Itchy Dogs

by / Friday, 06 September 2013 / Published in News Archive, Small Animals

Allergic skin disease is a common problem in dogs and one that may be difficult to determine the cause of and frustrating to manage. Signs of allergic skin disease in dogs include inflamed skin that is pinker/warmer than normal and itchy.

How do I know my dog has a skin allergy? Affected dogs will scratch, lick, rub or chew themselves constantly. You may notice your dog rubbing its face on the ground, chewing its paws, rubbing against fences or even rolling around on the ground to try and rid themselves of that annoying itch. dog_rolling
raw-paw The trauma to the skin from excessive scratching can result in hair loss and a rash over the affected areas, the coat may look greasy and have an unpleasant odour from secondary bacterial or yeast infections, the skin may also flake.

What causes skin allergies?

The list of things that can cause skin allergies in dogs is endless for example fleas, contact with certain plants or chemicals, pollens, moulds, house dust even the food they are eating and the list goes on.

The most common skin allergy that affects dogs is caused by flea bites. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) results in a sparse dry coat typically at the base of the tail where the itchiness seems more severe.

You may not notice that your dog has fleas but it only takes one flea bite to start the allergic reaction in a dog with FAD. Using a flea comb, especially over the back and tail area, check your dog for flea dirt (flea faeces) which contains dried blood. Tap the comb or wipe it with dampened white paper, kitchen towel works, the black dots that turn red with the moisture are the flea dirt.

What do I do if my dog has FAD?

The next thing is to ensure this is not all or part of the problem so it is necessary to use rigorous flea control. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best product based on the flea prevention program you are already using.

Don’t forget to treat any other dogs or cats in the household, wash any pet bedding and vacuum carpets including areas beneath furniture and even in cupboards.

In severe cases of allergy or flea infestations it may be necessary to flea bomb the house and treat the outdoor areas, where your dog frequents, with insecticides. Or if your pets have access to areas under the house you may want to hire a professional pest controller. Because flea eggs can drop off anywhere dense vegetation should be kept mowed or pruned and lawn clippings and debris removed to let the soil dry.

What if my dogs skin allergy is not FAD?

If your dog is still scratching then an allergy of a different type may be the problem such as food allergies. Any food ingredient can cause an allergy although the protein is usually the offender and this can be diagnosed by feeding a hypoallergenic diet for at least 8 weeks. The goal is to feed a protein and carbohydrate diet that your dog has never had before such as duck or kangaroo as the protein source and rice or potato as the carbohydrate source.


This may not be easy to achieve at home but there are alternatives as your veterinarian can prescribe specialised diets that are more convenient to use. It is necessary to feed this as the sole diet for at least 8 weeks in order to see what the response is which means No treats, No scraps, No bones etc. What if the diet doesn’t work?A genetically inherited disease called Atopy is the second most common allergic disorder in dogs. Atopic dogs are allergic to substances in the environment that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, house mites are a big offender. More rarely pollen from trees, weeds and grasses are involved leading to a seasonal dermatitis.

Affected dogs are often extremely itchy especially around the face, belly and armpits, lower leg and feet, the intense itching can result in less tolerance to being handled and general irritability.

The mode of inheritance of Atopy is not known but it is considered best not to breed affected dogs, their parents and their siblings.

How is Atopy diagnosed?

Atopy can be diagnosed by a blood or skin test. By determining which allergen/s is a problem for your dog can help you to avoid or at least reduce exposure to it. For example, dogs with an allergy to house dust mites may benefit from spending more time outside and/or in rooms with little house dust. If pollens are the problem, then keeping the dog inside when grasses and trees are flowering or removal of certain plants may be helpful in the management of the symptoms.

Can Atopy be cured?

Atopic dermatitis cannot usually be cured, but can be controlled to improve the dog’s quality of life. Treatment involves a combination of therapies and usually includes cortisone which blocks the allergic reaction in most cases, and antihistamines. A drug specifically developed for the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis is also available. Medicated shampoos can be helpful; especially those that are soap or detergent-free and therefore do not strip the natural oils from the coat. There are soothing shampoos available containing oatmeal and aloe vera, and also leave-on conditioners that help reduce skin inflammation.

Immunotherapy is another important tool in combating allergies. After intradermal skin testing has been performed, a veterinary dermatologist can develop hyposensitisation vaccines to the allergen/s identified. These are especially indicated in severe, year-round cases or where dogs suffer undesirable side-effects to medical therapy.

husky-scratching Allergic Contact Dermatitis   Contact allergies, such as to certain plants, carpet cleaners and other chemicals, plastic etc., are quite rare in dogs and signs are usually restricted to contact areas where the hair is absent or thin. Differentiation between the different types of allergic skin diseases can be difficult and other itchy skin conditions, such as sarcoptic mange, skin infections, and drug hypersensitivities, also need to be ruled out.

Additionally, more than one skin complaint can be present at the same time, so if your dog is scratching like mad and driving you crazy, the best option is to head to your vet to get the problem ‘licked’. The sooner your vet can start investigating the cause, or refer you to a veterinary dermatologist if necessary, the sooner the appropriate treatment and advice on managing or preventing further problems can be given. More importantly, the sooner your dog will thank you.

Leave a Reply