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September 2023

Does My Dog Have Skin Allergies?

Health & Nutrition

Dogs can itch quite regularly - so knowing how much itching is too much is important. Although it seems like a common behaviour, a dog suffering from itchy skin may be a reaction to an allergy, or sensitive skin. Either way, it’s essential to know the source of that unrelenting itch.

We spoke with Petstock VET, Alison Kemp, to demystify some of the common skin allergy questions and provide some treatment solutions.

Does my Dog have Skin Allergies?

Figuring out whether your dog has a skin allergy comes down to specific symptoms and circumstances, which is best confirmed through a vet check-up. While you might be doing some online research, a chat and vet check will leave you with a more accurate assessment.

*It’s important to note some dogs have mild sensitive skin and others could have just contracted a parasite, both with unique treatments.

Symptoms of skin allergies

When talking about skin allergies, the term encompasses all allergies which typically affect your dog’s skin or cause skin reactions. In medical terms, it is referred to as allergic dermatitis.

What this means, is that your dog may have a food allergy, which causes a skin reaction, but may also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as vomiting. So, it’s not just the skin which presents as a symptom. It’s also worth noting that severity of the symptoms will depend on the type of allergy classification.

Here is a quick list of some of the common symptoms of skin allergies in dogs:

  • Red skin rashes, or inflamed skin
  • Excessive itchiness
  • Vomiting
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy ears
  • Constant licking of specific areas of the body
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Hives
  • Swollen face or paws
  • Hair loss

Common dog skin allergies

To figure out the cause of a dog skin allergy, you need to investigate the types of skin allergies. Some breeds of dog can be more commonly affected by skin conditions or allergies, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule.

If your dog has an unrelenting itch, possibly accompanied by other symptoms, you should consider the prospect of the following allergies.

Flea dermatitis

Flea dermatitis is one the more common dog skin allergies and occurs from hypersensitivity or reaction to a flea, specifically flea saliva. It doesn’t matter whether your dog has just one or multiple fleas, they can still experience an allergic reaction. Keeping up your flea treatment will combat and prevent such allergies occurring.

Food allergy

This allergy is relatively self-explanatory in meaning, but most commonly presents due to protein sources like red meat, however, can include dairy products. Dog food allergies often start by the age of one and do require experimentation and investigation into the source of the allergic reaction.

You may notice a skin reaction when your dog eats specific types of foods, or you may just notice the reaction without identifying a cause. Still, you should always let your vet step in to provide a proper medical assessment and treatment plan.

Atopic dermatitis (dust mite allergy, pollen allergy, dust mite allergy or mould spores)

This type of allergy is environmental specific and includes everything from grass sources to dust mites. Mostly, things your dog encounters while out in their everyday environment, and some indoor spaces.

  • Dust mite allergy – Dust mites feed off dead skin particles shed by humans and pets. In terms of seasonality, dust mites are more prevalent during the summer months.

  • Grass or pollen allergy – Unfortunately if your dog has a pollen or grass allergy, they may be allergic to just one type of pollen, or many. So, having a good idea of the environment your dog spends time in is important in diagnosis.

  • Mould allergy – Typically found in dogs who live in areas of high humidity, a mould allergy is the response to mould spores found within the home or kennels. It is not a seasonal allergy, so can develop this allergy at any given time.

  • Contact allergy –As the name somewhat suggests, a contact allergy is when your dog comes in contact with house or garden products, which commonly includes pesticides, household chemicals, medicines or fertilizers.

Standard treatments of skin allergies

Due to the tricky diagnosis of some skin allergies, it’s important you leave the treatment and treatment plan in the hands of your local vet. Some skin reactions are not always easily associated to a source, and usually linked to an underlying problem.

For those curious to know what your vet may suggest, here are the common treatment options for dogs with skin allergies:

“Skin conditions are all a bit individual, so you need to have a tailored treatment plan that suits both the owner and the pet. My personal approach is to treat any obvious infection, change the diet, and then see what’s left. Then, after two to three weeks, consider allergy testing and subsequent immunotherapy treatment. If the owner doesn’t want to go down that route, and just wants to stop the itch, then either Cytopoint or Apoquel can help. However, you can also offer alternative therapies if the owner prefers that option,” says Dr Alison.

Dietary change

This is the easiest, least invasive, and often most successful way of finding and treating a food-related skin allergy. Most vets will encourage an investigation into diet before any other skin allergy treatments. It’s always best to begin with a change in diet to avoid treating an issue without knowing the source.

*There are core product ranges, including kibble, which can be recommended by a vet as part of a dog’s new diet plan.

Medicated shampoos

Some dogs with skin conditions will be soothed and react well to medicated shampoos, as they contain products with antibacterial and anti-fungal agents. These agents will successfully kill off any excess bacteria or yeast on the skin, which contributes to itchiness.

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How often should you bathe a dog with skin allergies?

It’s a common question asked by owners who have dogs with sensitive skin. It is widely known, bathing too often can reduce skin health – as it can remove necessary natural oils.:

“For a dog with normal, healthy skin, you only need to bathe them when they’re obviously dirty or smelly – which is different for every dog. Otherwise, the coat takes care of itself. In fact, some shampoos can actually create more problems for a dog’s skin or coat. If there are specific skin issues, a vet may prescribe shampoos which need to be used every couple of days,” says Dr Alison.


Antibiotics are incorporated into a treatment plan to kill off bacterial infections, which are often secondary to the initial allergy. Some dogs may itch so much it can cause deep scratches on their skin, which then provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and subsequent infections.


Antifungals are typically administered to treat a secondary issue related to a skin allergy, such as killing yeast infections. The skin becomes inflamed due to the allergy, and this will cause yeasts to multiply and cause further itching, discharge, and inflammation. This form of treatment can be long term.


Steroids are used to treat many inflammatory issues for dogs with itchy skin, and this includes skin reactions. It’s important to note that steroids do have significant side effects, especially if used orally long term and in large doses.

Allergen-specific immunotherapy

Allergen immunotherapy sounds like a mouthful and refers to injections which are produced specifically to desensitise a dog to the source of the allergy. The injections are given in small doses first, then gradually increased to regular injections. Similar to peanut allergy treatment in humans.


Atopica is designed to suppress the immune system. It cannot be easily administered to smaller patients, as it causes significant side effects. Special care is required with many vaccines due to the immune system not being able to respond normally.


Cytopoint is a medication given by injection. It contains an antibody against one of the inflammatory chemicals which triggers the itch reaction in dogs. This type of medicine is administered around every six to eight weeks, depending on the response. It’s also a treatment with minimal side effects.


Apoquel controls the signal causing the itch response in allergic dogs, by blocking the production of inflammatory chemicals. This medication comes in tablet form, and has minimal side effects.

Natural treatments

Natural treatments are also very popular in treating allergy symptoms and conditions, including acupuncture, essential oils, dog skin supplements and more. Options like castor oil and evening primrose oil contain omega-3 and omega-6, which aid skin health and reduce inflammation, however, like some other treatments, they won’t fix the allergy itself.

*It’s important to use natural treatments under vet guidance, as you don’t want to worsen the condition or compromise other treatments.

Want to speak directly to a vet about your dog’s itchy skin, or skin allergies? You can speak to a vet through text or video call via our VET Chat service or by contacting PETstock VET over the phone

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