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White dog scratching allergies

The essentials

  • Different allergy medications treat different types of allergies — Your dog may suffer from environmental, food, or flea-based allergies, all requiring different treatments.
  • There are lots of treatment options available — Dogs can get allergy relief from prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, as well as home remedies and DIY alternatives.
  • Talk to your vet before giving your dog allergy meds — A professional can give you the right dosage for your dog and warn you about potential drug interactions.

Sneezing, excessive scratching, and watery eyes are all signs that your beloved dog is dealing with allergies. While allergies are a fairly common condition in dogs, no one likes to see their best friend suffer. Several different medications offer allergy relief, but the best one for your dog depends on the cause of their allergies.

Medications for treating seasonal allergies in dogs

Many dogs experience seasonal allergies in the spring and summer with the surge in airborne irritants like grass, tree, and weed pollen. Other common allergens include environmental pollutants, chemical products like shampoos and perfumes, dust mites, mold, and mildew.

Managing seasonal allergies in dogs is very similar to managing them in people, and there are several techniques involved in managing allergies.

OTC medications

Mild to moderate cases of canine allergies can often be treated with the help of over-the-counter (OTC) medications. However, just because over-the-counter medications are easily accessible does not mean you can start giving them to your dog right away. Ask your vet about dog-friendly OTC options to learn more about proper dosing and potential interactions.

  • Antihistamines. Popular human OTC allergy meds like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) can relieve allergy symptoms in dogs. The active ingredients in these drugs can also be found in itch and allergy supplements specifically formulated for dogs.
  • Wipes and shampoos. Dogs with atopic dermatitis can get added allergy relief by using pet wipes and nourishing shampoos in conjunction with oral antihistamines. Wipe them down with allergy relief wipes when they’re done playing in the grass to get pollen, mold, and other potential allergens out of their fur.

DIY home remedies

Home remedies can make for handy, cost-effective ways to treat your dog’s allergies. Common household foods like oats, apple cider vinegar, and plain, sugar-free yogurt can provide quick relief for uncomfortable itching and inflammation. Other DIY solutions include:

  • Essential fatty acids. Clinical studies show that fish oil supplements can lessen the inflammation brought on by skin allergies and strengthen skin cells’ resistance to environmental allergens.
  • Probiotics. Intestinal inflammation and abnormal gut bacteria can cause imbalances in a dog’s immune system that intensify the symptoms of allergies. Probiotic supplements introduce healthy bacteria that repair the gut and may help lessen the intensity of symptoms.
  • Quercetin. This plant pigment is naturally present in several fruits, vegetables, and grains. Like an antihistamine, it inhibits the body’s production of inflammatory histamines brought on by seasonal allergies. Take the time to go over the ingredients on each product to avoid giving your dog toxic additives like xylitol.

Prescription allergy medications

When home remedies aren’t enough, the doctor may need to administer a prescription medication to soothe your dog’s symptoms. These commonly take the form of oral treatments, topical treatments, and allergy shots. The exact treatment plan depends on the cause of your dog’s allergies, but these are the most common meds prescribed by vets:

  • Ointments. Dogs suffering from itchy, red patches on their skin can benefit from topical treatments like Animax ointment, which combines a corticosteroid, an antifungal, and an antibiotic to effectively tackle allergy symptoms.
  • Sprays. Vets prescribe steroid-containing topical sprays to reduce inflammation and lessen the skin’s overreaction to environmental allergens.
  • Atopica. The generic name for cyclosporine, vets prescribe this oral treatment to dogs suffering from allergic dermatitis. Atopica is proven to be a safe, long-term treatment for skin irritation and inflammation.
  • Apoquel. A new allergy medication that boasts fewer adverse effects than Atopica, Apoquel takes effect in just 3 to 4 hours and can be given at any time to relieve a dog’s itching. Apoquel can be used as a long-term allergy solution, but it’s more commonly prescribed twice daily for 14 days.
  • Temaril-P. This oral medication combines the antihistamine trimeprazine with the steroid prednisolone to curb the itching and inflammation brought on by seasonal and parasitic allergies.
  • Allergy shots. Vets prescribe allergy shots to dogs who cannot take oral allergy meds, or in cases when the owner doesn’t want their dog taking long-term medication. Traditional allergy shots administer a serum tailored to your dog’s allergies for multiple injections. Alternatively, Cytopoint allergy shots are given as a single injection that controls itching for four to eight weeks.
  • Alternative treatments. Platelet-rich plasma and stem cell therapy are commonly used to treat joint disease in dogs, but new studies show these cutting-edge treatments may be effective against seasonal allergy symptoms, too. Ask your vet if they’re a good fit for your dog.

👉 Tell your vet what home remedies and OTC medications you’ve given your dog to avoid adverse interactions with prescription allergy meds. 

How to treat flea allergy dermatitis

Flea allergy dermatitis (also known as FAD) is a leading cause of dog allergies. When a flea bites a dog, they inject a small amount of saliva into their skin. This can trigger an intense itching sensation in sensitive dogs, especially dogs with a history of other allergies.

Treatment for FAD requires dog owners to keep a clean home that’s flea-free and a visit to the vet for quick flea control.

Prescriptions for FAD

It’s a common misconception that medications for FAD will eliminate the flea infestation and permanently cure your dog. The only real way to keep flea allergies at bay is to persistently stop them from reproducing.

These prescription meds can help with flea control — just remember that complete elimination commonly takes between one and three months.

  • Prednisone. A steroid is derived from cortisone, vets prescribe this immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory drug to treat a wide range of conditions in dogs, including itching and allergies.
  • Triamcinolone. This FDA-approved glucocorticoid (steroid) is used to treat a variety of inflammatory conditions in dogs and cats, including swelling, inflammation, and other symptoms of allergic reactions.
  • Betamethasone. A topical corticosteroid used to relieve several skin conditions. Betamethasone helps pets manage dermatitis symptoms by reducing redness, itching, and inflammation.
  • Animax. This antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory ointment soothes irritated skin tied to eczema, contact dermatitis, and parasite-born dermatitis like FAD.
  • Genesis spray. Clinically referred to as triamcinolone acetonide, this topical treatment contains corticosteroids that relieve the redness and irritation caused by conditions like FAD and food allergies.

OTC options for treating FAD

Steroids can provide short-term relief from the symptoms of FAD, but owners need to adopt long-term flea prevention strategies to keep their dogs happy and itch-free.

For additional relief, you can use topical OTC solutions like wipes and shampoos in conjunction with a prescription allergy medication. You can try medicated wipes to soothe uncomfortable itching and nourish dry skin or a gentle anti-itch shampoo to combat itchiness, hotspots, infections, and other unwanted dog allergy symptoms.

Treating food allergies in dogs

Food allergies are less common in dogs than environmental allergies and FAD, but they’re not entirely unheard of. Your dog may have a food allergy if they experience symptoms all year long, or if their skin starts itching after eating a new food.

If you suspect your dog might be suffering from a food allergy, talk to your vet about creating a food elimination trial for them. Food elimination trials consist of slowly transitioning your dog to a hypoallergenic diet and then only feeding them hypoallergenic food for a period of 8 to 10 weeks.

These trials help diagnose food allergies by giving the dog’s body enough time to clear out old allergens. If their itching goes away while they’re on the new diet, your dog likely has a food allergy.

In these cases, you’ll either want to keep your dog on the hypoallergenic diet, or slowly start to reintroduce old foods into their diet while keeping an eye out for symptoms.

👉 Follow your vet’s food recommendations to a tee when giving your dog a food trial. This includes no treats or table scraps! 

Tips for using antihistamines to treat dog allergies

Antihistamines can be a good option for treating the itching, redness, and swelling associated with seasonal and environmental allergies. Still, there are a few factors to be mindful of when giving them to your dog.

Follow the dosage schedule 

Follow your vet’s instructions carefully when it comes to dosing antihistamines for your dog. Some medications are given every 8 to 12 hours, while others are given every 24 hours.

High doses of antihistamines can produce toxic side effects in dogs, including seizures, respiratory depression, and cardiovascular problems. Never double up if you miss a dose — simply resume the normal schedule at the next dosage time.

Watch for side effects and adverse reactions

Sedation and drowsiness are the most common side effects experienced by dogs using antihistamines. This is especially true of older, “first-generation” medications like Benadryl.

At higher doses, antihistamines cause an unexpected increase in energy, accompanied by side effects like loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea. Stop giving your dog antihistamines immediately if they exhibit any of these symptoms.

Combine with other therapies

You can use antihistamines in combination with other medications to treat your dog’s allergies — but never with another antihistamine. Overdose can cause acute respiratory depression and fluctuations in heart rate and blood pressure that can result in death.

If your dog suffers from seasonal allergies, you can reduce their exposure to allergens by investing in air purifiers and HEPA filters for your house. During allergy season, it’s a good idea to wash their bedding once a week with a hypoallergenic laundry detergent.

Allergy control is largely about trial and error. Every dog is unique, and some might respond well to certain medications while others respond poorly. Try different things out, and stop giving medication immediately if your dog exhibits any adverse effects.

No matter what’s causing your dog’s allergies, there are bound to be multiple different treatment options available to them. Prescription and OTC medications offer the most effective relief, but DIY solutions can still prove helpful in a pinch.

Watch out for potential triggers in the environment, and work with your vet to form a treatment plan that gets your pup back to 100% without harmful side effects.

Frequently asked questions

Is Benadryl or Zyrtec better for dogs?

Every dog is different, and their systems may react differently to certain allergy meds. Vets have recently noted more adverse reactions among dogs who take Benadryl, resulting in Zyrtec becoming the more popular “first-line” choice for dog allergies. Zyrtec is also less potent than Benadryl and has a convenient dosing schedule ranging from half to one full tablet a day, depending on your dog’s weight.

Are there any potential side effects of allergy medicines for dogs?

Yes. Most allergy medications come with their own set of side effects but keep in mind that each dog is different and may experience unique side effects to allergy medications. Common reactions include dry mouth, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart and respiratory rates, hypersalivation, and decreased globulin levels.

What is the best allergy medicine for dog allergies?

The best allergy medication for your canine is the one your veterinarian recommends for their specific allergies. Many veterinarians will recommend an antihistamine to treat their symptoms.

Is there a daily allergy pill for dogs?

Yes, Zyrtec and Claritin can be given to dogs once a day; Benadryl is given twice a day. It’s always a good idea to check with your vet about the appropriate dosage for your dog’s size and age.

What do vets prescribe for dog allergies?

What your veterinarian prescribes for dog allergies depends on their severity. For mild itching, vets may prescribe antihistamines. For severe allergies, vets may do allergy testing so they can do immunotherapy to boost your dog’s immune system.

“This way, reactions to allergens are much less intense. Immunotherapy is the closest that anyone can get to a “cure” for allergies,” says Dr. Erica Irish. “Intense itching can be helped with Apoquel, Cytopoint, or steroid medications. In other cases, immunosuppressant medications like Atopica may be necessary.”