Have an itchy, scratchy dog due to allergies? You might wonder if you can use any over-the-counter or prescription treatments to ease your dog’s symptoms. The good news is, there are plenty of options to help soothe your dog’s inflamed, itchy skin, but first make sure your dog is diagnosed correctly.
“Treating the symptoms of allergies without addressing the underlying cause will only provide temporary relief,” says Dr. Alejandro Caos, a veterinarian with at-home veterinary service The Vets. “Working with a veterinarian to identify the specific allergen can help avoid exposure to the allergen and prevent future allergic reactions.”
Dogs can be allergic to many different things, including flea bites, pollens and grasses, food ingredients, cleaning products, metals, synthetic materials, and even medications.
“The most common allergy diagnoses in dogs are related to food, environmental factors like pollen, and flea bites,” says Lindsay Butzer, DVM, of Clint Moore Animal Hospital in Boca Raton, Florida.
Read on to find out why allergy relief for dogs is so important and learn more about different allergy treatments.
Allergy Relief for Dogs: Why It’s Important
Because allergies in dogs are typically life-long, it’s important to treat and manage them correctly.
“Untreated allergies can lead to complications, such as skin infections, ear infections, respiratory issues, and GI issues,” Dr. Caos says. “Allergies can make your pet quite miserable. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of allergies can help prevent these complications from developing.”
It can be tricky to get to the bottom of what is causing allergies, but veterinarians have strategies for diagnosing them. Some dogs might need blood or skin tests, or in the case of suspected food allergies, an elimination diet to pinpoint problematic ingredients.
“An examination and discussion with your veterinarian can help pinpoint the cause of the allergies,” Dr. Butzer says. “However, if the cause remains unclear or if the dog has persistent symptoms, allergy testing may be needed.”
What Can I Give My Dog for Allergies?
Allergies can be frustrating to deal with, but the good news is, there are many helpful treatments for allergies in dogs, including veterinarian-prescribed and over-the-counter options. Some allergy remedies address the symptoms (itchy, inflamed skin) while others work to reduce or eliminate the allergies themselves.
“Once the specific allergen is identified, the veterinarian can develop a customized treatment plan tailored to the dog’s needs,” Dr. Caos says. “This may include avoiding exposure to the allergen, medication, immunotherapy, or a combination of these approaches.” For dogs with food allergies, prescription diets might be used.
Prescription Allergy Medicine for Dogs
Based on the results of your dog’s physical exam and history, as well as any testing, your vet might prescribe certain allergy treatments, which could include one or more shots, tablets, pills or topical creams. According to Dr. Caos, some of the most common prescription allergy treatments for dogs are:
Antihistamines: These medications block the effects of histamine, a chemical released during an allergic reaction.
Corticosteroids: These suppress the immune response and reduce inflammation. Some common corticosteroids include prednisone and dexamethasone. Long-term use of these drugs can be harmful, so these are generally used in the short-term.
Immunomodulators: These are often used long-term to suppress the immune response and reduce inflammation. Common immunomodulators are Atopica (cyclosporine) and Apoquel (oclacitinib). Apoquel is an oral tablet that can be used for long-term maintenance or short-term therapy to relieve and control allergic dog itch and inflammation due to skin allergies.
Immunotherapy: Also called allergy shots, allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) is often used for environmental allergies. Small amounts of allergens are injected under the skin to help the dog build up a tolerance to the allergen over time.
Antibiotics and Antifungals: If a dog’s allergies have caused a secondary skin infection, your veterinarian might prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to clear them up.
Over-the-Counter Allergy Medicine for Dogs
Some of the medications used to treat allergies in dogs are made for humans and sold over the counter. For instance, antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), and Claritin (loratadine) can be purchased without a prescription.
However, Dr. Caos warns that you should never attempt to treat your dog’s allergies with over-the-counter medications without explicit instructions from your vet.
“Some over-the-counter allergy medications commonly used by humans, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays, may be safe for pets in certain circumstances and under the guidance of a veterinarian,” he says. “However, the dosage and type of medication may differ for pets, and the veterinarian will need to consider the pet’s age, size, and medical history before prescribing any medication.”
When using over-the-counter medications as directed by your veterinarian, make sure you purchase products that contain the specified drug only and not any combination products. Some medications that are safe for humans can be deadly for pets.
“You never want to give your dog any medication that contains pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine,” Dr. Caos says. “These medications are extremely dangerous to dogs.”
If you are worried your dog might have ingested potentially dangerous human medication, call your veterinarian and/or the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control hotline (888-426-4435). Consultation fees may apply.
Supplements for Dog Allergies
Certain supplements can be very helpful for managing allergies in dogs, but don’t use supplements as a substitute for veterinary care. Supplements should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian. According to Dr. Caos, supplements that might be beneficial for dogs with allergies include:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The anti-inflammatory properties in omega-3 fatty acids might reduce the severity of allergic reactions by promoting skin barrier health. Common supplements use fish oil, flaxseed oil, and krill oil.
Probiotics: These beneficial bacteria can potentially help support a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation in the body, and improve digestive health, which could be beneficial for dogs suffering from food allergies.
Quercetin: This flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Quercetin is thought to reduce allergies by stabilizing mast cells.
Vitamin E: A well-known antioxidant, vitamin E can support a healthy immune system and reduce inflammation, which could be beneficial for pets with skin allergies or other allergic reactions.
Home Remedies for Dog Allergies: Safety and Things to Consider
You can use some non-medication allergy remedies at home as part of your dog’s overall allergy treatment strategy. Our experts recommend oatmeal baths and cooling pads to soothe itchy, inflamed skin.
“You can purchase cooling pads designed for pets, or make your own by placing a damp towel in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes before applying it to your pet’s skin,” Dr. Caos says.
How to Help Dog Allergies: Other Tips and Advice
You can take other steps at home to minimize allergy symptoms in dogs by limiting exposure to allergens. Don’t smoke around your dog, and avoid using harsh chemical cleaners, perfumes, scented candles, or air fresheners.
To cut down on allergens in your home, consider vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, washing your dog’s bedding, and laundering household blankets and pillows more frequently.
“Pet owners should avoid exposing their dogs to known allergens as much as possible,” Dr. Butzer says. “This might mean avoiding certain foods, using hypoallergenic products, or limiting time outdoors when there is a lot of pollen in the environment. It’s also important not to over-bathe your dog, as this can strip their skin of essential oils and make them more susceptible to allergens.”