Dog skin allergies: Triggers and how to ditch the itch

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Dr Darcy Marshall, Louise Hawkins
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 this must be for our pups!

Scratching a little itch from time to time is completely normal, but if your pup is scratching incessantly or repeatedly licking and grooming themselves, this could be an allergic reaction.

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 contact, but they often show similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose.

Let’s take a deep dive into dog skin allergies and explore the triggers, treatment and prevention.

But before we jump in, we need to scratch the surface of allergic reactions by understanding the body’s response to an allergen.

What is an allergen?

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

Here’s what happens when a pup comes into 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. One particular antibody is Immunoglobin IgE.

  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.

6 common symptoms of an allergic reaction

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

  • 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/or swelling that’s warm to touch), hives and/or raised skin or discoloured bumps

  • Increased eye discharge, reddened sclera or watery eyes

  • Skin lesions or infections (skin and ear)

4 dog skin allergy triggers, symptoms and treatment

Inhaled allergens

As the term suggests, these are microscopic or environmental allergens that enter via the respiratory system like dust, mould, pollen or smoke.

Dog inhaled allergen rash close up

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: If possible, remove the trigger from the environment. Treat the allergic reaction with antihistamines or other medication administered by the vet. A soothing medicated shampoo can provide some relief too.

Food allergens

These allergens are present in some foods such as eggs, chicken, wheat, beef or dairy. Real food allergies are rare in dogs and trigger the same immune response as other allergies. An intolerance to certain foods is more common than an allergy.

Dog food allergy dermatitis closeup rash

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

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

Parasitic or pharmaceutical allergens

These allergens are introduced to a pup’s system deliberately or otherwise, like medication, insect stings or bites.

Dog flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

Flea allergy dermatitis is common. Fleas release saliva into the bloodstream that dogs often react to, not the bite itself.

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

Treatment: Minor bites can be treated with antihistamines or corticosteroids under the guidance of your veterinarian. A cold compress will soothe the irritation for your pup too.

If your dog has reacted to medication, seek advice from your veterinarian immediately.

Contact allergens

Direct contact with some flora or substances like soap, cleaners and pesticides can trigger an allergic reaction. It is the least common type of reaction but is usually the easiest to resolve by removing the allergen.

Dog atopic dermatitis rash close up

Seasonal environmental allergies like grass tend to flare up at similar times of the year and then ease when the season passes. But it’s important to address the issue 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 with warm water and cloth 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. You can also use antihistamines, but you must check the type and dose with your vet.

How does fresh feeding help allergies?

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 like to sniff out trouble wherever they go!

Maintaining good gut health with a nutritious diet supports a balanced microbiome that modulates the entire immune system. The best food for skin allergies is a fresh wholefood diet that’s chock-full of the right micro and macronutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Highly processed food, like kibble, tends to be very high in filler carbohydrates and starches like rice, corn and legumes that promote inflammation and stresses the immune system.

Ditch the itch with Lyka

Lyka’s recipes are designed to optimise health including skin health. They’re vet-formulated by Board-Certified Nutritionists and Veterinarians based on scientific research, long-standing evidence and expert advice.

Each lightly cooked meal is made from 100% human-grade ingredients with the right balance of micro and macronutrients, vitamins and minerals for complete health and a strong immune system.

Our meals only contain grass-fed, free-range, barn-raised or wild-caught proteins that are less likely to inflame the skin than grain-fed proteins. Lyka recipes are also formulated with 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 shiitake mushroom.

Every drool-worthy bowl is free from pro-inflammatory starches and lectins and doesn’t contain the typical allergens in pet food, such as wheat, corn, soy and dairy.

Our hypoallergenic Chicken, Fish, Turkey, Kangaroo and Lamb recipes also contain limited proteins. The novel proteins in our Turkey and Kangaroo recipes make them a great choice for puppers with sensitivities and skin allergies too.

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

Skin-boosting supplements

For an extra nutritious boost, our Pupper Supps supplement range is made up of daily wholefood hits for targeted and preventive health benefits.

Our Skin Pupper Supp is fantastic for dogs suffering from skin and coat-related issues or puppers that need to support their overall immune balance.

Loaded with high-dose omega-3 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory agents, these ingredients help to defend against skin irritants and boost cellular health. This unique antioxidant-rich formula is designed to reduce oxidative stress and features a probiotic known to aid the long-term tolerance of skin allergies and irritations. Get Skin Supp-port.

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

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