This article was originally written for by Kathryn Primm, DVM and lives on their Ask A Vet blog, but we thought that you might enjoy reading it here, as you try to find ways to manage your own allergic dog!

Dogs can be allergic to things in the air, just like people. In people, this is commonly called “hay fever”, but it is not characterized by fever and it is not really from hay either! Actually hay fever is more accurately termed atopic dermatitis, which just means that the skin is inflamed in response to an antigen that is inhaled.  Makes a little more sense when you call it what it is, huh?

It might help to know a little about how allergies work. The molecules that cause the trouble are called allergens. These can be things like pollen, mold or dust. When the allergens enter the body, the immune system sees them as a threat, just like a virus or bacteria might be.  Immunity springs into action and sends in the troops, in the form of an inflammatory reaction.  This response can make allergy sufferers feel like they are battling an actual pathogen, when in reality, the reaction is only allergic.

For people, allergies cause upper respiratory signs, but allergies are a little different for dogs. There are other common signs of allergies for dogs.

  1. Paw licking
  2. Itching
  3. Shedding or hair loss
  4. Bad odor

So what do you do?  The most important thing to understand is that Atopy is an actual medical diagnosis. It is not something that you can diagnose on your own (even with the help of this or other articles). If you think that your dog suffers from allergic disease, the most important step is to call your vet.

Your veterinarian may recommend some testing to help pin down the diagnosis. There are countless skin diseases that could be in play as well.  He/she may suggest referral or skin biopsy.  It is very individual. Some dogs will also have secondary bacterial or fungal infections.

Allergies are not something to minimize or “blow off”.  They are not usually life threatening, but they severely impact quality of life and they usually get worse over time.  They are not curable, but can be effectively managed by your vet.

Do not fall into the “Benadryl® trap”! Diphenhydramine is typically not extremely effective in managing canine allergic symptoms.  For many patients, there are much better choices. Even prescription antihistamines may not be enough to manage severe allergies.

Occasionally dogs exhibit the symptoms (sneezing and itchy eyes) like people too, but they are usually in conjunction with the itchy feet. If you notice any of these 4 signs, make sure you see your veterinarian for help!