If your dog keeps scratching its skin, it may just be they have an allergy. Allergies are the top cause of ‘pruritus’ (itchy skin) in canines. They may develop skin allergies due to an allergic reaction to certain triggers, including food, fleas, or dust. Tools such as a security camera to monitor your dogs can help determine when allergy triggers such as dust, pollen, or parasites have caused your dog to experience itchy skin.
As a pet owner, you may want to consider natural relief for irritated canine skin, which may help prevent side effects from prescription drugs. Meanwhile, options such as plant-based hypoallergenic dog food may help avoid skin allergy breakouts.
What Are Dog Allergies?
Allergies are a dog’s reaction to substances ordinarily harmless, such as dog food ingredients, pollen, and flea bites. Dogs may experience various types of allergies. Besides food and environmental allergies, canines may also get skin allergies. These different allergies produce symptoms that may overlap other types of dog allergies. So, it may be more challenging for animal doctors to diagnose the type of allergy your pet has.
Symptoms of Dog Skin Allergies
Itchiness is one of the various symptoms that dogs may experience due to skin allergies. Besides general itchiness, signs of skin allergies may include:
- Red and inflamed skin
- Itchy ears
- Ear infections
If your pet dog shows these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian. These symptoms can be signs of an underlying health condition.
Causes of Dog Skin Allergies
The technical term for skin allergies is allergic dermatitis. This type of allergy that can cause itchy skin is the most common type in canines. Conditions that can cause itchiness were listed among the top health issues for canines and felines as of 2017, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook.
For dogs, the number one health issue was ear infections. Skin disorders and allergies were third and fourth, respectively. Your dog may experience skin allergies due to three primary causes.
Food allergies are more frequent in dogs than many pet owners realize. This type of allergy is caused by an immune response, which can cause various skin conditions, including itchiness. Sometimes the dog may also have gastrointestinal problems. It is noteworthy that food allergies are different from food intolerances or food sensitivities.
In the case of food sensitivities, the symptoms are triggered by a food ingredient rather than the dog’s immune system response. For example, your dog’s itchy skin may result from eating foods such as milk, soy, wheat, corn, or eggs. Food sensitivities may become severe and result in itchiness, unhealthy skin and coat, or infections. One way to treat a food allergy is to manage the symptoms and use the process of elimination to determine which ingredient is causing the adverse reaction.
Flea allergy dermatitis among dogs is an allergic reaction to fleabites. The skin may become inflamed, red, and scabbed. Signs of this flea allergy typically appear on the base of the dog’s tail. Flea skin allergies may also cause itchy skin in areas such as the canine’s ears and paws. Dogs may sometimes experience gastrointestinal issues.
Allergens such as pollen, dust and mould can trigger atopic or hypersensitivity reactions in canines. These allergies tend to be seasonal, such as high pollen counts during the springtime. Environmental allergens may cause itchy skin in various areas of your dog’s body. Areas to watch out for include the paws, ears, eyes, underarms, muzzle, and between the toes.
What Are Bacterial and Yeast Infections?
A secondary infection can occur due to all skin allergies in dogs. As the canine scratches or bites the skin, for example, bacteria and yeast infections may develop. This condition may require treatment.
Yeast and bacterial infections are not allergies themselves. However, they can result from dogs scratching their skin due to allergy symptoms. Such skin infections are typically red and greasy and can have a strong odour. These infections can appear in different body parts.
Bacterial infections typically result from damaged or irritated skin due to scratching. Meanwhile, yeast infections usually affect areas of folded skin such as the neck, ears, around or between the dog’s toes, or under the tail.
Diagnosis of Dog Skin Allergies
Diagnosing skin allergies can be complicated, like conducting allergy testing among humans. A veterinarian can help determine whether another health condition is causing the dog’s itchy skin. If the animal doctor determines that allergens are not triggering itchiness, they may order allergy tests. It would help if you kept in mind that allergy tests may not determine the specific cause of the allergic reactions.
Flea allergy dermatitis is usually the easiest allergy for veterinarians to diagnose. They typically deduce this allergen by first identifying fleas on the canine’s body. The doctor may then prescribe a topical product that repels or kills fleas before biting the dog’s skin.
Veterinarians often recommend an elimination diet to diagnose food allergies. One option is a food trial, which involves feeding a dog one source of carbohydrates and protein for 12 weeks.
Blood and Skin Allergy Tests for Dogs
The radioallergosorbent (RAST) test is a blood test to determine whether a dog is allergic to specific antigens. This test is usually performed as a workup for atopy, a skin manifestation of inhalant allergy, in canines. RAST tests help animal doctors determine any allergens that may trigger your dog’s allergy symptoms. The results can help veterinarians produce a plan to address allergies.
Intradermal skin testing is another common diagnostic tool that veterinarians order for dogs with possible skin allergies. The skin test process entails injecting a small extract of a suspected allergen into the dog’s skin. A reaction typically appears as a small swelling after several minutes. This skin test can often produce more consistent results than the skin prick test and is more sensitive.
The Link Between Dog Allergies and Behavioural Problems
Skin allergies not only may induce physical symptoms but also behavioural changes. A 2019 study examined the behavioural differences between dogs with canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) and healthy dogs without the disorder. The researchers hypothesized a potential link between the severity of itchy skin and behaviour characterized by psychological stress in dogs with CAD. The scientists reported that the dogs with CAD displayed higher rates of stress-induced behaviours. These behaviours included displacement, comfort-seeking, and lower trainability compared to the healthy control group.
Treatment and Prevention of Dog Skin Allergies
When picking a treatment for your dog’s allergy, you should consider the type of allergy, such as flea skin allergies. Your veterinarian may recommend allergy relief medications. They may help control the itching and other signs of an allergic reaction and any irritant-induced secondary skin infections. However, prescription medicines may cause side effects due to synthetic ingredients.
Natural Treatment and Prevention of Dog Skin Allergies
Here are some natural treatments and preventative measures that may help relieve or prevent the symptoms of skin allergies in your pet dog:
- Healthy diet: A diet of natural dog food may boost your dog’s immunity, which can help it combat allergens. If your dog has food allergies or sensitivities, replace the ingredients with substitutes to help prevent allergic reactions.
- Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV): It is important to dilute the ACV using a 50/50 solution of ACV and water. You can transfer the ACV solution to a spray bottle which you can use to spray lightly onto your dog’s coat. The ACV’s acidity may help repel fleas and ticks and prevent yeast infections.
- Proper bathing and grooming: This option may help if your dog’s skin allergies result from environmental allergens. For example, natural shampoos may have fewer side effects than commercial shampoos with strong artificial ingredients. Some natural ingredients include white vinegar, aloe vera, and apple cider vinegar.
- Omega-3 supplements: Research suggests omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve the symptoms of canine atopic dermatitis. In addition, omega-3 purportedly has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help combat allergens.
- Coconut oil: Massage some coconut oil into your dog’s skin and fur. A study published in 2017 showed that virgin coconut oil applied topically to humans may have anti-inflammatory and skin-protective properties. Coconut oil seems to provide various topical benefits for dogs, although it may cause side effects such as diarrhoea, according to the American Kennel Club.
- Oatmeal bath or paste: Allow your dog to soak in an oatmeal bath for 10 to 15 minutes. Another option is to add an oatmeal paste to large spots of dry and itchy skin. According to the American Kennel Club, homemade dog shampoos with natural ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal are less likely to cause skin problems than commercial shampoos. Research on human subjects showed that oatmeal’s purported anti-inflammatory properties may help relieve dry and irritated skin. More research is needed to determine if oatmeal produces the same effects on dogs.
- Manage heat and moisture: A dog’s environment may affect its skin health. Avoid using a high-heat blow dryer on your dog’s fur, which may be detrimental to canines with sensitive skin. In addition, use climate control to prevent hot rooms. A humidifier can help prevent overly dry air.
It is critical to research the potential effectiveness of natural remedies for relieving symptoms of canine skin allergies. You should also consult your dog’s veterinarian before starting new natural treatments for skin allergies. They can provide information about proper usage, dosage, and potential drug interactions.
You may suspect that allergies are inducing your dog’s itchiness. If so, consider scheduling an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian. They can order exams, such as skin and blood tests. The tests will determine if the dog’s or pup’s itchy skin is due to allergens, such as food, fleas, or the environment. That is the first step. Then, you can pick a safe and effective treatment for your canine companion that it needs and deserves.
Article written by Ruth Riley
Helpful Further Reading
- AKC's overview of all things allergies
- Why Is My Dog So Itchy? Possible Causes & Treatment
- Behavioural Differences in Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis Suggest Stress Could Be a Significant Problem Associated with Chronic Pruritus
- RAST Testing in Dogs
- Intradermal allergy testing
- Animal health foundation
- Frequently Asked Questions about Fleas and Ticks
- Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression
- Kennel Club: What is Omega-3
- Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skin
- In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil
- More itchy pets? No problem
- Nutrition and health: Companion animal applications: Functional nutrition in livestock and companion animals to modulate the immune response
- Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on canine atopic dermatitis
- Easy homemade dog shampoo
- Coconut oil for dogs: Is it really good for them?
- Can you use human shampoo on dogs?