How to Help a Dog with Skin Allergies

Allergies are the worst! The sniffling, the sneezing, the stuffy nose...But unlike your allergies, your dog doesn't usually have the same symptoms you do. Often, when a dog suffers from allergies, his skin reacts to surrounding allergens by becoming itchy and inflamed. And this reaction can cause a host of other issues for your pup.

What Are Canine Skin Allergies?

The most common canine skin allergy is allergic dermatitis or atopic dermatitis—atopy for short. Allergic dermatitis is an inflammatory, persistent skin condition that occurs when a dog's immune system overreacts to a particular allergen.

Allergens can be anything from plant pollen to mold spores to food to pests. While allergies in humans often present as nasal symptoms and hives, dogs tend to react with skin irritation and even gastrointestinal problems.

Interestingly, many dogs that suffer from skin allergies have an inherited predisposition for developing them. Often, dogs begin showing signs of skin allergies before age 7, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Just like humans, dogs can develop skin allergies at any age. In fact, many allergies actually worsen as a dog ages.1

What Dog Breeds are Prone to Canine Skin Allergies?

Not all dog breeds are prone to developing skin allergies. A few breeds more susceptible to skin allergies include Beagles, Bulldogs, Dalmatians, English and Irish Setters, Golden Retrievers, Labradoodles and Goldendoodles, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Miniature Schnauzers, most terriers, Old English Sheepdogs and Pugs.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and it doesn't guarantee that any breed listed will or will not develop skin allergies. It's simply a list of dogs that are pre-disposed to atopic dermatitis.

What Are the Most Common Canine Allergies?

There are three leading causes for skin allergies in dogs:

  1. Environmental Allergies. Allergens in the environment include dust, mold and pollen. Dogs, like humans, can suffer from seasonal and environmental allergies. Your dog may develop "hot spots" or "itchy spots" when specific allergens are present. These triggers may happen at particular times of the year or throughout the year.
  2. Food-Related Allergies. Dogs can also react badly to foods or specific ingredients within a food. While a dog may have a skin reaction, a secondary issue may arise that's more gastrointestinal. For example, a dog might vomit or develop diarrhea after digesting a particular allergen. Be aware that proteins, not grains, cause most food allergies.2
  3. Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Flea bites cause flea allergy dermatitis. Dogs aren't generally allergic to the flea itself but rather the proteins in the flea's saliva. Interesting fact: A single flea bite can cause a reaction for as long as seven days! That means even one flea bite can do a lot of damage.

What are Common Symptoms of Canine Skin Allergies?

How do you know what to look for if you think your pup has allergies? Common symptoms include:

  • Excessive licking
  • Face rubbing
  • Hives or targeted swelling—especially ears, eye area, flaps of ears and face
  • Itchiness—especially at armpits, ears, feet, flanks and groin
  • Loss of fur
  • Red, irritated skin

How Do You Treat Canine Skin Allergies?

To help your dog feel better, you'll want to uncover the initial cause of the allergic reaction. For example, while topical anti-itching creams may offer some relief from red and irritated areas, it's not a long-term fix. Maintaining a dog's healthy skin requires avoiding irritating allergens altogether.

Food Allergies

Food allergies can be a little difficult to unravel. The best course of action is to eliminate foods or change dog food to see what triggers an allergic response. Keep in mind that even high-quality dog food can contain ingredients that trigger an allergic reaction in your dog.3 Before you start your pup on an elimination diet, chat with your vet. You want to make sure your pup maintains its nutritional needs while you're on the path to discovery.

Environmental Allergies

While easier to discover, environmental allergies can be more challenging to avoid. For example, if your dog is allergic to pollen and you live in the country, there may be too many triggers to avoid altogether. Discuss a treatment plan with your family vet to bring your pup relief. Your veterinarian may suggest antihistamines or other proven methods of dealing with environmental allergens.

Flea Allergies

Dealing with flea allergies concentrates more on preventative measures than relief. Flea and tick prevention is paramount because the most effective way to treat an allergy is to avoid the allergen. For example, Adams Flea & Tick Collar for Dogs & Puppies kills adult fleas and ticks and even repels mosquitoes*. These tiny pests cause a lot of damage to a dog's skin, so it's imperative to be proactive. In addition, Adams Plus Flea & Tick Prevention Spot On for Dogs is another option to keep tiny pests at bay.

Flea prevention isn't just about guarding your dog. It's also vitally important to protect your home and yard against insects that prey on your beloved pup. Adams Flea & Tick Home Spray is essential in killing adult fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, ticks, bed bugs, mosquitoes and other annoying pests. This spray is convenient because it's effective on pretty much anything your pup touches: bedding, upholstery, carpets and more. In addition, Adams Yard & Garden Spray can help eradicate over 60 kinds of insects. That's prevention on steroids! The upside to pest prevention is that it protects the entire family—not just your precious pup.

Can you test for canine allergies?

You don't have to guess what your pup may be allergic to. Allergy testing is available for pets. However, it's just as complicated and expensive for pets as it is for humans. If you've ever subjected yourself to allergy testing, you know it's not a walk in the park, and thus it may not be the best option for your favorite furry friend.

While seasonal and environmental allergy tests are easily accessible, they're not always accurate. In fact, some studies have shown that blood and skin testing for food allergies isn't consistently accurate in dogs. Therefore, it's essential to discuss your options with your vet. They're up-to-date on what's available and effective in helping discover the allergen that's affecting your dog.

How can I help my dog right now?

If you want to give your little tail-wagger some much-needed relief, consider giving him a good grooming session and a bath designed to soothe the skin.4 A thorough brushing will help remove unwanted dander and dandruff—which helps remove any allergens attached to your pup's fur. For bathtime, be sure to select a shampoo that will keep unwanted pests away as well as soothe your pup's irritated skin. Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor is a noteworthy option because it's enriched with soothing aloe, oatmeal, coconut extract and lanolin.

As a pet parent, it's up to you to prevent harm when possible, so preventative measures are paramount.5 Control and prevent what you can, and remember that canine skin allergies are extremely common. Obviously, you can't bubble-wrap your furry friend, but you can take steps to keep him happy and healthy by removing potential allergens where possible.

Managing a dog with skin allergies can be involved and even frustrating for both you and your pup. But remember in most cases, allergic dermatitis can be controlled with a proper diagnosis. So, consult your vet and find a treatment plan that works best.

*excludes California.

  1. Burkett, Leigh. PetMD. "Allergies in Dogs and Puppies: Signs, Causes, and Treatment," 30 June 2020.
  2. Barnette, Catherine and Ernest Ward. VCA Hospitals. "Food Allergies in Dogs,"
  3. Animal Medical Center of Southern California. "Canine Allergic Dermatitis: Causes and Treatment Options," 05 March 2018.
  4. Small Door Vet. "Dog Skin Allergies: Canine Atopic Dermatitis,"
  5. Burke, Anna. American Kennel Club. "Dog Allergies: Symptoms and Treatment," 07 March 2021.
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