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Life-Threatening Allergic Reactions in Dogs: How To Identify Them and What To Do

Save their life by knowing the signs.


Spring brings a lot of great things: Flowers, sunny days, and lush greenery. Unfortunately, it also brings pollen. Lots and lots of pollen. For those of us with seasonal allergies, sniffles are the symbol of spring instead of the beautiful flowers. Since so many people struggle with seasonal allergies, you might be wondering — what about dogs? Dogs spend a lot of time outside with their noses to the ground, sniffing up potential allergens, but they don’t seem to sneeze and sniffle like humans. As it turns out, dogs can suffer from allergies, but they don’t present symptoms in exactly the same way we do — especially when experiencing life-threatening allergic reactions. Keep reading to learn the signs of a dangerous allergic reaction in your dog so you can treat them immediately and keep them safe.

What are the most common dog allergy triggers?

Like humans, dogs can be allergic to almost any foreign substance, but there are some common things that are prone to causing allergic reactions. The pet pros at Richell USA note that some of the most common dog allergens include: 

  • Fleas
  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Grass, trees, bushes, and weeds
  • Cleaning products
  • Animal proteins in food (pork, beef, chicken)
  • Other food ingredients (Soy, egg, dairy, wheat) 
  • Certain medications

And while any dog can experience an allergic reaction, Richell USA says that some breeds are more genetically susceptible to allergies than others. Those breeds include golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, pit bull terriers, cocker spaniels, boxers, standard poodles, Maltese, English setters, Bichon Frisé, and pugs. 

What do typical dog allergies look like?

When you feel a mild allergic reaction coming on, you probably experience a stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. For dogs, symptoms of a mild reaction are somewhat similar. Richell USA notes that symptoms of a typical canine allergic reaction include: 

  • Itchy, red skin
  • Sneezing
  • Increased scratching
  • Vomiting after eating certain things
  • Feet chewing
  • Constant licking
  • Hot spots

Even if you don’t think your dog’s allergic reaction is serious, it’s a good move to contact your vet immediately. It’s important to identify and treat allergic reactions quickly so they can be avoided in the future. 

What do life-threatening dog allergies look like?

A severe allergic reaction, for both humans and dogs, is classified as anaphylaxis. In anaphylaxis, the whole body reacts to an allergen, and it can quickly become life-threatening. PetMD notes that, in order for anaphylaxis to occur, the dog must have been exposed to the triggering allergen at least twice previously. This means a life-threatening allergic reaction likely won’t happen randomly; your dog will probably have experienced symptoms after exposure to the offending allergen before. 

When humans experience anaphylaxis, their airways begin to tighten, and they have symptoms like clammy skin, confusion, wheezing, and lightheadedness. However, PetMD says that for dogs, anaphylaxis primarily affects their liver instead of their airways, so their symptoms are different, and may not be immediately recognized as a severe allergic reaction. Canine Campus notes the following are symptoms of a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction in dogs: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Cold limbs
  • Pale blue gums and tongue
  • Weak pulse 
  • Wheezing

If your dog is experiencing these symptoms, take them to the emergency vet right away for treatment. Your vet will stabilize your dog and give her intravenous medication like epinephrine and/or corticosteroids. They may also put your dog on a breathing tube.

What To Do After Your Dog Experiences Anaphylaxis

Canine Campus notes that anaphylaxis gets worse after every occurrence, so it’s important to identify and avoid triggering substances. Your vet may give you emergency medications (like pet-specific epinephrine) to keep on hand and tell you how to administer them yourself.

In the meantime, give your dog tons of love, reassurance, and affection. Allergic reactions are scary for humans — imagine how scary they are for dogs who can’t communicate what they’re feeling, or fully understanding why they feel that way. Give Fido an extra smooch or two — she deserves it!

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