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Dog skin allergies

Adult Jack Russell walking through a field with face close to the grass.
Due to your dog's sensitive skin, you might find they develop itching or scratching behavior which suggests an allergic reaction. Read more to understand how allergies work in dogs, and how you can manage the symptoms.

Dogs are prone to sensitive skin, and can even develop allergies to particular things in their diet or environment. Before you visit a vet, however, there are several things to understand about the likelihood of your dog having an allergy.

What is an allergy in dogs?

An allergy is a reaction triggered by a specific element—internal or external to the body—know as an allergen. These may be unique to an individual dog or more generally known across their breed, age, or population. The reaction is triggered by their immune system, which over-compensates and responds abnormally to what should be a normal environmental or internal issue.

What are some common allergies for dogs?

Across the dog population, there are some common allergic reactions to look out for. One of these is to flea bites, where your dog's skin reacts more dramatically than normal to the common flea. This can also happen with mosquitos and other parasites. Dogs can also suffer allergies similar to humans, and have a reaction to environmental factors such as pollen or dust mites.

Dogs can be hypersensitive to certain agents in food, which can then develop into an allergy. This includes histamine, which is found in certain types of protein, tomatoes, and spinach, as well as nutrients present in some grains. Some of the nutrients to which dogs have hypersensitivity can be found in some dog foods, which then causes unnecessary reactions to their skin and body.

What are the symptoms of an allergy in a dog?

The first thing you're likely to notice in your dog is a behavioral change; they will itch and scratch much more than normal, either in a specific place on their body or all over. On investigation, you might find they have the sort of symptoms you would associate with an allergy in a human—their skin might look red, feel scaly or dry, and seem itchy.

Adult Beagle sitting outdoors in long grass scratching its ear.

How likely is it that my dog has an allergy?

When you take your dog to the vet to establish the cause of the symptoms, the vet will conduct a series of diagnostic tests to work out if it is an allergy or whether it's something that can be treated more easily.

The first test is for fleas and other parasites, as this is a common occurrence. The vet will also test for any infectious diseases and ask you questions about the history of your dog's symptoms. Next, your vet will try to rule out a food hypersensitivity or allergy; this can take a few weeks as you'll be asked to give your dog a specific food and monitor their behavior.

Finally, they will look into a specific allergy test where they're testing your dog for atopy, or a predisposition to allergic reactions. Some of the symptoms of this include itching skin, inflammation of the skin between the toes on their front legs, and inflammation of their ears.

What can I do to protect my dog from allergies?

If your dog has an allergy, your vet will advise you on the best course of action. However, you can make sure you are managing any hypersensitivities they may have through their diet and care.

Their food should include highly digestible protein from quality sources which aren't likely to cause a reaction. It should also include omega 3 and omega 6 acids to help nourish the skin. If you're at all unsure, choose a food that's specifically designed for dogs with dermatological sensitivities.

When washing your dog, do so gently and with a specially formulated dog shampoo or product which doesn't strip their skin of sebum, as this protective film of oil helps protect their skin against external irritants. You can also speak to your vet at any time for advice on caring for your dog's skin and coat.

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