How many times a day do you see your dog scratch themselves? You probably don't think about it very much, because the occasional scratch is very normal for dogs, just like it is for humans. But it's important to recognize that normal scratching and prolonged, intense scratching are two very different things.
If your dog is scratching themselves frequently or intensely, something else might be going on. And one of the leading causes of problematic itching and scratching in dogs is skin allergies, also known as canine atopic dermatitis or atopy.
Allergies of all types involve your dog's immune system reacting to what it sees as a foreign substance. Allergic dermatitis happens when your dog's immune system reacts, and some or all of the symptoms present themselves through the skin.
What causes skin allergies in dogs? What does atopic dermatitis look like, exactly? And most importantly, how do you address skin allergies in dogs? Read on to find out.
What Causes Skin Allergies in Dogs?
Your dog's skin doesn't suddenly become itchy for no reason. Something triggers a reaction in your dog's immune system and results in the itchy skin and scratching that you see.
There are three main causes of canine atopic dermatitis: environmental allergies, food allergies, and flea allergy dermatitis (FAD).
Environmental allergens like pollen, dust mites, dirt, cigarette smoke, and mold can come into physical contact with your dog and cause allergic reactions. Environmental allergies can be a problem year-round, but some might be seasonal in nature. Pollen, for example, is a common seasonal allergy problem that affects some dogs more in the spring and summer months.
Food allergies occur when an ingredient in your dog's food, such as chicken, beef, soy, corn, or eggs, triggers the immune response. This can result in skin conditions like itchiness and hives, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting. Food intolerances are also possible. Similar to food allergies, intolerances don't involve a true immune system response but still result in symptoms like itchiness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Certain dogs are allergic to proteins in flea saliva. In dogs prone to this condition, extreme itchiness can result from even a single flea bite. Dogs suffering from FAD may or may not have a full-blown flea infestation.
What Are the Symptoms of Dog Skin Allergies?
The symptoms of atopic dermatitis in dogs include:
- Excessive scratching, licking, biting, or chewing at the skin
- Rubbing the ears or face with the paws
- Red, irritated skin
- Scabs on the skin
- Hot spots
- Hair loss/bald patches
- Foul odor coming from the skin
- Chronic ear infections
Because of the intense, repeated scratching, licking, and chewing your dog exhibits in response to their itchy skin, there's a risk of secondary bacterial infections developing. These skin infections are caused by bacteria or yeast introduced to the skin from your dog's paws or mouth, and they'll need to be treated alongside the actual allergy problem.
Note that certain dog breeds seem to be genetically predisposed to atopic dermatitis and are more likely to suffer from skin allergies than others. Those breeds include Beagles, Pugs, English and French Bulldogs, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, and Miniature Schnauzers, among others.
How Are Dog Skin Allergies Treated?
If you see the symptoms described above, take your dog to the vet's office for treatment. You'll need the help of a veterinary professional to get your dog's allergy problem under control.
Diagnosing a case of dog skin allergies is the first step. Since the symptoms can mirror those of other skin problems, your vet will need to use allergy testing methods like blood tests and skin tests (intradermal testing) to make a definitive diagnosis.
Once diagnosed, your dog's skin allergy may be treated in a variety of ways. The exact treatment or combination of treatments will depend on your dog's type of allergy and the severity of the situation, but treatment options include:
If a particular environmental allergen is found to trigger your dog, you might be able to help your dog avoid it. If your dog is allergic to pollen, for example, you might avoid taking them for long walks when the pollen count is high.
If a food allergy affects your dog, work with your veterinarian to conduct a food trial, which will pinpoint the ingredient your dog reacts to so you can help your dog avoid it. And keep your dog on a quality flea preventative to avoid the risk of a flea infestation and flea allergy dermatitis.
Oral antihistamines like Benadryl combat histamines. Histamines are the substances your dog's immune system releases in response to allergies. They're what makes your pet so itchy, so antihistamines can go a long way toward helping them feel more comfortable.
Immunotherapy for allergies involves a series of allergy shots that build your dog's natural tolerance to the allergen. This method may take six months or longer to show results, but it can be very effective when avoiding an allergen or taking the occasional antihistamine isn't enough.
Severe cases of atopic dermatitis might be dealt with using corticosteroids, which can help combat itching and inflammation. Because steroids can have serious side effects, it's important to stay in close contact with your vet until your dog is done with their treatment regimen.
Your vet might recommend a few natural remedies to try at home. Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial for your pooch's skin, so an Omega-3 supplement like Native Pet's Omega Oil might be the perfect choice.
Probiotic supplements are another choice, and they're particularly helpful for food allergies. Try Native Pet's probiotic powder — it balances the gut's microbiome and creates a thriving environment for healthy flora, which can address food allergy symptoms like diarrhea.
Another option is Native Pet's Allergy Chicken Chews. These all-natural chews provide an antihistamine to target itchy skin, and they can even aid in long-term immune support.
If your dog has secondary skin infections in addition to their skin allergies, your vet may use antibiotics or antifungal medications to kill off the offending bacteria or yeast.
How Can Pet Owners Help With Dog Skin Allergies?
Dog skin allergies are definitely no fun for your dog or for you. Luckily, with the help of your veterinarian, you should be able to keep your dog's allergy issues under control and help them to live a happy, healthy, normal life.
When you see potential symptoms of atopic dermatitis like excessive itching and scratching, red and irritated skin, hair loss, or an unusually foul odor coming from your dog, it's time to see the vet. They may recommend allergy testing so they can decide how to move forward.
Treatment might involve avoiding certain allergy triggers, giving your dog oral antihistamines, administering allergy shots, or the use of corticosteroids in the most severe cases. Natural remedies like dietary supplementation can also be effective.
Working closely with your vet, you can help your dog to feel comfortable again and stop being so itchy. Then, your pet can get back to doing what they do best: being a happy, loyal companion to you and your family.
Would you like more insight into your dog's health and wellness needs? Check out the Native Pet blog.