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The Most Common Dog Allergens and How to Avoid Them

The Most Common Dog Allergens and How to Avoid Them


Itching, scratching, licking, biting, rubbing, chewing, gnawing, infection.  Each of these words is well ingrained in a dog owner’s vocabulary if Fido has allergies.  But what causes an allergic reaction in the first place? According to long-time veterinarians, allergic reactions in dogs can be triggered by a number of environmental substances (allergens) including grasses, pollen, mold, dust mites, cigarette smoke, feathers, chemicals, pests, medicines and more.  Food can be another allergen and accounts for 10% of all canine allergic reactions according to Pet Web MD.  Specific proteins, grains, additives, and other ingredients account for even more allergy issues.

These allergens are real trouble makers.  A perfectly content pooch can become itchy, inflamed, have an upset stomach, irregular bowel movements or a host of other issues in no time when an allergen is encountered.  Unfortunately, just like humans, a good percentage of dogs develop some sort of allergy.  Many experts believe up to 20% of all dogs will develop allergies over their lifetime, and the typical time of onset is between 1 and 2 years of age.

When a dog encounters a substance that they are allergic to, their immune system goes into overdrive and creates histamines which then drive the allergic reaction we see as itching, licking, chewing, vomiting, diarrhea and a myriad of other issues.  The goal is to identify which allergen(s) are creating the problem and avoid them through environmental safeguards such as limiting grass exposure, keeping the dog inside more often or the elimination of certain proteins, grains or other irritating ingredients if a food allergy is suspected.  A veterinarian can run a food testing experiment where only a certain protein is given that the dog hasn’t yet been exposed to.  This can determine if a food allergy is a primary culprit. 

In regards to dog food, just keep in mind that not all negative reactions to food involve allergies.  According to the AKC Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jerry Klein, true food allergies may not be as common as people think.  AKC author Anna Burke takes it a step further and writes that “True food allergies result in an immune response, which can range in symptoms from skin conditions (hives, facial swelling, and itchiness), gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and/or diarrhea) or a combination of both. In some rare cases, a severe reaction resulting in anaphylaxis can occur — similar to severe peanut allergies in humans.”  “What most people mean when they say that their dog has a food allergy is that their dog has a food sensitivity, also known as food intolerance. Food sensitivities, unlike true allergies, do not involve an immune response and are instead a gradual reaction to an offending ingredient in your dog’s food, for example to beef, chicken, eggs, corn, wheat, soy, or milk.  Dogs with food sensitivities can present with several symptoms, including gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea, or dermatologic signs like itchiness, poor skin and coat, and chronic ear or foot infections.”


Which Dog Breeds Suffer The Most Allergies?

The dog breeds listed below have a higher predisposition for developing allergies over their lifetime since allergies are often genetically linked.  This is an important list to review if you are searching for a new dog and want to take some of the guesswork out of whether a particular breed is more susceptible to allergies or not.  And if you already own a dog in the list below it will help you decide if a symptom might be an allergic reaction or something else.

American and English Bulldog

Bichon Frise

Boston Terrier


Bull Terrier

Chinese Shar-Pei

Cocker Spaniel

Doberman Pincher

English Setter

Golden Retriever

German Shepherd

Labrador Retriever


Pit Bull Terrier


Standard Poodle


Allergies Are Multi-Factorial

According to Susan Wynn, an internationally known expert on holistic pet care, dog allergies are a multi-factorial issue.  Certainly, the environment plays a role, but a dog has to have a genetic predisposition for allergies to express them.  She goes on to say “There’s a lot of research going on right now to determine what, in early puppyhood, makes the immune system more likely to express the allergic trait.  There’s an immune education process happening in the first few weeks of life.  Young animals treated with antibiotics could potentially be predisposed to problems later in life because antibiotics change the environment inside the gut, which is the largest immune organ in the body.  That could be a predisposing cause, but then the trigger would be being exposed to the allergen.”


What Are The Most Common Dog Allergens?

Grass, weeds, bushes, and trees

Mold spores


Dust mites


Cleaning products

Cigarette smoke

Food ingredients such as specific proteins (chicken, beef, pork), wheat, corn, soy, egg, dairy, etc.



Medications (topical or oral)


How To Avoid Dog Allergens

The million-dollar question is:  How do dogs avoid getting allergies?  It’s a tough question.  If a dog is predisposed to developing allergies because of inherited genes, the chips are stacked against you for avoiding allergies associated with your pooch’s family history.  But you can certainly minimize the effects of any inherited environmental allergies by keeping your dog away from the offending allergen or, in the case of a food allergy, feeding a veterinarian-approved food that takes the allergen out of the equation altogether.  If your canine companion is allergic to something in the environment, simply keep him away from that allergen whenever possible.  If he is allergic to grasses, keep him off the grass as much as possible or keep it cut really short.  If he is allergic to mold and mildew, keeping him inside as much as possible on humid, rainy days can help.  And, if those precautions or similar are not possible, then employing countermeasures to minimize the effect of the allergen is the next step in the process.  Antihistamines, special shampoos, steroids, immunosuppressive drugs, and special foods can usually help quite a bit.


What Are The Most Prevalent Allergic Reactions?

Increased scratching

Constant licking

Feet chewing

Ear infections

Itchy, red, moist skin

Itchy, bloodshot or runny eyes

Scratching or rubbing face

Itchy back, side or base of the tail




Hair loss

Hot spots


The bottom line is that dog allergens abound.  Some are caused by the environment, some by food and some are hereditary.  If considering the purchase of a new dog, it is critical to plan ahead for possible allergies.  The extra effort that goes into not only choosing a breed that is less susceptible to allergies but to also select a dog that has come from a breeder and lineage that has selectively bred out many of these ailments, goes a long way to receiving a dog that won’t develop allergies in the first place.  Selective breeding works well for avoiding allergies and other inherited medical conditions for new dogs. For dogs who are already part of the family, precautions, preventative measures, and effective treatments can be instituted to allow for fewer allergy symptoms and a good quality of life for man’s best friend. It’s always better to be proactive rather than reactive whenever possible when allergies are a concern.  As the old saying goes - An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.



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