Itching, Licking and Scratching: It’s Dog-Allergy Season

It’s that time of year when dogs start licking, scratching, and scooting. It’s allergy season!

Symptoms of dog allergies include redness or rashes on the skin and paws.
Symptoms of dog allergies include redness or rashes on the skin and paws.

Yes, dogs can have allergies, too! In fact, the canine allergy season often coincides with human allergy seasons. And it’s not just grass and tree pollens, dogs can be allergic to anything; wool, cats, mites, insects—you name it!

There are four main categories of allergy:  atopy, flea, food, and contact. You can distinguish atopy, or environmental allergies, from other types of allergies because they are seasonal; allergy symptoms often come and go but symptoms with other forms of allergy are constant.

Dr. Brandy Vickers of Avenues Pet Hospital in San Francisco details some of the symptoms of dogs with atopy, or allergy to airborne pollens:

  • Itchy skin without lesions
  • Licking of feet or front legs
  • Chewing or licking flanks (sides) and belly
  • Face rubbing
  • Scooting
  • Red skin
  • Recurring skin and/or ear infections
  • Loss of fur

“Symptoms usually start between nine months and three years of age and are seasonal,” Dr. Vickers add. “As these pets get older, their itchy season becomes longer until they are itchy year-round.”

It’s important to note licking is not normal behavior for a dog.

“Dogs lick to clean themselves only in the sense that if something is on their paw, they lick to get it off,” behavioral therapist and trainer Beverly Ulbrich says. “They will also lick if they are aggravated or itchy from allergies, and they lick as a nervous habit.”

You definitely need to pay attention to how excessively your dog licks. He can eventually cause “hot spots,” which are patches of skin that become infected from incessant licking. Hot spots will be moist, red, oozing and/or missing fur. They hurt and all your dog wants to do is lick and scratch more.

It’s very important to nip hot spots in the bud otherwise you could be looking at an involved treatment and a very uncomfortable dog.

“Hot spots are localized moist skin infections that expand rapidly,” Dr. Vickers says.  “They are painful and can increase greatly in size and severity in a short time.  If treated early, they may be resolved with topical therapy.  More severe hot spots require treatment with oral antibiotics and possibly steroids.”

Here’s a good link from renowned dog trainer Cesar Millan on hot spots.

Yes, you can give your dog over-the-counter medicine like baby Benadryl to relieve allergy symptoms but always check with your vet first for dosage. Yellow Dog has taken antihistamines and corticosteroids to treat his allergies. Steroids are not intended for long-term use, though.

“I often try [corticosteroids] first if the skin is not too red because I can use a lower steroid dose mixed with an antihistamine,” Dr. Vickers says. “Atopy is an inappropriate and overactive immune response to harmless allergens. Sometimes short courses of steroids are useful to interrupt and dampen the immune system response that causes itching.”

To administer pills, we put them in a spoonful of pure canned pumpkin, peanut butter, or a digestive supplement. As a relevant aside, we do give Yellow an Omega-3 supplement, which helps alleviate itching and keeps his coat healthy.

Again, steroids are not intended to be a long-term solution. You should talk to your vet to determine what solution is best for your dog.

Before asking your vet for a steroid, remember antihistamines can take anywhere from three to 14 days to really starting working for your pup.

“Some dogs can’t tolerate the itching for that long so I prescribe a steroid to stop the itching and then we use antihistamines when things have calmed down,” Dr. Vickers says.

Yellow doing his best puppy-dog eyes to get out of the cone while Sundown noshes on a bully stick.

In the interim, cone him up! Yellow Dog is a clever lad and knows how to get out of the cone if it’s not tied down—just thread your dog’s collar through the loops and that should hold it in place. Keep him coned up for a few days. If he keeps itching, put the cone back on and go see your vet.

If the itching continues and antihistamines aren’t working, you will have to up the ante to allergy testing, which is the most effective treatment.

The Bottom Line

Your dog can’t tell you when harmless allergens are making him miserable, so recognize the signs and get him some treatment so he can live a more comfortable life!


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