Sneezing fits, runny noses and teary eyes don't exclusively affect humans. Dogs suffer from allergies too, but when they get them from inhaled airborne allergens, their condition is called canine atopy and it mostly affects their skin. While some over-the-counter allergy medications are relatively safe and effective, no drug is entirely benign. To prevent overdosage and minimize side effects, always consult with your veterinarian before giving any medications to your dog.
When your dog suffers from allergies, histamine is released from his body triggering the all-too-common symptoms of itching, swelling and local inflammation of allergic reactions. Antihistamines work by counteracting histamine, giving your dog relief. Benadryl, Zyrtec and Claritin are commonly recommended antihistamines for allergic reactions in pets. They don't lack side effects though and some dogs may get drowsy, points out Patty Khuly a practicing veterinarian working at Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami, Florida. When selecting an antihistamine, avoid products containing pain killers or decongestants.
Steroids work by suppressing the inflammatory response seen in allergic reactions. While most oral steroid medications for dogs require a prescription, some steroids in topical form are available over the counter. Hydrocortisone is an over-the-counter, steroid-based product often found under the form of a cream, gel or spray. It can be a lifesaver for those itchy red patches and hot spots, said Dr. Khuly, but the sprays can sometimes sting when they contain alcohol, and while the creams generally work well, once applied, some dogs become more attracted to the itchy spot.
Decongestants constrict blood vessels to give relief to swollen, congested noses. They're often added to human allergy, cold and flu medications and many aren't safe for dogs. For instance, pseudoephedrine, the decongestant found in Claritin D, is reported to be toxic in dogs, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. Despite the large use of decongestants to treat allergies or hay fever in humans, these drugs are rarely used for this purpose in dogs. A much safer, natural option to loosen up nasal congestion in allergic dogs is letting them inhale steam when you shower, suggests Barbara Fougère, a practicing veterinarian for All Natural Pet Care in Sydney, Australia in her book "The Pet Lover's Guide to Natural Healing for Cats & Dogs."
Whether your dog is allergic to food, pollen or cleaning supplies, allergies are triggered by an overactive immune system that perceives common irritants as threatening. It therefore makes sense to get the immune system balanced with supplements. Vitamins C and A and zinc may be helpful as they enhance the immune system, points out Randy Kidd, a holistic veterinarian who has retired from active practice in Kansas City and the San Francisco Bay Area. Other immune enhancing options include adding the herbs echinacea and Siberian ginseng and upgrading the dog's diet.
Many precautions can be taken to minimize your dog's exposure to allergens. Dogs with atopy may benefit from frequent bathing because it rinses off allergens that would otherwise be absorbed by the skin. Look for a hypoallergenic shampoo containing anti-inflammatory ingredients. Also, if possible, work with your vet to identify the allergen so you can take steps to remove it from your dog’s environment. This may include a food elimination test if your dog has a food allergy or skin testing and blood tests in the case of canine atopy.