Skin Allergies in Dogs: Internal and External Causes

Key Points

  • There are many causes for your dog's skin allergies, such as environmental factors, food, and general health.

  • Your vet identifies skin allergies in dogs by administering a blood or skin test.

  • Skin allergies in dogs resolve when the allergen is gone from their diet or environment.

If your dog experiences skin allergies, it's essential to understand how to soothe their symptoms. Your pup can't tell you when they’re in pain, and many skin allergies create irritating and painful symptoms. Understanding the causes of skin allergies in dogs is essential to develop a long-term solution.

The sources of skin allergies in dogs may include food allergies, environmental factors, and immune health. Sometimes, your dog experiences skin issues that aren’t necessarily allergy-related, and it's essential to pinpoint the exact cause to address them adequately.

What Causes Skin Allergy Symptoms?

When your dog has an allergy, their body tries to fend off a foreign allergen. Depending on your dog's genetics and health, their immune system recognizes foreign proteins and particles as threats.

When a dog's immune system recognizes a threat, their bodies produce histamine, which is responsible for sneezing, itching, swelling, and other uncomfortable allergy symptoms. These symptoms are their body's way of attacking and removing the allergens.

Types of Skin Allergies

Dogs experience many types of skin allergies, and it's essential to determine which type your pet has to find the root cause. Skin allergies can stem from external or internal causes.

External Causes

Many external causes contribute to a dog's allergy symptoms. Flea allergies are one of the most common causes. Fleas are hard to avoid and are one of the main pests your pet comes into contact with while playing outdoors or with other dogs.

When a flea bites your dog, its saliva comes into contact with your dog's skin. If your dog has a flea allergy, the saliva creates an allergic reaction, causing your dog's skin to become red, inflamed, or irritated.

Depending on your dog's sensitivity, you may notice symptoms even after one occurrence of flea bites. Luckily, if no fleas make a home in your dog's coat, their symptoms resolve after their body finishes fighting off the allergen.

The most common flea allergy symptoms are itching and scratching, so if you notice your dog exhibits these signs of behavior more frequently, it's time to check their fur.

Checking for fleas is simple: sift through their fur and look for the pesky pests hiding near their skin. If there are only a few fleas, remove them individually. For more extensive jobs, you may need grooming products that remove fleas or take them to your veterinarian or dog groomer.

Your home likely has a flea infestation if your dog continues having flea issues.

Pollen Allergies

Pollen is another common cause of dog skin allergies. Grass pollen is one of the most frequent forms of dog allergies during the warmer months. When dogs play outside in the grass, they breathe in pollen, which gets stuck to their fur or skin.

Your dog's immune system recognizes the pollen as a threat and ignites their painful allergy symptoms. If your dog's skin hasn’t had any issues until recently, check your local pollen levels.

Pollen allergy symptoms are common after coming inside from playing in the yard. Pollen allergies affect more than just the skin; scratching, licking, ear infections, and sneezing are all possible side effects.

Allergy testing occurs in two forms: skin or blood tests. The skin test involves injecting your pet with small solutions of allergens throughout different parts of their body. If an area injected with an allergen reacts, you know that your dog is allergic to that specific cause.

A blood test looks for antibodies in your dog's blood and determines whether they’re a reaction to specific allergens or not. Both of these tests are effective at identifying seasonal allergies in dogs.

During peak pollen months, keeping your dog away from grass or trees is almost impossible, and pollen even finds its way inside your house. There are also ways to diminish the amount of pollen accumulating inside your home.

Keep your windows shut when possible; even though letting in fresh air is one of the perks of the warmer months, pollen also enters through open windows. Letting in excess pollen worsens your dog's skin allergies and potentially wreaks havoc on your own allergies.

Another excellent solution is adding air filters to your home. Ensure they’re HEPA filters that filter out any allergens from your home's air, including pollen.

Brushing your dog's coat is one of the best ways to decrease their contact time with pollen. When your dog plays outside, pollen attaches to their skin and fur. Brushing out their coat after they come inside — or at least once daily — is a great way to remove excess pollen.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is your dog's body's reaction when topically exposed to an allergen; grooming supplies contain ingredients that your dog's body doesn't handle well. These frequently cause dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis is painful and uncomfortable but easy to prevent. Symptoms occur shortly after contact with your dog; narrowing down the causes is usually straightforward. If you've recently added a new line of grooming products to your dog's bath routine, these products might be the culprit of their newfound skin issues.

Certain products contain harsh chemicals that irritate your dog's skin, and even some natural products contain essential oils that irritate your dog's skin. The best way to combat contact dermatitis is to stop using the products for a few days and see if their symptoms begin to resolve.

If your dog continues to have skin issues long after you remove the grooming products from the routine, chances are there's a different stressor.

The cleaning supplies you use around your home are another factor that could potentially cause your dog to have a contact dermatitis reaction. Always use dog-safe products when you have a pet, as some harm their health.

Floor cleaning products are the most common culprit for skin issues because dogs lay on the floor shortly after you finish cleaning. If you've been using the same cleaning supply for years without your dog reacting, it likely isn't the cause. If you've recently bought a new floor cleaning product, stop using it and monitor your dog's symptoms.

Contact dermatitis has many other causes, such as your perfume or cologne, laundry detergent, or air fresheners. It takes a small amount of trial and error to remove products from your home's environment to see a resolution to your dog's skin issues.

Antihistamine or steroid creams calm contact dermatitis symptoms and daily use allows your dog's symptoms to go away rather quickly. Even though these solutions combat contact dermatitis, your dog's symptoms will continue returning if you don't remove the root cause.

Internal Causes

Your dog's allergies may have an internal cause, such as food or health-related issues. It's very important to dig to the root cause of your pup's discomfort, especially if it is internally-related.

Common Food Allergies in Dogs

Your dog's food allergies stem from their immune system not tolerating certain foods or ingredients. Sometimes, your dog's food allergies appear when they’re puppies and stay with them throughout their life. Your dog may still develop food allergies as they grow older, often because of changes in their health or genetics.

The most common food allergies are beef, corn, chicken, eggs, grains, dairy, and soy. If you notice your dog has skin issues and suspect food allergies are at fault, look into the ingredients and see if any common allergens are present. Symptoms fade once you remove the allergens.

Your dog benefits from trying an elimination diet — removing all common food allergies from their diet and slowly reintroducing each ingredient over time. This strategy allows you to determine which ingredients cause an allergic reaction.

Changing Your Dog's Diet

Hypoallergenic dog food is an easy solution if your dog requires a change in diet. Most pet stores and online shops have hypoallergenic dog food readily available, and these dog food formulas don't contain common food allergens. Find a formula that meets your dog's needs after you identify which allergen(s) they need to avoid.

The CEO of Wild Earth, Ryan Bethencourt, recommends changing your dog's diet to see positive results in their health.

"One of the things that surprised us was that a lot of the pet parents reported they no longer needed to give their dogs steroids for their allergies. We did a survey of 3,000 of our customers, and 86 percent reported some positive health outcome for their pets. These results were honestly surprising when we first started, but it makes sense. Let food be thy medicine."

Take matters into your own hands by cooking for your pup. Yes, you can cook your dog's meals, and it's not as time-consuming or challenging as you may think! At the beginning of your week, cook up a batch of allergy-friendly ingredients such as rice, sweet potato, salmon, and turkey.

Save time and energy by dividing the meals up at the beginning of the week; you'll only have to heat them up at mealtime. Meal prepping is a great way to save money because bulk items like rice and other grains are inexpensive and readily available in most stores.

Health Issues

Your dog's skin allergies may result from an underlying health condition. Skin allergies present symptoms similar to fungal or bacterial infections, requiring different treatment options than common allergies.

Skin issues are common if your dog has a hormone imbalance.

Your dog's immune system plays a vital role in their allergy symptoms; if they have an autoimmune disorder, they may experience inflammation and irritation.

Natural Remedies for Skin Allergies

While prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines are available, those are not your only options. Natural remedies like apple cider vinegar, oatmeal baths, and coconut oil relieve your dog's skin allergies.

Colloidal Oatmeal Bath

Colloidal oatmeal contains bran — unlike traditional store-bought oatmeal — which provides hydration and soothing capabilities.

Add the colloidal oatmeal to a warm bath. Place your dog into the tub after you mix the colloidal oatmeal. Massage the water into their coat and allow it to soothe their symptoms. Rinse your dog with warm water and ensure all oatmeal remnants are gone.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a neutral moisturizer that soothes and hydrates allergy symptoms. Rub a small amount of coconut oil over your dog's skin irritation.

You don't need to use much coconut oil at once; a little goes a long way! You also don't want your dog leaving grease stains on your furniture, so rub the oil in thoroughly.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has anti-inflammatory properties. Offset your dog's skin allergy symptoms by giving them a vinegar bath.

Vinegar baths eliminate your dog's allergy symptoms by reducing skin inflammation and irritation.

Don't apply apple cider vinegar to your dog's skin directly. Instead, fill the bathtub with four to six inches of water, and mix in two cups of apple cider vinegar. Place your dog in the tub and gently rub their skin. Rinse your dog's coat thoroughly afterward.

Keeping Skin Allergy Symptoms at Bay

It's essential to prevent your dog's skin allergies from developing into a severe condition. Watch for excessive scratching, and visit your vet if you suspect allergies are responsible. Not addressing your dog's skin allergies creates other issues, such as irritated skin, excessive scratching, and possible infection.

The best thing you can do to keep your dog's skin allergies at bay is to figure out the root cause. Once you know the stressor of your dog's allergies, preventing and healing their symptoms is easy.

Always listen to your veterinarian's recommendations first, and if you still need a little help, try out some of the natural remedies outlined in this article. Your dog's skin allergies don't have to take away from their quality of life, and their skin is much better off with the proper treatment and prevention.

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