How Can I Help My Dog With Allergies?

Dog with allergies

Itching and scratching are as uncomfortable for dogs as they are for you, the dog parent, to watch as your dog engages in these behaviors. There are quite literally millions of articles floating around online about how to help a dog with allergies. Here, we cut to the chase, tell you what has worked for us, and offer some expert advice from a webinar we attended with Dr. Deva Khalsa, acclaimed holistic veterinarian, author, and lecturer.

Allergy or Sensitivity

The word “allergy” gets tossed around like a rubber duck on ocean waves. What some call an allergy might just be a food sensitivity in dogs.

There are food allergies and there are food intolerances. There are dogs who are sensitive to certain food ingredients and there are dogs who have allergic reactions to things in the environment. There is a subspecialty of veterinary medicine that involves dermatology. Seek a specialist if symptoms are ongoing. Do you seek the help of a specialist in times of need? The same should hold true for your dog.

Pollen is something that people are allergic to and it manifests as sneezing or stuffiness. With dogs, they may sneeze but are more likely to develop skin or ear infections or start biting or scratching themselves. The reason for this is that allergens get absorbed through a pet’s skin whereas with people we inhale pollen.  According to Dr. Khalsa, allergies can manifest in a variety of ways:


dog allergy information
Slide is per Dr. Khalsa National Canine Health Symposium


Bacterial infections from allergies tend to cause issues such as rashes and hot spots. If your dog rubs his face on the furniture, scoots across the floor, licks their feet, or scratches excessively, this could be from an airborne allergy. Although dogs are less likely to sneeze from allergies, they can, as my dog does.

We know that my dog is allergic to certain environmental factors.  According to Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, pets can get allergic reactions in different ways. Among them:

  • Environmental allergies, caused by tree, grass and weed pollen. Also, mold, dust mites and other substances.
  • Contact allergies, caused by coming in contact with certain weeds, mulch and other substances.
  • Food allergies.
  • Flea allergies. Fleas can be annoying enough on their own. But when a pet is allergic, one single flea bite can cause a serious reaction for one to two weeks.

Dog parents should take special notice if their dogs scratch themselves excessively, rub their faces along the furniture, lick their feet, or repeatedly scoot their bottoms across the floor.

If dog parents notice these signs, they should contact their family veterinarians to see if allergies might be the cause. If problems persist, a veterinarian may refer the pet to a specialist.

Treatments can include vaccines, antihistamines, steroids, the use of air filters, bathing and avoidance of the allergens.

Or you can try other things, as we did. Keep reading.

Dog itching

What About Food Allergies or Food Sensitivities in Dogs

Your dog may be allergic to a few foods but it is not enough to push him above threshold level to itching except in some cases says Dr. Khalsa.

She says that pollens, weeds, trees, molds, or other environmental allergens come into play seasonally and guess what happens? The dog’s threshold is pushed and he begins to itch.

Dog allergy symptoms
Slide is per Dr. Khalsa National Canine Health Symposium

Often times, your dog’s veterinarian will recommend you change foods and/or look for a protein (a novel protein) the dog has not yet been exposed to. Having been down this road with two Cocker Spaniels, this means a process of elimination.

Switching foods does not always work and there is a scientific reason for this. In simple terms, you can blame phenolics. Phenolics are compounds that are naturally present in foods.  Phenolics, says Dr. Khalsa, gives food taste and smell. Protein sources have phenolics in them.

Why does this matter to your dog and trying different foods to see what he or she is “allergic to?” One phenolic can be present in many different foods. So you try beef for your dog and he itches. You try chicken weeks later and he itches. And so on.

Beef has ten different phenolics and chicken has five. Due to this cross reaction, it is nearly impossible to sort out by changing from food to food. This can also upset a dog’s digestive tract. I know because I tried this with my first Cocker Spaniel. Ah, I wish I knew then what I know now.

How To Treat a Dog With Allergic Issues

dog allergy treatment
Slide is per Dr. Khalsa National Canine Health Symposium

(1) Minimize the vaccinations your dog receives. Personally I am not anti-vaccine; I am anti over-vaccination. Our first Cocker Spaniel was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor on her skin at the site of vaccination. From that point on, I decided to become a more educated dog mom and dog writer. Here I am.

A pet’s immune system is not designed to receive multiple substances injected into the body.

(2) Second, have your dog’s thyroid checked regularly. Veterinary pioneer, Dr. Jean Dodds wrote an entire book on the topic of the canine thyroid epidemic. Thyroid problems can contribute to allergic symptoms in a dog.

Use caution in treating allergies with prednisolone. Of course, there is a time and a place for treatment. Dr. Khalsa says, “Using prednisolone to treat allergies is comparable to pulling out the fuse to your dash when the oil light goes on.”

The oil light is a symptom your car needs oil, just as a dog’s allergic manifestations are a symptom that your dog’s body needs help.

(3) What about Apoquel? I have been reading the amazing results of this kinase medication. In fact, I know many dog parents who successfully treat their dog with Apoquel.

Here’s why Dr. Khalsa would not give her dog Apoquel.

Bottom line: Apoquel stops something called JAKs from working in your dog. Your pet should not be without JAKs for long. JAKs are “just another kinase” which are messengers in the body that help growth and development.

Use caution if you treat with Apoquel.

Dog itchy skin spray
Natural Paws has a good spray that has helped with flare ups

How Can I Help My Dog With Allergies or Sensitivities?

  • Supplement with Omega 3’s: They help with anti-inflammatory, skin, and ear health.
  • Zinc can help: It builds a healthy immune system and is an antioxidant for the skin.
  • Vitamin D: Dr. Khalsa says there is an epidemic of vitamin D3 in dogs. It is a hormone and is important for normal immune function.
  • We use organic coconut oil as well. Remember, you need to eliminate and control what is causing the symptoms for any of this to be effective.

According to Dogs Naturally magazine, coconut oil, when used regularly, can help dogs who suffer from eczema, flea allergies, contact dermatitis, and itchy skin. Since adding a dollop of coconut oil to my dog’s food once a day, I’ve noticed a decrease in his itchiness. Bonus: People can use it for a variety of things from softer hair to improved skin texture to butter substitute in recipes (think :zero cholesterol).

Control the Itch

There are a variety of topicals and also more natural alternatives. We use Benadryl for extreme flares when traveling to a dry climate and use Atarax antihistamine as needed. We are able to control the majority of our dog’s issues with itching thanks to building up a strong immune system, avoid toxins, limiting vaccines, feeding a healthy diet, and ensuring his weight is in check.

We will discuss food and sensitivity issues in a future article but for now, we leave you with this:

CLICK THIS: 7 Ways to Help a Dog With Allergies

QUESTIONS: Has your dog ever been diagnosed with allergies or food sensitivities? How are you dealing with it?

(Always seek veterinary advice for any medical issue with your dog and before adding any new medications).

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  1. The allergy tablets I picked up at Walmart yesterday were the generic for Atarax. My allergic foster dog Lele takes this daily, PLUS (just this week, with horrible grass pollen flare ups) a Benadryl at night. We also bathe and flush ears regularly, and I’m having to wipe her off when she comes in from outdoors. Sadly, she got to the shelter (and later me) already plagued with bacterial and yeast infections of her skin and ears. HOPING that the skin infections haven’t turned into mast cells. 🙁 The doctor (a Blue Pearl veterinary dermatologist, who is awesome) will decide whether to do a biopsy at Lele’s next appt.

    We’ve also experimented with a few grain free foods, settling on Wellness CORE wild game, until the doctor tells us otherwise. She thinks the allergies are environmental (at least predominantly). What a challenge this has been! I had NO idea before Lele what dealing with a pet’s allergy was like. Dexter is lucky to have dog moms who care enough to keep him comfortable and happy!

    I’ve got this post bookmarked!

    1. WOW this is like a kismet comment today. Since it is probably environmental, that is a whole other ball game then, isn’t it? The Atarax keeps Dex’s allergies at bay, since we did other more natural things to improve for him. That said, the Benadryl is coming with us to Phoenix. Dry desert air. No fun. Oh did I mention Dex has carpet itchiness? Fun times! Not always, but sometimes in new environments like hotels. I think it’s the cleaning agents they use. I digress.

      When you bring LeLe in from outside, try wiping her down with something like PL360 wipes or baby wipes for sensitive skin. Paws, too. You are a great dog mama!

  2. Our last dog had seasonal allergies and got very itchy. Atarax worked very well for him.

  3. I don’t know if my pet has a food allergy or not, but certain brands for wet food she will just not eat. She will go by the food bowl, sniff it, and walk away. So I have been buying her wet food that is more natural than not and she happily eats it.

    1. Sometimes it could be the smell of it or something in the food itself your dog does not like.

  4. I agree about minimizing the vaccinations. My 2 cats that passed away 2-3 years ago both had cancer at the injection site. Ever since then, I’m a minimalist when it comes to vaccines.
    Maximus had terrible allergies to fleas. His skin would flake and itch from 1-2 flea bites so we had to stay on top of his flea medication, like clockwork. Fleas were a non-stop battle when we lived in FL.

    I’m a science nerd so all of this information was really interesting and helpful.

    Hugs to you, Dex, & Dar.

    1. Yep and once you get a cancer diagnosis BECAUSE of vaccines, the world changes. I am a science nerd, too, and so rock on, friend.

  5. I’ve heard Zinc is supposed to help keep fleas off, too. I don’t have a dog, so can’t verify, but that would be another reason to dose them with it.

  6. It’s nice to know to be on the lookout for potential allergies. We want to make our fur babies as happy/comfortable as possible and allergies fit in neither one of those categories (for those with 2 legs or 4!).

  7. We are trying to get to the bottom of Piper’s seasonal runny eyes. No luck so far 🙁 I love this post an d I appreciate the recommendation to try Omega 3 supplementation, Zinc and vitamin D. We’re trying coconut oil right now. Hopefully, we’ll get some good results.

  8. Amazing article!!! We have been through our share of allergies with my senior girl Sallie. She is now 12 years old and has had them since a puppy. The severe skin issues turning into hot spots! Then, on to the point of setting up infection – what a mess. We have used an assortment of allergy meds like benedryl for the really bad times, but you know – adding a teaspoon of coconut oil into her food (strange as it sounds) has made a huge impact on the itchy skin. In case of itchy hot spot, I also rub it on the itchy spot. We have been doing this a couple of years now and have seen a huge improvement in the dry itchy skin issue side of it all.

  9. So far KPug has not shown any signs of discomfort or allergies, although he can be a bit anxious/crazy sometimes. He eats grain-free with varied proteins and occasional supplements. Great article in case (I am a science geek too). I have allergies these days and my daughters have food intolerances so do a lot of research.

    Interesting on the vaccinations- I did not know about that. What do you give Dex and how often?

  10. Thanks for all this great information. I have a feeling my dog Phoebe has food sensitivity but haven’t been able to figure it out. This is the first I’ve heard about Phenolics in food, perhaps that has something to do with it.

  11. We’ve been through all of this! It’s good to have all of the information in one place, we’ve written about it several times. First I got diagnosed with allergies to just about everything outdoors, then when the food allergies started, the vet made it easiest for us. Just eliminate everything which helped us to find the right food with just a few tries. I don’t understand the concern about APOQUEL. I have been on it for a few weeks and I am doing really well. We will stop use when winter is here though. Love Dolly

  12. My sister’s dog is allergic to grass and human dander…it can’t get much worse than that. Human dander?! Ugh. He needs an $800 allergy shot every month because it’s so bad!

  13. Nelly seems to suffer allergies the most in the summer. She is extremely sensitive to flea bites, some grains, and probably seasonal allergies as well. My vet recommended we give her Benadryl to help ease her itchiness. I also try to wipe her feet off to minimize any pollen/grass allergies she may have. One summer it was so bad, she had to get cortisone shots.

  14. Allergies in cats work much the same way! Cinco seemed to have a some allergies, but we weren’t sure exactly what they were. We got this rug at a garage sale and it seemed to be the source of his allergy. He lost his belly fur not long after we got the rug. Due to the timing, we figured the rug might have something to do with it so we got rid of the rug. Cinco’s belly fur grew back after that.

  15. Neither of my dogs have food allergies, but Gracie does get itchy skin in the spring with pollen. She will also sneeze some. She doesn’t itch so much that she causes her skin to break or lose fur, so I mainly just watch for rashes or redness to appear to make sure it does not get worse.

  16. Great post. After reading this I realize Rosa falls into both categories. She always has something going on too, no matter how hard we try.

  17. great information, thank you so much. my dog can’t have certain types of foods or he gets sick. i’ll have to share this with my mom.

  18. Hi, I saw about the mentioning of coconut oil for curing itching and also the skin problems. Off course it is right It is one of the main things that you can be given at permissible amount.And I think you can be more specific and given more details regarding that… Hope you will include more about that.

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