Hives in Dogs: Underlying Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies

You may be wondering what the reason behind your dog’s incessant scratching is. Oftentimes, too much scratching can result in secondary skin infections such as fungal disease. In such cases, if you were to examine your dog’s skin closely, you’d see red and swollen patches. The possible culprit for your dog’s suffering is an allergen which leads to a skin condition called hives. In medical terms, hives are referred to as Urticaria.

What is an allergen?

Since hives are brought about by an allergen, let me discuss briefly what an allergen is and how your dog is exposed to it. An allergen is a substance which could either be eaten or inhaled by your dog. For example, some dogs are allergic to chicken and beef. If these types of food are eaten, the body’s immune system perceives these food types as pathogens. As a result, chemicals are released in the bloodstream to fight off these supposed pathogens. It is precisely those chemicals that cause itching in dogs.

There are also troublesome substances that your dog may inhale, such as dust mites or seasonal substances such as pollen and molds. In case you notice that there are certain times of the year when your dog manifests signs of hives, then your dog is most likely suffering from seasonal allergies.

In short, some of the symptoms of allergic reactions to certain substances are itching and hives.

What are the causes of hives on dogs?

  • Food allergies: A dog’s diet plays a role in bringing out allergic reactions. Food allergies result in scratching, vomiting, diarrhea and a skin condition called hives. The culprit is the protein present in certain types of meat. If, for example, your dog is allergic to chicken, the immune system will release histamine, which will lead to itching and hives.
  • Seasonal allergies: Do you ever wonder why your dog’s scratching is at its worst during spring and fall? Your dog is most likely suffering from seasonal allergies. Exposure to pollens at springtime and exposure to molds and mildew during the colder months lead to incessant scratching and hives. The immune system is basically fighting off these inhaled allergens, which then causes skin problems such as hives.
  • Insect bites: There are insects or bugs out there which can make your dog suffer from skin problems such as hives. Such Examples are bees, ants and spiders, just to name a few. These can target either the nose or the feet of your furry pal.
  • Shampoos/soaps: Yes, that is true! Certain types of shampoos and soaps can lead to skin problems like hives. There are certain chemicals or ingredients in a dog shampoo/soap which can irritate the skin. In fact, a single use of that shampoo/soap can already produce signs of mild skin allergies and repeated usage may lead to hives.

    Examples of skin irritants are, among others, Benzyl alcohol, colorants, coal tar, cocomide DEA.
  • Immunization: Though this is rare, it is worth noting that dogs may react negatively to certain types of immunization. This usually occurs 48 hours after having been administered a vaccine. Plus, allergic reactions do not occur after the first shot, but rather after booster shots. Anti-rabies shots and Bordetella or kennel cough vaccination are the ones that can lead to allergic reactions. One of the symptoms of an allergic reaction to a booster immunization is hives.
  • Insecticides: There are many household chemicals that can cause your dog to suffer from hives. Examples are bleach, motor oil, lawn products such as fertilizers and fungicides, de-icing salts and even laundry detergents.
  • Plants: Unfortunately, not all plant species are safe for dogs. When ingested, these plants may lead to hives: Acacia shrubs, Mulberry tree, oak tree, Male juniper shrubs and for very sensitive dogs, and Bermuda grass, too.

How to know when your dog has hives? (Symptoms)

Now that you are already aware of the causes of hives, let me discuss with you the signs to watch out for to find out if your dog has hives. The mere redness or swelling that you may notice on your dog’s skin does not necessarily mean that your furry pal is suffering from hives. 

As a rule, hives develop 20 minutes after the dog was exposed to an allergen (for example, pollen). The hives look like raised and round, reddish bumps on the skin. These are very itchy, so you will see your dog scratch its body non-stop.

Then you will also begin to see that the face of your dog begins to swell. Since dogs are always curious, they smell anything that they come in contact with and as a result, it is on their faces where you can see most of the hives. On average, the size of a hive varies between 1 to 5 cm in diameter. However, in severe cases of hives, these small bumps may cluster into one big bump.

Your dog’s eyes can also be affected by hives. In such cases, you’ll notice that your dog may not be able to open its eyes completely because these are swollen.

Are hives in dog dangerous?

Do not panic right away if you notice that your dog is suffering from hives. Not all hives require emergency treatment. If the cause of the hives is eradicated, your dog will survive and fight off the infection on its own.  But if the symptoms still persist after two days, then it is time to go to the vet for specialized treatment.  

In fact, allergic reactions can be mild or severe. A mild allergic reaction can consist in mild swelling and a few hives on your dog’s skin. If that’s the case, you do not have to rush to the vet right away. You can wait for a day until the hives subside on their own or use home remedies to counteract the issue. By contrast, in severe cases, when your dog experiences difficulty breathing and severe swelling, then you definitely need to get emergency treatment.  

How are hives in dog diagnosed?

The vet will get a skin sample for microscopic examination. This is done to single out the cause of the redness and swelling and ensure it is hives, not another type of skin disease like mites. In some cases, the allergen can be injected into the dog’s skin to confirm the real cause of the hives.

What are the home treatments that you can use for mild forms of hives on dogs?

As I have said earlier, the mere presence of hives does not mean that you have to visit the vet right away. As long as your dog does not show any signs of breathing problems, you can try to get rid of hives at home. Here is what you can do about it:

  • Remove the root cause of hives. If the source is a plant, then place it in an area where your dog cannot touch it. If the root cause is food, then shift to another brand. In fact, I strongly advise that you shift to a single-protein diet so that it will be easier for you to identify which food protein your dog is allergic to.
  • Bathe your dog to remove all the allergens from its body. An oatmeal bath is highly advisable because it relives itchiness. Place a cup of oatmeal in a food processor and then add the pulverized oatmeal to your dog’s bath.
  • Give your dog diphenhydramine, which is the generic name for Benadryl. Administer 1 to 2 mg for every pound; so, if your dog weighs, for example, 25 pounds, then the dosage you need is 25 to 50 mg. If unsure, you can consult a vet.
  • Buy anti-inflammatory creams that contain hydrocortisone and apply them on the affected areas. Again, if you are unsure, it is always best to consult a vet.

Other homeopathic treatments of hives in dogs

Here are some additional tips on how to get rid of hives the natural way. Do not forget that these homeopathic treatments can only be applied for mild cases of hives (no signs of breathing difficulty).

  • Green tea: Steep two bags of green tea in hot water. After a few minutes, throw away the tea bags and allow the water to cool. Then pour the water on the affected areas and let it dry naturally.
  • Chamomile tea: Instead of green tea, use chamomile tea. The procedure is the same.
  • Apis mellifica: This contains bee venom and honey bee, and is very effective in reducing swelling and itchiness. Apis mellifica is available in online stores.
  • Baking soda: Make a paste by mixing one tablespoon of baking soda with half a tablespoon of water. Apply on the affected areas and then leave for an hour or two. Baking soda relieves itchiness caused by hives.

What are the treatments for serious cases of hives in dogs?

To find out if your dog is experiencing a serious case of hives, take note of the following:

  • Hives go away on their own after two days, provided that you have removed the allergen. If the hives still persist after two days, then immediate veterinarian care is required.
  • If the cause of hives is immunization, then your furry pal requires emergency care.

Depending on how severe the hives are, the vet will inject antihistamine shots or steroids. The effect of these shots is immediate and you will see a significant improvement in a matter of minutes. Now, if you arrive at the vet clinic with your dog having a hard time breathing (anaphylactic shock), an Epinephrine shot will be given to your dog right away. Fortunately, hives do not really pose a danger to the life of your dog. Once the symptoms have subsided, your dog is given a clean bill of health.

Can hives in dogs be prevented?

Yes, hives can be prevented as long as you know the root cause of the problem. For example, if the cause of hives is food, then you can opt for the elimination diet. Give your dog an entirely new food protein (could be beef, chicken, lamb, duck, etc.) for eight weeks. If there is a skin reaction, then try another food protein. I know this process can be tiring and costly, but it is one of the best ways to find out whether your dog is allergic to something.

If it is seasonal allergies your dog is confronted with, avoid outdoor walks during spring and autumn/fall. You can also look for hypoallergenic dog shampoo/soap which does not contain strong ingredients. Be aware of environmental factors like insects and plants so you can prevent your dog from suffering from hives again.

Conclusion

Most hives are non-life threatening. They will go away on their own once the allergens are eradicated. As a fur parent, you have to be very vigilant as to what is causing the hives. Observe the activities of your dog so you can decipher what it is that makes your dog itch. Your dog will recover from hives in no time once the culprit is recognized.

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