Dog Anaphylactic Shock – How To Efficiently Diagnose & Treat Your Pet

By Michael Tarran

November 23, 2021

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Experiencing an anaphylactic reaction is scary enough for humans. Still, somehow it's ten times more terrifying when your beloved pet is going through it - they're probably terrified and have no idea what's going on, and they rely on you for help.

And for this reason, you must act quickly if it ever comes to that horrible scenario. Since you're here informing yourself about anaphylactic shocks in dogs, I can tell you right now that you're doing a great job. 

It's the first step toward being ready to help your friend in an instant and make sure the entire situation doesn't traumatize them to the worst extent. 

So, without further ado, let's dive into this guide to dog anaphylactic shock - and discuss how to help your pet if necessary!

Allergies Explained

anaphylactic reaction

To understand anaphylactic shocks better, you first need to understand what allergies are, in the first place:

Allergic reactions essentially occur when the body's immune system reacts abnormally to a chemical that it incorrectly interprets as a threat. 

An allergic reaction is usually triggered by the body being exposed to something that triggers the immunological response. However, it is possible to have an idiopathic response with no known cause. 

In most cases, the allergen is touched, inhaled, consumed, or injected.

How can it be injected, you might ask?

Well, it can happen by accident during routine vaccination - or an insect sting could cause it, for example.

What Is An Anaphylactic Shock In Dogs?

sick dog

Anaphylactic reactions, also known as anaphylaxis, are severe cases of life-threatening allergic reactions to a foreign substance, most commonly a foreign protein known as an allergen or antigen.

It's more than a sneezing fit, though. Anaphylaxis in dogs is a potentially life-threatening condition, and it is an emergency that requires urgent action by a veterinary medicine professional to avoid the dog's death.

That said, this is a potentially fatal allergic reaction that can be averted - but you must recognize the symptoms on time.

Knowing the symptoms and how to recognize them could save your dog's life - literally.

What To Do When Your Dog's In Anaphylactic Shock?

There are several crucial things to know in terms of what to do if you ever find yourself in this kind of medical emergency.

If your dog's in anaphylactic shock, the first thing you should do is remain cool and engage with them as you normally would, attempting to show calmness. 

If your dog is scared, it'll take on that stress and breathe faster - which is something you have to prevent.

Moreover, any movement of the animal's body must be carried out with extreme cautionYou must ensure that your dog takes the position it desires and demands, preferably one in which it can breathe comfortably. 

The only time you should intervene is if your dog stops breathing while being driven to the veterinarian.

What Can Cause An Anaphylactic Reaction In Dogs?

Hold on to your seat as this next part will be perhaps a tad too scientific, but it's still crucial that you understand the nature of this condition. 

Here's a short explanation as to how dogs' anaphylaxis happens.

For starters, previous exposure to the harmful chemical is required for an anaphylactic reaction to take place. 

A typical example is a dog stung by a bee - a known allergen - who develops a bee sting allergy later in life. A short-term localized reaction happens when the dog is stung for the first time. 

The immune system will respond by producing Immunoglobulin E (IgE), a protein that attaches to the surface of mast cells.  

The redness and swelling (hives) that you see at the sting site are caused by mast cells. At this stage, the animal is said to be sensitized to the toxicity of the bee.

The sensitized mast cells will recognize the foreign protein (bee toxin) the second time the dog is stung and release its contents in a process known as mast cell degranulation and activation. 

Localized allergic reactions, such as severe swelling at the location of the bee-stung, will occur in milder cases of anaphylaxis. 

However, the localized reaction in severe reactions causes the contents of mast cells to spread throughout the body - culminating in systemic anaphylaxis. 

It's essential to be aware that systemic anaphylaxis is uncommon, while localized allergy responses are more common.

Any foreign substance, in theory, can cause an allergic response. Food proteins, insect bites, drugs, vaccine antigens, environmental contaminants, and chemicals are the most common causes of anaphylaxis.

It's crucial to remember that anaphylaxis is a rare event. The body's immune system reacts badly to the foreign protein or chemical, causing an exaggerated response.

I get that it's hard watching your dog suffer from such a severe allergic reaction, so let's get straight to the most important part of this article:

What are the clinical signs and how to recognize them?

What Are The Symptoms Of Anaphylaxis In Dogs?

tired dog drooling

Unlike humans, canine hypersensitivity patients can't tell you when they experience sudden onset hypersensitivity reactions or an allergic shock. They will simply show symptoms - and it's up to you to recognize them and react quickly.

Common clinical signs are influenced mainly by the amount of antigen, the mode of exposure (mouth, skin, inhalation, injection, etc.), and the intensity of your dog's IgE response.

The most typical clinical signs of anaphylaxis in dogs include:

  • Itching
  • Red skin swellings called wheals or hives
  • A swollen face or snout
  • Excessive salivation or drooling
  • Gastrointestinal signs - vomiting and diarrhea
  • Blepharitis

Also, your pup will have trouble breathing and could be cyanotic if it has systemic anaphylaxis. "Cyanotic" means it will have a bluish color to the tongue and gums, by the way. 

A dog suffering from an anaphylactic reaction may have difficulty breathing, resulting in stridor. Stridor is a tremendously sharp sound - like severe asthma - that is induced by laryngeal irritation.

If this happens, your dog could go into a coma and die if not treated immediately.

Heart murmurs are another condition you should keep an eye on; learn more about it here.

Diagnosing Anaphylaxis

To diagnose anaphylaxis, vets have to use a medical history of recent exposure to an aggravating substance and the existence of distinctive clinical symptoms.

Blood pressure, clotting factors, and various blood tests may suggest elevated liver enzymes and dehydration in extreme cases.

Furthermore, an enlarged liver, gallbladder wall abnormalities, edema in the gallbladder wall, and fluid around the major organs can all be seen on an abdominal ultrasound.

That is all something your vet will check. Intradermal skin testing and IgE blood tests may be used for cutaneous signs of allergies to detect particular allergens.

Test Your Dog At Home - Quick & Pain-Free

If you want to take extra precautionary steps, there is a way to test your dog at home. As always, I did a ton of research until I came upon one particular home kit allergy test - the 5Strands Pet 335 Test for Dogs

This one is a 100% accurate allergy test that is affordable and recommended by dermatologists and veterinarians!

Oh, and it tests against 300 allergens. Whatever allergy your little furry friend suffers from, this test will be able to tell you. I won't bore you with details, though - you can read literally all about it HERE.

Anaphylactic Shock In Dogs: Treatment & Recovery 

treating anaphylactic reaction

Treatment 

I'm sure you know that an acute allergic reaction is a medical emergency that requires quick medical attention and immediate treatment. 

The first step, wherever possible, is to remove the triggering substance, such as a bee's stinger.

The dog is then stabilized to prevent or reduce systemic shock or cardiogenic shock by keeping the airway open and maintaining blood flow and circulation. 

Intravenous fluids, a breathing tube, and emergency medications including epinephrine, corticosteroids, atropine, or aminophylline are frequently required. 

Antihistamines and possibly corticosteroids might do the job in milder cases, followed by 24-48 hours of watchful observation.

Of course, the treatment required to treat this shock will be available at the vet's office. Even particular medical procedures, such as aggressive fluid therapy or oxygen administration, might be needed, too.

Don't worry; your vet will know what to do.

That's why, if you fear your dog is experiencing an anaphylactic reaction, take them to a veterinarian immediately and make sure they receive medication.

Bear in mind your vet may want to keep your dog overnight for a physical examination or so they can be monitored closely.

Important Note:

If your pooch stops breathing on the way to the vet, try artificial respiration or cardiac resuscitation (CPR).

Recovery

If treated quickly, most dogs will usually recover completely from an allergic reaction with no side effects. 

However, steps such as diet, medication, and lifestyle modifications may be required to prevent a recurrence of a reaction episode. 

These should be strictly followed because any anaphylactic reaction can be fatal, especially since emergency medical treatment for a dog is more complicated than it is for a human. 

Since new allergies can develop fast, it's essential to keep a close eye on your dog's reactions whenever it tries a new food or medication to prevent any severe cases.

Precautions Against Anaphylactic Shock In Dogs

woman holding a puppy

They don't say "better safe than sorry" for nothing. It's better to take the necessary precautions to avoid ever getting in such a scary situation. 

So, what are some measures you can take in this particular case?

The most important piece of advice is to stay away from any known allergens if at all possible. 

That's, of course, easier said than done.

There are a million things that can potentially cause allergies, and you won't know until they happen - unless you test your dog, that is. Scroll up for more info on that!

If you already know about physical factors that your dog is allergic to, it's vital to stay away from them, be it outside factors, vaccines, foods that cause skin allergies - you get the picture. 

Exposing your pet to potential allergens is not worth it. What if you don't manage to get to the vet in time for them to administer the necessary medicine?

It can have fatal consequences.

If your dog is allergic to stings or insect bites, feel free to ask your vet about an Epipen, a tiny syringe that contains adrenaline. You can take an Epipen on walks or with you when your dog is outside and use it if an allergic response occurs.

Of course, make sure to inform yourself first on how and when to use an Epipen. And remember: 

Even if you use the Epipen, you'll still need to see a veterinarian right away.

It's hard to determine which substance can cause anaphylactic shock in dogs. There are, however, strategies to avoid scenarios where this reaction could happen.

Make sure never to administer medication or vaccinations to your dog without first consulting a veterinarian. You never know when they can have a severe reaction to it. 

Furthermore, if your dog has ever had an immune response to a drug, it should be noted in its medical history and never given to it again. That means you have to keep careful track of your dog's allergies.

Take note of any seasonal allergies, skin allergies, and limit repeated exposure to those allergens.

Summary

Since this is a super important subject, and your dog's life can literally depend on your knowledge of it, let's sum up the key points:

RECOGNIZE THE CLINICAL SIGNS

  • Itching (sometimes accompanied by bitting the paws)
  • Hot spots on dog's skin
  • A swollen face or snout
  • Increased salivation or drooling (and a runny nose)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Respiratory signs - difficulty breathing
  • Bluish color to the tongue and gums
  • Stridor - sharp sound

Did you know that dogs can develop black spots on the skin and loss of fur due to atopic dermatitis, too?

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG'S IN ANAPHYLAXIS

  • Stay calm
  • Engage with your dog normally
  • Make sure they don’t breathe too fast
  • Move their body extremely carefully
  • Make sure they are comfortable
  • Rush them to the vet ASAP

HOW TO PREVENT ANAPHYLACTIC REACTIONS IN DOGS

  • Never administer medication or vaccinations to your dog without supervision.
  • Stay away from known allergens.
  • Ask your vet about carrying an Epipen.
  • Keep careful track of your dog’s allergies.

Anaphylaxis in Dogs - Conclusion

happy dog

Seeing your dog going through an allergic shock will probably be the most terrifying experience ever.

Just keep in mind, as much as it is scary for you, experiencing a hypersensitivity reaction is ten times worse for your furry friend.

They rely on you to help them survive it, so go over this article again if necessary until you know everything by heart. That's the only way you'll be able to react quickly - and save your dog's life. 

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Michael Tarran

About Me

I'm a devoted pet parent to two lovely creatures – Charlie the Cat and Jimmy the Dog – a full-time assistant pet store manager, and an animal shelter volunteer. I've gathered knowledge about pets for almost a decade, and it all started in a small store called Jack's Pets.

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