One afternoon, you and your dog go to your favorite park. It’s the same place your dog is used to. But this time there’s something new on the scene: a Golden Retriever playing frisbee with his owner. Your dog is excited to see them. So you and the other pet parent agree to let your fur babies sniff and play with each other.
The next morning, there’s an itchy rash growing on your doggie baby’s belly and legs. It’s an allergic reaction.
But to what? It’s not “allergy season.” You’ve just vacuumed your home; everything is clean. There aren’t any insect bites on your dog. You haven’t bathed her with a different shampoo nor given her unfamiliar food. Nothing is new… except for that Retriever, you think.
You’ve heard of other dogs getting allergic reactions to certain types of food, insect bites, or materials. But can dogs be allergic to other dogs?
- 1 Allergen bearers
- 2 Typical dog allergens found in fur
- 3 Signs of a probable allergy
- 4 Confirming a dog allergy
- 5 What you can do
- 6 Summary
Well, yes and no.
As far as veterinary science can tell, dogs’ immune systems don’t overreact to other dogs. Rather, it’s the dogs’ fur that’s the culprit. Dog fur can trap all sorts of allergens — including tiny parasites like fleas, lice, dust mites, and their microscopic poop, etc. — and these can accumulate.
Of course, not all dogs have sensitive immune systems. Some of them romp through plants, mud, dust, poop, and pee like crazy, with no problem.
But if a trouble-free dog with thick, allergen-laden fur (say, a Husky or a Golden Retriever) were to play with another pup who’s extra-sensitive to these substances, you can be sure that other pup will suffer.
Typical dog allergens found in fur
So what substances typically trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive dogs, which dogs can transmit to each other?
Fleas and insect bites
Just like humans, dogs can develop an insect bite allergy. Anything with six or eight legs and a stinger (e.g., mosquitoes, bugs, bees, spiders) can trigger an overactive immune response.
Dogs are most sensitive to fleas. Among humans, a flea bite results in a visible but tiny red spot that itches for a short while. But in dogs, these tiny red spots quickly become inflamed, easily worsened by scratching, licking, and biting. Flea saliva and “flea dirt” (poop or matter the fleas shed or express) are powerful allergens that come with the fleas. These get into a dog’s skin pores and ruptured capillaries each time a flea draws blood.
Some dogs are so flea-infested, they can trigger flea bite allergies in other dogs 24 hours after their fur comes into contact with them (via playing or lying down in the same spot).
Other environmental or outdoor allergens
Some dogs are allergic to the following:
- Dander or dead skin (from other animals)
- Mold spores
- Microscopic fibers (i.e., from natural plant fibers or manmade fabrics)
- Specific substances in the dog shampoo or soap
Dogs can accumulate these allergens in their fur. For some dogs, prolonged exposure to these makes their skin develop atopic dermatitis. Meanwhile, other dogs stay unaffected but spread them to other dogs (especially other pets within the same home) whenever they interact.
Dogs rarely have true allergies to food. It’s more often just a food intolerance or an inability to digest a particular substance in food, rather than a food sensitivity. (It’s important to know there’s a difference between canine food allergy and food intolerance.)
But when they do have a food allergy, it’s for specific items you might think are odd allergens for a dog:
- Specific fish (e.g., catfish)
- Grains and beans (i.e., wheat, corn, soybean)
- Nuts (e.g., peanuts)
- Dairy products (i.e., milk, yogurt, cheese)
But if your dog is suffering from a food allergy, then it’s not because he or she had contact with another dog. A dog can’t suffer a food allergy simply from getting rubbed with the contaminated fur of another animal. Food has to be imbibed to trigger a response from a dog’s immune system.
Signs of a probable allergy
What are the most obvious allergy symptoms of dogs?
- Itchy rashes or reddish inflamed skin (i.e., hives, welts), especially around the belly, legs, face, or ears
- Dermatitis (with dandruff or flaking off of skin)
- Swelling of face, eyelids, earflaps, lips
- Ear infections
- Constantly itchy eyes or watery eyes
While it helps for you to know these symptoms, bear in mind that you still need a vet to make a conclusive diagnosis of your dog’s condition.
Confirming a dog allergy
So how would your veterinarian go about diagnosing allergies in your dog — and come to the conclusion it’s because of what another dog brought in?
The vet will employ the following allergy tests to find out what’s causing the problem:
1. Food elimination diet
If your vet suspects a food allergy, he or she may ask you to implement a strict diet on your dog.
This is a long process. During the first week or so, your dog’s daily meals should exclude many food items that have been documented to trigger allergies in some dogs (see the previous list, above). In subsequent weeks, your vet will instruct you to slowly introduce the excluded food items, one by one, and to observe what happens to your dog after he or she eats these.
If there’s a noticeable allergic response upon the reintroduction of one item, you’ll have identified the “culprit.”
2. Intradermal allergy test
This is often done for cases where the suspected cause is an environmental allergen (e.g., from a particular insect, plant, or material). This test involves injecting chosen areas of the dog’s skin with the suspect allergen, then waiting for a reaction.
The test will likely require that your dog is sedated or given anesthesia (to help minimize distress), and certain portions of his or her body shaved of fur.
3. RAST (Radioallergosorbent test)
This is a blood test. It’s the most accurate allergy test available. A blood sample from your dog is subjected to a radioimmunoassay test at a laboratory, to confirm the presence of specific antibodies that are indicative of an allergy to a specific substance.
What you can do
OK, let’s say that your dog is suffering from an allergy and your vet’s tests have confirmed it. What’s the proper medical treatment? What can you do next to help your doggie baby?
It all depends on your dog’s particular allergy and how intense it can get.
For example, if your dog is proven to be allergic to flea bites, your vet will prescribe ointments to relieve skin inflammation and itching, and shampoos, flea collars, or medicines to kill the fleas. If your dog’s dermatitis is that bad, you might even have to use an E-collar or some other means to deter your dog from scratching or licking the affected skin.
If your dog is allergic to other environmental allergens (i.e., dust, pollen, mold), the vet will prescribe alternative shampoos and medicines to help manage any flare-ups. You’ll also have to make one or more of these lifestyle adjustments:
Interactions with other animals
Keep your dog away from unfamiliar animals, both wild or domesticated. (Hint: In other words, avoid dogs owned by people whose hygiene and animal care practices you know nothing about!)
Your dog might have to be on a regular dose of antihistamines/steroids, which only your vet can prescribe. Whatever you do, don’t give your dog any human allergy relief medication (e.g., Benadryl, Claritin) without the vet’s prescription.
To reduce allergens in your home, you might have to clean your dog’s sleeping area, bowls, toys, and other parts of our house more often. (You might even have to use different cleaning products.) Try getting a robot vacuum cleaner to help you do this. For extreme cases, you may have to install air purifiers in your home to filter out microscopic allergens.
Based on whatever the vet might advise in your dog’s case, you might end up bathing the dog more often (to lessen allergens) or less frequently (to avoid aggravating your dog’s skin condition).
You may have to modify your dog’s diet, to make sure nothing in his or her food and drink contains the confirmed allergens.
You may have to switch to organic shampoos, dog toys, and accessories made from natural products instead of synthetics.
The bottom line is this: prevention is the best cure for any allergy.
While dogs aren’t allergic to other dogs per se, you must still choose your dog’s playmates and interactions carefully. An unfamiliar dog can be the source of allergens that trigger your dog’s suffering.