The Three Most Common Allergy Medicines for Dogs
Reviewed for accuracy on July 2, 2020 by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
An allergy is the end result of the body’s immune system overreacting to a foreign substance. These foreign substances that put the immune system into overdrive are called allergens.
There are several main types of allergies in dogs: flea, food, and environmental (also known as atopy or atopic dermatitis). Atopy is an overreaction to substances in the environment, like pollen, grass, and dust. It leads to pesky symptoms that include itching, scratching, biting, and chewing.
Just like in humans, environmental allergy symptoms in dogs typically pop up seasonally. However, these symptoms can be similar to those seen with other allergy types, so consult with your vet before giving your dog a dose of allergy meds. (If you’re concerned about food allergies, talk to your vet, and learn more about dog food allergies here.)
With the allergy meds listed below, your vet will first need to diagnose the specific type of allergy that your dog has, then prescribe the appropriate drug and drug dose.
Popular Anti-Allergy Medicine Choices for Pups
Over-the-counter (OTC) Antihistamines: Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec
These OTC meds work well for environmental allergies but come with a myriad of negative side effects. Also, according to vets, these meds are effective in only 30% of dogs. Furthermore, while they may work in the beginning, they may lose effectiveness over time.
One common side effect of OTC allergy meds is sedation, especially in pets who are already on anti-depressants, certain pain relievers or seizure medications. In some dogs, these meds can cause hyperactivity.
OTC allergy meds for humans may also contain a decongestant, which is dangerous for dogs. When selecting an allergy med from the store, make sure that it contains only antihistamine.
The dosage is never the same as it is for humans, so your vet will determine the proper dose for your dog. The cost is anywhere from $5-$20, depending on your retailer and quantity purchased.
The not-messing-around option is much stronger: corticosteroids (also called “allergy shots,” unless they’re taken orally). Steroids are much more effective at treating allergy symptoms but can come with risky side effects, such as a suppressed immune system, increased risk of diabetes, and, in the short term, increased hunger, urination, and thirst.
Steroids cannot be used without the direction of a vet. And, your dog will need to have bloodwork and urinalyses performed regularly if the steroid treatment is long-term.
The good news? Allergy shots have up to an 80% success rate! The bad news? All of those side effects that are listed above, and more. However, the ultimate pro is that your pet will see relief.
A prescription for oral meds administered at home may cost around $40 for a 30-day supply, whereas vet visits for an injection may cost $50 to $150 each time.
Apoquel is not a steroid or antihistamine. Instead, it belongs to a class of drugs called “Janus kinase inhibitors,” which work on the brain signals that result in itching and inflammation and suppress the overactive immune system. What’s really great about Apoquel is that itchy dogs start experiencing relief within just 4 hours of taking the drug. Apoquel controls the itchiness within 24 hours.
Common side effects include vomiting and diarrhea. Also, it is not to be used in dogs <1 year old and may increase the risk of infection and cancer. The capsules are easy to administer. For a medium- to large-sized dog, this will cost approximately $3 per pill (Rx of 28 pills comes to a total of $84).
To sum things up, if your dog has allergies, several types of allergy meds are available that can help your dog experience relief from uncomfortable allergy symptoms. Talk with your vet to determine the best allergy management strategy for your dog.
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