Dog Skin Allergy – Symptoms, Causes & Best Ways to Deal With It

A devoted pet parent, pet store manager and animal shelter volunteer. Read more about me here.

Think your dog might have been suffering from a dog skin allergy?

With us, humans, it’s easy to spot it - runny nose, watery eyes, rashes, and a lot of sneezing.

But dogs’ allergy symptoms are not so obvious. It’s easy to get them confused with other problems or fail to recognize them at all.

Below, you can learn more about how to determine whether your four-legged friend has a skin allergy and how to help it if so.

Types of Dog Skin Allergies

Allergies occur when your doggo’s immune system has a negative reaction to some substances. These substances are known as allergens. When your dog is exposed to them, their immune system will release histamines, chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.

Puppies may get more frequent allergies because their immune system is less strong.

That said, allergies are most likely to develop between 1 to 2 years of age, but some can develop later in your dog’s life if it overreacts to frequent exposure to a substance.

There are several types of dog skin allergies that your dog could have. 

Allergic reactions in dogs are most commonly classified into these main types:

  • Environmental allergies
  • Food allergies
  • Flea allergies
  • Inherited allergies

What makes the diagnosis even more challenging is that dogs can have multiple types of allergy (for instance, both food and flea allergy).

Environmental allergies (Inhalant and contact)

The cause of environmental allergies is usually air-borne substances. 

In other words, the route of the allergens that cause environmental allergies into your dog body is inhalant.

As such, it’s more difficult to control them and limit the exposure of your dog to them because they can be present in the air or seasonal. An example is a pollen allergy in the springtime. They can be as common as for people, and they usually start up in March, when trees bounce back to life.

In addition to inhalants, there are also contact environmental allergies. They are less common and occur when the dog has direct skin-to-allergen contact. Some examples include pesticides, some materials (e.g., synthetics, wool, certain types of bedding, or dog collars).

What’s characteristic of contact allergies is that they can usually develop at later stages of life if the dog is overexposed to a certain allergen.

Untreated environmental allergies can result in other chronic conditions, such as allergic bronchitis.

Food allergies

Food reactions are easier to treat than environmental allergies and can be cured by eliminating the particular food or add-on your dog is allergic to.

Hypersensitivity to food can develop for almost every food item, regardless of whether its composition is primarily protein or carbohydrate.

With food allergies, it’s crucial to determine what is the offending component in your pet’s diet so that you can eliminate it.

Bear in mind that it will take around eight weeks to completely eliminate food products from your dog’s body. So, if it didn’t eat a certain food item as recently, it doesn’t mean that you can completely tick it off the list of potential allergens.

Flea allergies

Flea allergies in dogs, also known as flea allergy dermatitis, occur as a consequence of fleabites.

Now, many pups get bitten by fleas and don’t get an allergic reaction, but only the usual tiny red dots that disappear after a few days. However, other dogs might react to flea bites more exaggeratedly than others.

The main cause of a strong response is that your dog is allergic to flea saliva.

Puppy itching because of allergies

Scratch, scratch, scratch...

If your dog suffers from this allergy, the reaction to bites will look much more severe, accompanied by a large red area around the bite. 

Bear in mind that it isn’t always easy to spot, especially if your dog has dense layers of coat. Aside from checking for bites, another way to determine if your dog is being attacked by these boring creatures is to look for them or their droppings (which are actually dried blood). The most common infested areas of your dog’s body are the neck, ears, abdomen, and base of the tail.

More rarely than fleas, other insects can cause an allergic reaction, too. Some examples include horseflies, black flies, ants, bees, hornets, wasps, and mosquitos. The culprit is that the dogs are sensitive to the substance injected into their skin when they are being bitten.

Inherited allergies (Atopic Dermatitis)

This type is not characterized by a certain kind of allergens but rather by the fact that allergies are passed down, especially from the female parent dog.

There has been evidence that the majority of allergies that are thought to be inherited cause canine atopy or canine atopic dermatitis.

Canine atopic dermatitis is characterized by itching and inflammation over the entire dog’s body. Unlike flea allergies, atopic dermatitis usually affects the feet, face, armpits, and front legs of dogs.

Most Common Dog Skin Allergy Symptoms

Dog sleeping on the floor

Hooman, I think I haiv an allergy, but am not sure…

Unfortunately, our dogs can’t tell us that something’s wrong.

But getting informed about the main symptoms of dog skin allergy will help you determine if there’s a need for a dog allergy test.

See how your dog’s symptoms match up against these big signs:

#1 - Your Dog Shows These Typical Symptoms

If your dog is showing the following symptoms, you are on the right track that it might have dog skin allergies:

  • Puffy eyelids. Runny and itchy eyes - just like in humans - is one of the main signs of an allergic reaction.
  • Swollen face, ears, earflaps. All of these are certain signs that your dog has an allergy.
  • Red and itchy skin. The inflammation causes the itching of the skin. It can be generalized (all over your dog’s body, easier to spot) and localized (in a particular area).
  • Frequent biting, scratching, rubbing, or licking. All of the above-mentioned skin symptoms cause discomfort and so can cause these additional symptoms. Dogs can rub their faces, scratch the irritated skin and lick their legs excessively.
  • Respiratory symptoms. Albeit skin symptoms are most frequent, in some cases, it might involve respiratory ones, too. Only occasionally, they include wheezing, coughing, and sneezing.

Gastrointestinal issues.  Another telltale - primarily of dog food allergies - is experiencing digestive system issues. These run a gamut from vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration to bloating and congestion.

Another tip-off for dog skin allergy is constant reverse sneezing after being exposed to the allergen:

There is much more to what dog allergy looks like. It’s best to get informed about all the possible manifestations so that you can help your dog should the need arise.

#2 - Your Dog Doesn’t Show These Symptoms

Don’t confuse your dog’s skin allergy with other skin diseases.

There’s a good chance it’s just a skin infection if your dog is experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Hair loss - Most commonly, hair loss doesn’t have to do anything with allergies and is caused by other underlying immune system diseases.
  • Dry hot spots - You might not be able to assess whether your dog’s skin rash is dry or not, so it’s best to take it to the vet, who will determine what’s the nature of the red spots. In general, bacterial skin infections and Malassezia infections (yeast infections) will cause different reactions than allergies, but it’s difficult to assess this on your own.
  • Dark discharge from your dog’s ear - This can coincide with your dog scratching at the ear, so it might make you think that it’s an allergy, but it is usually due to otitis externa (ear infections).

Another way to tell the difference between other skin infections and allergies is the duration of your dog’s symptoms. 

If it’s the first time you noticed the symptoms, they are mild, and they go away within a week, it’s usually not an allergy.

However, if the symptoms persist until you get rid of the trigger, or until they are treated - the probability that it’s a dog skin allergy is high.

Common Allergens in Dogs

There’s a myriad of substances that can be allergens for your dog.

Here’s a rundown of things that commonly cause dog skin allergies:

  • Pollens (oak, ash, cedar, grass, and weed pollens)
  • Mold spores
  • Mildew
  • Insect proteins (most commonly found in flea saliva)
  • Shed skin cells
  • House dust mites
  • Certain foods (dairy products, chicken, lamb, soy, wheat gluten, etc.)

I Think My Dog Has an Allergy. What Next?

So, if your dog is experiencing a combination of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s probably allergic to something.

Now, the next step is finding out what that something is.

Allergy Tests

The best way to find out is an allergy test. It will show what are the triggers for your dog’s skin allergies so that you can actively avoid them.

The infamous, standard dog skin allergy tests include:

  • Intradermal allergy tests (Injecting the allergen under the skin; your dog has to be shaved)
  • Skin scratch tests (introducing the allergen beneath the skin with a small scratch)
  • Blood or serum allergy tests (analyzing the blood sample in the lab; your dog needs to stop taking any allergy medication before the test)

All of these sound quite painful and/or itchy, don’t they?

Luckily, dog allergy tests have been much more developed nowadays and don’t have to be as discomforting for your dog or complicated to perform:

There are easy-to-perform hair sample dog allergy tests that you can do at home. All you need to do is take your dog’s hair sample (so no blood and painful injections) and send it in an envelope for professional analysis. You will receive results directly to your email address.

Booking the Vet Appointment

You don’t always need to go to the vet before you check if your dog is allergic to something, but please do make an appointment if you learn or strongly suspect that it is. 

Of course, in case that your dog has a severe allergic reaction, you should get it to an emergency vet clinic as soon as possible.

These are the so-called anaphylaxis or shock, immediate-type reactions that require instantaneous professional intervention.

Provided that you go to the vet knowing what triggers the allergies, it will likely be enough for them to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe the best treatment for your dog.

If the allergic immune reactions are left untreated, they can be very harmful to your dog’s body, so it’s vital to address the issue!

How to Treat Dog Skin Allergies

Once you identify the triggers, it’s always a good idea to try and avoid them whenever you can. However, sometimes it is impossible to eliminate the allergens altogether, especially if they are seasonal. On the other hand, food allergies only require changes in your dog’s diet.

All in all, your goal should be to limit exposure to the allergens as much as you can. If it’s not entirely possible, recurrent bouts are likely. But it’s of prime importance to be aware of the allergy and to get adequate treatment.

When allergen control isn’t possible, the veterinarian will probably prescribe antihistamines with essential fatty acids that improve the response to the medications or corticosteroids. The former is aimed at blocking allergic reactions, while the latter gives immediate relief.

Another thing you can use to soothe your dog’s inflamed skin is hypoallergenic shampoo.

Final Words - Goodbye, Itchy Skin

Dog looking at the camera

Dog skin allergies are definitely prime suspects if you notice that your dog is scratching without any reason, but it can get much more complex than that. The symptoms may not be obvious at all.

It’s all because your dog’s immune system is hypersensitive to a particular substance, i.e., an allergen.

Treating the root of the allergies is essential. It’s good that you dug into an investigation. Now you know how to spot those less noticeable symptoms and what are the next steps to take if you think your dog might have skin allergies!

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About the Author

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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