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Dog Skin Allergies Causes and Treatments

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dog skin allergies

Wondering why your dog is suddenly scratching more, chewing his/her paws or liking their skin more often than normal? Does the pet seem more irritated and uncomfortable? It could be an allergy. Skin allergies make your dog's skin dry, itchy, and scratchy (or in some cases, oily), and are a common problem for many pets. In fact, skin allergies and scratching are the second most common reason that dogs visit the vet.

Dog Skin Allergy Symptoms

A skin allergy may be easy to spot as common symptoms of a skin allergy in dogs include:

Some breeds have thicker or fluffier coats that can mask many of these signs, so additional concurrent symptoms to look out for include:

Additionally, while skin allergies can occur anywhere on your dog’s body, common locations include: 

It is best to examine your dog for skin allergies as soon as you suspect them because left untreated, your dog may irritate their skin to a point of infection. 

What Causes Skin Allergies in Dogs?

Most veterinarians point to poor breeding practices and processed pet foods as the main culprits. However, some breeds are just more genetically prone to develop skin allergies. 

Nonetheless, any dog can develop a skin allergy, and the major causes include:

These allergens can also lead to the development of atopic dermatitis in dogs, which rather than mere skin irritation is classified as a chronic inflammatory allergic skin disease. Atopic dermatitis is one of the most common allergic skin diseases in dogs, second to flea allergy dermatitis. While symptoms are similar to skin allergies, the main difference is atopic dermatitis is a chronic auto-immune condition, while skin allergies manifest from exposure to a triggering irritant.

Outside or inside, there are many allergens that could leave your dog scratching. But beyond known allergens, allergies to medications can also manifest as skin problems. Additionally, other common conditions that can cause hair loss and skin irritation include bacterial and viral infections, demodectic mange, other skin diseases and conditions (i.e. sebaceous adenitis, eczema, folliculitis, seborrhea, dermatomyositis), hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, auto-immune disorders, parasites (i.e. lice and mites), and malnutrition. Since these conditions can present themselves similarly to skin allergies, a visit to the local vet can help to identify the source of your dog’s discomfort and allow for the proper treatment plan to be made.

Dog Skin Allergies Treatment

Treatment for dogs with extremely severe allergies may require strong pharmaceuticals, however, diet and supplements can be a great place to start for all dogs who suffer from allergies, before determining if more intensive treatments are required. For a majority of dogs, a change in diet alone can be enough to treat skin allergies. Additionally for many contact and inhalant allergens, when identified, avoiding unnecessary exposure is the best treatment option!

Dog Food for Skin Allergies

Dietary management can be a valid treatment option for canine skin allergies. For one, guaranteeing a well-balanced diet is one way to be sure malnutrition is not the reason for irritation and hair loss. A true food allergy is rare in dogs, and oftentimes introducing variety into their diet, especially in protein in fat source, may be enough to alleviate skin allergy symptoms.

Because skin reactions from food intolerances and sensitivities can present similarly to those from contact or environmental allergens, it can be hard to identify the trigger. However, one way to help determine if food is the culprit is with an elimination diet of at least 8 weeks, which consists of a hypoallergenic diet using a novel protein and carbohydrate source. Additionally, Veterinarians may also perform skin or blood tests to identify common allergens. If a food irritant is discovered, it is best to avoid it! 

Trying your dog on a natural fresh food diet may also help manage canine skin allergies:

A grain-free diet is also often considered for dogs with skin allergies:

There are a lot of other diets that receive buzz for helping with skin allergies, i.e. a raw food diet. However, the research in support of these diets is more controversial. The biggest consideration is making sure that whatever diet you end up putting your dog on is nutritionally complete, because nutrient deficiencies can cause symptoms similar to skin allergies such as dry irritated skin, hair loss, and a dull coat. Simple foods with limited and novel ingredients are really what you want to look for, which is why a fresh food diet should be on the top of the list of diets to try for dogs with skin allergies. A grain-free diet is really the next consideration when grains are the specific cause of your dog’s discomfort.

Nom Nom offers a variety of high quality, veterinarian formulated fresh food recipes, all containing the Nom Nom Nutrient mix to guarantee every meal is balanced and complete. 

Home Remedies for Dog Skin Allergies

While dietary modifications and medications may help with your dog’s skin allergies, there are many natural remedies to consider trying for itchy skin relief for dogs. Many pet owners prefer to try these more natural and homeopathic remedies first before turning to medications with larger side effects, as they’re often safer, and don’t require veterinary consultation. However, it is never a bad idea to make sure your veterinarian is on board with the treatment plan, and if your dog's symptoms are beyond just mild irritation or continue to worsen, call your vet right away. 

Some natural allergy remedies to try, include:

Shampoo for Dog Skin Allergies

Shampoos can contain ingredients that dry out and irritate your dog’s skin, and can cause allergic reactions. While regular bathing is important to help remove other allergens from your dog’s fur make sure to use gentle hypoallergenic or anti-itch shampoos and cleansers, and do not over-bathe your dog.

Look for shampoos that contain limited ingredients (the fewer the better!) and that list full ingredients. Additionally shampoos that contain soothing ingredients like oatmeal, vitamin E, and aloe vera may help provide additional relief to your dogs skin!

Avoid shampoos that don’t disclose all ingredients and that contain ingredients like fragrance, perfumes, dyes, sulfates, parabens, and other unnecessary chemical additives. 

Medicated shampoos can also be used for dogs with skin allergies that remove allergens while providing relief to the allergic reaction. 

Dogs with Severe Skin Allergies

If you’ve tried changing your dog’s diet and other natural skin care remedies, and had no luck relieving your dog’s itch and irritation, your dog’s skin allergies may require a prescription from your vet. 

How to Know if Your Dog’s Skin Allergy is Severe?

Your dog’s skin allergies are considered severe when they are widespread over the body, persistent, and resist natural treatments. Remember, for the majority of dogs a change and diet can clear up their irritation, if this is not the case for your dog, they’re suffering from more severe allergies. Additionally, if your dog is scratching and biting themselves to the point of skin sores, hair loss, and infection, their case is considered more severe. 


Remember for all skin allergies, mild or severe, it is best to keep your dog up to date of flea and tick medication, keep your house clean and allergen free, avoid or minimize exposure to known allergens, try a hypoallergenic diet, and exhaust home remedies.

However, when medication is required, there are a variety of medications to try for skin allergies, including:

Puppies with Skin Allergies

Wondering if puppies experience different symptoms and causes of skin allergies than older dogs?

Puppies too can suffer from skin allergies that leave them biting and scratching. Seasonal, environmental, contact, and food allergens can similarly be the source of their discomfort. Symptoms and treatment options additionally follow that of adult dogs. Puppies that have been treated with antibiotics are thought to be more prone to developing allergies as an adult dog, due to the impact on their immune system and microbiome. Additionally, sometimes puppies experience sensitivities to foods, like dairy, that cause skin allergies that they can outgrow with time. Feeding your puppy properly and providing them with a variety of foods, especially protein options, if thought to be a good way to limit their development of skin allergies. Additionally, probiotics are gaining traction as helping to prevent the development of allergies when provided to puppies during the first 6 months of their life. Furthermore, for puppies who have undergone antibiotic use, probiotics can help restore their gut balance.

Top Breeds Prone to Skin Allergies

While any breed of dog can suffer from skin allergies, certain breeds are more prone to developing them. This could be due to poor breeding practices, genetic predisposition, or type of fur. Dogs with shorter coats are more susceptible to skin allergies, because it is more exposed. Likewise breeds with increased skin folds tend to experience more skin irritation. Fluffier coats can also be a trap for allergens, and mask early signs of irritation, allowing the condition to worsen before any treatment occurs. 

Learn more about some of the top breeds prone to skin allergens by clicking on them below:  

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