Dog Skin Diseases

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Does your itchy dog have a dog skin disease, or allergies?

It has been estimated that up to 15 percent of dogs suffer from skin allergies, or allergic dermatitis. Allergic reactions often lead to skin inflammation, and the most common sign of allergies is scratching. Signs generally occur seasonally, but can extend throughout the year. Allergies are not technically dog skin diseases, and they are treatable.

Food allergies can also cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs. You can find more information on gastrointestinal issues caused by allergy, and how to address them, at our dog allergies page.

An allergy is an adverse reaction involving the immune system. Causes of allergic dermatitis include:

  • inhaled allergens—molds, pollens and house dust
  • flea allergies—the dog is allergic to the saliva in the fleabite
  • contact dermatitis—caused by skin exposure to an irritating substance, such as soaps, flea collars, feathers or wool
  • food allergies—dogs allergic to their food usually show signs of allergic dermatitis year-round

Your veterinarian will consider all of these factors when determining the cause of a dog skin disease or allergic dermatitis in your puppy or dog.

Allergies typically appear between 1 and 3 years of age, but they may occur at any time. Some breeds are predisposed to developing allergies: West Highland White Terriers, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Bulldogs, English Setters, Irish Setters, Boxers, Dalmatians and Shar-Peis.

What causes skin allergies?

When a dog has been repeatedly exposed to an allergen, the immune system may produce antibodies that attach to specific cells in the body. These cells release inflammatory substances, which cause itchiness.

How to recognize the symptoms

Because itchiness is the hallmark sign of allergies, you may notice that your dog will often scratch his belly, flanks, and ears; or rub his face and chew at his paws. Itching and scratching can lead to secondary problems, such as generalized redness, hair loss, skin infections and darkened skin tone.

Diagnosing allergies

Provide your veterinarian with a complete history of your pet’s symptoms, including time of year allergic signs may appear, and what environmental factors your dog is exposed to during those times. Before determining the cause of your dog’s problem, your veterinarian will want to rule out external parasites, drug reactions, disease and food allergy. In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend intradermal skin testing or blood tests to help pinpoint the exact cause of the allergic reaction.

Managing skin allergies

Your veterinarian may recommend a variety of treatments to help relieve your dog’s symptoms:

* mild pet shampoos to help soothe the skin and remove allergens from the coat
* medication
* supplements
* a therapeutic diet

Finding the best dog food for your dog's allergies can be difficult, but recent research shows that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce itching and inflammation associated with allergic dermatitis. These fatty acids can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory agents that can lead to irritation and itching. It has been shown that if secondary infections are controlled, up to 50 percent of dogs with allergic dermatitis will improve with modifications in fatty acid intake. Your veterinarian can work with you to recommend a special dog food for sensitive skin.