Is your dog’s itchy skin a sign of allergies?

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Is your dog’s itchy skin a sign of allergies? - Picture of a Shibu dog scratching itself, while sitting on grass.

Allergies in dogs often present with different symptoms than what people usually experience. While people with allergies often sneeze and have runny eyes, dogs usually develop itchy skin or digestive distress. These symptoms also occur with other illnesses, so it can be difficult to know if your dog has allergies based only on how they’re acting. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • Why do dogs get allergies?
  • How do I know if my dog has allergies?
  • How do I know what my dog is allergic to?
  • Can a vet diagnose and cure my dog’s allergies?

Allergies are a lifelong condition and are extremely common in dogs. A dog may be allergic to many things in their environment or food. Even though treating allergies is often complicated, long-term allergy treatments are usually successful in managing uncomfortable symptoms.

What are pet allergies?

Allergies in dogs occur when the body has an inappropriate response to something - in the environment, on their skin, or in their food - called an allergen. The resulting inflammatory response most often results in itchy, irritated skin but can have other effects. Dogs can have year-round or seasonal allergies. Environmental allergies may wax and wane with the seasons if the allergen isn’t present year-round, while a food allergy is expected to appear as long as the dog is eating the problematic ingredient.

What are the symptoms of allergies in dogs?

Itchy skin is the most common allergy symptom in dogs. Skin symptoms occur with both environmental and food allergies. However, dogs with allergies may exhibit other symptoms as well.

Itchiness and irritated skin

Excessive licking, biting, and scratching at the skin are signs of itchiness in dogs. While a dog can itch anywhere, the most common areas a dog will lick or scratch due to allergies include:

  • The lower back and base of the tail
  • Face, ears, eyes, and chin
  • Front feet
  • The sides of the body
  • Under the armpits

Itchy skin usually starts out looking normal before turning thick and red or gray. In time, open sores, hair loss, or crusty, scaly dry skin may develop. Hives may also occur but are far less common than other allergy symptoms.

Problems with the eyes, ears, and nose

Itchy and runny eyes and nose can occur as allergic symptoms in dogs, as well as red, swollen, or smelly ears. Excessive head shaking is another common symptom of irritated ears. Most dogs with recurrent ear infections have underlying allergies. Sneezing can occur, especially with airborne allergies. It’s important to note respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, and coughing are uncommon canine  allergy symptoms and are more often caused by a different medical condition. Only a veterinarian can confirm if your dog’s symptoms are allergies.

Vomiting and diarrhea

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can occur in dogs with food allergies. They may or may not be accompanied by itchy skin or other more common symptoms of allergies.

What is my dog allergic to?

The possibilities of what your dog might be allergic to are vast, but environmental allergies are much more common than food allergies. Dogs can be allergic to something in the air, in contact with their skin, or in their food. Some of the most common allergens affecting dogs include:

The most common allergens in food are:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Dairy
  • Egg

It can be difficult to pinpoint the trigger for a dog’s allergy symptoms, and dogs are often allergic to multiple allergens. Symptoms alone do not point to a specific allergen. “Most pet parents never learn what their dog is allergic to,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a veterinarian at Vetster. “Luckily, knowing the specific allergens is not usually necessary for successful treatment.”

Quote from Jo Myers, saying vets don't necessarily need to know the cause of an allergy to treat it.

How are canine allergies diagnosed by a veterinarian?

Vets often use diagnostic tests to rule out other common causes of the symptoms a dog is exhibiting. Itching, skin issues, sneezing, vomiting, and diarrhea are common symptoms of other illnesses and conditions in dogs. It is important for veterinarians to rule out these other conditions as there are no tests to diagnose allergies directly. Allergy testing can help identify specific allergens but is usually only performed when immunotherapy, or allergy shots, are the intended course of treatment or when conventional treatments do not work.

Can allergies be cured in dogs?

Allergies cannot be cured in dogs. Instead, the goal of treatment is to minimize discomfort, reduce symptoms, and prevent secondary skin and ear infections. There are a variety of allergy and anti-itch medications that a veterinarian can try to alleviate symptoms, including oral and injectable options. Every dog’s response will be different, so determining the most effective treatment may require some trial and error.

Most dogs require more than one type of allergy treatment. Dog owners can also help reduce exposure to the allergen and minimize symptoms by:

  • Using flea prevention year-round
  • Bathing to remove allergens from the fur
  • Wiping their dogs feet off when they come in from outside
  • Using a special air filter
  • Giving supplements to improve the skin barrier
  • Feeding a special diet

Since allergies cannot be cured, long-term management is needed to manage the symptoms or avoid the allergen for the duration of the dog’s life.

Can I treat my dog’s allergy symptoms from home?

The best steps you can take on your own are using year-round flea prevention, trying to rinse pollen off your dog’s feet or fur, vacuuming and dusting frequently, and running an air filter. These steps alone are unlikely to provide enough relief without veterinary intervention. Natural remedies are unlikely to work and may contain dangerous ingredients. Over-the-counter supplements, medicated shampoos, and special diets play a role in allergy management, but are best used under veterinary guidance.

The best way to get quick relief and avoid wasting time and money on treatments that don’t work or that are potentially harmful is to get recommendations from a veterinarian. Seeing a vet also allows for diagnostic testing to make sure allergies are actually the reason for your dog’s symptoms.

It’s important to properly treat and manage canine allergies to prevent secondary infections and worsening symptoms.

How do I know if my dog has allergies?

Excessive itchiness is the most common symptom of pet allergies. Talk to a vet any time you notice excessive scratching, biting, or licking at the body. Other symptoms include swollen eyes, excessive sneezing, and stomach problems such as vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms may occur year-round or only for parts of the year if a dog has seasonal allergies.

Always follow a veterinarian’s instructions and avoid using unapproved remedies. If you are concerned your dog may have allergies or need help with allergy symptom management, you can connect with a vet near you in a virtual vet appointment for help.

FAQ - Does your dog have itchy skin? It might be allergies.

How can you tell if your dog has allergies?

Excessive itchiness is the most common symptom of allergies in dogs. A dog may also present with excessive sneezing, swollen or watery eyes, vomiting or diarrhea, dry skin, and chronic ear infections. Talk to a vet any time you notice these symptoms in your dog.

How do you treat an allergic reaction in dogs?

Sudden and severe allergic reactions that result in facial swelling, hives, or difficulty breathing are rare but potentially life-threatening and require immediate veterinary attention. It’s much more common for dogs to develop allergies gradually with recurring symptoms such as itchy skin, licking their feet, and recurring ear infections. See a veterinarian if you suspect your dog has allergies. Common treatment strategies include oral medications, injections, and taking steps to minimize exposure to allergens. Even though allergies cannot be cured, the symptoms can be minimized with long-term treatment under veterinary guidance.

What is the most common allergy in dogs?

Flea allergy dermatitis is extremely common in dogs. Other common environmental allergies include pollens, grasses, and indoor dust mites. Food allergies are far less common than other allergies, but the most common ingredients associated with canine food allergies are beef, chicken, dairy, and egg.

Where do dogs itch when they have allergies?

A dog can itch anywhere on the body when they have allergies. Some of the most common areas include the lower back and base of the tail, around the face, eyes, ears, and chin, on the front feet, around the flank, and under the armpits.