Skin Allergies and Your Dog: What You Need to Know

Key Points

  • Allergies can come from any source, but many different treatments for your dog's skin allergies are readily available.

  • Keep your environment clean and use preventatives to help reduce symptoms.

  • Work with your vet or specialist to understand the best treatment for your dog's skin allergies.

  • Be aware of symptoms from allergies as sometimes secondary infections happen.

Dog allergies are a common issue and cause a lot of discomfort for your furry friend, but many different treatments for your dog's skin allergies are widely available.

Many things — including flea bites, pollen, food, genetics, and other factors — cause these allergies. Understanding the causes and symptoms of these allergies as well as the various treatment for your dog's skin allergies is important to ensure your dog is healthy, happy, and living their best life. 

Overview of Allergies in Dogs

Skin allergies in dogs — also known as atopic dermatitis — is a common issue that causes symptoms such as itching, redness, and inflammation of the skin. A lot of different factors such as pollen, mites, mold, and food have the potential to cause these annoying symptoms.

Treatment for your dog's skin allergies may include things such as changes to their environment and diet or medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, and other medications. Allergen-specific treatments help your dog get used to the allergens that are causing the reaction. These treatments should be done under the care of a veterinarian.

Common Symptoms of Skin Allergies in Dogs

There are a few common symptoms that come with most dog allergies. These include things like itching, red inflamed skin, rashes, hives, loss of hair or bald patches, ear infections, biting or licking obsessively, hot spots, and skin that is dry or scaley or may have an odor.

It's important to note, though, that other conditions also cause these symptoms. It's crucial to know what you're looking for and consult a veterinarian when needed for diagnosis and treatments.

Causes of Skin Allergies in Dogs

There are more than a few allergens out there that may be responsible for an allergic reaction in your dog. For example, exposure to pollen, mold, dust mites, and flea bites all may cause an allergic reaction.

Some of the most common culprits include:

  • Flea bites: Dogs develop an allergic reaction to the proteins found in flea saliva.

  • Pollen: Allergies to different pollens, such as trees, grass and weeds cause symptoms, too.

  • Food: Some dogs develop an allergy to ingredients in foods. Usually, the proteins are from certain animals or grains in the food.

  • Environmental: Allergens like dust, mold, and dander cause symptoms.

  • Genetics: Genetics and breed disposition have a factor in your dog's allergies.

In addition to these factors, certain breeds may be more prone to developing allergies because of genetics. Some examples of breeds that may be more prone to allergies are:

  • Labrador retriever

  • golden retriever

  • bulldog

  • German shepherd

  • Shar-pei

  • boxer

  • cocker spaniel

  • west highland white terrier

  • Boston terrier

  • Lhasa apso

It's important to note that any breed is susceptible to allergies. The breeds above are just more genetically prone to do so. Their environment, diet, and exposure to allergens play a huge role in the development of any skin allergies.

Environmental Allergens

In addition to those factors, cleaning products, dander, and climate play a big role in how dogs develop skin allergies.

Humid climates usually make skin allergies in dogs worse as well as cold and dry climates. Living conditions with poor ventilation and high humidity are often contributing factors when a dog develops allergies.

Chemicals also wreak havoc on your pup. Chemicals also include things such as pesticides and lawn treatments.

If you want to make sure they're not stressed at home, ensure you're pinpointing exactly why they're stressed as it contributes to a suppressed immune system making it easier for your dog to develop allergies. It's important to work with a veterinarian or dietary specialist to identify the specific things causing your dog to have allergies. This guides you in developing a plan to minimize the dog's exposure.

Diagnosis of Allergies

A physical exam by your vet is a very important step in the diagnosis of what's causing your dog's skin allergies. During the examination, the vet usually takes a complete medical history of your dog's issues. They'll perform a physical exam, including inspecting their skin for any signs of itching, redness, biting, chewing, or any inflammation and secondary skin infections.

They'll also take samples of your dog's skin or hair and analyze it under a microscope to see if there are any signs of infection or inflammation. They may also do blood tests and check for any other underlying symptoms that may contribute to the issue. Skin allergies in dogs are often difficult to diagnose and may need a few tests and treatments before they identify the specific problem.

The exam from your vet provides you with a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your dog's needs and situation.

Allergy Testing

Allergy testing works to identify which specific allergens your dog is allergic to.

There are two common types of tests: intradermal tests and blood tests. Intradermal skin testing is when your dog is injected with small amounts of various allergens under their skin to see how they respond. The dog's reactions to the allergens are watched to see if any redness, itching, or swelling shows.

Blood tests are also done to identify allergens. These tests measure the specific level of antibodies in the dog's bloodstream produced when the body encounters an allergen. These antibodies are called Immunoglobulin E and act as defenders against allergens and other outside invaders.

These tests are not always accurate, however, and might produce false negatives. Medications, diet, or other conditions influence the results. Your vet should use these with other tools like a clinical examination or monitoring your dog's response to a treatment plan.


Using an elimination diet is a great way to weed out what allergies your dog may have. This kind of diet means feeding your dog a limited diet that only contains a single protein and a single carbohydrate source — potato, peas, not corn — that the dog hasn't been exposed to before.

You feed this to your dog for about 8-12 weeks to see if any symptoms crop up or you pinpoint the allergy by process of elimination. Once a food allergy is suspected, the dog's regular diet is introduced back one ingredient at a time. This determines the specific ingredients your dog is allergic to.

This must be done with the supervision of a vet or dietary specialist as elimination diets are challenging and time-consuming. This is to make sure they're still getting the nutrients they need.


Over-the-counter medications, antihistamines, corticosteroids, and immunomodulators manage symptoms of allergies. Antihistamines reduce itching and inflammation caused by an allergic reaction. Common ones for dogs include diphenhydramine and cetirizine. Corticosteroids like prednisone and dexamethasone are anti-inflammatory medications that are used for itching, redness, and inflammation.

These kinds of medications are usually only used short-term as using them over a long period causes side effects. Immunomodulators like cyclosporin suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. They typically use these types of medications where other treatments have failed.

Then there are topical treatments such as shampoos, sprays, and creams that reduce itching and inflammation. Some common ingredients in these are oatmeal, aloe vera, and hydrocortisone. Only a vet or nutritional specialist should prescribe and supervise these medications. You'll need to make sure you have the correct dosage for your dog's size, condition, and breed.

Some medications may interact with others and have side effects, so pay close attention to any changes in your pet's behaviors. Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a treatment for skin allergies in dogs. Both you and your vet need to desensitize your dog's immune system to the allergens that cause the reaction.

Your vet or specialist injects small amounts of allergens into the dog's body. The goal is to build up your dog's tolerance to specific allergens. They usually make allergens used in these injections from pollen, mold, dust mites, or flea saliva. The frequency of the shots typically increases with time. Usually, your dog gets the injections every two to four weeks for months or sometimes even years.

This specific type of immunotherapy is effective at reducing symptoms. However, it is not a cure. It may take several months for your dog to become desensitized and show improvement. You'll want to ensure you're able to address the cause when doing these treatments. For example, if your dog is allergic to flea saliva, using medications and preventatives is the best way — besides treatment — to keep allergies from cropping up.

Prevention of Allergies

Regular flea and tick prevention is a critical aspect of managing your dog's skin allergies. Flea and tick bites cause an allergic reaction leading to itching, redness, and inflammation. Flea and tick infestations, if not taken care of, lead to secondary skin infections.

There are several options for flea and tick prevention including:

  • Topical treatments: You apply these treatments to the dog's skin to protect against fleas and ticks. These products contain insecticides that kill or repel fleas and ticks.

  • Oral medications: Oral medications such as tablets or chews provide protection, too. These also contain insecticides that are absorbed into your dog's bloodstream to provide flea and tick prevention.

  • Collars: Some flea collars have the same as the two above regarding insecticides. However, the collar manages this by releasing the medication in small amounts over time before the collar has to be replaced. This doesn't need the supervision of a vet and is more of a home remedy.

  • Shampoo: Many shampoos keep fleas and ticks at bay. These specific shampoos kill fleas and ticks on contact. Many of these shampoos, like oatmeal shampoo, also soothe allergy symptoms.

It's important to follow the instructions given for these treatments. It's also important to note that not all products are safe for all dogs, so be sure to consult with your vet before starting any flea and tick prevention. Remember, it's also very important to keep the dog's environment clean, vacuum regularly, and treat your yard with insecticides if needed.

Monitoring of Environmental Allergens

You need to monitor environmental allergens as an important aspect of managing skin allergies. Allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and grass cause allergic reactions in dogs. This leads to itching, redness, and inflammation. To monitor these allergens, it's important to identify what the allergen is. This is done with a vet's help by doing skin or blood tests to identify the specific allergens that cause the allergic reaction in your dog.

Avoiding exposure is the best way to manage allergies once you know what's causing the allergic reaction. Take steps to avoid allergens by keeping in mind what your dog is allergic to. For example, if your dog is allergic to pollen, you'll want to close your windows to minimize exposure. Avoid taking your dog for a walk during peak pollen times, and wipe down their paws and coat after being outside in high pollen weather.

Keeping your environment clean is another important aspect of controlling allergies. Achieve this by cleaning your home and keeping it free of dust and mold. Controlling airborne allergens is difficult. However, there are tools to use such as an air purifier. An air purifier removes allergens from your home.

Use special bedding if you need to. Some dogs are allergic to dust mites and special bedding reduces exposure to dust mites along with ensuring the environment is clean.

It's important to note that some allergens are difficult to avoid, so it may be necessary to work with a vet to develop a treatment plan. This includes anything from medications or other therapies to manage your dog's symptoms.

Final Words

A variety of factors cause skin allergies in dogs including flea bites, pollen, food, genetics, breed, and environmental factors. Symptoms of allergies in dogs crop up in any form but usually show up as redness, inflammation, itching, and other symptoms. Diagnosing and getting treatment for your dog is challenging, but with your vet, you'll be able to determine what the best path to recovery is.

Remember, there are tools to use such as air purifiers for environmental allergens. Other treatments such as corticosteroids, allergy shots, along with other medications help your dog live a better life. Work with your vet or specialist on a treatment plan for keeping your dog's allergies under control.

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