Allergies in dogs are very common. They’re actually one of the top reasons for veterinary appointments. In fact, as many as 40% of dogs suffer from allergies.

And just like humans, while some dogs have food allergies (or sensitivities), others have environmental allergies.

So how do you know if your dog has allergies and what’s causing them? And once identified, what can you do to help relive allergy symptoms.

Signs of Environmental Allergies in Dogs

Also known as atopy or atopic dermatitis, environmental allergies in dogs are caused by substances that exist in your home, backyard, and anywhere else your dog spends time.

These allergens can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin when your dog touches them. Many allergens are airborne and found nearly everywhere. Some are present all year long (i.e. dust, dust mites, molds) while others are more seasonal (i.e. pollen, grass, weeds).

Common symptoms of environmental allergies include:

  • scratching/itchy skin
  • licking (especially the paws)
  • face rubbing.
  • red skin or loss of fur, particularly around the paws, lower legs, face, ears, armpits, and belly
  • recurrent skin and/or ear infections

The symptoms of food allergies are often the same as for seasonal/environmental allergies, but there may also be GI signs, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or a change in bathroom habits/frequency. Since environmental allergies in dogs can often look a lot like food sensitivities, this can make it more difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. However, close observation and monitoring flare-ups will help give you a better idea of what’s causing the itching, scratching, or sneezing.

What Causes the Allergy to Begin with?

An allergic reaction is actually caused by an inappropriate immune reaction to the allergens, or triggers, rather than by the allergens themselves. While the triggers are typically not harmful for dogs, some dogs’ immune systems misidentify them as such. When the immune system sees the triggers as dangerous, it mounts an attack on the ‘invaders,’ releasing histamine, which leads to the inflammation. It’s this inflammation that then causes to the scratching, itching, and other allergy symptoms.

So we know the triggers – dust, pollen, mold, etc. – but why do some dogs have a reaction while others do not? No one really knows. A combination of factors can predispose a dog to environmental allergies. Both their genetic make-up and environment may interact to allow them to develop.

So, you’ve identified the allergy as environmental in nature, so what can you do about it?

Natural Solutions for Allergies in Dogs

What’s the best way to stop those allergy symptoms? Remove the allergen or keep your dog away from it.

But, that’s easier said than done, especially if the source of the allergen is grass or something in your home.

So, for most dogs, that’s not a realistic solution.

While there are pharmaceutical solutions out there, we’re not usually huge fans of these except in dire situations, such at Atopica or Apoquel. For the most part, these drugs work by suppressing the immune response, and there are risks to these drugs. So, we always try to go the natural route first, whenever possible.

Here are our top picks for natural solutions for allergies in dogs.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have a number of potential benefits for dogs and cats, particularly when it comes to allergies. Research shows that omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, and since allergy systems are a direct result of inflammation int he body, it makes sense that adding omega-3s to your dog’s diet can help reduce the severity of allergy symptoms. Additionally, when the skin is healthy, its natural barrier against allergens (pollens, dust mites, molds) improves, minimizing the allergic reaction.

Good sources of healthy omega-3s are:

  • Fish – Small fatty fish like sardines or anchovies are great because they only eat krill or phytoplankton and have relatively short life spans. This is important because they don’t amass the toxins and pollutants in the same way that larger, carnivorous fish do. You can feed these fish raw, frozen, dehydrated or canned (packed in water, not oil!). If you’re feeding these fish raw, we recommend freezing them first for a few weeks to kill any potential bacteria.
  • Seaweed – Seaweeds are chlorophyll-containing plants that play a vital role in ocean life. They contain tons of healthy nutrients and protein, and antidiabetic, antioxidant, and antihypertensive properties. We really like kelp.
  • Phytoplankton – Phytoplankton are tiny, microscopic whole food nutrition that feeds the entire ocean. Seriously, it’s literally considered the food of the ocean. It’s actually what makes fish high in omega-3s! Our favorite phytoplankton is from Adored Beast Apothecary – find it here.

2. Colostrum

Colostrum is mother’s first milk. It’s produced in the first few days after birth and it provides newborn mammals with all the nutrition they need to thrive in those first few days. In fact, all mammals get it from their mother’s breast milk – including puppies!

Colostrum contains many things that have been proven to be beneficial. In fact, it contains more than 250 beneficial substances, from simple nutritional elements like protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals, to more complex materials like methylsulfonymethane (MSM), growth factors, immunoglobulins (AKA antibodies), and proline-rich polypeptides.

And those proline-rich polypeptides? Well, these hormones help to balance the immune system. If your pet’s immune system is under-active, colostrum encourages it to get back into high gear. And, in the case of allergies, if it’s over-active, it will tell the immune system to chill out. Research shows this helps to decrease hypersensitivity brought on by several different allergens. Thanks to those proline-rich polypeptides, colostrum can significantly reduce and relieve allergy symptoms! Thats one of the reasons it’s becoming such a popular supplement for dogs.

3. Quercetin

Also known as Nature’s Benadryl, quercetin is a flavonoid commonly found in fruits and vegetables, such as apples, berries, broccoli, garlic, bananas, parsley, and green and black tea (these are great as a rinse for irritated paws or itchy skin!). 

Remember that histamine we mentioned earlier? Well, research shows us that quercetin actually contains antihistamine compounds that can stop this histamine production! Beauty. Additionally, it can also help inhibit cellular activity that causes inflammation, which in turn reduces allergy symptoms. 

Because quercetin is a natural flavonoid, it is very safe to use and side effects are mainly upset tummy-related, and really uncommon. Add some of the above mentioned foods to your dog’s diet, and consider a quercetin supplement for dogs. If you can’t find one for dogs, one for humans will work too. Fo dosing, assume the dosing recommendation is for a 150 lb human and adjust for your dog’s weight.

BONUS: Quercetin can help fight free radicals, those unstable molecules in that body that increase your dog’s risk of disease!!

Caution: Short-term use of quercetin supplements is best. Don’t give quercetin to dogs with kidney disease.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is helpful for reliving the itch of allergies in dogs as well as safely removing some of those allergens, like pollen, that can build up on your dog’s body.

To make a paw rinse, mix two parts water and one part apple cider vinegar in a large bucket. Whenever your pal comes in from a walk or a romp in the backyard, dip her paws in the water and pat dry – don’t rinse.

You can also make a rinse for her body by adding some black or green tea and spritzing her fur. Steep the tea, then add one part of the cooled mixture to the above recipe in a spray bottle and give it a good shake. Spray her fur and pat dry if needed. Again, don’t rinse it off.

Caution: Don’t use apple cider vinegar on open wounds. If the skin is open or raw, the apple cider vinegar, even diluted, can sting!

Allergies in dogs can be frustrating to deal with – for both you and your animal. Finding natural ways to give them relief from the uncomfortable symptoms of environmental flareups is important, and these natural solutions can really help. Good luck!