Dog Skin Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Wyndly Care Team
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How do you treat a dog with skin allergies?

Treating a dog with skin allergies involves identifying the allergen, providing relief with topical treatments or antihistamines, and possibly changing the diet. Regular bathing with hypoallergenic shampoos can also help. In chronic cases, immunotherapy might be recommended by your veterinarian.

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What Causes Skin Allergies in Dogs?

Skin allergies in dogs are generally caused by environmental factors, food allergies, and flea allergy dermatitis. These factors lead to an overactive immune response, which results in allergic symptoms. Each of these causes varies in their presentation and treatment methods.

Environmental Factors

Environmental allergens such as pollen, dust, mold, and grass can trigger skin allergies in dogs, leading to symptoms like itching, redness, and inflammation. Contact with certain materials like plastic or rubber can also cause allergic reactions. This condition, known as atopic dermatitis, can be seasonal or year-round, depending on the allergen involved. It's important to identify these triggers to manage your dog's skin allergies effectively.

Food Allergies

Food allergies in dogs can cause skin reactions, including hives, itching, and redness. Common food allergens for dogs include beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish. It's crucial to identify the specific allergen through an elimination diet or allergy testing to provide the right treatment for your dog's skin allergies.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Flea allergy dermatitis is a common cause of skin allergies in dogs. It is an allergic reaction to flea saliva and can cause severe itching, redness, and inflammation. Even a single flea bite can trigger a reaction in a sensitive dog, making flea control a crucial component in the management of your dog's skin allergies.

What Are the Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs?

Allergic reactions in dogs usually manifest as skin-related issues. The most common symptoms include skin irritation, excessive scratching, and hair loss. These symptoms can vary in severity, and the location of these symptoms can provide clues as to the cause of the allergy.

Skin Irritation

Skin irritation, also known as dermatitis, is a common symptom of allergies in dogs. Irritated skin may appear red, swollen, or have a rash. Dogs may also develop hives or sores due to excessive scratching. These symptoms can occur anywhere on the body, but they are most commonly found on the paws, face, underarms, ears, and belly.

Excessive Scratching

Excessive scratching is often the first sign of an allergic reaction in dogs. Dogs may scratch, lick, or chew at their skin to relieve the itchiness caused by allergies. If you notice your dog scratching more than usual, it may be a sign of an allergic reaction. If left untreated, this can lead to more serious skin conditions, including infections.

Hair Loss

Hair loss in dogs can be a result of chronic scratching and licking due to allergies. This symptom often occurs alongside other symptoms like redness and inflammation. Hair loss from allergies is typically patchy and may be accompanied by other changes in the skin, such as darkening or thickening. If you notice hair loss in your dog, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

What Types of Allergic Reactions Can Dogs Have?

Dogs can have two types of allergic reactions: immediate and delayed. Both types can cause discomfort and distress in dogs, and they can be triggered by various factors such as environmental allergens, food, and fleas.

Immediate Reactions

Immediate reactions, also known as type I hypersensitivity, occur within minutes of exposure to an allergen. This type of reaction is typically severe and can lead to symptoms such as hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis. The proteins found in a dog's skin cells and body fluids can cause such immediate allergic reactions, as detailed here.

Delayed Reactions

Delayed reactions, or type IV hypersensitivity, take longer to appear, usually 48 to 72 hours after exposure to the allergen. These reactions are often less severe but can cause chronic issues if the allergen is not identified and avoided. Delayed reactions often manifest as skin issues, such as redness, itching, and hair loss. Dog dander, for instance, can cause such delayed allergic reactions.

How Are Allergies Diagnosed in Dogs?

Allergies in dogs are typically diagnosed through two primary methods: allergy testing and an elimination diet. It's crucial to accurately diagnose the allergen to provide effective treatment and improve the dog's quality of life.

Allergy Testing

Allergy testing in dogs usually involves skin testing or blood testing. Skin tests, also known as intradermal skin tests, involve injecting small amounts of allergens under the dog's skin to check for reactions. Dog allergy blood tests measure the amount of IgE antibodies in the dog's blood when exposed to specific allergens. Both tests help identify the substances causing the allergic reactions.

Elimination Diet

If a food allergy is suspected, the vet may recommend an elimination diet. This diet involves feeding the dog a specific diet, usually a hypoallergenic diet, for a certain period. Then, different foods are gradually reintroduced to see which one triggers the allergic reactions. This process helps pinpoint the exact food allergens affecting the dog. For more information on diagnosing dog allergies, visit this guide.

What Are the Treatment Options for Dogs with Allergies?

Treatment options for dogs with allergies depend on the type of allergy and the severity of the symptoms. Some treatments focus on providing immediate relief, while others aim to reduce the overall allergic response over time.


Medication is often the first-line treatment for dog allergies. Antihistamines can help alleviate itching and inflammation, while corticosteroids can offer more potent relief for severe symptoms. Topical treatments like creams and shampoos can also provide relief, especially for skin-related symptoms. Some dogs might need prescription medication, so it's essential to consult with a vet for the most suitable treatment.

Allergy Shots

Allergy shots, also known as allergen immunotherapy, involve regular injections of the allergen in gradually increasing doses to desensitize the dog's immune system. Over time, this treatment can reduce the severity of the allergic reactions and might even eliminate them altogether. Wyndly's guide to dog allergy treatment provides more information on this treatment method.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a non-invasive alternative to allergy shots. It involves placing a small amount of the allergen under the dog's tongue to stimulate an immune response. SLIT is a long-term treatment that can help manage chronic allergies and is often recommended for dogs that cannot tolerate allergy shots.

Natural Remedies

In addition to conventional treatments, natural remedies can help manage dog skin allergies. Essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 can improve skin health and decrease inflammation. Probiotics can also help by supporting gut health and strengthening the immune system. Always consult with a vet before starting any natural treatment regimen. For more comprehensive information about managing dog allergies, check out Wyndly's ultimate guide to dog allergies.

What to Know About Allergy Medicine for Dogs?

When it comes to administering allergy medicine for dogs, it is essential to understand that not all medications are safe for all dogs. The selection of appropriate medication depends on the dog's specific allergy, its severity, and the dog's overall health condition.

Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can be effective for mild to moderate allergies. However, they may cause side effects like sedation or hyperactivity. Always consult your vet before administering over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines to your dog.

For more severe allergies, your vet may prescribe corticosteroids. These powerful anti-inflammatory drugs can provide quick relief for acute allergic reactions. However, they can cause significant side effects, especially with long-term use. Therefore, they are usually used as a short-term treatment.

Allergy immunotherapy, either through allergy shots or sublingual drops, can be beneficial for dogs with severe and chronic allergies. This treatment aims to desensitize the dog's immune system to the allergen, reducing the severity of the allergic reactions over time.

While allergy medicine can provide relief for your dog's symptoms, it's essential to remember that managing a dog's allergies often involves more than just medication. A comprehensive approach, including environmental control measures, regular grooming, and a balanced diet, can help keep your dog's allergies under control. For more information on managing dog allergies, visit Wyndly's ultimate guide to dog and cat allergies.

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If you want long-term relief from your allergies, Wyndly can help. Our doctors will help you identify your allergy triggers and create a personalized treatment plan to get you the lifelong relief you deserve. Start by taking our quick online allergy assessment today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is allergic dermatitis in dogs?

Allergic dermatitis in dogs is an inflammatory skin condition triggered by an allergic reaction. The allergens can be food, fleas, or environmental factors like pollen or dust mites. Symptoms include intense itching, redness, skin lesions, hair loss, and recurring skin infections. It's a common canine skin problem.

What is the most common skin allergy in dogs?

The most common skin allergy in dogs is Atopic Dermatitis, an inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with environmental allergens. Dogs affected by this condition may exhibit symptoms like itching, redness, and skin infections, often affecting the paws, ears, wrists, ankles, and muzzle.

How do you figure out what your dog is allergic to?

To figure out what your dog is allergic to, a vet will typically perform allergy testing. This could include blood tests or skin prick tests. The test results will identify specific allergens, which could range from certain foods to environmental factors like dust or pollen.

Which dogs have the worst skin allergies?

Breeds prone to skin allergies include Bulldogs, Retrievers, Terriers (especially West Highland White Terriers), and Shar-Peis. These breeds often suffer from atopic dermatitis, a skin allergy condition. The severity and onset of allergies can vary, influenced by factors such as diet, environment, and genetics.

What does dermatitis look like on a dog?

Dermatitis in dogs typically appears as redness, swelling, and inflammation on the skin. Affected areas may have bumps, blisters, or scaly patches. The dog may excessively lick, scratch, or chew these areas, causing hair loss. Lesions, crusts, or sores may also develop with severe dermatitis.

What does a dog allergy rash look like?

A dog allergy rash can appear as red, irritated skin, often accompanied by hives or raised bumps. It's typically itchy and can occur anywhere on the body, but is most common on the face, neck, or area of contact. It can also include symptoms like swelling or eczema.

What is the best medicine for dog skin allergy?

The best medication for dog skin allergies largely depends on the specific allergen and your dog's condition. Common treatments may include antihistamines, corticosteroids, or topical creams. Prescription medications like Apoquel or Cytopoint are often effective. Always consult your vet for a suitable treatment plan.

Is Benadryl or Zyrtec better for dogs?

Both Benadryl and Zyrtec can be used safely for dogs, but their effectiveness varies. Benadryl is typically used for acute symptoms like hives or bee stings, while Zyrtec is often recommended for chronic conditions like atopic dermatitis. Always consult your vet before giving any medication.

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