Dog Skin Allergies & Allergic Dermatitis: Symptoms & Treatment

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
beagle dog sitting on carpet scratching

Dog skin allergies aren’t always obvious. After all, most canines scratch themselves from time to time. If they don’t have any other unusual symptoms, such as inflamed patches of skin or hair loss, you might not sense that anything is wrong. 

Despite how they may seem, though, skin allergies in dogs can cause serious discomfort for your pet, even when they’re mild.  

Additionally, dogs with skin allergies may try to self-soothe through vigorous scratching, licking and biting the skin, which can worsen the condition and potentially lead to a secondary infection. 

Fortunately, with the right treatment, you can help alleviate your canine companion’s symptoms. 

Read on to learn more about the causes of skin allergies in dogs, and how to best care for a pet who’s afflicted with them. 

What Is Allergic Dermatitis in Dogs?

Allergic dermatitis occurs in dogs whose skin becomes inflamed when their immune system overreacts to the presence of an allergen. This often leads to unpleasant feelings of itchiness, among other symptoms.  

Some skin allergies are caused by factors in your dog’s environment (this may be referred to atopic dermatitis), but they can be associated with other causes as well.   

Causes of Skin Allergies in Dogs

Here are some common allergens that trigger skin allergies in dogs:  

  • Fleas. The most common cause of skin allergies, saliva from flea bites irritates the skin. If allergic, one bite can make your dog feel as though they’re crawling with fleas.  

  • Dust mites. These microscopic bugs are known to cause allergic reactions in dogs and humans.   

  • Pollen. A yellow, powdery substance produced by certain plants, pollen is released into the air and is inhaled by your pet.  

  • Mold. Mold is a fungus that often thrives in damp or humid spaces, and travels via microscopic spores in the air.  

  • Genetics. Certain breeds are more predisposed to allergies than others.  

  • Food. When food is a cause, proteins like chicken and beef are commonly associated with itchy skin in some canines. 

Which Dogs Can Get Skin Allergies?

Typically, dogs develop skin allergies between 6 months and 3 years of age. There isn’t a predisposition for sex but certain breeds tend to get them more often than others. They include: 

Note that the region where these breeds live can also play a role in whether or not they develop allergies. 

Dog Skin Allergy Symptoms

Allergies share symptoms with other skin conditions in dogs, some of which can be dangerous. That’s why it’s important to have your pet checked by a veterinarian if you see any of the following signs: 

  • Excessive itching, especially around the face, feet, groin, armpits and ears 

  • Chewing, biting or licking the skin 

  • Red, inflamed skin or rash 

  • Hair loss 

  • Conjunctivitis, or redness of the eyes 

  • Crusts or scabs 

  • Skin odor 

Remember, skin allergies aren’t only a nuisance to your dog, they can pose a health threat as well.  

Inflamed skin becomes more susceptible to the growth of bacteria or fungi. If this happens, your veterinarian will need to treat both the allergic reaction and the infection.    

Are Dog Skin Allergies Seasonal?

Some skin allergies in dogs are seasonal. For example, a canine allergic to pollen may have flare-ups during times of the year when certain flowers and trees are blooming.  

Other types of allergies, though, may affect a dog year-round, depending on their cause.  

Diagnosing a Dog Skin Allergy

Testing for allergic dermatitis can be challenging. Symptoms for different types of skin allergies often overlap, and your dog may be reacting to various allergies at the same time. 

Your veterinarian will usually start their diagnosis by evaluating clinical signs such as itchy, dry skin against factors like environment, season, diet and a range of other things. 

Dog Skin Allergy Treatment

Researchers are working on new treatments for dog skin allergies to provide more relief. In the meantime, here are some options your veterinarian may recommend. 

  • Reduce exposure to allergens, if possible. This can be difficult for, say, a grass pollen allergy, but removing dust from your home may give your pet relief from dust mites, if they’re a trigger. 

  • Grooming. Bathing your dog with hypoallergenic shampoo can soothe their itchy skin, while brushing stimulates blood flow which may reduce inflammation. 

  • Medication. Depending on the severity of your dog’s allergies, your veterinarian may suggest over-the-counter antihistamines. For more serious symptoms, anti-itch medications might be appropriate. 

  • A modified diet. If food is the source of your pet’s symptoms, the best dog food for skin allergies is a formula with mild proteins. Sensitive skin dog food and skin and coat supplements are also options. Ask your veterinarian if these are right for your pet. 

  • Flea and tick prevention. Your veterinarian can recommend products designed to limit your dog’s reactions to flea and tick bites.  

  • Immunotherapy. For dogs with chronic allergies, allergy shots may help decrease symptoms. They introduce small amounts of an allergen into your pet’s blood, allowing their body to build up a tolerance to it over time. 

What’s the Best Dog Food for Skin Allergies?

Food for dogs with sensitive skin can promote a healthy coat, which may help reduce skin allergy symptoms. When choosing food for this purpose, look for ingredients such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and E.  

What Food to Avoid for a Dog With Skin Allergies

Again, if your dog’s skin allergies are triggered by an ingredient in their food, consider switching to a formula containing mild proteins such as fish or lamb. If switching doesn’t work, your veterinarian may recommend an elimination diet to pinpoint the cause of your pet’s allergies. 

Allergic dermatitis in dogs is an unfortunate condition. With attentive care and treatment, however, you can help manage your dog’s skin allergies so they continue living happy, healthy lives. 

For more advice, view our other dog health articles for helpful tips from our experts 

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