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, he is now following a homeopathic protocol in order to get to the underlying cause of his allergies. Your treatment strategy will depend on the severity of symptoms and the type of allergy. For instance, food allergies can be resolved when you take the food culprit out of the diet.
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
- 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, chemicals in cleaning products, or other airborne pollutants are to blame for these dog skin allergies.
- Parasitic dermatitis. Fleas
are 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.Sometimes the treatment for fleas contain chemicals and toxins that create even more skin reaction. You can find some non-toxic treatment options here.
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 for chronic problems.
Solutions for dog skin allergies:
- Homemade dog food. Of all the allergy solutions I've tried, none has had more impact than cooking Luc's food using anti-inflammatory ingredients such as sardines, kale, blueberries, and coconut oil. I worked with a pet nutritionist to find the best recipe for Luc's needs that provides the right nutritional balance for him. And he loves it!!!!
- 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.
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 supplement or vitamin to help dog skin allergies is essential fatty acids. You can get these in capsule or liquid form. Working with a reputable homeopathic veterinarian can be extremely beneficial for chronic allergies to help decide on the best supplements and dosage.
- 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.
CAUTION: Long term use of these drugs are not ideal and they often cause side effects as well. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of this type of treatment.
- 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
- Special shampoos and conditioners. If
you're using a medicated shampoo, be careful to read the directions and ingredients carefully. Find shampoos that have soothing ingredients such as
oatmeal, aloe vera, or eucalyptus to help with itching. One of our site visitors recommended Espana Silk Shampoo and I've been very happy with it. It's very gentle and healing, and doesn't contain harmful ingredients like many medicated shampoos.
- 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.
I use hypoallergenic dog wipes on Luc's paws every time he's been outside to wipe away grass, weeds, or pollen.
- 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 can 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.
- Organic virgin coconut oil - Luc seems to get relief from 1 tablespoon a day. I started him out with 1/2 teaspoon and then gradually increased the amount so that he didn't get digestive issues.
- UPDATE: While Luc has had success with some of the methods above, some of the medications produced side effects such as joint pain, digestive issues, and lethargy. He is now in the care of a homeopathic veterinarian to get to the source of his allergies, instead of just managing his symptoms. Learn more about homeopathy for pets here.
Dealing with dog skin allergies can be very frustrating, but be patient - finding the right solution can be a lengthy
process, but worth it in the end when your dog finally gets relief from
all the itchy discomfort.
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