They thrive in moist areas, and can collect in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, garages, barns, and improperly stored dog food. Piles of dead leaves, logs, and compost can facilitate mold growth. Mold spores may also cause year-round allergy symptoms.
Atopic dogs have a weak skin barrier to these allergens, allowing them to pass through and trigger the immune system to overreact. Immune cells in skin release histamine and other inflammatory molecules, causing severe inflammation and itching.
2. Food allergies
Some dogs are allergic to specific proteins in the food or treats they eat. This could be beef, chicken, eggs, dairy, wheat gluten, soy, or other ingredients. Dogs with food allergies have similar skin problems to those with atopy. It doesn’t make a difference if the diet is homemade or a commercial dog food. If the food contains the triggering ingredient, the dog will experience symptoms.
3. Flea allergies
A flea allergic dog may not appear to have fleas, because it only takes one flea to trigger intense itching. The allergy is actually to the flea’s saliva.
A highly effective flea treatment and preventative can be used to diagnose or rule out flea allergy. These treatments may be a combination of topical and oral products. Further, the home and dog bedding should be deep-cleaned to remove flea saliva and eggs from the environment.
4. Contact allergies
Contact allergies are less common, but worth a mention here. Some dogs develop a rash around the muzzle when they eat or drink out of a plastic dish. This is easily remedied by switching to ceramic or stainless steel bowls. A severe rash may require medication to clear up quickly. Other sparsely-haired areas such as the belly and groin are most susceptible to contact allergies from lying down on a triggering substance. Symptoms usually occur within hours to a few days.
5. Acute allergic reactions
Acute, or immediate-type allergic reactions create severe symptoms upon exposure to the offending allergen. Examples include vaccine reactions, bee stings, insect bites, and spider bites. Reactions include facial swelling, hives (bumps), trouble breathing, and collapsing. In severe cases the dog may go into shock and require emergency veterinary treatment.
Signs of allergies in dogs
What are the signs of allergies in dogs? Dogs with environmental or food allergies may show any of these signs; for other types of allergy, symptoms may be more specific. Environmental allergies often cause itching as pollen counts rise, but this can be year-round depending on the allergen.
Behavioural symptoms include:
- Licking and chewing paws
- Rubbing the face and ears on carpet or furniture
- Scratching and chewing the body frequently
- Scooting the rear end along the carpet
- Scratching and digging at ears
- Sneezing and coughing
- Vomiting and loose stool from swallowing hair and dirt when licking/chewing, or as a result of a food allergy
In addition, allergies can alter the appearance, feel and smell of a dog’s skin and cause other symptoms.
Physical signs include:
- Skin between the toes becomes red, swollen, and oozy
- Hot spots, or localised skin infections
- Skin around eyes, mouth, armpits, thigh folds, chest, belly, and paws appears red and irritated
- Bumpy rash, often indicating a secondary bacterial or yeast infection.
- Over time, skin thickens and darkens in colour
- Ear infections
- Odour due to increased oil production and/or skin, ear, and anal gland infections
- Red, watery eyes and clear nasal discharge
Flea allergies in dogs often causes a more intense skin reaction at the base of the tail. Contact allergies are usually more localised to locations like the belly and less hairy areas of skin.
Acute allergic reactions can cause a range of symptoms (see above), which can affect any area. Hives (raised bumps) are usually seen on the face, body, back and upper legs but can occur anywhere.
How to help dog allergies naturally
Dogs with allergic skin disease have been shown to have a damaged, weakened skin barrier. A strong skin barrier helps to keep out allergens and infections – so what can we do to support dogs’ skin barriers? Effective management of allergic skin disease often combines home care, including bathing and supplementation, with medication if needed.
1. Essential Fatty Acid (EFA)
These supplements contain Omega 3 and Omega 6, which have been shown to help support the skin barrier and reduce allergy symptoms in affected dogs. These supplements typically contain fish oils but can also contain plant oils like flaxseed. Many different forms are available including capsules, oils to add to your dog’s food and even specifically formulated diets.
Low doses of specific allergens can be given by injection to ‘desensitise’ dogs with environmental allergies. Unlike other medications, this immunotherapy is based on progressively reducing the immune overreaction that causes dog allergies. It can improve dogs’ symptoms over time, allowing other medications to be reduced or even stopped.
3. Probiotic supplements
Probiotics may also help. The link between the gut and skin health is incredibly complex but well established – and a study has shown that probiotics containing Lactobacillus and Enterococcus can reduce itching in dogs with atopy. These often come as palatable tablets and soft chews so many dogs will happily take them.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin levels can also be low in dogs with atopy and supplementation may help with skin health.
While some owners notice rapid improvements, it’s important to remember that looking after allergic skin is a marathon, not a sprint. Supplements work best when given long-term. You may notice gradual improvement with time.
4. Topical medications
Oatmeal-based shampoos and conditioning products, for example, can play a significant role in soothing inflamed allergic skin.
If these natural methods above don’t work, you might have to use steroids. They’re powerful, effective and work quickly. However, they also have a range of side effects, especially if used long-term.
Ways to reduce symptoms of dog allergies
- Walk your dog before sunrise or in late afternoon or early evening when pollen counts are lowest.
- Rinse or wipe paws and body with a damp cloth upon entering your home.
- Outfit your dog with booties to minimise allergen contact outdoors.
- Walk and exercise your dog in paved areas such as sports courts.
- Vacuum your home (floors, furniture and drapes) frequently with a HEPA filter vacuum.
- Use HEPA air purifiers and keep windows closed.
- Wash all bedding and soft toys weekly in hot water.
- Use dust mite covers on beds and pillows.
- Generally manage sources of mold and mildew such as damp areas and stored pet foods.
- Bathe your dog with an oatmeal-based dog shampoo to maintain the skin barrier and remove allergens.
Final words on dogs with allergies
Dog allergies can require a significant investment of time, money, and patience from their owners. Aim to reduce allergen exposure, give supplements and medications before allergy season begins, and treat secondary infections right away. If you do so, you can manage some of the worst symptoms of dog allergies. Above all, remember: dog allergies won’t go away over time. They’re probably get worse! So learning how to treat dog allergies naturally is important for your pet’s health.