Treating Dog Hives at Home: 5 Steps From Our Vet

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veterinarian doing a physical exam of a pembroke welsh corgi

Dog hives definitely carry a certain wow factor in their appearance and sudden onset, even for seasoned veterinarians. Dog owners may be wowed and even a little scared about seeing hives in their dogs. Fortunately, we’re here to help you identify dog hives and give some tips on how you can help at home as well as when to get to the vet.

What do hives look like in dogs?

Medically speaking, dog hives are a condition called urticaria. They are often the result of an allergic reaction and so can show up on different parts of the body depending on what the allergen is. For example, hives from a contact allergy to a chemical may only be seen on lighter haired parts of the body like the face, ears, lips, and belly because the thicker hair protects the rest of the skin. For an allergen that is eaten or inhaled, you may see hives popping up all over your dog.

Hives typically look like raised, red welts. These welts may range in size from ¼” to more than 1” in diameter. There may be many little ones or just a few larger ones, as shown on the image below.

hives on a Basenji dog's back

Hives may be easily visible on lighter haired parts of the body and more difficult to see in longer-haired pups. In the longer-haired parts, you may notice small tufts of hair standing up over your dog’s back and sides that when you touch them feel like a raised bump.

Dog with hives

The welts may feel warm to the touch and are usually very itchy.

Dog hives can also cause swelling, especially in the mouth, lips and face.

What causes dog hives?

Dog hives most often come from an allergic reaction to various allergens. These allergens may be something that your dog came in contact in their environment, inhaled or ingested. Some of those include:

  • Lawn and cleaning chemicals
  • Pollen, mold, dust
  • Food-both human and dog
  • Medications
  • Vaccinations
  • Insect bites, stings

Are dog hives an emergency?

Most of the time dog hives show up very quickly and also disappear very quickly. Mild to moderate cases may only last for a few hours, while more severe cases may need veterinary care and take longer to get rid of.

The itchiness that usually accompanies dog hives make your dog uncomfortable but rarely in serious danger. However, if your dog is experiencing hives and swelling of the face, mouth, or nose, there is a possibility that your dog’s breathing could be affected. If a pup is having difficulty breathing due to hives or the allergic reaction, seek veterinary care immediately.

5 steps to treat your dog’s hives at home [vet recommended]

Since most cases of dog hives aren’t a serious, immediate concern, you can often start treating them at home first. Of course, if your pup is having swelling of the face or mouth or having issues breathing, or any other signs of illness, get them to a vet as soon as possible. Otherwise:

1. If you happen to know what brought on your dog’s hive-great! Remove that allergen right away. The more likely scenario is that you won’t know exactly what caused it, and that’s ok.

2. If you suspect a contact allergen is to blame, you may start by bathing your pup with a gentle soap to remove as much of the irritant as possible. You’ll know to suspect a contact if the hives are more severe on the lighter haired parts of the body or if they just showed up when your pup was around something new.

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3. From there, and for other types of allergens, you may apply a cool compress, such as a wet towel, to help quiet the itching and cool the warmness.

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4. If you contact your veterinarian, they may advise you to give an antihistamine. Don’t do this unless directed by your vet as you want to make sure to give the right product at the right dose.

5. Call your vet if your dog experiences a severe allergic reaction, including hives. You may also want to have a checkup if your dog has shown up with hives more than once in a short time.

How do I know if I need to take my dog to the vet for hives?

Most cases of dog hives are going to pop up, look terrible, feel itchy and then go away, all within the course of a few hours to less than one day. But that doesn’t mean that dog hives can be ignored. See your vet immediately if your dog is having any kind of difficulty breathing. This can mean heavy panting, wheezing, trouble getting enough air, or not wanting to exercise.

You’ll also want to see your vet if your pup gets heavy swelling of the mouth, nose, or face even if they aren’t having trouble breathing. This is because the swelling can continue to increase and start to affect the airways.

Another reason to make a veterinary appointment is if your dog’s hives don’t go away or start to get worse within a couple hours. Contact your vet if you’re noticing hives more than once within a short time as it could indicate that your pup needs a change in their diet or medications.

If your dog recovers from hives at-home without any issues, just be sure to mention it to your vet the next time you’re there.

Veterinary treatment for dog hives & prognosis

Your vet’s aim will be to reduce the swelling caused by hives so that your pup can breathe easy. They will also want to cut down on the itching and discomfort.

Treatment

To do this, your vet may give a dog with hives an injection of antihistamines or other anti-inflammatories. Most of the time, this step works like magic to bring quick relief to your dog and your worried mind.

More serious cases may require fluids and other supportive treatments, including hospitalization.

If your dog’s hives are a recurrent issue, your vet may recommend allergy testing, an elimination diet, or long-term allergy treatment to get things under control.

Look to spend $50-$100 for simple cases of hives and $200 or more for more severe issues.

Prognosis

Most dogs are going to recover very quickly from hives at home. Those that do go to the vet recover quickly as well after a dose of antihistamines or anti-inflammatories. A very small number of dogs may experience anaphylaxis.

How long before my dog’s hives go away?

Most dog hives are going to come and go within a few hours, and sometimes veterinary treatments will handle them within a few minutes. It’s all going to depend on the degree of reaction that your dog is experiencing. If you’re at all concerned, contact your veterinarian.

FAQ

Can I give my dog Benedryl for hives?

Antihistamines are a great way to help get dog hives under control. However, you don’t want to give Benedryl or any other antihistamine without consent from your vet first to make sure your dog is healthy enough for the medication and that you get the right dose.

What if Benedryl isn’t working for dog hives?

If your vet advises you to give your dog Benedryl for hives and it doesn’t start to show some improvement within a few hours, call your vet. They will more than likely want to see your dog to find out why the medication isn’t working.

Are there topical creams that can be safely used to help with dog hives?

Your vet may recommend applying a topical anti-inflammatory or antihistamine to your dog’s hives. However, you don’t want to put anything on your dog without first talking to your vet.

Can I use natural remedies for dog hives?

Using a topical vitamin E lotion may provide some relief for the itchiness that comes with dog hives, just be sure to talk to your veterinarian first. Bathing with an oatmeal soap may also provide some relief.

Author

  • Dr Chyrle Bonk, Veterinarian

    Dr. Chyrle Bonk received her Master in Animal Science from the University of Idaho and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University in 2010. She has over 10 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice, working for a veterinary clinic in Idaho.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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