5 Best Dog Allergy Treatments

A top veterinary dermatologist breaks down what works (and what doesn’t) for pet parents flustered by their dogs’ allergies.

by Marisa Meltzer
August 19, 2021
Cute weimaraner dog lying on lawn and scratching its back
Alberto Bogo / Stocksy

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Pet allergies are mystifying. As someone who has an English Bulldog who is constantly licking her itchy paws, I can safely say that discovering the cause of her allergies is a game of trial and error. For pet parents as bewildered as I am, there’s Dr. Millie Rosales, DVM, a Miami-based veterinary dermatologist who specializes in skin and ear problems in dogs and cats. Her Instagram account, aptly named @gotitchypet, has lots of close-ups of inflamed paws and ears and snouts, but also witty Reels about flea prevention and the proper use of medication.

In vet school, Dr. Rosales felt restricted by the general curriculum. “I felt like I could take my knowledge only so far. If a case got complicated, I had to send it out to a specialist. I felt like I needed more,” she says. “I realized I always liked dermatology and I feel like I’m really good at one thing.” With seasonal allergies spiraling this time of year, we asked Dr. Rosales for her opinion on a few popular allergy treatments for dogs. Just like on the Gram, she has strong opinions and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Until our pets can tell us themselves what’s bothering them, we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

1. Apoquel

It’s a pill that helps with itchiness. Itchiness can mean a lot of different things: scratching, licking, chewing, biting, rubbing, even shaking their heads. It’s for allergy-related itchiness rather than mange or other skin conditions. And yes, light-coated dogs tend to get allergies more. And certain breeds: I had an American Bulldog with terrible allergies so I sympathize a lot with my clients. Apoquel is great for itchiness, but you’re not getting to the source. I think there is no point in keeping a dog on Apoquel for the rest of their life with no consideration of preventing the source of the itch.

“Immunotherapy is one of the best long-term managements for dogs with environmental allergies.”

2. Cytopoint

A lot of dogs with environmental allergies have skin infections. Cytopoint injections are in a class of drugs we call biologicals. It’s an antibody — a dog antibody — that neutralizes a cytokine, which is a protein in a dog’s body that causes itchiness. It’s nice for people who don’t want to medicate daily because it lasts an average of four weeks. The downside is that it’s dosed by weight and comes in individual vials so it may be expensive for big dogs.

Editor’s note: Cytopoint injections have been a godsend to our editorial director’s American Staffordshire Terrier (a.k.a. Pit Bull) mix who is allergic to...everything.

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3. Diet

There’s no one diet out there that will prevent your dog from allergies. There’s this sense of, “Oh, if I do grain free…” Grain is not the most common thing a dog is allergic to — that’s a common misconception. There are food allergy blood tests out there that are totally unreliable. If a dog has a food allergy, the only way we can assess that is through a diet trial. Your vet will either prescribe a diet or recommend a home-cooked diet.

Basically we need to feed your pet a protein source that they have not been exposed to prior. I see a lot of dogs with chicken allergies, but that’s because chicken is in a lot of dog foods, treats, even toothpaste. They are exposed to a lot of chicken. For prescription diets, I do a lot of rabbit and potato. I think raw food diets for dogs are controversial — I’m not a fan of them personally. My issue with them is bacteria and GI problems.

 4. Immunotherapy (a.k.a. allergy shots)

Immunotherapy is for environmental allergies. It’s similar to people getting a skin-prick test. It will tell you what exactly is making your pet allergic. Is it the oak trees or ragweed? Then they will formulate a vaccine, oral or injections, based on the exact allergies. Immunotherapy is one of the best long-term managements for dogs with environmental allergies. It gives your pet’s body a chance to develop a tolerance and changes the way their immune system reacts to allergens. Maybe it will get a pet off medications entirely, or be able to take them not as often. 

5. Topical Medication (skin balms and natural remedies)

I don’t think it’s going to hurt but I’m not sure it’s going to work. If they had steroids in them like prescription topicals do, that might help with itchiness.

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Marisa Meltzer

Marisa Meltzer has contributed to The New York Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and is the author of This Is Big: How the Women Who Founded Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me). She lives in New York City with her dog Joan.