What Are Environmental Allergies in Dogs and How Do You Treat Them?

A brown dog itching.
A brown dog itching. Photography by adogslifephoto/Thinkstock.

Environmental allergies are more common in dogs than in cats and typically occur between ages 1 and 3. The reactions occur when a dog’s immune system is especially sensitive to a substance, even a common one. Dogs with environmental allergies are usually genetically predisposed to these chronic conditions. Additionally, certain breeds are more prone to environmental dog allergies than others: Retrievers, Terriers, Boxers, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, Shepherds, Beagles and Irish Setters.

A fluffy dog out for a walk. Photography by Eudyptula/Thinkstock.
Since dogs are often outside, it’s hard to avoid common allergens. Photography by Eudyptula/Thinkstock.

The Most Common Environmental Allergies in Dogs

The most common environmental allergens that affect dogs are:

  1. Pollen (which can travel up to 100 miles)
  2. Mold spores
  3. Dust mites
  4. Animal dander

Some of these irritants are seasonal and are more aggressive during certain times of the year. Many of us humans are familiar with the aggravating effects of seasonal allergies. They’re no fun for us or our dogs. Because dogs spend a fair amount of time outdoors, it’s nearly impossible to avoid contact with some of the offenders.

Symptoms of Environmental Allergies in Dogs — Atopic Dermatitis or Atopy in Dogs

As a dog’s body tries to reject the offending allergens, bothersome symptoms occur. The most common symptoms are skin-related ones and are a result of atopic dermatitis (atopy), which is skin inflammation and extreme itchiness due to allergens. As a dog becomes uncomfortable from the symptoms, he may try to relieve them by excessive chewing, biting and licking. These self-soothing methods could create hair loss or open wounds that may become infected if left untreated.

The areas on a dog’s body that are typically affected by Atopy are:

  1. Flanks
  2. Wrists
  3. Ears
  4. Groins
  5. Underarms
  6. Between the toes
  7. Area around the eyes (itchy or runny)

Treatments for Environmental Allergies in Dogs

If your dog is exhibiting atopic dermatitis symptoms, it’s important to consult your veterinarian. During an exam, the health professionals will review your dog’s complete medical history and discuss symptoms with you. If environmental allergies are suspected, the vet may recommend a course of action:

  • Intradermal allergy testing on a dog is similar to the test performed on humans. Small amounts of common allergens are injected under the skin, and the veterinarian looks for an allergic response to one or more of them. Once the allergen is determined, hyposensitization therapy might be the next step. This involves regularly giving the dog small injections of the allergen to desensitize the immune system. The therapy could take six months to a year to work, and research has shown that it is only 60 to 70 percent effective in dogs.
  • Your vet may recommend antihistamines or corticosteroids to help reduce itching and discomfort. Over-the-counter sprays or creams are also available to lessen the itchy symptoms.

Management of Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Because atopy is a chronic condition, you’ll need to manage it for the rest of your dog’s life. There are, however, some ways you can help him stay comfortable:

  • Schedule regular vet appointments as recommended by your health professional.
  • If pollen or grass is an allergen, use your air conditioner in the summer months.
  • Wash your dog every three to seven days with hypoallergenic shampoo or medicated shampoo.
  • Remove your dog from the room when you vacuum.
  • Change the furnace filter regularly.
  • When your dog comes inside from the outdoors, wipe his body to remove dust, pollen, weeds or grass.
  • Some vets recommend regular doses of Omega 3, which is a great supplement for skin and coat health. Ask your vet if it’s a good choice for your dog.

Environmental allergies in dogs are irritating and could result in pain and even infection. If you suspect your dog might be affected by environmental allergies, call your vet’s office for guidance.

Thumbnail: Photography by adogslifephoto/Thinkstock.

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