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  • Writer's pictureDaniella Pollifrone

How to Identify, Manage and Treat Environmental Allergies in Your Dog

Spring season means the sun comes out and flowers bloom. But for a lot of pet parents, spring is actually a frustrating burden, (sometimes even a full time job), because their dog seems to be allergic to everything and is always itchy.

Keep reading as we start to scratch the surface of environmental allergies in dogs.

As many as 40% of dogs have allergies, and environmental allergies are the most common [1,3]. Dogs may start to show allergy reactions between one and three years of age [2,3]. They happen when the immune system overreacts in response to a trigger. That trigger could be contact or airborne substances including trees, pollens, grasses, soils, flea saliva, dander, certain fabrics, fragrances, household cleaning products, dust mites and mould spores, to name a few.


Environmental allergies and food allergies often present similar symptoms [2,3]:

  • Scratching face, underbelly, groin & armpits

  • Red, scaly, flakey or greasy skin

  • Ear infections

  • Hair loss

  • Secondary infections due to skin damage

  • Excessive paw licking and chewing

  • Hives, hot spots, welts or lesions

  • Sneezing

  • Eye discharge

The main differences between environmental allergies and food allergies are:

  • Environmental allergies may come and go with the seasons

  • Food allergies are ongoing and also cause gastrointestinal issues


Let’s Look at a Typical Case

In spring, a puppy starts showing mild allergy symptoms - a pink belly and mild itching. Puppy goes to the vet and is prescribed a topical cream to provide relief. The next spring comes round and when the weather warms up, the dog is back at the vets again with the same symptoms but more severe. The treatment is symptomatic - topical cream, antibiotics and maybe steroids until the symptoms resolve. Fast forward to another spring, all the symptoms are significantly worse and are occurring year-round.

The more your dog is exposed to the allergens they are sensitive to, the more the immune system overreacts and consequently, the more intense and long-lasting the allergic response becomes.

Can I get allergy testing for my dog?

Yes! In fact, pet parents should consult with their vet whether allergy testing is appropriate to help differentiate between environmental and food allergies.

There are two tests that can help to identify what environmental allergens are responsible for the symptoms:

  1. Intradermal skin testing, which involves injecting small doses of common allergens under the skin and then monitoring for “positive” results [1]. PROS: fast process, accurate results and high success rate of lowering symptoms with immunotherapy. CONS: must be performed under sedation, must stop taking certain medications prior to the test and can only be performed by veterinary dermatologists.

  2. Serologic testing, which requires a single blood sample that is sent off to a laboratory for analysis [1]. PROS: no sedation and can be done by your regular vet. CONS: the results can give false-positives.

How can I treat my dog’s environmental allergies?

From my perspective as a canine nutritionist, I like to address the root cause and not only treat the symptoms. Though, I cannot stress enough that environmental allergies in dogs are not curable, only manageable.

First, check your dog’s diet! There’s an old saying, ‘all allergies are food allergies’. Over 80% of your dog’s immune system resides in their gut. Feeding a diet that is not processed (i.e. home cooked / raw) or minimally processed can help to:

  • Reduce inflammation in the body

  • Possibly pinpoint food intolerances (because yes, dogs can have both food and environmental allergies)

  • Reset the system

The next step? Ensuring fleas are not part of the problem and you have switched to an anti-inflammatory / low-histamine / novel / limited ingredient diet, I would look at herbs and supplements with a focus on:

  • Skin barrier

  • Gut integrity

  • Balancing the immune system

  • Liver health

It also helps to do frequent bathing with aloe / oatmeal / medicated shampoo to limit exposure of the allergens on the skin.

Now there isn't much point on listing all of the foods, herbs and supplements that may help to reduce your dog’s allergy symptoms; simply because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Experimenting with remedies without proper guidance may lead to not seeing any results or could possibly exacerbate your dog's condition (not to mention set them back even further in their health).

Work closely with your vet, animal naturopath or canine nutritionist to implement the right, individualised, targeted support for your dog.


No more pain in the paw

Getting to the root of your dog’s allergy can take a bit of educated detective work. The most important thing is to not get discouraged with the process. This is a journey and there are certainly no quick fixes.

The goals for any dog dealing with environmental allergies is to improve quality of life and reduce the need for immunosuppressive medications or eliminate the use altogether.

If you are having trouble controlling your dog’s allergies, book a 1:1 nutrition consult with me here!

Bone Voyage x


[1] Gedon, N.K.Y. & Mueller, R.S. (2018). Atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs: A difficult disease for animals and owners. Clinical and Translational Allergy, 8(41), 1-12.

[2] Horne, K. (2016). Scratching the surface of allergies in dogs. An Official Journal of the NAVC, 8-18.

[3] Marsella, R. (2010). Canine atopic dermatitis: What's new?. Applied Dermatology, 1-4.

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