Allergies in dogs can manifest in many ways, including itchy skin, hair loss, and skin and ear infections. Food allergies can affect the skin and can also cause stomach upset, loose stool and excess gas. Allergies are fairly common in dogs, and if your dog’s skin is itchy and red, then you are probably wondering, “What can I give my dog for allergies?”
Not sure what to give dogs for allergies? Fortunately, there are many options for allergy relief in dogs, including treatments from your veterinarian, easy home remedies for dog allergies and over-the-counter options that only require a visit to your local drug store.
It is always advised to talk to your veterinarian before starting any treatment for allergies and to work with your veterinarian to determine and eliminate the root cause of allergies in your dog, if possible.
Diagnosing Dog Allergies
Veterinarians group skin allergies in dogs into three main categories:
- Flea allergy dermatitis. This is caused by an allergy to flea saliva and is especially common in Golden Retrievers.
- Environmental allergies, such as seasonal allergies. This is called atopy, and about 15% of the U.S. dog population suffer from seasonal allergies.
- Food allergy. This is when a dog reacts to an ingredient in the food, usually a source of protein. While less common than other issues, about 10% of dogs can suffer from food allergies.
In general, these symptoms are associated with allergies in dogs:
- Excessive itchiness as evidenced by increased self-scratching, chewing, licking and/or rubbing skin on carpet or furniture
- Red skin
- Hair loss
- Swelling of face, lips, eyelids, or ears
- Red bumps or pimples on skin (skin infection)
- Increased skin odor
- Thickened skin that is darkened (chronic yeast infection)
- Red paws that may be stained brown from excessive licking
- Increased odor, discharge and itching from ears (ear infection)
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Excessive dandruff
- Vomiting, diarrhea, excess gas (typically seen with food allergy)
- Sneezing or coughing
In addition to these general signs, each of the three types of allergies in dogs have specific signs that can give you a clue as to what allergy your dog has.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
The classic sign of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in dogs is hot spots, either around the base of the tail or around the neck. Dogs that are allergic to fleas are so itchy that they attack their own skin, pull out hair, and make raw, reddened 'hot spots'. Flea allergy dermatitis can be so intense that it takes just the bite of one passing flea to make a dog miserable.
Dogs with atopy are seasonally itchy around their face, feet and armpits. Recurrent ear infections are common with atopy. Atopy is usually first seen in dogs ages 1 to 3 years of age. Secondary skin infections with yeast and bacteria are common.
Dogs that have food allergy often have concurrent flea allergy dermatitis and/or atopy as well. Dogs with food allergy are itchy around their rump, armpits, groin, face and in between their toes. Food allergy tends to be non-seasonal (year-round), and affected dogs are usually fed the offending ingredient for two years before developing signs. The most common allergens in dogs are protein in nature, and include chicken, beef, pork, egg, soy and dairy.
How to Treat Dog Allergies With Over-the-Counter Options
If you’ve noticed any of these signs of seasonal allergies in your dog, there are several over-the-counter options you can try. It is always a good idea to check in with your vet before treating your dog for allergies.
- Oral antihistamines
- Topically applied wipes and shampoos
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Many dogs respond well to human over-the-counter allergy medicine that you can purchase at most drug stores. The most common antihistamine for dogs is diphenhydramine, brand name Benadryl. Also found in ProSense Dog Itch & Allergy Solutions Tablets, diphenhydramine is safe in most dogs if given in the recommended dosage of 1 mg of diphenhydramine per pound of body weight given by mouth. For example, if you have a 25-pound dog, then you would give 25 mg of diphenhydramine. Giving dogs Benadryl may make some dogs sleepy, and other dogs hyper, and is not safe for all dogs, so talk with your veterinarian before giving it to your dog.
If Benadryl doesn’t work for your dog, there are other OTC antihistamines available, including hydroxyzine, loratadine (brand name Claritin), chlorpheniramine, clemastine, fexofenadine and cetirizine (Zyrtec). Talk with your veterinarian about which option is best for your dog, and the correct dosage to administer.
Anti-allergy Wipes and Shampoos
If your dog has seasonal allergies, then giving oral antihistamines in conjunction with wiping or washing allergens off your dog is very helpful in preventing itching. You can either wipe your dog with a pet wipe, like TropiClean Oxy Med Allergy Relief Wipes after they go outside and roll in the grass, or you can bathe your dog periodically with a hypo-allergenic shampoo, like Vet's Best Hypo-Allergenic Shampoo for Dogs or Perfect Coat Gentle Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoo. You could also try using a shampoo designed to reduce itching, such as Nootie Medicated Anti-Itch Dog Shampoo. Veterinary shampoos and conditioners like Virbac Epi-Soothe Shampoo and Cream Rinse are also formulated to quickly reduce itching and dryness.
When bathing a dog for allergies, it is important to leave the lather on your dog for 5-10 minutes before rinsing and to thoroughly rinse the shampoo with cool water. Do not use hot water because it can dry their skin and make the itching worse. Aim for bathing itchy dogs no more than 1-2 times per week to control itching.
DIY Remedies for Dogs with Allergies
In addition to the OTC remedies listed above, here are some additional complementary you can try at home to control allergies:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Some dogs with seasonal allergies respond well to fish oil supplementation. Studies have shown that fish oil supplements like Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Soft Gels help reduce inflammation associated with skin allergies and help skin cells maintain a strong barrier against allergens. You can give a dog too much fish oil, however, and fish oil is not indicated for all dogs, so consult with your veterinarian on the appropriate dosage before giving fish oil to your dog.
The omega-3 fatty acids that help dogs with allergies are EPA and DHA. While dogs can convert GLA and ALA (the fatty acids found in evening primrose oil and flaxseed), they do so poorly, and benefit the most from fatty acid supplementation from fish or krill oil. Also, many OTC fish oil products do not have high enough concentration of omega-3 fatty acids to help with allergies. Ask your vet for a specific dosage for your dog.
Some dogs with seasonal allergies benefit from taking a probiotic. Allergies are due to inflammation and an abnormally hyper reactive immune system. The largest immune system in the body is called the GALT, and it is in the gut. Unhealthy or inflamed intestines with abnormal gut bacteria can contribute to allergies, which is why supplementing an allergic dog with probiotics may help reduce inflammation in the body and rebalance their gut immune system. Do not supplement dogs with human probiotics as human gut bacteria is different from canine: use a canine-specific product like Purina Pro Plan FortiFlora Canine Probiotic Supplement.
Quercetin may benefit dogs with allergies in much the same way that antihistamines do - quercetin reduces inflammation and histamine release associated with seasonal allergies in dogs. Quercetin works synergistically with bromelain to create a more potent anti-inflammatory effect, so look for a supplement that contains both.
The dosage is 5-10 mg per pound of body weight twice daily. For example, a 20 pound dog would take 100-200 mg twice daily. You can purchase quercetin anywhere supplements are sold, just make sure it doesn’t contain other ingredients, like xylitol, which are toxic to dogs. When in doubt, ask your veterinary care team for safe supplement recommendations.
Remember: If your dog has a skin infection, external parasites or food allergies, using an over-the-counter product may not help, and may make it worse. If your dog is not responding, consult with your veterinarian.
How to Treat Dog Allergies With Prescription Medicine
Sometimes, home remedies for dog allergies are not enough, and you need something from your veterinarian that is prescription strength to stop the itch. Fortunately, there are many products available that can be used alone or in combination with home remedies for dog allergies to provide the right amount of relief for your dog. Always make sure you tell the vet what OTC and holistic remedies you are currently giving your dog, as they can potentially interact with prescription meds.
- Prescription topical treatments
- Prescription oral treatments
- Allergy shots
Prescription Topical Treatments
If your dog has an itchy, red hot spot, Animax Ointment, a prescription topical treatment that combines a corticosteroid, an antifungal and an antibiotic, may help. GentaSpray, an anti-inflammatory topical spray made by Henry Schein Animal Health, combines an antibiotic with a steroid and is often prescribed for local itchy hot spots as well.
Prescription Oral Treatments
If OTC oral antihistamines, fish oils and topical products aren’t cutting it, then it’s time to explore prescription dog allergy treatment options for your itchy dog. In the old days, the only oral prescription options available were steroids, like prednisone, prednisolone, triamcinolone and betamethasone. While these medications did stop allergy symptoms, they also came with a whole host of negative side effects, including increased appetite, increased water consumption and urination, and increased susceptibility to infections, to name a few. Steroids are also less effective with food allergies. Oral and injectable steroids are still used and prescribed in some dog allergy cases, but there are new medications available that still stop itching without the negative side effects.
Atopica is the brand name for cyclosporine, a medicine for dogs with allergies. Atopica is generally considered safe, but can cause vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite in some dogs. You can lower the chance of negative side effects by keeping Atopica in the freezer. Atopica must be given one to two hours before food or two hours after food. Most veterinarians will require annual bloodwork and an exam to fill this prescription. Atopica takes four to six weeks to provide relief, and steroids may be prescribed to your dog in the interim to control allergy symptoms.
Apoquel is another newer prescription allergy relief for dogs that is touted to have even fewer side effects than Atopica. Apoquel takes effect within four hours and can be started or stopped at any time to control itching. Apoquel works by targeting and inhibiting the itch and inflammation signaling pathway. It is effective in treating all three types of allergies in dogs, is administered twice daily for up to 14 days, and can be given long-term with a low incidence of side effects. Apoquel should not be given to dogs with existing parasitic skin infestations or pre-existing cancers.
Your veterinarian may also recommend treatment with Temaril-P, an oral prescription allergy medication that combines the antihistamine trimeprazine with the steroid prednisolone. This medication can be given to control seasonal or flea allergies.
As prescription strength products can have unwanted side effects and possible safety concerns for people, they should only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian.
If your dog cannot tolerate oral medications or you do not want to give oral medications over a long time period, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about giving allergy injections, commonly known as allergy shots, instead. There are two main allergy shots available: traditional allergy shots created by a skin or blood test and a general prescription option, Cytopoint. Platelet Rich Plasma and stem cell therapy is less common but something to potentially discuss with your vet.
The traditional allergy shot requires that you take your dog either to your local veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing. Allergies are tested with a blood test or with a skin prick test. The skin prick test is considered more accurate and is usually only done by veterinary dermatologists.
Once the test is done, an allergy serum is created. This allergy serum is administered via a series of injections, and is intended to desensitize your dog over time to the allergens which cause them grief. Allergy shots are the only way to truly reduce the instances of allergy symptoms. All other treatments are aimed at controlling symptoms.
Cytopoint is another option that is administered as an injection. It starts providing relief within one day, and controls allergic itching for four to eight weeks. It works by targeting and neutralizing interleukin (IL)-31, a chemical messenger in your dog’s body that makes him itchy. Cytopoint is only available through your local veterinarian and has a low incidence of side effects. Cytopoint may be a good option if your dog cannot tolerate oral medications, isn’t responding to oral medications, or has concurrent diseases that prohibit the administration of other allergy medications.
Platelet Rich Plasma and stem cell therapy, both of which have been used to treat joint disease for quite some time in dogs, have also been shown to have a positive effect in dogs that are suffering from seasonal allergies. Talk to your vet about these cutting-edge therapies.
Treating Dog Food Allergies
Even though food allergies are less common in dogs than atopy or flea allergy, they can still occur. If your dog has allergies year-round or has itchy skin that flares after eating certain foods, your dog may have a food allergy and may need a dog food specifically formulated for dogs with allergies. Check with your vet for suggested options. Here are the basics for treating dog food allergies.
- Food elimination trial
- Hypoallergenic diet
- Hydrolyzed diet
- Novel protein diet
Food allergies can only be diagnosed by a food elimination trial. The basic gist of a food trial is this: You work with your veterinarian to choose a prescription hypoallergenic diet for your dog (more on that below), and then after you slowly transition your dog to the new food over three to five days, you will feed only that food for eight to 10 weeks. That means that nothing else other than the hypoallergenic food will go in your dog’s mouth — no other treats, table food, flavored medications or chews, etc. Your dog must consume only that food.
The reason you must only feed the hypoallergenic diet for eight to 10 weeks is to diagnose a food allergy. Since it takes about 20 days for canine epidermis (skin) to turn over and at least six weeks for previous allergens to clear out, diet trials must last eight to 10 weeks. If all the itching goes away on the new diet, then it is likely that your dog has a food allergy. If that is the case, then you have two options: either stay on the hypoallergenic diet, or slowly start to reintroduce foods into your dog’s diet and see if the symptoms return. Most pet parents understandably don’t want the itching to return, so they elect to keep feeding their dog the hypoallergenic diet.
If your veterinarian has recommended a diet trial, it is important to follow their food recommendations precisely. Over-the-counter diets are not considered good hypoallergenic choices for food trials because they are often manufactured on machines that make other diets. Hypoallergenic diets generally are created on dedicated machine that are meticulously cleaned to prevent cross-contamination with allergens.
There are two main types of food to choose for diet trials: hydrolyzed diets, which are foods that are manufactured to remove allergens, or novel protein diets, where you feed your dog a protein and carbohydrate that he has never eaten before.
Popular dog food for dogs with allergies that are used by veterinarians for diet trials could include:
- Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein Adult HP Dry Dog Food
- Hill's Prescription Diet z/d Original Skin/Food Sensitivities Dry Dog Food
- Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet NP Novel Protein Alligator Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Treating the Environment
If you have a dog with allergies, then you also need to think about treating the environment your dog lives in, especially if your dog suffers from flea allergies or atopy.
- Flea control
- Reduce expose to allergens
- Combination of therapies
If your dog has a flea allergy, then the bite of just one flea can drive him crazy. Use flea control on all dogs and cats in the household consistently throughout flea season to keep flea allergies under control. (Be sure you use a flea and tick treatment formulated specifically for each type of pet. In other words, don’t give your cat a flea and tick treatment formulated for dogs, and vice versa.)
If your dog is prone to seasonal allergies, then you need to reduce exposure to allergens. Use a HEPA filter in your furnace, plug in some air purifiers, cover bedding with an allergen barrier and wash pet bedding once a week during allergy season with a gentle, hypoallergenic laundry detergent.
So, what can you give your dog for allergies? Every dog is unique and causes and severity can vary so the answer might be more complicated than you may have thought. Controlling allergies takes some trial and error, and usually requires a combination of therapies. Working with your veterinarian, you can discover what to give your dog for allergies, and stop the itching for good.
Q: What causes dog allergies?
A: In dogs, allergies can be caused by pollen, dust, mold, dander and other allergens just like in humans. Dogs can also be allergic to flea saliva when they are bitten by fleas, and insect bites and stings. Dogs can also develop allergies to ingredients in their food, resulting in itchy skin and digestion abnormalities.
Q: Can dog allergies go away?
A: Once a dog develops an allergy, it typically doesn’t go away on its own. Treatment is aimed at reducing itching and avoiding the offending allergen as much as possible.
The only way to really minimize allergies is by having a dog tested for allergens and then started on a series of allergy shots, where a dog receives a series of injections that contain very small amounts of allergen, thereby desensitizing the dog to the allergen over time and curing the allergic response. Shots won’t cure allergies, but they can greatly enable the body to get used to them. In time, symptoms will get better and the recipient may not have symptoms as often.
Q: Can dog allergies cause diarrhea?
A: In dogs, the most common symptoms associated with allergies are those related to the skin, i.e. itching, scratching, hair loss. In some cases, allergies can also affect the digestive system, such as when a dog eats something they are allergic to, which can cause skin signs and digestive signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea or excessive gas.
Q: Can dog allergies cause coughing?
A: In dogs, the most common symptoms associated with allergies are those related to the skin, i.e. itching, scratching, hair loss. In some cases, dogs can develop a food allergy where a dog eats something that causes skin signs and digestive signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive gas. On occasion, dog allergies can also cause itchy, runny eyes or affect the respiratory system, causing sneezing and coughing.
Q: Can you give a dog Benadryl?
A: Yes, dogs can tolerate diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl. The standard dosage is 1 milligram per pound. Not all dogs can tolerate Benadryl, however, and Benadryl may interact with other medications. Always check with your vet before giving your dog Benadryl.
There are no “stupid” questions when it comes to your pet’s health. If you suspect your pet is sick, please call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your regular veterinarian when possible as they can make the best recommendations for your pet. (If you need help finding a vet near you use this link.)