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Dog Skin Allergies: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

If you’ve experienced allergies, you’re probably familiar with the symptoms—a running nose, swollen eyes or an upset stomach can let you know that something isn’t right. And, of course, there’s the uncomfortable, itchy skin. Allergies aren’t fun for anybody—and that includes your dog. If you notice your dog scratching, biting, sneezing or displaying other dog allergy symptoms, it might be time to investigate. Some common dog skin problems can sometimes be caused by allergies, and they can often be treated effectively with the right kind of care.

Bringing a new dog home is exciting, and being a good pet parent means learning the appropriate ways to help keep your dog happy and comfortable. If dog skin allergies prove to be part of your pet’s experience, some solutions can often help ease your dog’s discomfort.

What does a skin allergy look like on a dog?

Like with a person, a dog allergic reaction can be caused by several irritants and may manifest in various symptoms. Look out for some typical signs of a dog skin condition, as this may help you and your veterinarian diagnose your pup’s allergies. Some common dog allergy symptoms and their causes include:

  • Environmental irritants The same grasses, pollens and plants that induce allergic reactions in humans can sometimes cause similar symptoms in sensitive dogs. If you’re dealing with dog allergies, scratching and biting at their skin are common behaviors your dog might display, along with sneezing or watery eyes. Pay attention to itching or scabbing on the paws and around the toes. 

  • Allergens in the home It’s sometimes possible that your dog might have a dust, mold or dander allergy. Itchy skin or a runny nose while inside your home could point to your dog having sensitivities to something in their living environment.

  • Fleas Fleas are never fun, but for dogs with flea allergies, those irritating bites can be extra uncomfortable—and might be more pronounced.

  • Food sensitivities Irritation from your dog’s diet might manifest as tummy trouble, but it can sometimes display as dog skin problems too. Ear or skin infections may also show up.

Is my dog allergic to fleas?

Not only are fleas irritating, but their itchy bites can sometimes leave your dog feeling less than their best. While you might be familiar with the signs of a flea infestation—such as traces of flea poop, a dog that can’t stop biting or scratching themselves or even the sight of fleas jumping on your dog—you might be less familiar with the symptoms of a flea allergy. 

Dog hives that are more red, inflamed and itchy than a typical fleabite may indicate a flea allergy, as could hair loss or a rash on your dog’s back legs and tail area. The appropriate solution for canine flea allergies to consult your veterinarian and decide on the proper preventive care. Make sure your dog receives year-round flea prevention treatment with the advice of your veterinarian, especially if a flea allergy is suspected.

Does my dog have a food sensitivity?

If your dog shows gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting along with dog allergy symptoms like scratching, hair loss or ear infections—they may have a sensitivity or intolerance to something in their diet. Consult your veterinarian to properly diagnose a true dog food allergy. They may suggest at-home treatment for your dog’s food sensitivity with an adjusted diet or hypoallergenic dog food. A nutritious diet free of ingredients such as beef, wheat or chicken—common irritants for dogs with sensitivities—could potentially help relieve your dog’s tummy and skin symptoms. Your dog is often more likely to feel their best when they’re getting wholesome food with nourishing ingredients.

What does ringworm look like?

If your dog is exhibiting hair loss or inflamed skin, you probably want to figure out whether these symptoms are caused by allergies or something else. Ringworm—which is actually a fungus, not a worm—can be a highly contagious dog skin condition that may look a lot like allergies. But there are some key differences between dog skin allergies and ringworm. 

Ringworm is not typically itchy, so dog itching remedies usually aren’t appropriate. While both ringworm and allergies can often cause crusty patches on your dog’s skin, pay attention to whether these patches seem itchy to your dog. Both ringworm and allergies can sometimes lead to hair loss, but ringworm tends to present as patches of hair loss in a circular or ring-shaped pattern. 

A Petco veterinarian can help diagnose ringworm in your dog, who may then be treated with a topical or oral medication. Remember that irritated or broken skin—if left untreated—can potentially become a site for secondary infection, so it’s important to address ringworm even if your dog does not appear to be in physical discomfort.

Can I give my dog Benadryl?

If you’ve experienced allergies, you may have gotten relief from over-the-counter allergy medication. And you might be curious whether your dog could benefit from an antihistamine as well. While there may sometimes be situations when your vet could recommend Benadryl or another allergy-relief medication, you don’t need to look on the shelf of your local pharmacy to find solutions for your dog. There are non-prescription allergy symptom treatments made specifically for dogs, including ointments, lotions, sprays, shampoos and dietary supplements. These may help relieve a range of dog allergy symptoms, including inflammation, dry skin and itchy patches.

What can I give my dog for allergies and itching?

As a pet parent, it can be hard to see your dog made uncomfortable by allergies or itchy skin. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help ease your dog’s symptoms and aid in reducing irritants in their environment:

  • Baths Frequent bathing can help keep your dog’s fur and skin free of irritants and environmental allergy triggers. Washing with an allergy-specific shampoo can also help soothe your dog’s itchy skin. Bathe your pup every 1- to 2-weeks, and be extra careful to rinse all the soap off their sensitive skin.

  • A clean living environment Your dog might love to play outside. But pollens, grasses and other allergens may be easy for your dog to track back inside to their favorite hangout spots. Even substances inside your home—like dust and mold—could potentially give your dog an allergic reaction. You can sometimes help reduce your dog’s allergy symptoms by washing their blankets, toys and bedding frequently, as well as sweeping and vacuuming floors. A HEPA filter can possibly be a good way to remove free-floating allergens from the air.

  • Flea medicine It’s best to consult a veterinarian and protect your dog from flea allergies with suitable preventive flea medication. Even dogs who aren’t allergic to fleas can often benefit greatly from year-round flea treatment, as fleas can spread disease and cause irritation. Help protect your pet from fleas by finding—and sticking to—a good flea prevention regimen. 

  • Hypoallergenic dog food Dogs who show topical allergy symptoms and tummy troubles at the same time might find relief with a hypoallergenic diet. Foods free of ingredients that commonly cause inflammation in sensitive dogs may help improve their internal and external symptoms.

  • Dog-specific allergy treatments Only use allergy solutions made for dogs and recommended by your veterinarian. These can often take the form of over-the-counter or prescription formulas and may include both topical and oral treatments.

Dog Allergy Testing

If you’ve taken care to help reduce your dog’s exposure to allergens and they’re still exhibiting symptoms, bring your dog to the vet. A veterinarian can sometimes perform dog allergy testing to help diagnose specific allergy triggers and recommend the appropriate next steps. Dog allergy testing can be done through a blood serum test or through an intradermal allergy test. Both tests can have possible benefits—serum tests tend to be less expensive, while intradermal tests are sometimes considered more accurate. Your veterinarian can help you decide which option is better for you and your dog.

While over-the-counter dog itching remedies may sometimes help soothe your dog’s skin, your vet could also include treatment with prescription dog allergy medication as part of their allergy relief plan. It’s even possible that your vet might recommend immunotherapy—or allergy shots—to help reduce your dog’s allergy symptoms over a prolonged period. Allergy shots help bring relief to allergic dogs just like they do to allergic people, and they’re only possible if your vet has administered an allergy test to help figure out which specific substances your dog is allergic to. 

If your dog seems under the weather due to allergies, you might feel concerned. Allergies are uncomfortable, and they can affect the quality of playtime, but there are ways to help ease your dog’s symptoms. Identifying allergens, reducing exposure to irritants, using allergy treatments made especially for dogs and consulting a veterinarian can all be great ways to help your dog feel better—so they can get back to the business of being your best friend—without all the itching.

Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is a passionate group of experienced pet care experts dedicated to supporting the overall health & wellness of pets. The ACE team works to develop animal care operations and standards across the organization and promote proper animal care and education for Pet Care Center partners and pet parents, while also ensuring regulatory compliance.