Skin Allergies in Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

Skin allergies are the most common types of allergies in dogs and also the most common reason pet parents seek veterinary advice.  Itching, obsessive scratching and overall discomfort can all be signs that your dog may be suffering from a skin allergy. Unfortunately, repeated scratching can cause his skin to become irritated and lead to possible other infections. The good news is, your vet can offer a variety of treatments to help your furry friend!


Causes of Skin Allergies

There are three main causes of skin allergies (called allergic dermatitis) in dogs – flea allergy dermatitis, food allergies, and environmental allergens. All three of these allergies pose the risk of secondary infection. As your dog scratches, licks and bites at his skin, he risks opening up his skin to bacterial infections which may require medical treatment. Here is an overview of the three main skin allergies:


Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Many dogs may be allergic to the saliva from fleas, which in turn brings on an allergic reaction to your pet. This condition can result in extremely itchy skin (especially at the base of the tail), and their skin may become red, scabbed and inflamed. If your dog does have fleas, thankfully, there are a variety of treatments available to help combat flea allergies.


Food Allergies

Sensitivity to some foods may cause your dog to have allergic reactions and itchy skin. Typically, the most commonly affected areas dogs with food allergies itch are around their ears and paws. They may also experience gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea or vomiting as a response to some types of foods.


Environmental Allergens

Dust, mold, pollen, weeds and grasses are the most common environmental allergens affecting dogs. Usually, these allergies are seasonal, so you may only notice your dog’s symptoms at certain times of the year. As with food allergies, the most commonly affected areas are the paws and ears.


Symptoms of Skin Allergies in Dogs

In general, dog skin allergies can result in a variety of symptoms including:

  • Frequent itching and scratching
  • Biting and gnawing at the skin
  • Red, inflamed skin or rashes
  • Excessive licking at paws or skin
  • Hair loss
  • Swollen face or paws
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, runny eyes


Keep in mind, severe skin allergies not only cause your dog discomfort, but may also cause secondary infections to develop. As your dog bites and scratches at his skin in response to the itching, yeast and bacterial infections may also develop through the sores. 


Diagnosing Allergies in Dogs

Just as with humans, diagnosing dog allergies is often a time-consuming and complicated process. If your veterinarian feels that an allergy is likely, he may propose allergy testing to try and determine the cause of the allergen causing your dog’s reaction.

Typically, the easiest allergy to diagnose is flea allergy dermatitis. It will be diagnosed by identifying fleas on your dog’s body and applying a product which kills fleas before they bite, to see if that solves the issues. 

Food allergies are often diagnosed using an elimination test, which can take several weeks to determine the outcome. 

Diagnosing environmental allergies can be performed by either blood testing or intradermal skin testing. If your veterinarian performs blood testing, a single blood sample is drawn and submitted to a laboratory for analysis. Intradermal skin testing involves injecting a small amount of pure allergen under the skin and measuring the allergic response. 


Treatment of Skin Allergies in Dogs

When possible, the best way to treat an allergy is by avoiding the cause of the allergen. However, since this is not always possible, your dog’s treatment will depend on his allergy type. Both mild and severe skin allergies can be treated using a variety of approaches. 

After your veterinarian has diagnosed the problematic allergen, he will provide a customized treatment plan to help your pet. In addition to any lifestyle changes (i.e., changing diet, elimination of fleas), your veterinarian may also prescribe an allergy relief medication that will help to control the signs associated with the allergic reaction, such as itching and licking the affected areas. Some of these treatments may include injectable, non-steroidal medications, daily pills, medicated baths or laser treatments. 


Ongoing Veterinary Care

Since most of your dog’s skin allergies require ongoing treatment, once your dog’s itching is under control, you should still maintain regular checkups with your veterinarian. This will determine the effectiveness of the treatment as well as to check for adverse reactions to allergy medication. If your dog’s skin allergies are left unaddressed, this may affect your dog’s temperament, leading to frustration and negative behavioral issues.



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