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Dog Allergies

Just like us, dogs can get allergies. And while the most common types are a little different to ours, they are no less annoying, irritating and sometimes, very painful. It's important to understand that allergies are lifelong conditions that can never be “cured”. It's just part of each dog's genetic make-up. However, they can be carefully managed using a combination of therapies recommended by your veterinarian.

Skin Allergies In Dogs

The most characteristic thing about allergies is that they keep coming back:

  • sometimes seasonally - for example, during spring, just like we get hay fever
  • sometimes year round – for example dust mite allergies


The most common allergic reaction in dogs is a skin disease called atopy, or atopic dermatitis. It can be caused by an allergic reaction to things such as:

pollen in the air, dust mites, certain foods

What Are The Symptoms of Atopy?

Because atopy makes dog's skin itchy, common signs include:

  • scratching and chewing between their hind legs and abdomen
  • scratching and chewing their armpits
  • scratching and chewing their ears chewing between their feet

This often leads to trauma of the skin and secondary bacterial infections, which make your dog even itchier. Catch 22 anyone?

How Do I Treat Atopy?

Atopy is a life-long problem that cannot be cured, it can only be managed. Treatment would first consist of trying to remove the cause from the dog's environment, then may consist of a variety of treatments depending on how the dog's skin is going. With atopy, your dog may have “flare-ups” where the skin becomes much worse and more intense treatment is required. Treatments may involve special shampoos and skin creams or lotions, medication to relieve itching, antibiotics for bacterial infections and even immunotherapy vaccines to desensitize your dog to the allergens that cause the problems.

Food Allergies in Dogs

While food allergies are not as common as atopy, they can affect your dog at any age. Oddly enough, most allergic reactions are to foods that a dog has been eating for a long time. If your dog has an immediate adverse reaction to a new food, it's probably not an allergy, because it takes more than one exposure to produce an allergic reaction.

Common Dog Allergy Foods

Foods that cause most allergies include:

  • beef
  • chicken
  • fish
  • eggs
  • milk

Common Symptoms of Food Allergies

The signs of food allergy are very similar to those of other types of allergies. This means it is not easy to tell the difference between inhalant allergies and food allergies on appearance alone. Signs to look out for include:

  • itchy skin, especially around the face, paws and ears
  • ear infections
  • self-inflicted skin wounds resulting from severe itching
  • unpleasant skin odour
  • excessive scaling
  • red bumps or pimples
  • diarrhea and vomiting (quite rare)

How Can I Find Out If My Dog Has a Food Allergy?

Before you have expensive tests done, try a home elimination test. Food allergies are most commonly diagnosed by an elimination diet. This means, if you suspect your dog is allergic to his/her food you change the food and monitor the response. It is important to be aware that the results to elimination tests are NOT this instant – the switch to a new diet will not solve a chronic food allergy in just two feedings! The elimination diet should be performed for a minimum of 8 weeks before re-introduction of any ingredients suspected to cause the allergy

When starting an elimination diet it is important to check the ingredients list in both the old and the new food to ensure differences in ingredients. For example if the old food’s first ingredient is chicken, you need to look for a food with a different, and preferably novel, protein source such as duck, salmon or venison. In order for this to truly work this diet MUST be fed exclusively to your dog. This means that the treat jar is filled up with this new kibble and no table scraps are fed. Don’t worry, your dog loves getting a treat from you so going to the jar and making a fuss over how good they have been is more important than the actual treat in hand!! This must be done for a minimum of 8 weeks in order to assess effectiveness. Once that period is over, and you note an improvement in symptoms (scratching, itchy ears and feet, diarrhea). Then you can slowly re-introduce ingredients one at a time from the old food to determine the culprit. Or perhaps, different varieties of treat and monitor response. Talk to your veterinarian about the different hypoallergenic diets available.


Additionnal Information

Merck Veterinary Manual


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