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Four common allergies in dogs and what you can do about them

allergies in dogs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Every year, vets diagnose more and more allergies in dogs. In fact, around 9% of dogs in the US are considered to have environmental allergies, and that’s only the most common type. 

Allergic dogs are itchy, and often chew or lick their feet; they may get recurrent ear infections. Getting to the bottom of their allergy is essential, but allergies in dogs can be frustrating and expensive. It’s important to be prepared, so read on to discover the most common allergies in dogs and to get an idea of what you might be facing.

1. Allergies to storage mites and house dust mites in dogs

Nobody likes to think of the mites living in their homes, but the truth is that all homes have these microscopic creatures. The percentage of dogs that are allergic to mites varies between studies, but around 60-80% of allergic dogs appear to be allergic to mites.

House dust mites live in the carpet and soft furnishings, where they feed off shed skin cells. Storage mites like to live in dried goods in storage – hence the name. They once would have infested grain stores, but in our homes can more usually be found in old bags of flour or at the bottom of a bag of dog food. 

Some studies have shown that over 80% of allergic dogs test positive for mite allergy, so this is as good a place as any to start your search.

What you and your vet can do to help mite allergies in dogs

Although mites are everywhere, there’s lots you can do to help keep on top of them. As we discussed in our article for coping with allergies, every little helps – and that means reducing the number of mites in your home. Storage mites can be reduced by buying smaller bags of dog food or freezing dog food in smaller portions so that the mites don’t get access to a whole bag of food.

Some flea sprays will also be effective against mites, including house dust mites – your vet can tell you which products are legal and licensed in your area, or getting a professional exterminator in might be suitable. Hypoallergenic dog bedding will reduce the places the mites can contact your dog, too – as will regular washing at a high temperature.

Don’t forget there’s a range of medications your vet can give you to help. Once a mite allergy has been diagnosed, your vet can have ‘vaccinations’ made against the allergens – injecting small amounts of the allergen under your dog’s skin can teach their body not to react to it. Around 60% of cases are helped with this method. Drugs may also be necessary to get on top of the allergy, especially as mite allergies usually affect dogs all year round.

2. Allergies to tree, weed and grass pollen in dogs

Hay fever sufferers will know that pollen allergies are difficult to live with. Dogs can be allergic to tree pollen, weed pollen or grass pollen, or a mixture of all three. Again, the percentages of dogs with this sort of allergy vary from study to study. Birch and elm are common allergens, with over 50% of allergic dogs reacting. 

The most common grass pollen allergy is to Timothy grass, and the most common weed allergy is to English Plantain. Mold allergies are also common. To make matters worse, many dogs are allergic to more than one weed, grass or tree – in fact, sometimes they’re allergic to almost everything tested.

In addition, they can gain new allergies as they age, which is a common reason for their symptoms to reappear after being well controlled. Pollen allergies tend to be seasonal to a degree – your dog might suffer in Spring, Summer or Autumn, depending on what they react to. It’s rare for environmental allergens to affect a dog all year round without a break.

What you and your vet can do about environmental allergens

Dealing with environmental allergies in dogs is tricky. As with mite allergens, your veterinarian can order a specialized immunotherapy ‘vaccination’, which teaches your dog’s body not to react. For one-third of cases, this works really well, and for a third of cases, it doesn’t work at all. For the final third, it works to an extent, but some other medications may be needed at peak pollen season.

There aren’t many things you can do to help your dog with environmental allergies. As hay fever sufferers know, avoiding pollen is almost impossible. However, there are some good tips over in our feature on coping with allergic pets.

allergies in dogs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Flea allergies and flea hypersensitivity in dogs

In cats, flea allergies are more common than any other allergy type. In dogs, we think that flea bite allergy is slightly less common, although it’s hard to tell. Many dogs are allergic to fleas as well as to environmental allergens such as pollen and mites. 

Flea bite hypersensitivity (also known as flea allergic dermatitis) occurs when dogs are sensitized to the protein in flea saliva. Dogs don’t need to have fleas for their allergy to flare – contact with a single flea is enough to cause a severe itch.

What you and your vet can do to help flea allergy in dogs

Flea allergies are generally easy to keep under control. Your dog will need high-efficacy flea treatment and it needs to be applied on time, regularly and without gaps in cover. Products that repel fleas as well as kill them are sometimes more effective, as many flea treatments need dogs to be bitten to work properly. 

Don’t forget to treat the other animals in the house, too – if your cat brings fleas in from outside, your dog is going to keep on reacting. You can learn more about the different treatment options in our buying guide to the best flea treatment for dogs.

4. Food allergies- including beef, chicken and grain allergies

When a dog starts to show signs of an allergy, many people immediately assume they are allergic to their food. But only around one in ten allergies is to something in the food, with the most common food allergen thought to be beef. Chicken protein also commonly causes allergic reactions in dogs. 

Grain is often blamed for allergic reactions by dog owners, but grain allergies are thought to make up fewer than one in ten food allergies. So, that's fewer than one in 100 allergic dogs that have grain allergies. Dogs can become allergic to food even if they have been on that type of food for their whole lives. Once symptoms start, they tend not to wax and wane, and they’re never seasonal.

What you and your vet can do to help food allergies in dogs

Unlike environmental allergies, food allergies are simple to treat – you simply stop feeding the protein that your dog is allergic to. They’re also theoretically simple to diagnose – you feed them a diet without allergens for eight weeks, and if the symptoms go away, you know your dog has food allergies. You can read more in our article on common food allergies in dogs and cats.

Allergies in dogs are common

If you think your dog might be allergic, talk to your vet about their symptoms and whether you should be testing for allergies. The most common allergies in dogs are listed here, but there are all sorts of other things your dog could be allergic to, from feathers to newsprint.