Dog Skin Allergies: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Updated 28 February 2024
Read time: 9 mins
Did you know, one of the most common reasons a dog is brought to the vet is because they have been scratching? Dogs typically scratch because they are itchy. You may also find that they rub, lick and chew at their skin.

It is normal for a dog to lick and scratch a little. This is how they keep clean and everyone gets itchy now and then! However, it shouldn’t be interfering with their day to day life.

If you’re concerned that your dog is spending more time licking, chewing or scratching then this is something we need to look at further.

Dog skin allergies: reasons dogs scratch 


  • Food Allergies - Those with food allergies can itch all over, but their face, paws and belly are most often involved. Common allergens include grains, dairy, eggs, beef and chicken. However, dogs can actually be allergic to any ingredient.

  • Atopic Dermatitis - An allergy to something in your dog’s environment (like pollen, grass, mould or dust mites) or food can cause their skin to become pink and itchy. Allergies like this tend to present between six months and three years of agePedigrees including the Pug, Frenchie, Westie, Labrador and Jack Russell are most often affected. Genetics play a role so if a pup’s parents had allergies, they are at higher risk. The most frequently affected areas including the face, paws and belly. Some owners notice a pattern and may find that their dog itches more in e.g. the Spring or Winter. This makes an environmental allergy more likely. Those who are itchy when the weather is warmer may be allergic to grasses and pollens. Conversely, winter time itching is more often associated with allergies to house dust mites and to parasites.

  • Fleas - Fleas are incredibly common, even in the cleanest of dogs! They are seen all year round, but especially in the Spring and Summer. We see them in dogs of all ages but puppies are affected the most. They can be caught from other dogs, as well as from their environment and wildlife. Fleas tend to cause intense itching, particularly over the rump and flanks. Dogs may chew the skin above their tail, causing a red and infected lesion. Whilst fleas will cause all dogs to itch, those with an allergy to the flea saliva will have an extreme reaction. They get intensely itchy, particularly over their rump. They may lose fur and develop scabs, red skin and secondary skin infections. Be sure to keep your dog up to date with a good quality flea prevention, especially if they are prone to skin disease.

  • Contact dermatitis - Your dog may have a bad reaction to something they have had contact with, such as a carpet cleaner, plant or new shampoo. Their skin may look visibly red and sore in the area that has touched the irritant.

  • Skin infections - These infections may be bacterial or fungal and are typically associated with other skin conditions such as allergies and parasites. The dog’s scratching and chewing tends to be what introduces the infection. Signs can include redness, oozing, crusting and circular lesions on the skin. Dogs are generally affected on their belly and back but can develop an infection in any location.

  • Hormonal Disorders -  Those with underlying endocrine disorders such as Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease are at highest risk for chronic skin complaints. These conditions are seen in middle aged and older dogs. Signs can include fur loss and skin thinning and many dogs become itchy due to secondary infections that develop. Allergic skin disease (or Allergic Dermatitis) in dogs is a very common condition. Indeed, it affects hundreds of thousands of UK dogs. Owners and vets alike despair at the symptoms that come and go and cause ongoing discomfort. There are a variety of things dogs can be allergic to and most pets are allergic to more than one thing. Symptoms of allergic dermatitis tend to present between the ages of six months and six years of age. Pedigree dogs who live indoors are most at risk, but any dog can be affected.

      Symptoms of dog skin allergies


      Symptoms will vary from patient to patient and can include:

      • Itchy skin leading to paw licking, face rubbing, skin chewing and scratching. Take a look at their skin. You may find that underneath their fur, they are dry, red or scabby. You might even see evidence of parasites or something that has gotten stuck in their fur like a bramble.

      • Pink skin

      • Fur loss

      • Chronic infections of the ears, skin or anal glands - Itchy skin and ear disease go hand in hand. Those with atopic dermatitis are more prone to ear infections, as well as to anal gland disease.  As well as head shaking, a dog may rub their ear on the ground or scratch at the affected ear. This can be a sign of itchiness within the ear canals and/or an ear infection. Those with heavy and pendulous ears like the Spaniel are affected more so than other dogs.

      • Skin thickening and darkening (lichenification)

      What to do if your dog has skin allergies?


      It can be heart-wrenching to see our pets incessantly scratching, licking and chewing at their skin. Some will be distressed and they can find it hard to focus on other things such as playing with their toys. Many will find it hard to sleep and might wake up licking or scratching. It is little wonder then, that owners are keen to help ease this discomfort. 

      Skin allergies can mimic other conditions such as mange or a bacterial skin infection. Due to this, it is important your dog sees a vet so we can ensure the right diagnosis is reached. This may mean a series of tests, including a skin scrape, skin swab and blood tests. This is so the vet can try to determine what is the underlying issue. They will also thoroughly check for any fleas as ‘flea allergy dermatitis’ is one of the most common causes of scratching.

      Once we treat the cause of the scratching, we are well on our way to re-establishing a healthy skin and coat.


      Treatment for dogs with skin allergies


      It is important to go into treatment with eyes wide open. A dog’s allergies cannot usually be cured and this isn’t typically the aim of treatment. We will attempt to control symptoms as much as possible and minimise flares. Owners must understand that they will likely be seeing their vet regularly going forward.

      Short-term, consider bathing them in a hypoallergenic shampoo. You can also prevent them from chewing with a buster collar and trim their claws short. 

      In the longer term, rather than a single treatment, we need to take a multi-modal approach. This means employing a variety of tactics such as:

      • Allergen avoidance. As much as possible, we need to keep our pooch away from what triggers them. We may be able to figure out what this is by performing a hypoallergenic diet trial, noticing seasonal trends and carrying out allergy testing.

      • Medicated washes that can help to strip excess yeast and bacteria from the skin.

      • Prescription medicine such as anti-itch medicine to break the itch scratch cycle and antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections.

      • Immunotherapy may be an option for some but can be expensive and is not always effective.

      • Nutritional supplements and a skin supportive diet 

        Dog food & supplements for skin allergies


        For the majority of our patients, the right diet will play a role in helping their skin.

        This is especially true for those with food allergies / adverse food reactions. Dogs can react to certain ingredients (such as grain, dairy or chicken) so removing these ingredients completely from their diet should make an improvement within a few weeks. As all of our Pooch & Mutt diets contain a limited number of ingredients and are grain free, they work well for many itchy dogs. 

        Feeding a diet such as Pooch & Mutt’s Soft & Shiny all year round can go a long way towards reducing flares and minimising symptoms.

        The omega 3 and 6 fatty acids alongside the collagen work to strengthen the skin barrier and prevent the entrance of allergens. They also lock moisture inside the skin, ensuring it doesn’t dry out, which can lead to itching.

        This food is packed with both prebiotics and probiotics which ensure a healthy gut microbiome is established. This can reduce symptoms of skin allergies and may potentially prevent food allergies from developing.

        Containing few ingredients, many of those with food allergies will respond positively to this diet. The herring is likely to be a novel protein to most dogs. However, as dogs can react to any ingredient, do double check that this is an appropriate option for your dog if they have known food allergies.

        For all dogs, adding omega 3 fatty acids can improve the skin barrier and help it retain moisture and react less to allergens in the environment. Our Pooch & Mutt Salmon Oil is a rich source of these healthy fats and can be added to your doggo’s dinner each day.

        Supplements, such as our Bionic Biotic, may also help support the skin and reduce generalised itching. This complementary feed is sprinkled on our pet’s food. It contains both prebiotics and probiotics which promote a healthy gut microbiome. The right balance of healthy bacteria in the gut may reduce the prevalence of adverse food reactions. The added antioxidants in Bionic Biotic can help your dog fight off skin infections as they promote a robust immune system. On top of this, the Biotin within this supplement promotes healthy fur growth; ideal for those whose itching led to fur loss or thinning.

        So, don’t despair if your dog is incessantly scratching at their skin. Once we treat the cause and support their skin and fur with the right diet, things should improve rapidly.


        Comments (1)

        I had earlier read about dog skin allergies on an American pet hospital’s website and PetCareRx, but your article seems to be more detailed and informative.

        Sophia - Jan 10 2024

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