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Dog Skin Allergies: Beat the Itch With These Tips

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Dogs can develop allergies just like their favorite two-legged humans. Their symptoms are similar to ours and include everything from sneezing and itching to watery eyes and irritated skin. Skin allergies are particularly worrisome as they can develop into more serious conditions, including bacterial infections, if your dog scratches too much. 

Fortunately, there are many safe and natural home remedies you can use to ease allergy symptoms in your dog. In some cases, you may also need to take your pup to your veterinarian for help developing the most effective treatment plan. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of dog skin allergies, symptoms, and treatments, plus tips on what you can do at home and when you should head to the vet.

Types of Dog Skin Allergies

Dog skin allergies: A puppy sniffs a flower

While many of the symptoms are similar, not all skin allergies are the same. Some are caused by food while others are the result of critter infestations or environmental factors. All types of dog skin allergies can lead to skin infections like hot spots if left untreated. Some dog breeds, like golden retrievers, boxers, dalmatians, and Boston terriers are more likely to develop allergies. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of dog skin allergies and the main causes.

Food Allergies

Some dogs may be allergic to ingredients in their food or medications. Beef, chicken, dairy, wheat, and lamb are the most common causes of food allergies in dogs. Dogs who are allergic to something in their food may display itchy skin on their paws and ears. They also tend to display gastrointestinal problems including vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea

These allergies are difficult to diagnose at home. It’s best to bring your furry friend to the veterinarian. Your vet can help you determine the underlying cause using allergy tests or challenge diets. 

Challenge diets focus on removing the main offenders and adding them back in one-by-one to identify which ingredient is causing the allergic reaction. While some companies market hypoallergenic foods, there is no such thing as truly hypoallergenic dog food. Instead, look for a dog food that is labeled as a “limited ingredient diet” (LID) or foods made with hydrolyzed protein if you believe your pup is allergic to meat proteins.

Critter and Flea Allergies

Flea allergy dermatitis is a condition where dogs are allergic to the saliva of fleas. Each flea bite triggers an immune response that causes allergy symptoms such as itching and skin irritation. Dogs can also be allergic to other critters, including dust mites, dog mites, and other parasites. Flea allergies most frequently cause irritation at the base of the tail and around the neck, but can also appear on the paws, legs, and other areas. Common signs of flea allergies include red, irritated skin and crusty scabs.

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies can cause dermatitis, a condition where the dog's skin becomes inflamed and irritated. Like humans, dogs can develop skin conditions and allergic dermatitis in response to a wide range of irritants. The most common environmental allergies in dogs are dust, grass, and pollen. 

Household items, including candle fragrances, household cleaners, and essential oils, can also trigger allergic reactions in some pups. Dogs may develop contact allergies when they rub against an irritant — like rolling around in the grass — or when irritants are present in the air, known as canine atopy.

The majority of environmental allergies are seasonal. Seasonal allergies occur most often in springtime and early summer when pollen and other allergens are most prevalent. Environmental allergies affect the dog’s paws and ears, but irritation can also develop in the armpits, muzzle, groin, and in between their toe pads.

Common Symptoms of Dog Skin Allergies

Dog skin allergies: A Jack Russell terrier with weepy eyes

The best way to diagnose dog allergies that are causing skin problems is to visit a licensed veterinarian (DVM). A vet can conduct allergy testing to determine what might be causing the allergic reaction. This will help inform your allergy treatment options and your approach to minimizing allergy symptoms. In general, dogs suffering from allergies may display the following symptoms:

  • Dry skin or itchy skin 
  • Hair loss (typically from excessive scratching)
  • Sneezing 
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Constant scratching or rubbing
  • Watery eyes
  • Skin inflammation
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Vomiting or stomach upset

How To Treat Dog Skin Allergies

Dog skin allergies: a Jack Russell with a flower on his nose

There are many ways to treat dog skin allergies, ranging from easy at-home solutions to trips to the vet’s office. For minor skin irritations, you can give your pet over-the-counter medications including anti-itch creams and allergy pills. You can also help decrease irritation using soothing bath products. For serious allergic reactions that you don’t know the cause of, head to your vet to get an expert opinion and develop a targeted treatment plan.

Safe, Natural Remedies

You can treat minor skin allergies using home remedies. These include adding healthy ingredients and nutrients to your pet’s diet and using gentle products to soothe irritated skin. Here are a few things you can try to make your dog more comfortable and treat the underlying cause of some allergic reactions.

Vitamins and Nutrients

Ensuring your pup eats a balanced diet may help to ease allergy symptoms. There are many vitamins for dog skin health that can support the immune system to reduce allergic reactions. Omega–3 fatty acids may help improve the look of your dog’s coat and skin. Fatty acids help to moisturize dry skin, alleviating skin conditions, and skin problems caused by allergens. 

Other ingredients may help to alleviate symptoms or soothe irritation caused by allergies. Skin health chews that contain ingredients like fish oil, flaxseed, kelp, and probiotics may help alleviate nutritional deficiencies, reduce dog itchiness, and improve overall dog health.

If your dog suffers from food allergies, monitoring, and changing your pup’s diet is the best way to reduce allergies. In addition to improving your pup’s diet, you can also give him or her digestive support chews or allergy relief chews to streamline digestion and keep their system healthy and happy.

Lifestyle Changes

You may be able to alleviate or completely eliminate allergies in your pup simply by making a few lifestyle changes. If your pup suffers from seasonal allergies, try taking walks mid-day rather than first thing in the morning or early in the evening. Pollen counts tend to be lower mid-day, making it an ideal time to head out for a hike or a trip to the dog park or dog beach.

When you can’t avoid pollen, use a pet wipe to remove allergens when you return from playing outside. These wipes help remove pollen, dust mites, and other environmental allergens that cause dog skin allergies. You can also bathe your dog using a medicated shampoo or gentle shampoo with aloe or oatmeal to help remove allergens and soothe skin at the same time. Just remember not to bathe your pup too often or you may strip his coat of oils that prevent dry skin. Instead, use pet wipes in between baths.

With food allergies, the best place to start is your vet’s office. They can help you set up a limited ingredient diet and slowly reintroduce foods that may be causing the allergy. Once you identify the culprit, you can create a diet that doesn’t trigger your dog’s allergies.

Eliminating Fleas

If your pet suffers from flea allergies, you’ll need to use a combination of flea products to successfully eliminate the infestation. 

Flea collars are useful to help prevent future infestations as they repel fleas. Flea tablets and chews have medication that enters your dog’s bloodstream, killing existing fleas as they bite your pet. Topical flea solutions and sprays can also help treat an existing flea problem. You can use sprays on your pet and in areas around your home that may support flea populations. And flea shampoos can be effective when used regularly over time but may not eliminate a serious infestation.

Over-the-Counter Medications

In some cases, your dog’s allergies may not be treatable using simple home remedies. For more advanced allergies, your pup may benefit from over-the-counter medications like antihistamines and anti-itch creams. Here are some options to start with.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines such as Benadryl and Zyrtec can help to reduce allergies in dogs. Allergy medications are effective for reducing symptoms caused by all types of allergies. They work by blocking the histamine response triggered by the immune system. 

Histamine treats allergens as invaders, using an immune response to target these triggers. This results in common allergy symptoms such as itching and sneezing. Talk to your vet for the proper dosage of antihistamines before giving your dog allergy medications.

Hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone, also known as anti-itch cream, is particularly useful for treating contact allergies and air-borne allergies in dogs. This cream helps to decrease inflammation and the feeling of dog itching. 

You can choose from topical hydrocortisone to address specific areas or opt for an oral hydrocortisone treatment. Oral hydrocortisone treatments may increase thirst and urination in dogs so make sure to monitor your pup for signs of discomfort. You can also just use topical hydrocortisone to avoid these side effects.

Treating at Home and When To See a Vet

Dog skin allergies: closeup on a healthy Dalmatian coat

Dog skin allergies are caused mainly by environmental irritants, food allergens, and fleas. These allergic reactions are triggered by the dog’s immune system and can cause symptoms including sneezing, wheezing, and irritation on the dog’s skin. Allergic dogs may also experience constant itching and develop skin infections or skin diseases due to chronic allergies. 

Treatments include a range of safe home remedies, over-the-counter medications, and veterinary interventions. You may be able to ease symptoms simply by changing your walking habits to avoid allergens or by switching up your pet’s food. Other times, your pup may need antihistamines or prescription medications to manage the allergies.

Allergic dogs may respond differently to treatments. Some medications come with side effects that may trigger additional dog allergies. Pet owners should monitor pups and visit the vet if they think it’s a severe reaction or an underlying cause that can’t be easily identified at home.