Your dog keeps sneezing, you say? Could it be allergies?

As pet groomers, it’s important that we consider everything when it comes to the pets we see, and that includes dog allergies. 

Dog grooming intake and why we ask about dog allergies

If you’ve read our previous blog posts (find them all here), you’ll know that dog grooming is so much more than just making your pup look pretty. We are here to make your pets comfortable and help you stay on top of their health. So when you see a question on our intake form asking about any environmental or food allergies, it’s because it affects how we groom.

Allergic reactions often show up on the dog’s skin which may have a unique odor and the dog’s color may even change. The dog’s skin can appear reddish brown, known as an allergy stain or a tear stain. The most common places these are found are around the eyes but can also be found on the mouth, tops of the feet, rectum or base of tail, and under the belly. Tear stains are caused by porphyrins which are iron-containing molecules produced when the body breaks down iron. This can be excreted through the saliva, urine, gastrointestinal tract, and tears causing the red-ish brown color.

Because dogs are constantly licking and chewing themselves where it itches, we see this same allergy stain around the mouth. The constant licking and biting may be further causing the breakdown of the skin and can lead to hot spots, much like when dogs and cats have matted fur (more details in our blog post about this here). Hot spots are painful sores where the skin is infected and puss oozes out. They start as a small inflamed area but then rapidly spread alerting the dog owner of a real problem. 

Treatment of a hot spot must be done with the consultation of a veterinarian who will determine the underlying cause. They will then likely prescribe antibiotics, oral steroids, and oral antibiotics along with a remedy for whatever the underlying cause may be. A prescription strength shampoo will also be necessary to soothe the irritated and inflamed skin.

With environmental allergies, commonly caused by grass and pollens, the hair on the dog’s feet will change color. Their paw pads might get really swollen or their feet may be missing hair from the constant chewing and licking. 

So why does your groomer care about all of this? Because when the dog with allergies has hot spots or any skin irritations caused by the allergy, grooming can be very painful for your poor pup. Even bathing, which should be a pleasant experience, can hurt a dog with already irritated skin. When this is the case, we need to use mild, scent-free hypoallergenic shampoo. The last thing we want to do is cause further problems with a harsh shampoo that harms the already compromised skin. 

Additionally, a haircut may be a no-go if the skin is in bad shape because the vibration of the clippers will cause further irritation. The dog may even want to dig at his or her skin while getting a haircut, which causes a challenge for the groomer and can hurt the dog. 

Dog allergic reaction symptoms

Wondering why your dog keeps sneezing? Maybe he has a runny nose? It could be allergies. There are several types of allergies dogs can have; environmental (atopic dermatitis), food allergies, flea allergy dermatitis, and acute allergic reactions. 

Environmental allergies can be in response to trees, grasses, weeds, molds, dust, etc. Symptoms include biting, scratching, inflamed skin, chronic ear infections, and sores on the skin. This is also the type of allergy that will cause sneezing and a runny nose in your dog and it can occur seasonally or year-round. 

Food allergies often occur due to the proteins in food. These can appear at any point in your dog’s life and have a variety of signs such as respiratory distress and itching as well as digestive upset. 

Flea allergy dermatitis (check out our blog post about fleas here), the most common dermatologic issue in domestic dogs in the US, is a reaction to flea saliva. While fleas bother all dogs and cause itching, if your dog has flea allergy dermatitis, it’s more extreme. If you see hair loss in the middle of your dog’s back to the tail base, this may be a sign of flea allergy dermatitis. If left untreated, the hair loss will spread.

Acute allergic reactions are very serious and what is typically seen in a vet’s office. An acute reaction comes on suddenly when your dog has a reaction to something such as an insect bite or sting. You may see facial swelling, vomiting, or even trouble breathing.

You won’t be able to tell what kind of allergy your dog has based on the symptoms as many of the symptoms are shared and some dog allergy symptoms are also poteinally signs of something else. 

General dog allergic reaction symptoms can include itchiness, hives, swelling of the face, red inflamed skin, diarrhea, vomiting, sneezing, chronic ear infections, itchy runny eyes, constant licking, and biting as well as scratching.

Photo of a severe dog allergy allergic reaction on dog's tail. The dog's tail is red and has lost hair.
A severe allergic reaction that’s been left untreated for far too long

Other considerations for dogs with allergies 

When we have a dog with allergies, an extra service you may and really want to consider is filing their toenails after they’re cut. Why? Because cut nails are very sharp and one thing you don’t want is itchy dogs scratching at their skin with sharp nails. This will tear the skin, causing more problems. The service is an extra charge but is highly recommended for dogs with anything that causes itchy skin, including allergies. 

Dog allergies- diagnosis and treatment

Based on symptoms, your vet will decide how to diagnose your pup. There are a few methods that your vet might use. These include intradermal skin testing, blood testing, and elimination diet trials.
Intradermal skin testing is when the vet injects your dog with a small amount of various allergens and then monitors his or her reaction. 

Blood testing is when blood is drawn and then sent to a lab to analyze. However, this type of testing is less reliable than intradermal skin testing. 

Elimination diet trials are used to eliminate certain foods from your dog’s diet and then reintroduced slowly to see how each ingredient affects your dog. 

Treatment will depend on the type of allergy found in your dog and some are easier to treat than others. 

Flea allergy dermatitis is the easiest to treat. The cause needs to be eliminated as outlined in our previous blog post on this topic. While it can take a lot of effort to get rid of fleas, they are preventable and there are clear steps to take. 

For food allergies in dogs, much like in humans, the best course of action will be to figure out what ingredients your dog is allergic to and then eliminate them from his or her diet.  

Atopic dermatitis (aka environmental dog allergies) has a few options. Immunotherapy uses the results from your dog’s allergy test to create a customized serum containing the allergens. This is then injected into your dog on a set schedule to gradually desensitize your dog to the allergen. Allergy medications may be given. Corticosteroids may help provide your dog with some short-term allergy relief but are not typically used long-term due to side effects. Cytopoint can be injected into your dog to help relieve your dog of itching. Removing pollen from your dog’s fur after going outside is another option. This will include wiping down your dog and even potentially vacuuming his fur with a special vacuum designed for this. Baths with medicated or oatmeal shampoos can help soothe the skin. However, washing your dog too often will irritate the skin further. Fatty acid supplements are also recommended for healthy skin in general. 

Because dog allergies can cause so many issues, we highly recommend your dog with allergies see a dog dermatologist. It’s important to find the root cause of the allergy as there are several possibilities with different treatments. 

We recommend Dr. Breen DVM in Cincinnati, OH. 

Does dog grooming help with allergies?

The answer is…well sort of. While dog grooming isn’t a treatment for allergies, you can certainly help a dog with dog grooming (as always!) and a good bath with medicated shampoos to soothe your dog’s inflamed skin. Additionally, using the right tools, such as the correct dryer and drying technique, helps by removing dead skin cells, dander, and all the excess pet hair which can become impacted on the dog’s skin. The impacted hair only makes hot spots worse and can cause matting, as well (check this out on our page for more details). 

Is it time for a good, soothing soak for your dog? Book an appointment today so we can help your poor pooch’s skin! 

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