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Why is my dog itching all the time?

Posted 04.20.16 by Emily Lindsey

Whether for humans or pets, allergies are typically a frustrating diagnosis for all involved. Dogs with severe allergies struggle to find relief for their itch, as you have probably witnessed. They might rub a part of their body against the wall, lick or chew their feet, sneeze and wheeze constantly, or scratch until they develop sores. It’s hard to see your dear doggie suffering, especially when you’re not exactly sure what’s causing the problem!

dog allergies

Dog allergies can be almost as frustrating for owners as they are for their beloved pets, due to the costs of necessary testing and the fact that there usually isn’t a quick fix or a magic pill for allergies. It’s often tough for the veterinarian to know which path to take for treatment as well, because similar dog allergy symptoms can result from both food allergies and environmental allergies.

Common Dog Allergy Symptoms

Some of the most frequent allergy symptoms in dogs include:

  • Frequently sneezing or even wheezing
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Compulsively scratching or chewing on the same area or part of the body
  • Excessive licking
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Itchy ears and/or ear infections
  • Fur loss or patches of irritated skin
  • Rubbing affected parts of the body repeatedly against the floor, furniture or walls
  • Licking and chewing paws

As you can see, there are many types of allergy symptoms to get pet owners worried, and these are symptoms that can really affect your dog’s quality of life! So the first order of business is to try to determine the most likely cause of your dog’s allergy symptoms.

What’s Causing Your Dog’s Allergies?


Some dogs have environmental allergies (allergic to things like molds, grasses and even cat or human dander). Other dogs are allergic to ingredients in food. And many dogs have multiple allergies. In addition to figuring out the underlying allergy itself, we often also need to treat secondary problems, such as yeast or bacterial infections, otitis externa (ear infections) and inflamed skin from all of the scratching.

With testing, a veterinarian is able to determine if secondary problems are present and can then determine the best course of treatment for those problems. However, treating the inciting cause, the actual allergy, can be a bit trickier – especially since the cause can be food allergies or an allergy to something in the environment.

Treatment Options for Dog Allergy Symptoms


There are different ways we can approach treating your dog’s allergies, and each of these options has its own pros and cons. Also, pet owners should be aware from the start that it might take some trial and error to find the treatment that works best for your dog. We’re dedicated to helping you find the best way to give your dog relief from his or her allergies.

Although this is not all-inclusive to the treatment options, four choices we often make for an allergic dog include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Steroids
  • A new drug called Apoquel
  • A new injection called Cytopoint

Antihistamines were once our first line of defense for mild itching in a dog. These drugs, such as Benadryl and Zyrtec, are typically cheap, don’t have worrisome long term side effects, and are easy to give. The downside is that, for most dogs, they don’t work to relieve the itching that comes with dog allergies. We will sometimes try one and if that doesn’t work, reach for another, but unfortunately many times we do not get the relief we need using antihistamines.

There are some benefits to certain antihistamines (for example, Zyrtec is usually once or twice a day, whereas Benadryl is usually given every 8 hours). Some dogs respond better to one than they do to another, so it’s a matter of trial and error to find what medication offers the best relief for your dog’s allergy symptoms.

Steroids are another type of drug that’s commonly prescribed to an allergic dog. Again, they are cheap and readily available and improve itchiness of most dogs with allergies. However, steroids have worrisome short term and long term side effects. Most pets, while taking steroids, will drink and urinate excessively. They may have a ravenous appetite and be more restless too. Long term, steroids can have negative effects on the liver and the immune system, in addition to possible problems with the endocrine system. Because of these things, we are limited to how long a pet can receive steroids for dog allergies and how often he or she can be prescribed them.

Apoquel for Dog Allergies

A newer drug that a lot of veterinarians are reaching for is a drug called Apoquel. Apoquel works differently than anything we’ve had available before. It targets the signaling pathway that contributes to itching and inflammation within the skin.

Apoquel is more costly than antihistamines and steroids, but it doesn’t come with a long list of side effects. It can be used on a short term basis during an allergy flare up, or on a more chronic basis to keep the allergies under control. Dogs can still get those secondary problems while on Apoquel, so it’s important for them to be examined every 3 months while on the drug to make sure there are no additional problems. And as with any chronic medication, blood work should be done at least yearly, just to make sure the pet is tolerating things well. Apoquel doesn’t work for every dog with allergies, but it has shown to be quite useful in most cases.

Allergies are a multi-faceted disease and usually require many trips to the veterinarian and much effort on the part of the pet parent. It is often trial and error and in most cases, requires a multitude of treatment approaches and medications. But if you’re willing to take it slow, we will work with you to find the best way of giving your dog relief from his or her allergy symptoms and improving his or her quality of life.

Contact us to learn more about dog allergies and Apoquel for dogs, or if you have questions about the other dog allergy treatments we can offer pet owners in the Memphis area.

Cytopoint for Dog Allergies

A new injection for allergies is now available, and it is called Cytopoint. Like Apoquel, Cytopoint works differently than other treatments we have had available in the past, and has almost no side effects associated with it.

Cytopoint is an injection that needs to be given monthly, and in some dogs we can give it less frequently. One advantage of Cytopoint is that it can safely be used long term for allergy patients. Another great thing about Cytopoint is that if it is not effective, it can be easily discontinued and another course of treatment can be pursued.

As with Apoquel, dogs can still get secondary problems like skin infections or ear infections when using Cytopoint, so it’s important for them to be examined every 3 months while on the drug to make sure there are no additional problems. And as with any chronic medication, blood work should be done at least yearly, just to make sure the pet is tolerating things well.

Cytopoint doesn’t work for every dog with allergies, but it has shown to be extremely helpful in many cases.

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