What are the most common allergies in dogs?

What are the most common allergies in dogs?

The most common food allergens in dogs include proteins from dairy, beef, chicken, chicken eggs, soy, and wheat gluten. Each time your pet consumes these ingredients, their immune system reacts, leading to uncomfortable symptoms. However, virtually any food ingredient can trigger an allergy.

Dog allergies are a prevalent concern among pet owners, often manifesting as persistent discomfort and health issues in their canine companions. The most common allergies in dogs include food allergies, environmental allergies (atopy), flea allergies, and contact allergies. Understanding these common allergens is crucial for ensuring the well-being and comfort of dogs, enabling pet owners to take appropriate measures to alleviate their pets' symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Allergies in dogs occur when their immune system overreacts to typically harmless substances, treating them as threats and triggering a range of symptoms. These allergic reactions can affect various parts of a dog's body, leading to skin irritation, digestive problems, and respiratory issues. Identifying the specific allergen responsible for these reactions is essential for effective management and treatment, necessitating a thorough understanding of the different types of allergies that commonly affect dogs.

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Understanding Dog Allergies

Allergies in dogs are abnormal responses of the immune system to certain substances, known as allergens. When a dog is exposed to an allergen, its immune system mistakenly identifies it as harmful and launches an attack. This immune response involves the release of chemicals such as histamines, which cause the characteristic symptoms of an allergic reaction.

It is important to distinguish between an allergy and an intolerance in dogs. An allergy involves an immune system response and can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, digestive system, and respiratory system. In contrast, an intolerance does not involve the immune system but rather occurs when a dog's body has difficulty digesting or processing a certain substance. Symptoms of intolerance are typically limited to digestive issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, and gas, whereas allergies can cause a broader range of symptoms, including itching, swelling, and respiratory distress.

In dogs, allergies can manifest in various ways depending on the type of allergen and the method of exposure. The most common symptoms include itching, redness, swelling, and digestive disturbances. Dogs may also exhibit respiratory symptoms or more severe reactions in rare cases.

There are four main categories of allergies that commonly affect dogs:

  1. Food Allergies: These occur when the immune system reacts to specific proteins found in the dog's diet.
  2. Environmental Allergies (Atopy): These are reactions to airborne substances such as pollen, mould spores, and dust mites.
  3. Flea Allergies (Flea Allergy Dermatitis): These are caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva.
  4. Contact Allergies: These occur when a dog's skin reacts to substances it comes into direct contact with, such as certain fabrics, shampoos, or cleaning products.

Understanding the underlying mechanisms of these allergic reactions is essential for accurately diagnosing and effectively managing allergies in dogs. By recognizing the symptoms and identifying the specific type of allergy, pet owners can take the necessary steps to reduce their dog's exposure to allergens and seek appropriate veterinary treatment.

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Common Types of Allergies in Dogs

Food Allergies

Food allergies are one of the most prevalent types of allergies in dogs. It’s estimated up to 33% of all dogs suffer from a food allergy.  These occur when the immune system reacts adversely to certain proteins in the dog’s diet. Common symptoms of food allergies include itchy skin, particularly around the ears and paws, digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhoea, chronic ear infections, and sometimes even behavioural changes such as hyperactivity or lethargy. The most frequent food allergens for dogs are:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Dairy products
  • Soy
  • Wheat gluten

Diagnosing food allergies typically involves an elimination diet trial, where the dog is fed a hypoallergenic diet for several weeks. If symptoms improve, specific ingredients are gradually reintroduced to identify the offending allergen. Treatment involves avoiding the allergen and feeding a diet tailored to the dog's specific needs.

Environmental Allergies (Atopy)

Environmental allergies, also known as atopy, are caused by reactions to airborne substances such as pollen, mould spores, and dust mites. Dogs with atopy often exhibit symptoms like persistent itching, red and inflamed skin, frequent licking of the paws, and recurrent ear infections. These allergies are usually seasonal, coinciding with the presence of specific allergens like pollen. Diagnosis may involve intradermal skin testing or serum allergy tests to identify the specific allergens causing the reaction. Treatment for atopy includes avoiding exposure to the allergens, using medications such as antihistamines and corticosteroids to manage symptoms, and in some cases, implementing immunotherapy through allergy shots or drops.

Flea Allergies (Flea Allergy Dermatitis)

Flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction to flea saliva, which can cause severe itching and discomfort in dogs. Even a single flea bite can trigger intense itching, leading to red, irritated skin, hair loss, and secondary infections from excessive scratching. The areas most commonly affected are the lower back, tail base, and inner thighs. Diagnosis is often straightforward, involving a physical examination and identifying the presence of fleas or flea dirt on the dog. Treatment focuses on rigorous flea control using topical or oral flea preventatives, environmental control measures to eliminate fleas from the home, and medications to relieve itching and inflammation.

Contact Allergies

Contact allergies occur when a dog’s skin reacts to substances it comes into direct contact with. Common contact allergens include certain shampoos, cleaning products, fabrics, and even certain types of grass. Symptoms of contact allergies are typically localised to the area of contact and include itching, redness, blisters, and swelling. Diagnosis can be challenging and often involves ruling out other types of allergies through a process of elimination and potentially patch testing. Treatment involves avoiding the offending substance and using topical treatments to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.

Understanding these common types of allergies and their symptoms is crucial for pet owners. Early identification and appropriate management can significantly improve a dog's quality of life and prevent complications arising from chronic allergic reactions. Regular veterinary check-ups and following prescribed treatment plans are essential steps in managing a dog's allergies effectively.

How to allergy test your dog

Diagnosing allergies in dogs can be a complex process that requires a systematic approach to accurately identify the specific allergen responsible for the symptoms. Here are some common diagnostic methods:

Veterinary Examination

A thorough examination by a veterinarian. During this examination, the veterinarian will:

  • Take a Detailed History: This includes asking about your dog’s diet, environment, lifestyle, and any changes in their routine. Information about when and where the symptoms occur can provide crucial clues.
  • Physical Examination: A thorough physical check to identify signs of allergies such as skin lesions, ear infections, and any areas of redness or swelling.

Elimination Diet Trials

For suspected food allergies, an elimination diet trial is often the most effective diagnostic tool. This involves:

  • Feeding a Hypoallergenic Diet: The dog is placed on a diet that contains novel proteins and carbohydrates that they have not been exposed to previously. This diet is fed exclusively for 8 to 12 weeks.
  • Monitoring Symptoms: If the dog's symptoms improve during the trial, it indicates that food was the likely allergen.
  • Food Challenge: To confirm the diagnosis, the original diet is reintroduced. A return of symptoms confirms the food allergy.

Dog Allergy Testing

For food, environmental and contact allergies, several tests can help identify specific allergens:

  • Intradermal Skin Testing: Small amounts of common allergens are injected into the skin to see if a reaction occurs. This is considered the gold standard for diagnosing environmental allergies.
  • Serum Allergy Tests: Blood tests that measure the levels of IgE antibodies to specific allergens. These tests can provide useful information but are often considered less accurate than skin tests.
  • Bioresonance Hair Testing: A non-invasive test where a sample of the dog's hair is analysed to detect potential allergens. This method is based on the concept of bioresonance, which suggests that the hair sample can reveal sensitivities to various substances. Note: a hair test will identify intolerances and not allergies.

Patch Testing

For contact allergies, patch testing may be performed. This involves:

  • Applying Allergen Patches: Patches containing small amounts of potential allergens are placed on the dog's skin.
  • Observation Period: The patches are left in place for a set period, usually 48 hours, after which the skin is checked for reactions.

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Treatment and Management

Once a diagnosis has been established, the primary goal is to manage and alleviate your dog’s allergy symptoms. Treatment and management strategies will vary depending on the type of allergy and its severity. Here are some common approaches:

Dietary Management

For dogs diagnosed with food allergies, the main treatment involves dietary changes:

  • Hypoallergenic Diets: These diets contain novel proteins and carbohydrates that the dog has not been exposed to before. They can be commercially available or home-prepared under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist.
  • Novel Protein Diets: These diets use unique protein sources such as venison, duck, or rabbit, which are less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
  • Hydrolyzed Protein Diets: These diets contain proteins that have been broken down into smaller components, making them less likely to trigger an immune response.


Medications are often used to manage the symptoms of allergies and provide relief:

  • Antihistamines: These can help reduce itching and inflammation by blocking histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions.
  • Corticosteroids: These are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can quickly reduce severe symptoms. However, they are typically used short-term due to potential side effects with long-term use.
  • Immunosuppressive Drugs: Medications such as cyclosporine can be used to control severe allergic reactions by suppressing the immune system.
  • Antibiotics and Antifungals: These may be prescribed if there is a secondary bacterial or fungal infection resulting from the dog's scratching and skin damage.

Environmental Control

Managing environmental allergies involves reducing your dog's exposure to allergens:

  • Frequent Bathing: Regular baths with hypoallergenic shampoos can help remove allergens from your dog’s skin and coat.
  • Cleaning the Living Environment: Regular vacuuming, dusting, and washing of your dog’s bedding can reduce the presence of allergens like dust mites and pollen.
  • Air Purifiers: Using air purifiers in your home can help reduce airborne allergens.

Flea Control

For dogs with flea allergies, strict flea control is essential:

  • Topical and Oral Flea Preventatives: These products can help kill fleas and prevent new infestations.
  • Environmental Treatments: Treating your home and yard for fleas can help eliminate flea populations and reduce the risk of re-infestation.

Regular Veterinary Check-Ups

Ongoing veterinary care is crucial for managing allergies in dogs:

  • Monitoring: Regular check-ups allow the veterinarian to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment plan and make adjustments as needed.
  • Preventive Care: Early detection and treatment of any new symptoms or secondary infections can prevent complications.

By combining these various treatment and management strategies, pet owners can effectively control their dog’s allergies and improve their overall quality of life. It is essential to work closely with your veterinarian to develop and maintain a comprehensive plan tailored to your dog's specific needs.

Understanding and managing allergies in dogs is a multifaceted process that requires a proactive and informed approach. By identifying the most common allergies—such as food allergies, environmental allergies, flea allergies, and contact allergies—pet owners can take the necessary steps to mitigate their dog’s symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

Early detection of allergy symptoms, accurate diagnosis through veterinary consultation, and a tailored treatment plan are crucial components of effective allergy management. Whether it involves dietary changes, medications, environmental control, or a combination of these strategies, working closely with your veterinarian is essential to ensure your dog receives the best possible care.

Living with an allergic dog can be challenging, but with commitment and the right resources, you can help your pet lead a healthy and comfortable life.

Remember, your veterinarian is your best partner in this journey. Regular check-ups and open communication will help you navigate the complexities of managing your dog’s allergies and ensure that your beloved pet enjoys a happier, healthier life.

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Additional Resources

For further guidance and support in managing your dog’s allergies, consider the following resources: