What Type of Allergy Does Your Dog Have?

Treating allergies can be more manageable if you know what kind of reaction your dog is having. It’s time to play detective and decide what your dog reacts to and to what degree.

Definition of an Allergic Reaction:

An allergic reaction is an overly intense reaction of a confused, weakened immune system to a substance, which causes the release of antibodies.

Allergic reactions can be categorized as one of three degrees of hypersensitivity, and by their form: hereditary, dietary, seasonal, contact, and inhalant. We’ll go over all of these.


1st Degree: Immediate Reaction

The Immediate Reaction is the first degree of hypersensitivity. You see this degree of sensitivity to things like bee stings. They are reactions that happen suddenly.

In these acute reactions, the immune cells produce the antibody called IgE, an antibody responsible for protection from parasites, that can “de-granulate” and release histamines.

Over time these reactions can get worse and involve more antigens.

Interestingly, in dogs without allergies, their immune systems react very little in the presence of common allergens and do not produce many IgE antibodies. Thus we do not see symptoms of allergies in these dogs.

However, the immune system in a dog whose is allergic will create from 1,000 to 10,000 more antibodies than other dogs. 1,000 to 10,000 more antibodies mean stronger, faster reactions.


2nd Degree Reaction: Pre-Autoimmunity

In the second hypersensitivity level, IgG and IgM antibodies link the antigen to the dog’s own cells. IgM antibodies are the primary immune response antibodies; IgG antibodies are multitaskers found in all body fluids.

This connection causes B cells to react to a real invader attached to the body’s cells or to think normal body cells are invaders.

This reaction is a precursor to autoimmune disorders where the dog’s immune system mistakes the dog’s cells for invaders and attacks itself.


3rd Degree: Antigen-Antibody Complex Reaction

When antigens attached to antibodies accumulate in the blood vessels, it causes the third degree of hypersensitivity. This build-up causes inflammation. The immune system then kicks in and goes to work to remove the invaders, whether the invader is a real antigen or mistakenly the dog’s own cells.

This third degree is the stage in which an autoimmune reaction would occur.

The intense inflammation causes damage to surrounding cells, tissues, and organs like the joints, kidneys, lungs, and brain.

2nd and 3rd-degree reactions can cause thick, crusty skin, ulcers, lesions and other skin disorders. They may appear with inhalant or contact allergens, and food allergies.



Did your dog get his allergies from his parents? Veterinarian Martin Goldstein says it’s more likely for your dog to have allergies if its parents did. Goldstein wrote in his book The Nature of Animal Healing:

 “In dogs, for example, a common allergy called atopy is a hereditary predisposition to react to certain allergens: molds, trees, ragweed, wool, flea saliva, and house dust chief among them. In recent years, I’ve seen far more pets with allergies than ever before, enduring the four standard symptoms: sneezing, itching, tearing and paw licking.” (37)

It does appear that dogs can pass on their sensitivity to contact and inhalant allergies. In cases of hereditary allergies, early diagnosis will help treatment to be useful in managing the symptoms, strengthening the immune system, and avoiding triggers.



Does your dog have food allergies? Will an allergen-free diet fix his skin issues? Maybe, but true food allergies are very rare.

If your dog’s reaction is not an intolerance but an actual allergic reaction to food, his body will produce antibodies to fight off the substance that his immune system sees as harmful.

Susan Wynn, former president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, says that dietary allergies are genetic.

Foods are that dogs are most often allergic to are commonly found in many dog foods: Soy, wheat, chicken, beef, dairy, and possibly many more. Individual dogs are allergic to different, and often many, ingredients.

Symptoms might include ear inflammation, itching, obsessive licking and biting, poor coat condition, hot spots, scooting, vomiting, diarrhea and gastric discomfort.



These reactions occur seasonally, mostly in the spring and summer with blooming plants, busy parasites, and growing grasses. Pollen, grasses, weeds like ragweed and goldenrod, and biting or stinging insects are the worst offenders. Dogs show reactions with symptoms like itching, inflammation, swelling, runny noses, red and watery eyes, and ear inflammation.

Treating seasonal allergies is essential for more than immediate relief for your dog. If left untreated, your dog may become sensitized to enough allergens to develop chronic, year-round allergies. Chronic allergies are a much more significant challenge to treat.


Contact and Inhalant:

Hereditary, Dietary, and Seasonal allergies can also be contact or inhalant allergies. Contact allergies occur when your dog’s skin touches something he is allergic to, and inhalant allergies occur when your dog breathes in something he is allergic to.

A complete list of possible contact and inhalant allergens would be extensive but here are some examples.


  • Flea saliva
  • Bee and wasp stings
  • Grass
  • Chemicals in cleaning products


  • Smoke
  • Artificial fragrances
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Pollen

Contact allergens usually produce symptoms related to the skin while inhalant allergies may cause wheezing, sneezing, red and watery eyes, runny nose, drop in blood pressure and skin issues.



Identifying the form of sensitivity exhibited and the possible causes can make treatment easier. You can avoid some contact and inhalant allergens, eliminate food allergens from the diet, and prevent hereditary allergies with good breeding practices.

For all types of allergies, there is a cause: an unbalanced immune system. The first step to rebalancing a confused immune system is to stop over-loading it.

Do you know what the largest cause of damage the immune system is today?

Veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist Robert J. Silver says it might be vaccines:

“We are seeing significantly more cases of allergic dogs than we have in the past; many veterinarians believe that we are experiencing an “allergy epidemic.” While the reasons for this allergy epidemic are uncertain, some of the theories put forth include the aggressive vaccination protocols that many dogs have been subjected to…”


Could vaccinating your dog have caused his allergies? Check out Understanding Canine Allergies Part Three: Do Vaccines Cause Allergies? to find out!



– Cassy Kay


dogs, canine allergies, do vaccines cause allergies



Eldredge, Carlson, Carlson, and Griffin. Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook. Fourth edition. Wiley Publishing, Inc. Howell Book House. Hoboken, New Jersey 2007.

Scott, Dana. “Dog Allergies: The Ultimate Guide” dogsnaturallymagazine.com Web. Sept. 28, 2017. http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/dog-allergies-the-ultimate-guide/

Silver, Robert J. “Vet Advice: Relief for Your Dogs’ Itchy Skin” thebark.com. Posted Oct. 18, 2012. Web. Accessed Sept. 28, 2017.  http://thebark.com/category/author/robert-j-silver



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