Allergic to Dogs and Allergies in Dogs Resource

Environmental Allergies in Dogs

The following article concerning environmental allergies in dogs will begin with a basic definition of the term followed by a summary of the possible allergy mechanisms involved. When one begins to appreciate the generalized and loose quality of the term itself, the apparent brevity of the sections shown below concerning symptoms, diagnosis and treatment will become self-explanatory. The intent is to minimize the risk of repeating information supplied elsewhere on this site, however, causes (types of allergens involved) and prevention (with relevant examples) incorporate material not included elsewhere, and are therefore covered in greater depth.

Environmental Allergies in Dogs Definition

As we discovered in Most Common Allergies in Dogs, ‘environmental allergies’ is an umbrella term for allergies/sensitive reactions triggered by allergens/irritants present in the environment i.e. one’s surroundings. By its nature, this category of allergies/allergens is ubiquitous and extremely diverse; collectively, they are believed to account for approximately 80% of allergies affecting canines and represent the most common type of allergic disease in dogs.

Understanding Environmental Allergies in Dogs – Hypersensitivity Reactions Involved

The classic allergic reaction involves Type 1 Hypersensitivity (immediate hypersensitivity), although other responses involving Type 2, Type 3 and Type 4 Hypersensitivity (based on Gell and Coombs 4 Type model) can occur depending on the antigen/allergy in question. For example, an allergy to dander or pollen involves Type 1 Hypersensitivity, whereas a chemical-induced cytotoxic reaction might evoke Type 2, Farmer’s lung triggered by inhaled hay dust or mold represents Type 3, and allergic contact dermatitis to latex a Type 4 reaction. Furthermore, multiple reactions may be involved in certain cases, for example Verlinden et al.2007 noted, “Type I, III, and IV hypersensitivity reactions are the most likely immunologic mechanisms” for food allergies.

Further information about the underlying mechanism and processes involved in allergies, as well an overview of the ongoing debate concerning hereditary and non-hereditary factors in allergies, can be found in the section Understanding Dog Allergies.

Environmental Allergies in Dogs Symptoms

Symptoms associated with environmental allergies will be determined by the type of allergy and the individual themselves. They can be impacted by numerous factors such as the route of exposure e.g. airborne, contact or ingested, the genetic traits of the individual, the dog’s age and gender as well as whether an individual suffers from concurrent allergies or is immune compromised e.g. receiving immunosuppressant drugs. Thus, allergy symptom variability means that whilst one dog might experience very mild allergic conjunctivitis/asthma symptoms, another one might develop notable allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis; a minority, unfortunately, may even experience life-threatening anaphylaxis.

The section Allergies in Dogs Symptoms provides a comprehensive review of the possible signs and symptoms of canine allergies.

Causes of Environmental Allergies in Dogs – Types of Allergens Involved

Environmental allergies are thought by most people to simply refer to an allergy to dog or cat hair, dust or pollen with associated symptoms including a runny nose, red eyes, wheezy chest and itchy skin. The reality is, however, that the term encompasses a plethora of allergies (with potentially a spectrum of symptoms) that can affect both people and dogs alike, such as those related to:

  • Aromatic and atomized particles e.g. air fresheners or car spray paints
  • Chemicals e.g. dyes, household cleaning agents or petroleum products
  • Cockroaches
  • Cigarette or firewood smoke
  • Cosmetics
  • Dander (and not hair itself) e.g. cat, dog, guinea pig, horse, human, mouse, rabbit, rat etc.
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Fabrics e.g. wool
  • Feathers
  • Indoor plants
  • Insect stings or venom e.g. ants, bees, hornets, wasps or spiders
  • Latex – natural (10% of all flowering plants) or synthetic; commonly associated with natural latex rubber
  • Materials/ irritants e.g. cement powder
  • Metals and jewelry e.g. aluminum, gold, nickel or zinc
  • Mold and mildew
  • Perfumes
  • Pesticides and insecticides
  • Plastics
  • Pollen
  • Pollution and traffic
  • Resins both natural e.g. pine resin, and synthetic e.g. epoxy resin
  • Trees
  • Water-related e.g. chlorine, copper, lead, fluoride, styrene
  • Weeds
  • Wood products and treatments e.g. sawdust or preservatives

In addition, because the term ‘environmental allergies’ is so generalized and encompasses an array of allergen types, the possibility for terminological confusion can arise. Such a vast collective can be sub-categorized in multiple ways and as a result, it becomes inevitable that allergy categories that are normally considered distinct e.g. ‘food allergies’, can according to some authorities, overlap and fall within its remit. For example, this may include aspects to do with:

  • Airborne/aero-allergens or inhalant allergies
  • Contact or skin allergies
  • Ingestion or food-related allergies
  • Seasonal and non-seasonal allergies
  • Indoor and outdoor allergens
  • Allergies based on place e.g. home, school or workplace, or geographical location
  • Certain medicinal allergies

In this context, as a group, inhalation allergies associated with environmental allergens account for the most common cause of allergies in dogs.

Environmental Allergies in Dogs


Environmental Allergies in Dogs Diagnosis

Depending on the nature of the allergy involved, diagnosing environmental allergies may involve various skin and blood tests, an elimination diet or even a challenge test. Blood tests for allergens such as dust mites, grasses, molds and weeds are increasingly replacing the need for skin test involving shaving the skin.

The section Allergies in Dogs Diagnosis looks at the various tests and approaches used to help determine the underlying reason for a dog’s symptoms i.e. likely source/allergen involved.

Environmental Allergies in Dogs Prevention

When implemented successfully, preventative strategies aimed at minimizing exposure to environmental allergens have the potential to impact allergy frequency/severity and the amount/strength of any medication required. As shown later, taking control of one’s surroundings involves not only avoiding the allergen itself but also applying other factors, such as aiming to reduce/eliminate items that can harbor, trap or spread them.

Realistically though, some allergens can be more easily avoided than others. For example, it is much easier to avoid a discrete allergen, such as an allergy triggered by a particular indoor plant or household air freshener, than when attempting to tackle widespread allergens exemplified by an allergy to environmental dust or traffic fumes.

Providing a definitive all-in-one checklist of preventative measures that encompasses each and every allergy falling under the guise of environmental allergies is, in practice, virtually unworkable because:

  • Even though the majority of common allergies are caused by a relatively small cohort e.g. to dander, dust, pollen etc. there exists literally tens of thousands of possible allergens. The potential for almost any substance to trigger a response (so long as an individual is hypersensitive to it) is illustrated by less well-known allergies/sensitivities, such as those to water (aquagenic urticaria), semen (seminal plasma hypersensitivity), skin pressure (dermatographic urticaria), cold (cold urticaria) or even exercise (exercise-induced anaphylaxis and urticarial).
  • For an optimal outcome to be achieved, preventative strategies should be tailored based on both the allergy and individual in question.

Therefore, taking the above into account, we will initially list some general principles underlying allergy prevention and then show possible strategies to tackle a selection of environmental allergies. Supplementary information can be found throughout the various articles located in the section Allergies in Dogs Prevention.

General Allergy Prevention Principles

  • Allergy avoidance e.g. if dog has pollen allergy keep it inside when pollen counts are high; if allergic to wool avoid contact with sheep and related products such as clothing/household fabrics ; set physical boundaries – you can control the dogs environment easier and minimize inadvertent allergen exposure etc.
  • Reduce allergen load e.g. lower surface allergen levels by frequent wiping; regular foot baths and weekly dog baths reduce dander and other allergens trapped/transported in coat. Using a medicated shampoo can help maintain a healthy skin moisture barrier thereby minimizing the risk of dry skin whilst providing itch relief; use HEPA air filters to reduce airborne allergens etc.
  • Reduce/eliminate items that harbor/trap/spread allergens e.g. allergy to cockroaches will require exterminating insects in/around property; remove unnecessary soft furnishing or carpets that trap allergens etc.
  • Minimize irritants/aggravators e.g. dogs can be very sensitive to air fresheners, harsh cleaning products, antibacterial/microbial sprays, cigarette/firewood/incense smoke, water contaminants etc.
  • Holistic approach e.g. avoid the use of unnecessary antibiotics (gut flora balance issue as well as antibiotic resistance), vaccines (stimulate immune system) and steroids (possible serious side-effects); maintain sensible hygiene for dog; healthy immune system requires both physical and emotional well-being; fatty acid supplements may help reduce inflammation; consider not buying an allergy-prone dog breed etc.
  • Communication – Family and friends need to be aware of the dog allergy problem and act appropriately etc.

How to Prevent Environmental Allergies in Dogs – Various Examples

Preventing Dust and Dust Mite Allergies in Dogs
  • Dust/dust mites are generally considered the most common inhalant allergen problem in dogs and most common environmental allergen trigger of atopic dermatitis
  • Wash bedding regularly using hot water
  • Remove dog from area when cleaning and vacuuming
  • Vacuum frequently; a HEPA filter vacuum is preferable. Additionally, remember to vacuum the car regularly
  • Damp mop hard flooring
  • Wipe surfaces frequently with damp cloth
  • Focus cleaning on areas frequented by dog
  • Use indoor air filters/purifiers to trap airborne allergens. HEPA filter are preferable and can also be used with air conditioners
  • Hypoallergenic dog bed covers can be useful for dust mite allergies
  • Steam cleaners can help kill dust mites
  • Avoid dust traps e.g. avoid soft toys. Placing the offending item in a plastic bag inside the freezer periodically can help kill dust mites; carpets, curtains etc.
Preventing Smoke Allergies in Dogs
  • Do not smoke indoors (especially near the dogs sleeping area) or around the dog outside. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that the vapor from e-cigarettes acts as an irritant to certain dogs affecting their eyes/respiratory tract/lungs
  • Incense smoke from candles, burners and sticks can affect some dogs leading to inflammation of the eyes/respiratory tract/lungs
  • If you have an indoor firewood burner, follow best practice guideline e.g. take care when cleaning furnace/ emptying ash in order to minimize particulate contamination of the property, only use seasoned wood, clean chimney regularly etc. In addition, consider switching to a modern EPA burner (far more efficient and produce up to 95% fewer emissions), an outside wood burner or an alternative heating source
Preventing Mold Allergies in Dogs
  • The key to tackling mold allergies is avoiding mold in the first place
  • Mold in properties occurs due to excessive moisture and dampness problems. Addressing these issues is essential and should be dealt with before undertaking any cosmetic work to the property
  • Recommended healthy humidity levels inside the home are 30-60% (acceptable), although 40-50% is preferable
  • Excessive humidity can occur in many ways e.g. leaking pipes, dripping taps, leaking fridge/freezer seals, condensation from windows, water penetration through walls (especially basements) and building structure, poor water drainage from home, poor ventilation/insufficient extractor (exhaust) fans, bathing/showering/cooking without using an extractor fans, hanging washing on radiators, overuse of vaporizers and humidifiers, inappropriate temperatures in property etc.
  • Moldy insulation, drywalls (a.k.a. plasterboard/gypsum board) or ceiling tiles must be cut away, removed and replaced
  • Moldy soft furnishings and carpet should be discarded
  • Cleaning mold contaminated surfaces is subject to differing opinions. Suggestions include using soap, water and a stiff brush; 10% strength household bleach/water solution; vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solutions; brand cleaners that can be both toxic or non-toxic
  • Allow the property to breath… aim to open windows for at least 10 minutes a day throughout the year
  • If humidity is too high consider investing in a dehumidifier
  • Use HEPA air filters/air conditioners to reduce airborne mold spores
  • Mold originating from outside of the home can also present problems. Dispersal of environmental spores varies considerably between species; some release them on dry windy days, others when humidity readings are high, highest activity is usually during in summer months although they can occur all-year-round. Preventative strategies involve avoiding spore contact e.g. be aware when gardening or walking in forests, consider remaining indoors on days when published counts are high, use HEPA filters on air conditioner and indoor air filters
Preventing Metal Allergies in Dogs e.g. Nickel
  • Exposure to certain metals can trigger a type of allergic skin condition termed allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). Type 4 Hypersensitivity (cell-mediated) is responsible for this particular type of allergy response
  • Nickel allergies represent the most common type of allergic contact dermatitis
  • Dogs can be exposed to nickel in a multitude of ways e.g. coins, owners eyeglass frames/ jewelry /watches, cell phones, some cosmetics, buckles, products containing nickel in the home e.g. paper clips or kitchen utensils, rare cases linked to stainless steel products
  • Avoidance is the best form of prevention. Home nickel detection kits are available and when items are identified, remove where possible from around home and replace with non-nickel versions
  • Be aware of indirect transference of nickel e.g. sweat from owner’s hand having touched coins etc.
  • Where applicable, apply a spray barrier coating to nickel items
Preventing Plastic Allergies in Dogs
  • Just like people, dogs can be hypersensitive to plastics. Various chemicals in plastics can cause allergies and some of these can be found in other synthetic products e.g. phthalates in adhesives, artificial leather, cosmetics, or dyes
  • Remember that liquids transported in plastic containers and food in plastic packages may lead to issues in those extremely sensitive. Furthermore, plastic comes in many forms and is found everywhere in modern life e.g. brushes, credit cards, grocery bags, plastic bottles and containers, lining of food packaging and milk containers etc.
  • Symptoms typically involve dermatitis (inflammation with rashes/skin problems) in those areas that come into direct contact with the allergen. Respiratory problems can occur especially if the vapors from burning plastic are inhaled
  • Avoidance is the primary preventative measure e.g. don’t use plastic hair brushes on dogs, and consider replacing plastic food bowls with one’s made of stainless steel
Preventing Food Allergies in Dogs e.g. Beef, Wheat
  • Food allergies affect 10-15% of dogs and possibly up to 20%
  • 75% of cases are related to protein
  • Beef, diary and wheat account for up to 80% of cases seen by veterinarians
  • Diagnosis and prevention concerning food allergies are intricately linked – identifying and thus knowing what problematic to avoid involves undertaking an elimination diet (food trial). Although the process starts with only water and a hypoallergenic food source, the long-term aim is establishing an allergen-free diet that is balanced, healthy and varied

Environmental Allergies in Dogs Treatment

The most appropriate treatment for a given environmental allergy will be determined by both the type of allergy and the allergy response experienced by an individual; it should therefore be highly individualized. This may take the form of conventional allergy treatment e.g. symptomatic (e.g. antihistamines), antimicrobial (e.g. antibiotics) or immunotherapy (e.g. allergy shots), and/or natural allergy treatment e.g. natural symptomatic/antimicrobial/immunotherapy approaches or nutritional and dietary supplements e.g. omega-3.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+