Dog Skin Allergies &
How To Deal with Them

Dog skin allergies are extremely common and can come from food, bugs or your dog's environment.

Most of us are familiar with the common allergy symptoms seen in humans such as sneezing, watery eyes, an itchy throat and skin rashes, just to name a few. 

And those that suffer are quite familiar with the frustrations that allergies can cause.

Similarly, your dog can show symptoms of their allergies in many ways, and skin reactions are a big one.

Let's practice the first step in dealing with dog skin allergies.


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Good job!  You’ve conquered the first step -- patience. 

There are numerous causes of dog skin allergies, so discovering which allergen is affecting your dog will take some trial and error.

The primary three causes are discussed on this page and include…

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Remember, you  can always ask our veterinarians for help directly via My Online Vet.  Submit a picture of your dog's skin problem along with the details of the situation and they'll get back to you right away with the best course of action.

Links to questions and answers about dog allergies submitted by other visitors can be found at the bottom of this page.

Dog Food Allergy

We have an entire page devoted to this topic here: Dog with Dog Food Allergy.  

Here are the basics...

Dog skin allergies resulting from food are caused by one or more of the ingredients in your dog's food or treats.

What are the most common allergens?

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They're ingredients found in many dog foods...

  • Beef products
  • Chicken
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Milk products
  • Soy
  • Wheat

It’s not clear exactly what causes some dogs to develop a food allergy.  In certain cases a dog may experience a change in their immune system, causing certain ingredients to be perceived as foreign even if they are not harmful.  

What does the body do?  It attacks the “intruders”, often times in the form of dog skin allergies.

So how does your dog develop a food allergy in the first place?  Can they be born with it or does it always just develop over time?

Both!  Dog food allergies can be genetic or come about as their body’s systems change with age.

Dog skin problems aren’t the only symptom of a dog food allergy.  Your dog could also experience…

  • Licking - most often they will lick and chew their paws, groin area and armpits.
  • Dog ear infection - can be painful for the dog, they may scratch at the ear, rub it along the floor or frequently and dramatically tilt their head to one side.
  • Dog diarrhea
  • Digestive problems - might show in a loss of appetite or unpredictable bowel movements (see our Dog Diarrhea and Dog Constipation pages for more on this)

Now on to the patience part…

The only way for you and your veterinarian to determine the cause of your dog’s food allergy is to put your dog on a hypoallergenic or elimination diet for a minimum of 8-12 weeks.

The new diet will consist of ingredients not found in your dog’s previous food.  The source of protein in the food is the usual cause of the allergy, so by substituting a different source of protein such as venison, fish or duck, you may find that the allergic symptoms improve.

Introduce one new ingredient at a time.  If your dog’s body reacts to one, you’ll know the culprit.

Figuring out the allergen at home is also relatively easy to due through the use of homemade dog food recipes.

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Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Dogs suffering from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) despise fleas even more than you and your family do!

This form of dog skin allergy is a skin disease caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva. For dogs with this condition, it only takes one bite to trigger intense itching and discomfort.

How can you tell if your dog suffers from flea allergy dermatitis?

Dogs who are allergic to flea bites often chew and bite their backs, legs, bellies and tails. This biting can lead to a skin condition called hot spots, in which the dog's hair falls out in a specific area and is often accompanied by a rash, bumps and bleeding.

dog skin allergies

The good news is that figuring out if your dog has FAD is much easier than finding a dog food allergen…

First, determine whether your dog has fleas.   If you do find them, follow our advice on our Dog Flea Medicine page.  Give the treatment and prevention options at least several weeks to work. 

If you see no improvement, it’s time for a trip to the vet.  A vet can test your dog’s skin to determine whether fleas are indeed the cause.

dog skin rash

Note that symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis can mirror other conditions such as parasites, skin diseases, and other allergies.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis Treatment

The key to a healthy and happy itch-free dog is to get rid of the fleas. Fortunately there are many natural ways to flea-proof your dog, your home and your yard.

In the mean time, you'll need to cure the skin areas already affected. DERMagic Cell Restoration Creme is a great option.

For examples and pictures of dogs with flea allergy dermatitis, see the allergy-related questions submitted by other visitors to My Online Vet at the bottom of this page.

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Atopy in Dogs

Atopy is an allergic condition that effects 15% of all dogs. It usually develops when they are between 1 and 3 years old, but it can be present anywhere from age 4 months to 7 years. 

Atopy is just a fancy way of saying that your dog is allergic to various environmental allergens such as pollen, molds, house dust mites and animal dander.

As with a dog food allergy, it can be genetic or come about over time, but there are specific breeds that seem to be more susceptible.  If your dog is a Terrier, Setter, Retriever, Dalmatian or Chinese Shar-Pei, they are more likely to suffer from this kind of allergy.

Itching is the primary symptom, especially around the face, feet, lower chest and belly.  And frequent scratching can cause hair loss and hot spots to develop.

Certain ear problems can also develop in dogs suffering from atopy.  Keeping your dog's ears clean and healthy can help to lessen the irritation. 

How are dog skin allergies in the form of atopy diagnosed?

As with flea allergy dermatitis, atopy can be a tricky condition to diagnose because its symptoms mirror those of so many other issues.

Your veterinarian will start with a process of elimination, ruling out other causes of itching such as fleas, mites, lice, bacterial and yeast infections and food allergies. 

Blood tests can be performed to help pinpoint the cause of the itching.  It is also important to bring your vet a detailed description of your pet’s history.  Sometimes, diagnosing a disorder is like putting together a puzzle; it requires all of the pieces to create an accurate image. 

So how can atopy be treated?

Helpful Herbs for Atopic Dogs

  • Green Tea
  • Cleavers
  • Licorice
  • Yellow Dock
  • Albizzia
  • Burdock
  • Oregon grape & root
  • Nettle
  • Red clover

Unfortunately, atopy is a lifelong condition, and, for now, there is no known cure.  But there are a number of ways to help manage the problem…

  • Anti-itch therapies are a good way to help alleviate the stress and discomfort your dog experiences.
  • If you and your vet have been able to determine the source of the allergy, then try your best to keep your dog away from it.  This can be difficult, considering many of the sources are airborne, but give it your best shot.
  • Immunotherapy is an option.  It uses a series of injections to gradually build your dog’s immunity. 
  • Put your dog on a dog elimination diet
  • Try including fish oil or flax oil in your dog’s diet.  Up to 40 percent of atopic dogs respond well to essential fatty acids.
  • Control the dust mites in your home by covering mattresses and dog beds with a dust mite cover, vacuuming often, keeping your dog out of dusty areas and washing dog toys in hot water weekly. 
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acupuncture dogCan't find your exact issue on this page? Our veterinarians will answer your specific question no later than tomorrow... click here to ask a veterinarian via My Online Vet.

You can also review related questions from other visitors here: Ask a Vet Online Library - Dog Skin Rashes, Marks, Spots, Lesions & Patches (including itchy skin and mange) Section

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