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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best dog allergy medications

Just like people, dogs can suffer the annoying symptoms of an allergic reaction to environmental or food triggers. But unlike you, your pooch doesn’t have words to express discomfort or ask for help. That’s why it’s so important for every pet owner to be able to recognize symptoms of allergies, and if they occur, to be familiar with treatment options.

Luckily, if your dog is one of the many affected by allergies, there are several treatments available, both over the counter and by prescription from your veterinarian. There are also steps you can take to reduce your pooch’s exposure to potential allergens, which should greatly help relieve the discomfort.

In this buying guide, we reveal what you should know about common canine allergies and dog allergy medications. We discuss prescription meds, over-the-counter (OTC) meds, and what you should expect in terms of price. If you’re looking for recommendations, see our list of top dog allergy medications for ideas.

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With so many treatments available, there’s no need for your dog to suffer with itchiness and other distressing allergy symptoms.

What causes allergies in dogs?

There are three major causes of dog allergies: fleas, inhaled triggers, and food.

Flea saliva delivered through a flea bite is the most common trigger for canine allergies. Up to 40% of dogs suffer from flea allergy dermatitis, and as few as one or two bites can bring on symptoms. Afflicted pooches will generally bite and scratch at the spot vigorously, further inflaming the area and sometimes even wearing away the fur. The result can be hot spots — areas of reddened, inflamed skin that often weep clear fluid or blood — which can drive your dog to itchy distraction.

Inhaled or airborne allergens are the next most common category, affecting around 15% of dogs. These allergens are also the common cause of hay fever and seasonal allergies in people and include pollens, molds, dust mites, and mildew. While some of these allergens are seasonal, others linger all year long. Unlike allergic humans, who usually develop respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and runny eyes when exposed to these triggers, allergic dogs generally itch and will scratch or lick themselves in an effort to gain relief.

Food allergies are the least common type of allergies in canines, affecting around 10% of dogs. Dogs are most often allergic to proteins, including beef, chicken, lamb, pork, fish, and eggs. Grains can also be a problem for some dogs. Common symptoms of food allergies include frequent ear infections, shaking the head, rubbing the face on the ground, itching, sneezing or wheezing, digestive upset, and foot licking.

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Did You Know?
Unlike humans, who often outgrow allergies, dogs tend to become more allergic as they get older.
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Choosing a dog allergy medication

There are quite a few treatments for your canine pal’s itchy distress. Some require a veterinarian’s prescription while others are available over the counter. Here are some common choices.

Prescription dog allergy treatments

For dogs with severe or persistent allergies, a visit to the vet is required for effective relief with a prescription-only medication. While there are quite a few choices, the following are often prescribed.

Immune-modulators

Immune-modulating medications don’t simply treat the symptoms of allergies; they actually tackle the problem at the source: the overactive immune system. By suppressing the release of histamine, these medications effectively halt the misery of allergic itching and other symptoms. These medicines can cause digestive side effects, however, including vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

  • Atopica, which is a brand name for cyclosporine, can take several weeks to provide full relief but is safe long-term for dogs with persistent allergies. While very effective for airborne allergies, it’s not as effective for food allergies. Give Atopica to your dog an hour before or two hours after a meal to help prevent digestive side effects.
  • Apoquel works to relieve allergic symptoms caused by fleas, airborne allergens, and food. Your pooch will typically start to feel relief within hours of the first dose, but this isn’t a long-term medication. Typically, dogs take Apoquel for up to 14 days at a time to treat allergy flare-ups.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids, often just referred to as steroids, don’t completely stifle the immune response, but they do reduce the inflammation caused by the release of histamine. This helps reduce itching, swelling, and other allergic symptoms. Oral steroids potentially have quite a few side effects, including irritability, increased appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, skin thinning, hair loss, and increased urination. Generally, steroids are only prescribed for short-term treatment of allergies and are not effective against food-caused allergies.

  • Prednisone is one of the most commonly prescribed steroid treatments. It’s inexpensive and provides relief quickly. Most dogs tolerate it well for short-term use. Often, the prescription is a tapering dose that reduces over 10 to 14 days.
  • Temaril-P is a newer medication that combines a steroid with an antihistamine for comprehensive and quick relief of flea or airborne allergies. The combination of medicines in Temaril-P means the steroid content is lower, thus reducing the likelihood of side effects.

The most common cause of dog allergies is fleabites, so flea control should be an important part of your treatment plan.

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OTC dog allergy treatments

For dogs with mild or occasional allergy symptoms, an OTC treatment is often all that’s needed. There are quite a few to choose from.

Antihistamines

As the name suggests, these medications work by blocking the release of histamine, thus reducing the inflammation that adds to allergy misery caused by fleas or airborne allergens. While veterinarians occasionally recommend prescription-only hydroxyzine, more often pet owners turn to OTC antihistamines, which can provide quick relief of allergy-caused itching and distress. On the downside, the majority of dogs don’t respond to antihistamines, so if you try two or three without seeing much benefit, it’s time to consider another treatment option.

  • Benadryl is one of the most common OTC antihistamines for both people and dogs. The recommended dosage is 1 milligram per pound of the dog’s body weight. So, for example, a 15-pound dog would take 15 milligrams of Benadryl two or three times per day. Benadryl tends to be quite sedating, so expect your dog to sleep more than usual after a dose.
  • Claritin only requires once-a-day dosing and is less likely to heavily sedate your dog. Generally, dogs can take 0.2 milligrams of Claritin per pound of body weight, meaning a 20-pound dog would take 4 milligrams of Claritin per day.
  • Zyrtec is another OTC antihistamine commonly taken by humans that’s also safe for canine use. Like Claritin, it only requires one dose a day and is less likely to sedate your dog than Benadryl. The usual dose for dogs is 0.5 milligrams of Zyrtec per pound of body weight once per day. That means a 20-pound dog would take 10 milligrams of Zyrtec daily.

Fish oil

Fish oil contains large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits, including reduction of inflammation and improved skin and coat condition. There are many brands of fish oil formulated specifically for dogs. While not a cure, fish oil given long-term can help improve a dog’s allergy symptoms.

Colostrum

A type of pre-milk produced by mammals, colostrum contains antibodies and compounds that help reduce inflammation and overactive immune response. Many OTC dog allergy treatments contain bovine colostrum, which helps reduce itchiness in allergic dogs.

Probiotics

Many OTC dog allergy medications contain probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that live in a dog’s gut, where they help with digestion, immune response, and overall health.

Medicated sprays or baths

While not a long-term solution, you can give your itchy pooch some quick relief with an OTC medicated spray or bath. These products typically contain hydrocortisone or a similar ingredient that relieves skin irritation and itch along with soothing oatmeal, aloe, tea tree oil, chamomile, or other itch and irritation reducers. 

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Did You Know?
Many dogs are allergic to airborne pollen, dust mites, mold, and mildew, suffering from seasonal allergies just like people.
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Dog allergy medication prices

It’s hard to pinpoint a price range for dog allergy medications because there are so many types, both prescription and OTC. As a general rule, you’ll pay less for a generic drug than a brand-name medication. That goes for both prescription and OTC drugs. For example, a generic bottle of Diphenhydramine HCl, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl, can cost as little as $5 for 100 tablets, while brand-name Benadryl might cost $15 for the same amount.

When it comes to itch-and-allergy treatments, expect to pay $20 to $30 for a one- to three-month supply, depending on your pet’s weight. 

Tips

  • Flea elimination is critical for allergic dogs. Treat your dog with a monthly systemic medication such as Frontline, or speak to your vet about other alternatives.
  • Bathe your itchy pet once every one or two weeks with a mild shampoo formulated for dogs with allergies. This helps remove allergens and soothes the skin. Never use your own shampoo on your dog, as it can dry out their skin and hair.
  • Wipe your dog’s feet after a walk. This is particularly important if your dog walked on wet or newly mown grass. You can also wipe down their fur with a baby wipe or pet wipe to remove airborne allergy triggers.
  • Wash your dog’s bed every week or two. This helps get rid of potentially triggering pollen, mold, mildew, and dust mites.
  • Vacuum your home at least weekly. This helps reduce pollen and other allergens throughout the house.
  • Consider placing an air purifier near your dog’s bed. This can help eliminate airborne allergens.
  • Take steps to protect irritated areas. If your dog has an inflamed hot spot, a dog cone collar will prevent them from chewing or licking at the spot, allowing the sore area to heal. Another way to cover up itchy or irritated spots is to slip a tee shirt onto your pooch.
  • Feed your dog high-quality dog food. This can help keep their skin and coat in good condition and their general health high. Note that dogs with food allergies or sensitivities often do best on a limited-ingredient diet.
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Your veterinarian can recommend the best course of action for treating your dog’s allergic symptoms.

FAQ

Q. Are some breeds of dog more prone to allergies than others?

A. Yes. Although any dog can be allergic, certain breeds are more likely to be afflicted, particularly when it comes to airborne allergens. These breeds include:

  • Golden and Labrador retrievers
  • Boxers
  • Poodles
  • Pugs
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Dalmatians
  • Chihuahuas
  • Fox terriers

Q. Are there tests for diagnosing allergies in dogs?

A. There are two testing procedures commonly used to pinpoint the triggers of atopic allergies. One is a simple blood test that any veterinarian can order. The more precise test is similar to that used for humans: the veterinarian applies various common allergens to the dog’s skin and watches for positive signs, including redness, rashes, or welts. You’ll need to take your dog to a veterinary dermatologist for this specialized test.

There aren’t any specific tests for fleabite or food allergies.

Q. What causes allergies? Are they contagious?

A. Allergies are not contagious. They are the result of an overactive immune system recognizing an otherwise harmless substance as a threat. This causes the animal’s immune system to release a flood of a chemical called histamine, which boosts blood flow to the areas affected by the allergen, causing inflammation that leads to redness, swelling, itching, and other allergy symptoms.

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