Ask the Vet: Itchy Dogs and Allergy Management
My dog seems to be scratching all the time. Is it just an itch, or could it be an allergy?
Many dogs are prone to allergies, and symptoms are not necessarily the same as those experienced by humans. People sneeze, get runny eyes, or a scratchy throat. While environmental allergies in dogs can present as sneezing and watery eyes, dogs may manifest allergies in the skin, such as frequent ear infections and skin and lip fold infections, as well as experience conjunctivitis. They can be very itchy, shake their heads, scratch their ears, lick their feet excessively, or scoot along their rear ends. If the underlying cause can be addressed, then itchiness can be reduced.
Allergies are categorized into three major groups, and some dogs with allergies are affected to a varying degree by all three: fleas, food, and environmental/seasonal allergens.
Fleas are no fun.
Dog itching and dog scratching are simply no fun. And, fleas are no fun. In fact, fleas are the most common cause of allergies and the easiest to address. For affected dogs, one flea bite can set off an allergic reaction causing more than itchy skin. Many older topical flea preventatives don’t work as quickly as they used to, and they lose efficacy when dogs swim or get bathed frequently.
All allergic dogs should be on effective, prescription flea prevention year-round. Most flea preventatives kill fleas after a bite occurs. These products are called “adulticides.” However, dogs with flea allergies are allergic to the flea’s saliva, and the initial bite should be prevented. In those cases, a flea-repellant product may be recommended in addition to an adulticide. All other household animals, including cats, should be on regular prescription flea prevention, regardless of indoor or outdoor status.
Environmental and food allergies: What’s the difference?
Environmental allergies can have similar symptoms to food allergies and can be seasonal or year-round due to environmental factors. Dogs with seasonal environmental allergies are itchiest at the same time every year, usually in spring or fall. Environmental allergies can be managed in many ways, depending on the frequency and severity of symptoms.
For mild environmental allergies, the following approach is recommended:
- Bathing as often as once a week in a soap-free oatmeal shampoo helps remove allergens off your dog’s skin and decreases itching. For a dog that licks his feet excessively, baby wipes can be used daily or every other day to remove allergens from the feet.
- Antihistamines some over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl or Zyrtec may help control symptoms of environmental allergies if appropriate for your dog and administered as recommended by your veterinarian.
- Fish oil acts as a natural anti-inflammatory that can decrease itching. Dogs weighing 60–100 lbs. can have about 2,000 mg of fish oil in their food per day. These can be purchased at your local drugstore or online.
If the itching is severe enough that bathing, antihistamines, and fish oil do not help, your veterinarian may recommend stronger medications.
Can dog food cause allergies?
Food allergies can also cause symptoms, and treating them is a process of trial and error. In order to find the best treatment for your pup your vet may recommend a prescribed diet change, or a “food trial,” if she suspects a food allergy. Keep in mind, to eliminate any confusion or false findings, no other types of dog food or puppy treats can be fed during a prescribed diet food trial.
The most common culprit of food allergies is the protein source in dog food, not gluten or grain as many may claim. Some dogs will show improvement within four weeks of a food trial, but 12 weeks of strict adherence to the new food are required to determine a true response. If the itching doesn’t improve in 12 weeks, it doesn’t necessarily mean the dog doesn’t have a food allergy; it could be that the right diet hasn’t been found.
Is it a food allergy or just food intolerance?
Good question. Our friends over at Fromm Family Pet Food, makers of I the Official Dog Food of Southeastern Guide Dogs, have written a blog post that goes into detail about this that’s well worth reading. Check it out here.
How often should I bathe my dog’s itchy skin?
To address itchy skin on dogs, bathing one to two times week will suffice. We do not recommend over-bathing a dog with environmental allergies. And while many over-the-counter shampoos may work for your pup, we recommend dog-specific products that can be purchased from your veterinarian. They are higher quality, designed with dogs in mind, and are more effective than most over-the-counter shampoos. Be sure to consult with your vet for the brand that can work best for your dog.
Dog Coats 101 | Single vs. Double Coated Dogs
The cause of your dog’s itchy skin could have something to do with their coat.
Did you know dogs have two kinds of coats? The kind of coat your dog has can have a great effect on its susceptibility to allergies, itching, and more. It’s important to keep your dog’s coat style in mind when seeking out the best itch and allergy solutions for them.
When it comes to dog hair, it’s not just about length—it’s about layers. Double-coated dogs have a two-layer coat which typically consists of a dense, insulating undercoat and a longer, coarser outer coat providing protection from the elements and the effects of vegetation that can cause skin discomfort that leads to your dog’s itchiness.
Single-coated dogs, like poodles, lack much of the protective power of a double coat. Such dogs can be subject to a different set of skin irritants. Tall grasses and woody foliage can cause skin irritations in single-coat dogs but can leave double-coated dogs completely unaffected.
|Popular Single-coated Dog Breeds
||Popular Double-coated Dog Breeds
Final Thoughts about Allergy Management
Allergy management in dogs can be frustrating and expensive, depending on the frequency and severity of symptoms. Try these tips at home to help relieve your dog’s itching, and don’t let excessive scratching and chronic conditions linger. If you suspect your dog may have environmental, or food-related skin allergies, see your vet, and consistently follow the step-wise approach prescribed to manage your dog’s allergies.