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How to Recognize an Allergic Reaction in Your Dog

Dog have allergies, just like people do — and often to the same things such as dust, pollen, grass, and insect bites. Your furry friend may also be allergic to certain ingredients in her kibble.

In addition to normal allergic reactions, like itching and sneezing, some dogs may experience more severe symptoms such as

  • Scratching: Your dog’s intense scratching is most likely a result of itchy allergies. The most common itchy places are the skin of the feet, face, ears, and belly. Intense scratching can result in raw, bleeding skin that makes it susceptible to secondary bacterial infection.

  • Hives or swelling of the muzzle: Some dogs respond to an allergen with swelling of the face or bumps that appear over a large part of the trunk. You may also see the dog biting or licking at herself or she may have red, weeping eyes.

    Apply a cold pack to the swollen area if it is small. If the swelling continues or there is swelling over a large area, contact your veterinarian. Check your dog’s respiration periodically, because there may also be swelling of the throat, which can impair her breathing.

  • Shock: Signs of shock include weak or rapid pulse, shallow breathing, gray, purple, or pale gums, glazed eyes, weakness, or collapse. Lay the dog on her side and cover her with a blanket. Administer CPR if necessary. Transport the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

The best way to determine whether your dog has allergies — and if so, to what — is for a veterinary dermatologist to perform skin tests, just like the ones performed on people. Blood tests are an acceptable first test for allergies, but they aren’t nearly as sensitive as skin tests are.

Identifying the offending allergen is important so that you can limit your dog’s exposure to that allergen if possible or get her allergy shots, if that’s an option. Allergy shots help about 75 percent of dogs with inhalant allergies.

If initial treatments fail and the itching is bad enough, your veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines to help suppress the allergic reaction or even a one-week course of corticosteroids (drugs that suppress immune responses) to stop the itch-scratch cycle. If the symptoms persist and continue to be severe, your dog may have to be on steroids for a longer period of time. In this case, the steroids should be given every other day as prescribed by your veterinarian to reduce the considerable side effects that accompany their use.

Because of the side effects, consider long-term use of steroids only when all other alternatives have failed.

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