Dog Skin Allergies:
Causes and Solutions

In my experience, dog skin allergies are one of the most frustrating problems to solve. It can be very challenging to get to the root cause of dog allergies.

My Coton de Tulear dog, Luc, is allergic to environment allergens such as ragweed, pollen, grass, plants, mold, and dust. And as an extra added bonus he’s allergic to cats, which is unfortunate because he shares a home with one.

He has suffered through having 50 shots in his stomach to determine what he's allergic to and he’s tried all kinds of shots, shampoos, sprays, lotions, potions, pills and dietary changes to get relief.

I had to give him a shot every week for almost 2 years. And still…. there are times during the year when he still wakes me up in the middle of the night scratching, biting, chewing, and licking. It's heartbreaking to see him suffering and not be able to help him.

After all the trial and error remedies and all the time and money we still don't have a definitive cure for Luc's allergies (other than to stay away from the list of things he's allergic to which is not possible). What we do have, is a plan to mitigate his symptoms and keep him as comfortable as possible.

This plan includes bathing him every week with anti itch shampoo, keeping him away from cats (not easy since he lives with a cat), keeping topical anti-itch sprays on hand, and using prescribed medication for times when he has severe flare-ups.

So what causes dog skin allergies?

  • Dog food allergies. This is easier to cure than environmental allergies because you can eliminate the offender. The tricky part is to isolate which food is causing the allergic reactions. This can take a lot of time and patience. You have to try one food at a time to determine if it's what's causing the reaction and then try another food until you find the culprit.

  • Environmental (contact) allergies (Atopic dermatitis or Inhaled Dermatitis). The most common problems are pollen, ragweed, dust mites, feathers, mold, animal dander, grass, trees, and plants. Unfortunately this is the type of skin allergy that my dog Luc has. It is impossible to eliminate these allergens so it's important to treat the symptoms instead of the cause.

  • Other Inhalant allergies. Pollen, cigarette smoke, air fresheners, smog, or other airborne pollutants are to blame for these dog skin allergies.

  • Parasitic dermatitis. Even with the advent of products such as Revolution, Frontline, and Advantage, fleas are still a common cause of dog skin allergies. Symptoms can include itching, red skin, and bumps on the skin and occurs most often at the base of the tail, the spine, inner thighs, and stomach area.

No matter what the cause of dog skin allergies, it can be challenging to find the right treatment to stop licking, chewing, scratching, and biting. Infections and hot spots can result as well so it's very important to work with your veterinarian.

dog skin allergies

Solutions for dog skin allergies:

  • Topical Sprays. Provide topical relief with antihistamines and/or hydrocortisone medications. You can find these sprays at pet stores or drug stores.

  • Over the counter medication. Medications such as Benadryl or Zyrtec can work well for mild allergy symptoms, but you may need prescription drugs for more severe cases. Always check with your vet for dosage amounts.

  • Supplements.  Over the counter coat and skin supplements are easy to use and easy to find. Patience is often required because what works for one dog may not work for another. One of the more effective supplements to help dog skin allergies is omega 3 fatty acids.

  • Prescription medication. More severe allergy conditions may require stronger medication. Anti-itch medication and antibiotics are often prescribed. Steroids like Prednisone or Atopica may be necessary for very severe cases. Work with your vet to find the right drugs to ensure that the side effects of the drugs aren't causing additional problems.

  • Raw honey. A teaspoon of raw honey can improve your dog's coat and skin condition. It's recommended to get local honey from a farmer's market instead of the packaged honey found at supermarkets.

  • Special shampoos and conditioners. If you're using a medicated shampoo, be careful to read the directions and not to misuse it. Find shampoos that have soothing ingredients such as oatmeal, aloe vera, or eucalyptus to help with itching. Luc uses Ketohex shampoo.

  • Weekly bathing. A weekly bath can reduce the allergens in your dog's coat and skin significantly and provide much needed healing relief. Make sure to use cool to cold water to provide even more relief for your dog. You can quickly give your bath a sponge bath when he comes in from outdoors to remove any unwanted allergens as well, especially during allergy season.

  • Limit exposure to allergens. Limit outdoor exposure during allergy season if possible. Of course some allergens are impossible to eliminate, so once again, you must deal with the symptoms instead of the cause of the symptoms. While most environmental allergens can't be controlled, some like flea allergies and food allergies can definitely be eliminated.

  • Keep your home clean. Make sure to vacuum or clean carpets and furniture often for those dogs who suffer from indoor allergens such as dust.

  • Add essential fatty acids to diet. Select dog foods that contain Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids which can provide relief for itching.

  • Allergy testing. If you've ruled out dog food allergies, these tests help identify which substances are causing the allergic reaction. Once you know the cause you can start desensitization through weekly allergy shots. This is usually a last resort because this is expensive and takes at least 6 months before seeing results (if then). It's also not fun to have to inject your dog with a shot every week. But….. if you've tried everything else and your dog is still suffering it can definitely be beneficial. There is no guarantee that the shots will work (they didn't for my dog), but they have been successful for many other dogs.

  • UPDATE:  In addition to many of the recommendations above, Luc has had recent success from using organic virgin coconut oil. I give him a tablespoon a day (he LOVES it and his breath smells so yummy). Even with medicine prescribed by the vet, Luc would get flare-ups, but he hasn't had a flare-up since I started him on the coconut oil. I started him out with half a teaspoon and then gradually increased to one tablespoon so that he wouldn't have digestive issues. 

Work with your vet to determine if your dog has allergies and to come up with a plan to tackle treatment. Be patient - this can be a lengthy process, but worth it in the end when your dog finally gets relief from all the itchy discomfort.

You may find that you may not be able to cure the allergies; but you can manage the symptoms to give your dog some relief.

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