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Can Dogs Be Allergic to Humans? Facts & FAQ (Vet Answer)

Dr. Kim Podlecki, DVM (Vet)

By Dr. Kim Podlecki, DVM (Vet)

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Dr. Kim Podlecki

DVM (Veterinarian)

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Allergies in dogs seem to be on the rise. Those of us who work in clinical practice don’t go a single day without one or multiple dog patients that present signs of allergies. The media and dog food marketers have done a great job making the general population believe that all of our dogs are allergic to wheat and grains. The reality is that most dogs are allergic to the same things in the environment as we are. Interestingly, dogs can also be allergic to other animals – including humans! In this article, we’ll discuss what the signs are of allergies in dogs, how you can tell what your dog is allergic to, and how to treat allergies in your dog.

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Can Dogs Be Allergic to Humans?

It is entirely possible for dogs to be allergic to humans, but it is still being investigated as to how common this is. Humans certainly aren’t the most common cause of allergies in dogs. But if your dog is allergic to humans, it is likely due to the fact that humans produce dander just like pets do. However, if you suspect your dog is allergic to you or other humans, your vet will likely run tests and food trials to make sure that it isn’t actually something else entirely.

Close up of adorable healthy papillon dog looking to the camera
Image Credit: Di Studio, Shutterstock

Signs of Allergies in Dogs

When people think of allergies, they commonly think of the classic signs in humans as runny eyes, runny nose, stuffy nose, and sinus congestion. Some people will get bloodshot eyes or even break out into hives. While we can sometimes see this in dogs – sneezing, watery eyes, and nose – more commonly we see allergies in dogs manifest as itching skin. Your dog’s skin may become inflamed and pruritic (itchy). Because they cannot tell you what is going on, they will bite, chew, and lick their fur and skin, sometimes constantly.

If your dog is licking their feet to death, no they are not “trimming their nails” or “bored.” This is a very classic sign of allergies. While some dogs will lick when they are stressed and/or in a new environment, far and away licking is from the paws, feet, nails, and skin being itchy. The more they lick, the more irritated the skin and tissues becomes, which will lead them to lick even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

Your dog may also have allergies to fleas. This will often cause your dog to bite at the base of their tail and back legs. Sometimes your dog is so itchy they will rub their face along the carpet or furniture, roll on their back, or even rub their bellies along the floor.

Dogs with allergies often suffer from acute or even chronic ear infections and chronically full and/or irritated anal glands. While food allergies in cats are often associated with itchy skin, dogs may develop runny stool, vomiting, regurgitation, anorexia, weight loss, or other gastrointestinal signs from food allergies, in addition to the itchy skin.

What Is My Dog Allergic To?

Despite the media ‘s push to make you think grains are bad for your dog, grains and food allergies are not, in fact, the most common allergies we see. Allergies to things in the environment are the most common. This can be certain kinds of grass, pollen, weeds, dust mites, storage mites, cockroaches, trees, etc. Dogs are also commonly allergic to fleas, some food, and even other animals such as cats, dogs, and humans. Other dogs may have what we call contact allergies. In other words, they react to certain chemicals such as dyes, scents, or cleaners that they come in contact with.

In general, dogs can be allergic to anything that they inhale, ingest, or absorb that contains allergens. Allergens stimulate the immune system to react with inflammation, itching, swelling, and redness of areas of the body such as the skin, lungs, nasal cavity, and eyes.

If your dog has food allergies, most commonly they are going to react to the protein source. In other words, not the grains, wheat, or corn that food companies make you believe. Yes, there are some dogs that have allergies to vegetables, fruits, grains, and corn, but these are few and far between from the dogs that react to proteins.

Fleas can also cause your dog to have signs of allergies. Some dogs have allergies to flea saliva. This is why a good, prescription flea preventative is always recommended in allergy-prone dogs. OTC products are usually not effective in controlling flea allergies in sensitive dogs.

black dog sneezes while lying on grass
Image Credit: RHIMAGE, Shutterstock

Allergy Tests

Because many allergens are airborne, there are no great tests for this. The most common testing options to know what your dog may be reacting to is a blood (serum) test or skin (intradermal) testing. These tests are used to confirm high levels of allergens in your dog, which can then be used to develop more specific treatment programs.

What About Hypoallergenic Dogs?

There is no such thing. I know that a lot of people will debate this, but it’s true. Many people believe that if they suffer from a dog allergy and they get a dog that “doesn’t shed”, then they won’t react. In reality, both people and dogs do not react to animals’ hair. Both humans and dogs react to the skin dander that warm-blooded animals are constantly shedding. More specifically, there are proteins attached to the dander that will cause the allergic reaction(s). There is absolutely no way to completely prevent your dog, or yourself, from shedding dander. It is a completely natural process of the body. These proteins can also be found in your dog’s bodily secretions such as saliva. Therefore, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog.

This is also the reason why some dogs can be allergic to humans. They may react to a human’s dander in a similar fashion as some people react to a dog’s dander.

woman sneeze into tissue next to dog allergies
Image credit: Aleksey Boyko, Shutterstock

How to Control Your Dog’s Allergies

Many recommendations for helping to control allergy signs in dogs are similar to humans with allergies. Use HEPA filters on your air filter and in your vacuum, wash all of the bedding (both yours and your dog’s) frequently, and ideally with unscented, non-dyed products. Use an air purifier and wash out your dog’s treat and food bin routinely to reduce dust and storage mites.

A regular, prescription flea and tick preventative is always recommended. OTC products are often not effective enough, and home treatments with oils, vinegar, and other substances can be toxic.

Long-term therapy should be discussed with your regular veterinarian to determine what is best for your dog. Your dog may need specifically made immunotherapy injections based on their allergy test results. These can typically be given by mouth or as an injection. Other dogs may do well with a daily pill that helps to block itching, or an intermittent injection given at the hospital. Many veterinarians will also recommend a specialized diet to decrease food sensitivity.

No matter what therapy is chosen, know that treating allergies is lifelong. You absolutely cannot cure your dog of allergies. Ignoring the problem and becoming frustrated at your dog for licking do not help the problem. It only causes your dog to suffer longer for a problem that isn’t their fault. Work with your veterinarian early and frequently so that your dog can be as comfortable as possible. We also beg of you not to just change foods every two weeks because the media has made you think your dog is allergic to everything. Doing this will make effective treatment that much more difficult.

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Conclusion

Dogs can suffer allergies to environmental factors, food, fleas, and other animals like humans. Their bodies react by becoming itchy, and you may notice your dog constantly licking their feet or developing ear infections. Testing is not perfect but should be done if recommended by your veterinarian to help determine high levels of allergens in your dog’s body. Treatment for allergies is a lifelong commitment and should be taken seriously. Constantly changing your dog’s food will do no good and often makes effective treatment more difficult. Work with your veterinarian to determine an effective, long-term plan for your dog.


Featured Image Credit: ElenaYakimova, Shutterstock

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