Dog Environmental Allergies: The “WHYS?” And the “HOWS?”

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Is your dog constantly scratching away? Or does it suffer from chronic dandruff? Or maybe your dog is losing fur and you can’t figure out why. Well, it is highly likely that your dog is suffering from environmental allergies.

These allergies are caused by your dog’s immune system reacting adversely to substances found in its environment. This exceptionally sensitivity to these allergens will cause irritation and itchiness, which explains why Fido can’t stop scratching.   


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

While all these allergens can be found all year round, some of them are seasonal and are more aggressive at certain times of the year. This is not unlike the seasonal allergies we experience as humans. Since dogs spend a large amount of time outside in their yards, they are more likely to come into contact with these allergens. 


Flower pollen
Photo by Riku Lu on Unsplash

Symptoms of Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Atopic Dermatitis

Since contact with allergens can’t be avoided, the dog’s body and immune system tries to eliminate and combat the offending allergen particles. When that happens, you will start to see symptoms of atopic dermatitis. The symptoms include, inflamed and red skin, extreme itchiness and even thickened keratinised skin. Like humans, dogs then attempt to sooth the itch and irritation by scratching, licking and biting at their skin. If left unchecked, these behaviours could result in hair-loss, open-wounds, and lesions. All of which may become infected and cause extreme pain and discomfort.


Photo by Caroldermoid on Wikimedia

Atopy commonly affects the flanks, ears, groin, and underbelly areas of the dog. However, any area which has come into contact with environmental allergens can be affected.   


The Most Common Factors that affect severity of Environmental Allergies in Dogs

The most common factors that aggravate atopy in dogs are:

Allergy #1: Weather

During the cooler and drier months, symptoms often lie dormant. However, as the warmer, rainy months approach, flare-ups are common. This is because warm and humid weather doesn’t help a dog’s coat condition. The warm, wet weather puts more stress on the dog’s skin thus causing increased irritation.

Allergy #2: Breeding

There are some breeds that are more prone to skin issues. Retrievers, Terriers, Boxers, Dalmatians, Bulldogs, Shepherds, Beagles and Irish Setters are some examples.

However, the main issue lies with how these dogs are bred. Often, when breeds increase in popularity, demand for them increases. Unethical breeders will overbreed their dogs, as more puppies equates to higher earnings. When dogs are overbred and the bitches don’t have time to rest, they don’t produce great puppies. The not-so-great puppies are then used to breed and generations down, we get weaker puppies that are likely to have immunity issues.

Allergy #3: Stress

Stress and anxiety can also aggravate skin allergies. When dogs get stressed, their cortisol levels increase. This is the body’s natural reaction to prepare for a fight or flight action. When the stressor passes, cortisol levels then drop back down to normal. However, in a dog that has separation anxiety or fence frustration/aggression, their cortisol levels are constantly at an elevated state. This constant elevation of baseline cortisol level can cause skin issues and hair loss in dogs.


Treatments for Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Identification of Allergen

The first thing you should do is to contact your veterinarian. Often, battling skin allergies is a long process. As such, your veterinarian will be able to work with you to come up with a proper long-term management plan.

Often, identification of the allergen is the first step. Thus, veterinarians will recommend that you carry out a test known as “Intradermal allergy”. Here, small amounts of allergens are injected under the skin. If presence of an allergic response is observed, it means that your dog is hypersensitive to that allergen.

Management of Allergies

Once the allergen is determined, there are various steps that can be taken. Often, short-term management involves the prescribing of anti-inflammatories and anti-histamine to reduce irritation and itching.

More long-term management may involve hyposensitization therapy. This involves giving the dog small doses of the allergen regularly. The final aim is to desensitize the immune system, such that it does not react adversely. However, this therapy takes up to six months to a year to work, and is only 60 to 70 percent effective in dogs.

Apart from this, management of your dog’s environment is crucial. Some steps that you can take include: vacuuming frequently, keeping your dog inside during the summer months, washing your dog with hypoallergenic shampoo every week, and wiping down your dog after it comes in from outside.


Dog being showered
Photo by Autri Taheri on Unsplash

Keeping your Dog Happy

There is no quick and easy fix for environmental allergies. However, with good care and proper long-term management, relief of symptoms is possible.


About the Author
Mindy is a Veterinarian student from The University of Queensland

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