Dog skin allergies: triggers, symptoms and itch relief (with photos)

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Dr Darcy Marshall, Dr Matthew Muir, Sarah Pollard
Dog skin allergies: Triggers and how to ditch the itch

There’s nothing more frustrating than an itch you can’t scratch — we can only imagine how irritating an allergic reaction must be for our pups.

Relieving an occasional itch is normal, but if your dog is scratching or licking incessantly it could be an allergic reaction. Seeing your dog in pain and discomfort is hard, especially if you’re not sure what the trigger is.  

Dog skin allergies are one of the most common reasons for a trip to the vet. There are different types of allergens: inhaled, food, parasitic and pharmaceutical, and environmental, but they often show similar symptoms, making them difficult to diagnose. 

We’ve collaborated with Lyka Co-founder and Integrative Veterinarian, Dr Matthew Muir, Veterinarian Dr Darcy Marshall, and Vet Nurse, Sarah Pollard, to give you expert insight on skin allergies, triggers, treatment and prevention - starting with the body’s response to an allergen.  

What is an allergen?

An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic response from the immune system. It can be something in a pup’s diet or their environment. 

Here’s what happens when a dog has contact with an allergen: 

  1. A dog’s body has stem cells that live in their bone marrow and produce specialised white blood cells called B cells. 

  2. B cells create antibodies that identify viruses, parasites or allergens that enter the body.  

  3. When an allergen enters the body, the antibodies alert the immune system and attach themselves to mast cells to regulate the immune response. 

  4. Mast cells contain chemicals, including histamines, that fight allergens. 

  5. Like humans, histamines cause redness, inflammation, itching or sneezing in a pup.  

8 symptoms of an allergic reaction 

If your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction, they may display one or more of the following signs: 

  • Acute or chronic itching 

  • Incessant rubbing, licking, over-grooming, hair loss, and/or staining of the paws, muzzle and base of their tail 

  • Biting or gnawing the skin  

  • Inflammation (redness and swelling that’s warm to touch) 

  • Hives (urticaria) or raised bumps on the skin 

  • Increased eye discharge, reddened sclera or watery eyes 

  • Skin lesions 

  • Skin or ear infections 

Signs of a reaction can appear anywhere on the skin but are often more prevalent in their armpits, groin, belly, beneath their tail and around their ears and face. 

4 dog skin allergy triggers, symptoms and treatment

Inhaled allergens

These are microscopic or environmental allergens that enter via the respiratory system like dust, mould, pollen or smoke.  

close up of dog's fur with an inhaled allergen rash

Symptoms: Itchy skin (pruritus) is the most common reaction to inhaled allergens. However, dogs may also lick their paws, rub their face and scratch their skin.  

Treatment: Try removing the trigger from the environment. Speak to your vet about using antihistamines, medication, soothing oatmeal or medicated shampoos for relief.  

Food allergens

These allergens are present in some foods such as beef, chicken, egg, wheat or dairy. Strictly speaking, a food intolerance is more common than a food allergy. 

close up of dog's fur with a food allergy dermatitis rash

Symptoms: A food allergy or intolerance often leads to itchy skin (usually ears and paws), hives, a swollen face, ear infections, and chronic gastrointestinal problems (like vomiting and diarrhoea).  Extreme allergic reactions can trigger anaphylaxis, which can affect the respiratory system, requiring immediate medical attention.  

Treatment: The best treatment is to remove the food trigger. A vet-assisted elimination trial can help to identify the problem ingredient.  

Parasitic or pharmaceutical allergens

Flea allergy dermatitis is common in dogs. A flea’s saliva, when released into the bloodstream causes the reaction, not the bite itself.  These allergens are introduced to a pup’s system deliberately or otherwise, like medication, insect stings or bites. 

close up of puppy's fur with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

Symptoms: Insect stings or bites are identified by the extremely itchy, swollen red bumps at the bite site. Your pup may start biting or gnawing the skin around the area, especially at the base of the tail.  

Treatment: Minor bites can be treated with prescribed antihistamines or corticosteroids. A cold compress can soothe the irritation for your pup too.  

If your dog has reacted to medication, seek advice from your vet immediately. Consider consulting your veterinarian about parasite prevention options suitable for your dog. 

Environmental allergens

Direct contact with some plant materials, certain essential aromatherapy oils, and substances like soap, cleaners and pesticides can trigger an allergic reaction. It’s the least common type of reaction but is usually the easiest to resolve by removing the allergen. 

close up of cavoodle's neck with an atopic dermatitis rash

Seasonal environmental allergies can cause contact dermatitis that flares up at certain times of the year, and then eases when the season passes. Address the issue early on before it leads to further problems like hot spots. 

Symptoms: Skin irritation, including redness or hives, at the point of contact. Some pups may experience recurrent ear infections.  

Treatment: If you can identify the trigger, remove it to prevent further irritation. Treat your dog with a bath or a thorough wipe-down to soothe the skin.  

Effective home remedies for itchy skin allergies include a gentle soak in lukewarm chamomile (great for its anti-inflammatory properties) or decaffeinated green tea. Antihistamines can also help — check the type and dosage with your vet first.  

How real food supports immunity for allergy relief

Allergic reactions are an immune response to a foreign substance, so a robust immune system is vital for all pups — especially the curious ones who sniff out trouble!  

Maintain your dog’s good gut health with a nutritious diet that supports their microbiome, which regulates the entire immune system. The best food for skin allergies contains the right micro and macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, like Lyka’s real food meals. 

Processed commercial dog food, like kibble, tends to be excessive in high glycaemic index carbohydrates and starches like rice, corn and legumes that can promote inflammation and stress the immune system. 

Antioxidant deficiencies can lead to skin problems, premature aging and increased inflammation. Real food diets rich in antioxidants like vitamin E and beta-carotene support skin by protecting against oxidative damage. 

  • Dr Darcy Marshall, Lyka Veterinarian 

Say goodbye to skin sensitivities and itchiness with Lyka

Lyka real food meals are designed to optimise skin health. They’re formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists and veterinarians based on scientific research, long-standing evidence and expert advice.  

Key skin-enriching nutrients like omega-3's (from our fish oil, sardines and flaxseed oil), vitamin E, zinc, copper, and other bioactive ingredients like spirulina and turmeric help strengthen skin defence and defend against irritants. 

The hypoallergenic Chicken, Fish, Turkey, Kangaroo and Lamb meals contain limited proteins. Novel proteins in Lyka Turkey and Kangaroo meals make them a great choice for dogs with sensitive skin and allergies. Speak to our Customer Care team about which meals will most benefit your dog.  

Lyka meals are designed to create a healthy gut microbiome — a key regulator for the immune system that has flow-on effects to better skin health. They also contain skin-enriching nutrients like omega 3s, zinc, copper, and other bioactive ingredients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties like spirulina and shiitake mushrooms for healthy skin and coats. 

  • Dr Matthew Muir, Lyka Co-founder and Integrative Veterinarian 

Read how a Lyka fresh food diet helped Hudson’s red and itchy skin. 

Skin-boosting Supplements to improve skin resilience

Improve skin resilience and immune tolerance with detoxifying and anti-inflammatory active ingredients. 

The Lyka Skin Supplement amplifies the benefits of Lyka meals, which support coat, nails and skin with high levels of Omega-3 and zinc. The Lyka Skin Supplement provides additional support through active ingredients including detoxifying Burdock root extract, Curcumin extract and Flaxseed oil.

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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