Let’s talk about dog skin allergies

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Is your dog more prone to allergies than other dogs? Allergies can have genetic causes, they may be caused or worsened by an environmental factor in your home, garden or even in your dog’s favourite food. No doubt, it’s an itchy topic! Let’s demystify dog skin allergies with answers to some commonly asked questions about dog allergy symptoms, testing and treatment.
Beagle dog staying alert outdoors

Does your dog have a skin allergy?

Only a veterinarian will be able to make an accurate diagnostic; meanwhile, it can be very helpful that you keep trace of key information regarding potential allergy symptoms such as scratching or licking more than usual and changes in their skin or coat’s appearance. Along with skin & coat changes, some allergies may trigger digestive signs such as:

• Diarrhea

• Vomiting

• Excessive flatulence

Do not hesitate to record these with related dates.

What are dog skin allergies?  

Dog allergies are abnormal reactions (or ‘pathologic’ reactions) of the immune system triggered by specific elements known as allergens that can be internal or external to your dog’s body. Basically, it's an abnormal response to something that should be normal. Your dog may be sensitive to a wide range of allergens. Some may be unique to a dog or generally known to be an issue across their breed or population (based on where they live). Dogs can develop allergies to specific allergens that could be present in the environment such as your home, a garden or even during their walks. Identifying which one(s) your dog is reacting to can require you and your vet to do some detective work... but it will be worth the investigation!

Which dog allergy symptoms should you look for?

One of the first things you may notice is a behavioural change – your dog will express itch by scratching and licking themself much more than normal, either in a specific place, such as in between their fingers, around their ears or all over. On investigation, their skin might look red, feel scaly or dry, and seem irritated. Sometimes one can also notice that the skin or the ears have an unusual bad smell.

1. Coat

Appearance: bald spots, brown discolouration where licking has occured. Behaviour: scratching sides/belly, rubbing face against furniture or carpet, licking.

2. Ears

Appearance: waxy discharge, redness, odour. Behaviour: scratching or rubbing ears with paws or against furniture.

3. Face

Appearance: muzzle, chin and areas around the eyes reddened with hair loss. Behaviour: scratching or rubbing face with paws or against furniture.

4. Feet

Appearance: inflammation, redness, odour; brown discolouration where licking has occured. Behaviour: licking and chewing of feet/pads.

5. Skin

Appearance: reddened; possibly with crusts or scales; odour with secondary infections. Behaviour: scratching and licking sides/belly, elbows, groin.

What are the different types of dog skin allergies?

There are some common allergies to look out for. The type of allergy can be influenced by the environment such as the country you live in and your surroundings, and your dog’s lifestyle (including their diet). Here are the 4 main types of allergies.

1. Canine atopic dermatitis

Canine Atopic Dermatitis (CAD) is a hereditary skin disorder that causes inflammation and pruritic (itchy) skin disease. Skin redness or lesions can be found around the face, joints, and perineal area where the skin reacts to environmental stressors such as pollens, mites, grass. While this genetic condition can be mild, it can also trigger severe signs. In any case, it can alter your dog’s quality of life, which will require a management plan and frequent reassessment by your vet.  

Several breeds are prone to CAD. If your dog is one of the breeds shown below, we recommend keeping an eye on their skin so you can spot any problems early. You can also consult this article which deeps dive in the Canine atopic dermatitis. In the meantime, if you notice increased scratching or excessive licking, skin or ear redness, swelling, dandruff, or hair loss, contact your vet so they can do the proper diagnosis and propose the optimal management plan.

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2. Food allergies

Dogs generally enjoy their food, but sometimes their immune system ‘doesn’t love’ what they eat and that can be how food allergies start! Food allergens are proteins that can be found in common foods including gluten, beef, dairy, pork, lamb and chicken. But the source(s) of protein that can trigger allergic flares may vary a lot between pets: some dogs are allergic to beef, some to chicken, or to dairy products.

3. Allergy to flea bites

Fleas are one of the most common dog parasites and one of the most annoying! Many dogs are allergic to their saliva. If you think your dog may be infested, check their coat and bed for fleas. The location of the skin lesions on your dog’s body can also be a clue, as fleas’ preferred zones are often the dorsal area, the basis of the tail, or the chin. Keep in mind that not seeing the parasites doesn’t mean they are not here! Your vet can push the investigation further, by seeking for flea faeces via specific examination for instance.

4. Contact allergy

Your dog doesn’t need to ingest or get bitten by external parasites to develop an allergic reaction. Sometimes a simple contact is all it takes – this is known as Contact Allergy Dermatitis. It may depend on where you live, but the common causes of Contact Dermatitis can include grass, chemicals, shampoo, carpet deodorisers, and even metals (eg. from the food bowl). That’s why it’s important to make sure you use specific pet-safe products for your home, car, garden, and for the care and nutrition of your pet. 

If your dog has a contact allergy, they will usually develop a red rash between 4h to 72h after the contact. If you suspect your dog may be allergic to something in your home (eg bowl, carpet, etc.) or outside, recording the event to try to precisely identify with your vet the potential culprit allergen source would be very useful.


Common allergy triggers found at home

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How to treat dog allergies?

If you suspect your dog has an allergy, the most important thing is to get an accurate diagnosis. Your vet will go through a series of steps to identify what your dog is allergic to. The list below gives some examples of those steps. Your vet will know best what your dog needs!

1. A thorough skin and coat examination

2. Specific acts to check for fleas or other parasites

3. An infectious disease test such as a ‘scotch test’ or specific test and staining of sample then checked under a microscope.

4. A food elimination trial to confirm food allergy rigorously

5. Intra-dermal tests, if environmental atopy is confirmed, to go further in causes and potential individualized treatment options

Once the diagnosis is established, your vet will recommend the best course of action to manage the disease the best way possible and improve your dog’s quality of life. Often, the best way to treat dog allergies is to avoid the allergen, but this can be easier said than done, especially when your dog turns out to be allergic to dust mites, pollens, or grass! Luckily, several treatments are available.

Can I prevent dog skin allergies?

In short, no! But there are some ways to avoid its signs and what you need to do differs depending on the allergy. 

In the case of dog food allergies, choosing food for your dog that is formulated and produced in specific ways so as to minimize the risk of allergic reactions is the best way to help keeping your pet safe. Your veterinarian will help you by recommending the best options, with nutrition that includes specific protein sources (hydrolyzed or from an origin your dog has never been exposed to before), highly digestible, and in limited number. Your dog may also benefit from a diet enriched in omega 3 & 6 fatty acids or specific B vitamins and minerals, to help support skin & coat health. Here you’ll find a product range specifically designed for dogs with skin sensitivities, but remember to talk to your vet to choose the best diet for your dog!  

To minimise allergic risks to fleas or other parasites, use preventive all-year-round treatments, even more so if you have to regularly go in areas prone to host parasites. Frequently vacuuming and cleaning your pet’s bed and linen can also help to avoid infestations.  

Following a skin and coat care routine will help soothe the symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis and any general irritations. Click here for everything you need to know about your dog’s healthy skin and coat routine.  

Allergies are not the only reason your dog might be scratching. And remember that scratching and itching can occur for many reasons ranging from the benign to the life-threatening. If in doubt, it’s always best to check with your vet.

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