Allergic Skin Disease in Dogs

Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

One of the most common problems we come across in vet practice is Allergic Skin Disease in Dogs.

Allergens come from:

  • Trees, grass, weed and flower pollens
  • Fabrics, such as wool or nylon
  • Rubber and plastic material
  • House dust and house dust mites
  • Food moulds
  • Foods such as meats, grains, milk or food colourings
  • Flea bites
  • Other parasitic infestations e.g. mange due to skin mites

When these allergens come into contact with your dog’s body, it overreacts to these allergens causing an intensely itchy skin. 

Symptoms often seen are:

  • Constantly chewing his feet
  • Rubbing his face
  • Self-mutilation
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Constant scratching and hair loss
  • A musky smell from his coat
  • Hair matting
  • ‘Hot Spot’ lesions over his body, intensely itch areas of skin
  • He can be grumpy and fed up if he is constantly itchy

Sometimes diagnosing the underlying cause can be difficult to get the diagnosis we need:

  • A full physical examination
  • Skin scrapes, hair plucks, tape strips, swabs; looking for evidence of other causes of skin disease such as parasites, bacteria and fungi
  • Allergy testing (intradermal or blood testing)
  • Food trials


Avoidance; although, it can be impossible to eliminate all the offending allergens, some can be markedly reduced without too much effort. For example, thoroughly vacuuming carpets and bedding regularly, washing bedding in very hot water, a plastic protective "antimite" cover on your dog’s bed or where your dog lies, avoid dusty pet foods by splitting food into bagged smaller amounts , using regular flea and tick treatments.

Antihistamines; normally in a tablet form can help to reduce the amount and effect of histamine release which causes the itchy skin.

Immunotherapy or hypo sensitization; Once the allergens to which the dog is allergic to have been identified (usually by blood testing) a specially prepared vaccination containing the altered antigens is injected at regular intervals into the dog advised by your Vet. Generally a series of weekly or monthly vaccines are given to try to de-sensitise the dog to the known allergens.

Fatty acids; these reduce the effects of histamine and other chemicals released in response to allergies. Most pets need to be taking them for several weeks or months before a significant improvement is seen.

Immunosuppressive treatments as the name suggests suppress the immune system. It can take up to 3-4 weeks to take effect; these can be used for a short period of time for seasonal allergies or long-term for year round allergy problems. Ideally these should be carefully monitored and tapered to the lowest effective dosages.

Treatments of other skin infections e.g. Bacterial and Yeast skin infections are common in dogs with allergies.  Antibiotics and antifungal treatments, antibiotics can be either in a tablet or injection form, also antibacterial/antifungal creams and shampoos can also be used topically.

Regular bathing helps reduce allergens generally on your dog’s coat and skin.

Treating skin disease can be very frustrating and time consuming at times and generally your dog will never be ‘cured’  from allergic skin disease but the condition can be well managed and controlled by your Vet.

If you are at all concerned that your dog may have allergic skin disease problems, then please do contact us for an appointment. The sooner that your pet is seen the better to bring what can be a very debilitating, upsetting disease for pet and owner under control.