Does My Dog Have Skin Allergies?
Here’s how to help your dog’s itchy skin 🤕
If your dog’s been itching more than usual or if he’s constantly licking himself, he could have allergies.
It can be tough to figure out what your dog’s allergic to and how to treat him, though, so we reached out to Dr. Lydia Harbour, a veterinary dermatology resident at Dermatology for Animals in Arizona, to find out more about how to deal with dog skin allergies.
What causes skin allergies in dogs?
There are a lot of things that can cause skin allergies in dogs, such as parasites, food and environmental allergens, Dr. Harbour told The Dodo.
Dogs can be allergic to flea saliva when they get bitten by a flea, and it’s actually a super common allergy in dogs. Allergic dogs will often itch and lick themselves so much that they get hot spots, and they can develop secondary infections.
Other parasites dogs can be allergic to include intestinal parasites, mites and ticks.
Food allergies in dogs can cause a variety of symptoms, including skin irritation. If your pup’s allergic to his food, you’ll probably notice gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, in addition to itching.
Dogs can become allergic to their regular food that they’ve already been eating for a long time. So if your pup has been eating the same food for years, he can suddenly start having allergic reactions to it at any point.
Environmental allergies, such as pollen and dust, can cause atopic dermatitis, Dr. Harbour said.
“Atopic dermatitis is caused by a combination of genetic factors that alter the skin barrier and a predisposition to [having] an exaggerated immune response to environmental allergies,” Dr. Harbour said. “This is the same as eczema in people.”
What do dog skin allergies look like?
Dog skin allergy symptoms
Itchy, inflamed skin is the most common symptom of skin allergies in dogs.
“Hair loss, thickened abnormal skin (elephant skin) and crusting associated with a secondary infection are common,” Dr. Harbour said.
Ear infections are often a sign of allergies, too.
If you think your pup might have skin allergies, here are some signs to look for:
- Red skin
- Secondary skin infections
- Hot spots
- Fleas or flea dirt in the fur
- Constantly licking
Itching associated with skin allergies is usually concentrated in certain areas of the body. According to Dr. Harbour, “The most common areas affected are the paws, ears, muzzle, around the eyes, and the hairless areas of the underside.” Your dog might itch or lick his butt a lot, too, especially if he has worms or fleas.
“Some [dogs] are very itchy without much redness/inflammation in their skin, and other dogs will be very inflamed without being very itchy,” Dr. Harbour said. “This makes individualized treatment plans very important for the best management possible. This can start as a seasonal issue that progresses to something more year-round.”
Dog skin allergies treatment
The treatment your pup will need will depend on what’s causing his skin allergy. Here are some common skin allergy treatments.
Dog food for allergies
If your dog has food allergies, he’ll need to eat special food. Hypoallergenic dog foods are usually prescribed by vets and contain ingredients that your dog most likely won’t be allergic or sensitive to.
There are a couple types of dog food for allergies: hydrolyzed protein and limited-ingredient diets (LID). Hydrolyzed protein dog food contains pieces of protein that are so small that your dog’s immune system typically won’t react to them, while limited-ingredient dog foods are made with fewer ingredients than typical food so your pup’s less likely to run into something she’s allergic to. LIDs are also often made with exotic proteins, like venison or duck, since there’s a better chance your pup’s never eaten them before.
Allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT), or allergy shots for dogs, is a super effective treatment for allergies.
“This works by giving the patient small doses of what the dog is allergic to,” Dr. Harbour said. “Over time, the immune system starts to change how it responds to the allergen and develops ‘tolerance.’”
Allergy shots are the only treatment that can actually change your dog’s immune system when dealing with environmental allergies. Other treatments will just help relieve the symptoms.
“Allergies are a lifelong disease, so the earlier that immunotherapy with ASIT is started, the less symptoms that patient will hopefully experience over time,” Dr. Harbour said. “It's [around] 70 to 80 percent effective, but that's along a spectrum. Some patients will completely improve, [while] others will have less severe flares.”
Another type of allergy shot that helps with itchy skin is cytopoint. Like other allergy medications, cytopoint helps with itchy skin, but it doesn’t change your pup’s immune response like immunotherapy does.
“Cytopoint is an anti-itch injection given at the veterinary practice that lasts four to eight weeks,” Dr. Harbour said. “This is a monoclonal antibody that targets the itch mediator and prevents the signal of itch from going to the brain.”
Shampoo for allergies
You can buy an anti-itch medicated shampoo to relieve your dog’s itchy skin.
Dr. Harbour recommends shampoos that have chlorhexidine, ceramides, and sometimes climbazole, miconazole or ketoconazole.
“There is a common misconception that you will over–bathe your dog,” Dr. Harbour said. “While this can be true for normal dogs and while using harsh shampoos, allergic dogs are an exception.”
Antibiotics or antifungals
For secondary skin infections that develop from allergies, your vet might prescribe antibiotics or antifungals.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids reduce inflammation and improve your dog’s skin health, which can be helpful for pups with skin allergies.
If you know what your dog’s allergic to, you can remove those allergens from your house. To do this, you may need to have your dog allergy tested to know what you need to get rid of.
There are a few easy steps you can take in the meantime, though.
You should dust your house frequently so allergens like pollen and dander aren’t sitting around. Getting a dehumidifier can also help, since it’ll stop mold and mildew from growing and get rid of dust mites.
You can also buy an air purifier. (Plus, a dehumidifier or an air purifier can also help with your own allergies.)
Don’t worry if your pup has skin allergies. There are plenty of treatment options that can help relieve his symptoms and get him feeling better.
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