dog skin allergies
Category_Dog Knowledge

Dog Skin Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

by Andrew Ehlert

A dog that constantly scratches itself and licks its paws is probably suffering from a skin allergy. Such animals might not be interested in playing and might have trouble sleeping or eating.

Dog skin allergies happen to be among the top pup health problems. In fact, a recent survey revealed that about 10% of pups suffer from skin allergies.

Most skin allergies result from environmental factors, including parasites like fleas and elements that may irritate the skin. But other allergies result from food.

Just like humans, dogs may not be able to tolerate certain food items. This may manifest itself in the form of skin irritation or itching.

Is your furry friend suffering from a skin allergy that makes them uncomfortable? Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for dog skin allergies.

Types of Skin Allergies in Dogs

The first step towards finding treatment for your dog’s skin condition is identifying what type of allergy it has. Typically, there are approximately five types of skin conditions in dogs. These differ in severity, symptoms and may require different treatment approaches.

Canine Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (atopy) is a dog skin allergy caused by repeated exposure to allergens such as pollen, plants, mold spores, dust mites, among others. It is the second most common pup skin allergy, affecting approximately 10% of dogs.

This skin condition causes the dog to itch profusely, leading to sores. It mostly affects pups at the age of one to three years.

Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis

  • Excessive scratching around the ears, underbelly, muzzle, and the groin
  • Licking in between the toes and paws
  • Severe itchiness in the feet, ears, around the eyes, and at the base of the tail, among other areas of the body
  • Red, inflamed, and tough skin
  • Greasy skin
  • Yeasty smell from the sores caused by scratching

Treatment for Atopic Dermatitis

One of the main treatments for atopy is allergy injections, also known as hyposensitization therapy. Your vet will inject your dog with the allergens to which it is sensitive. If it is not known, the veterinarian will have to determine these.

Although it significantly reduces the symptoms of atopic dermatitis such as itchiness by a considerable percentage, this treatment may take up to a year to be effective.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe medications for your pup. You may be required to give allergy pills to your dog every day, or the vet may give an injection every two to four weeks. The purpose of these medications is to boost your pup’s immune system by increasing the production of antibodies.

Anti-fungal medication and antibiotics may also be prescribed for your dog if it has developed skin infections from the intense scratching caused by the allergic reaction.

Your vet can also recommend medicated shampoos for your furry little friend. These shampoos contain ingredients that soothe damaged skin caused by excessive scratching and reduce skin inflammation. What’s more, they remove most of the allergens from the hair coat without causing it to dry out.

Antihistamines such as Chlortrimeton, Benadryl, Atarax, Claritin, and Zyrtec are also great at reducing most of the symptoms of atopic dermatitis. However, these have a variable effect on dogs, meaning that they can either work well for your pup or have little to no effect.

FAD is the most common dog skin allergic condition caused by a hypersensitive reaction to a flea’s saliva. When a flea feeds on your dog’s blood, it injects some saliva into its skin. This saliva’s protein and antigens are what cause an allergic response in your pup.

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Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Contrary to most people’s beliefs that a dog has to be infested with fleas to develop FAD, a single flea bite can actually cause this skin condition. All it takes is its saliva to trigger that hypersensitive reaction.

Symptoms of Flea Allergy Dermatitis

  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Excessive scratching, licking, and rubbing against a surface or object
  • Stained fur coat from the intense licking
  • Hair loss
  • Red rash

Treatment for Flea Allergy Dermatitis

The best way to deal with flea allergy dermatitis is to minimize or prevent contact with fleas. One of the most effective ways to kill fleas on your dog is using oral flea medications. Most of them will start killing these parasites within 30-60 minutes after being administered.

Benadryl is a popular option here because it stops the allergic response to the fleas’ saliva and soothes your pup’s irritated skin in very little time. This medicine’s dosage is often prescribed according to a dog’s weight. The rule of thumb is 1 mg of Benadryl per pound.

If your dog is 25 pounds, the vet will prescribe 25 mg of Benadryl.

Don’t forget to bathe your dog immediately after the fleas are dead. This will remove any eggs that may have stuck on the dog’s skin, preventing reinfestation. You can use medicated shampoos with soothing ingredients such as oatmeal to reduce the itchiness and soothe its inflamed skin.

As we mentioned earlier, keeping fleas away from your home is also essential. So, it is advisable to check your dog’s beddings and kennel for fleas. Cleaning with warm soapy water is an effective way of killing and keeping fleas at bay.

It is also essential to vacuum your home regularly. Be thorough around cracks or spaces in your floor and walls because this is where these parasites usually hide. In the same breath, wash your carpet regularly to keep it safe from fleas.


Mange is basically a dog skin allergic condition caused by mites. There are two types of mites that cause mange:

  • Demodectic mites, which is also called dermodex or red mange
  • Sarcoptic mites, also known as scabies

Demodex mites are some of the most common parasites found in dogs and usually do not cause any health problems. But, if your pup has a compromised immune system, it may become prone to allergies. On the other hand, scabies are quite rare but can cause severe skin irritation in dogs and can be transmitted to humans.

Symptoms of Mange

  • Extreme licking, scratching, and rubbing against an object
  • Hair loss
  • Red rash
  • Scaling skin

Treatment for Dog Mange

Before finding a remedy for your dog’s mange, it is vital to identify the type of mites on its body. Some of the common treatments for this skin allergic condition include using medicated shampoos to soothe irritated skin and minimize scratching.

You can also use topical applications containing compounds such as imidacloprid-moxidectin and selamectin to kill these mites. There are also oral medications that contain substances like isoxazoline that combat mites and prevent your dog from developing mange in the future.

Home Treatment

What’s more, there are several ways to treat your pup’s mange at home. For starters, you can use apple cider vinegar.

Mix apple cider with Borax and warm water. You’ll need about half a cup of apple cider vinegar and the same portion of warm water containing dissolved Borax. Then spray the mixture all over your dog’s body, avoiding the eyes and nose. Let the mixture settle and dry.

However, it is important to keep your dog from licking itself during this treatment process, as Borax can cause serious health issues.

To avoid it, just add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your pup’s drinking water.

The vinegar’s antibacterial and antiseptic properties will help heal any skin infections your dog may have developed due to excessive scratching. It also helps balance your pup’s skin pH levels, therefore boosting healing.

Honey is also an excellent home remedy for mange. Just apply it to the affected areas in your dog’s body, and its antiseptic and antioxidant qualities will quicken the process of wound healing. You can also sponge bathe your pup with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and Borax to help kill those mites and heal the sores caused by scratching.

Food Allergy Dermatitis

Unlike atopic dermatitis and flea allergy dermatitis, this skin condition is not common in dogs. It may also take some time before your pup is diagnosed with it.

Food allergy dermatitis occurs when a particular food’s protein molecules evoke an allergic reaction in your dog’s skin or intestines. The main tell-tale sign of this condition is itchy skin, although some pups may also have diarrhea.

Most dogs may develop this skin condition at around six months, but it may not be realized until approximately three years of age.

Unlike most other dog skin allergies, food allergy dermatitis is diagnosed through a food trial. All other conditions such as atopic dermatitis have to be ruled out first before conducting this trial.

A vet will recommend an exclusion diet consisting of proteins that the dog has never had for 6-12 weeks consecutively during a food trial. If your pup’s skin condition improves, then it may have food allergy dermatitis.

However, to be sure, your dog will be put on a dietary challenge.

This challenge still involves the exclusion diet, but a particular food item such as an egg is added to see whether your pup will develop a negative response to it. If it does, then it means your dog is allergic to that food.

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Symptoms of Food Allergy Dermatitis

  • Itchiness, especially around the ears and groin
  • Irritability and aggressiveness

Treatment for Food Allergy Dermatitis

The main remedy here is to avoid feeding your dog foods that may evoke an allergic reaction in them.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of healthy commercial hypoallergenic diets that your pup can enjoy. Still, you can prepare homemade food for your animal, avoiding anything that could trigger an allergy. Just be sure that the meals are balanced and contain all the necessary nutrients.

To reduce itching, administer antihistamines such as Benadryl. Bathing your dog with soothing shampoos is also an excellent way to minimize itchiness in its skin.

The veterinarian may also recommend antibiotics such as ketoconazole and cephalexin to treat skin infections caused by intense rubbing and scratching.

Specific dog breeds can be more susceptible to food allergies or routine seasonal allergies. You can learn more about the different breeds in our specific guides below:

Hot Spots

Scientifically known as acute moist or pyotraumatic dermatitis, hot spots are red, inflamed, and sometimes moist spots on a dog’s skin. These sores usually cause excessive scratching and end up having pus.

Hot spots are caused by anything that makes your dog scratch itself too much. If unattended, they might lead to bacterial infections.

Symptoms of Hot Spots

  • Red, moist wounds around the body from excessive rubbing and scratching
  • Irritability

Treatment for Hot Spots

Hot spots are simply the sores caused by intense licking, rubbing, and scratching due to all these dog skin allergic conditions we have looked at.

Your vet may prescribe some antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection on the hot spots. They may also recommend hydrocortisone creams and sprays to help reduce itching.

You can treat these sores at home. For starters, bathe your dog with an antibacterial shampoo to get rid of any infections and minimize itchiness. It is also recommendable to wipe the hot spots with water-based antiseptic wipes.

Don’t forget to get your dog an e-cone or collar to prevent it from licking, scratching, or rubbing itself constantly, as it can worsen the hot spots.

Keeping Your Dog Safe From Allergies

Dog skin allergic conditions can make your furry friend agitated and uncomfortable, and sores can make it worse. Granted, skin conditions resulting from allergies are unlikely to be life-threatening, but they may prevent a dog from sleeping or eating properly, thereby affecting its health. Eye drops for dogs are common for helping to remove environmental allergies from the eyes and face of your dog.

The good thing is that most of these conditions can be prevented by observing good hygiene practices. For example, regular cleaning of a dog’s beddings and grooming can reduce the chances of your pup developing a skin allergy.

While searching for a homemade or over-the-counter remedy for your dog’s skin allergy may be the first thing you may think of, it is important to consult your vet.

The veterinarian will conduct the necessary tests such as food elimination trials and intradermal testing to determine the exact type of condition your pup has and recommend the appropriate medication.

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