Allergic skin diseases are conditions in which a dog is very itchy, often to the point of losing hair or injuring themselves by scratching, caused by an allergy.
There are several types of allergic skin disease in dogs, based on what the dog is allergic to. For example, flea allergy is called ‘flea-allergic dermatitis’. Itchiness as a result of food allergy is called ‘adverse food reaction’, or ‘food hypersensitivity’. Skin irritation or allergy caused by things that touch the dog (like plants, fabrics, soaps, etc) is called ‘contact dermatitis.
There is also a general ‘allergic-ness’ – called Atopy – which is inherited in dogs, and means they are prone to developing allergies to many things around them (pollens, dust mites, human or animal dander, and so on). The things that cause allergic reactions are called ‘allergens’.
Allergic skin conditions are lifelong conditions – they can’t be cured. However, they can be managed by keeping the main symptom (itching) under control and so giving the dog a good quality of life. Below we are giving 5 tips to help you deal with skin allergies in dogs.
Tip #1 – get a diagnosis
Getting a diagnosis is the first step – it means answering the question: “What is my dog allergic to?” You will need to work with your vet on this one – it can be a very long and difficult process to get to the end of, but stick with it because it’s very important.
Firstly, your vet will rule out other much more common causes of itching like infection or parasites (fleas and mites). Once they are convinced that an allergy is likely, they will try to discover what the allergy is to. This is done by a process of elimination; ruling out parasite, contact, and food allergies.
- Allergies to flea bites and other parasites are ruled out by treating regularly with veterinary prescribed medicines.
- Contact dermatitis can be ruled out by carefully examining where the dog is itchy, and if it corresponds to something they have touched. For example, if they are allergic to something on the floor they are likely to have sore patches on certain parts of their legs, chest, and underbelly.
- The best way to rule out food allergies is by a diet trial. This involves feeding a special diet carefully formulated to contain uncommon foods that your dog is less likely to have ever eaten, so should not be allergic to (for example, venison). Other types of diet have been cut into very small pieces using a special technique (these are called
hydrolyseddiets), so your dog’s body won’t recognize the food as something it is allergic to.
The food trial should last at least 6 weeks and throughout this time, your dog can’t get any treats or titbits, only the diet. If this seems to reduce itching, then your vet will do the annoying but very important step of re-introducing the old diet. If the itching returns, it is likely that the dog has a food allergy.
Note: Atopy can’t really be ruled out, because often atopic dogs are allergic to so many things. Instead, atopy is diagnosed when all other allergies have been ruled out. Dogs, especially dogs with atopy, can have more than one type of allergy.
Tip #2 – avoid itchy things
The main sign in allergic skin disease is itchiness. Once you have some idea of what your dog might be allergic to (the allergen), you can try to avoid it. For example, if your dog has food allergies you know that you can avoid these by feeding only the special hypoallergenic diet.
In dogs with atopy, it can be hard to identify all the things that they are allergic to. Allergen testing can be done; this is where small amounts of many different common allergens are injected under the skin to see if they cause a reaction. But even once identified, avoiding all the allergens is usually impossible with these dogs, since they are allergic to many things around them.
However, lots of things can make dogs’ skin itchy, and they all add up. This can be other allergies (for example, a dog with atopy and food allergies), parasites (fleas are itchy even in non-allergic dogs), or skin infections. The goal in managing allergic skin disease is to keep all these things as low as possible so that even when they all add up, they are below the ‘itchy threshold’ – the level at which the dog feels uncomfortable and scratches.
- Avoiding other known allergens (e.g. feeding a special hypoallergenic diet if your dog also has food allergies).
- Keeping parasites under control (by regularly treating all animals and even the house with anti-parasite products).
- Taking your dog for vet treatment if you think they might have a skin infection, or they suddenly become
Tip #3 – proper vet treatment
As well as diagnosing your dog’s allergy, your vet is instrumental in helping you to manage it. This is especially the case in dogs with atopy, who will need veterinary treatment on top of these management tips to keep their symptoms under control. There are many different types of treatment that may be appropriate for your dog, and as the condition progresses, they may need combinations of treatments to keep them comfortable and happy. Your vet will discuss with you all the treatment options, and what might best suit your dog.
Whatever your dog’s condition, you should always feel comfortable talking to your vet about any aspect of management. They will often be able to advise you, even over the telephone.
Tip #4 – essential
Essential fatty acids (like Omega-3) can sometimes help in minimizing itching; they can be added to your dog’s diet. Your vet may suggest feeding essential fatty acids; if not, you may want to ask them. This ensures you are giving the best dose.
On top, ypu want to make sure your have best possible diet for your dog.
Tip #5 – bathing
Allergic skin signs can be improved in some cases by regular baths with cool water and anti-itching or soothing dog shampoos. These can usually be bought at your vet, although some pet shops may sell them.
On top, here some easily made home remedies to help reduce skin allergy symptoms for your dog.