Dogs and Allergic Dermatitis. Everything you need to know!

In this post:

  • What is Dermatitis;
  • Help! My dog is itchy! How To Stop Itchy Dogs Scratching?
  • Common symptoms;
  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD);
  • Food Allergy Dermatitis;
  • Inhalant/Environmental Dermatitis (Atopic Dermatitis);
  • Dog parents guide.

What is Dermatitis?

  • Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin. The word “dermatitis” is used to describe a number of different skin rashes that are caused by infections, allergies, irritating substances, harmless substances.

  • The rashes vary from mild to severe conditions. No two dogs respond the same way. We need to try many different strategies to see which ones will help your dog so be patient with us.

  • Depending on the cause of the allergy, some dogs are itchy all year round and some only itch at certain times of the year.

  • Just as people, dogs can show symptoms of allergy when their immune system recognizes certain substances as foreign ones, even if they had contact with that substance everyday. Skin is the biggest organ of a body and also the most common one to show symptoms of allergy.

Help! My dog is itchy! How To Stop Itchy Dogs Scratching?

  • Try to give your dog a bath with soap-free dog shampoo. This can give temporary relief for any itchy sensation.

  • Remember that you have to use quality external parasite control products from your local vet. Even if you don`t see fleas, this doesn`t mean that your dog is free from fleas.

  • You need to identify the cause and see your vet ASAP before any secondary infections appear. Having a pruritic dog can be frustrating, stressful, and concerning;

  • It`s time for dog parents to seek veterinary care!

Body areas most commonly affected by canine dermatitis:

Around the eyes;

Muzzle;

✔ Ears;

Leg area;

Axillary area;

Ankles/Wrists;

Groin area;

Paws/ Between the toes;


Important information! Body areas that create an environment to sustain moisture are the most vulnerable for the development of dermatitis, yeast, and bacteria growth!

The most common dog breeds that can have dermatitis include: Boxers, Retrievers, Bulldogs, Dalmatians, Irish Setters, Beagles, Shar-Peis, Shih-tzu, Bichon and dogs with white coats are most prone to developing food allergies.


Common Symptoms

  • Itching; Itchy skin usually worst around the ears, armpits, under the belly and paws.
  • Ear infections; Head shaking if there is any ear location dermatitis.
  • Yeast skin infections;
  • Weepy eyes;
  • Excessive scratching;
  • Licking or chewing themselves. Especially around the base of the tail and paws;
  • Rubbing on the carpet;
  • Patches of hair loss (alopecia);
  • Greasy or flaky skin with a foul odour;
  • Stained fur. Saliva discoloring the hairs (giving a rust-brown appearance to light colored hair) to reddened skin.
  • Skin that is thick and darkened;
  • Skin rashes. Especially on the face, feet or underbelly;
  • Scaly areas and bumps of the skin that look similar to acne;
  • Bacterial skin infections;
  • Scabs or crusts on the skin.

What can cause dog dermatitis?

1. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

This is also known as “flea bite hypersensitivity” and it is an allergic reaction to flea saliva injected through the bites of fleas.

Your dog can have a serious discomfort if the skin becomes itchy and inflamed due to flea bites.

Even if they are not visible, this doesn`t mean that fleas are not there.

Fleas are present all year round, so there is no particular time of the year when symptoms will diminish.For dogs who developed flea-related dermatitis, the more bites they get, the quicker their condition will worsen.

This is one of the reasons why we recommend you to have flea prevention for your dog. If you go on frequent walks and to dog parks, it is more likely to come in contact with fleas. Flea fact – a single bite can cause an allergy reaction for 5 – 7 days.


Treatment of FAD:

  • A product that eliminates adult fleas (adulticide) and inhibits growth of the immature stages. The time between dosing is commonly reduced during a treatment trial, depending on the nature and frequency of flare-ups. For example, if the dermatitis flares up, treatment is hastened to more frequent administration, from monthly to every 14 days for 2-3 applications.

  • Corticosteroids are the most effective therapy for controlling the intense pruritus associated with FAD. Since dosage can be tapered, oral administration is preferred over injectable. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation in the skin and thus help prevent secondary infections associated with bacteria or yeast overgrowth.

  • There are numerous flea products available including topical, oral, and injectable formulations. If topical spot-on medications are used, they have to be applied to dry skin and bathing is prohibited for a period of time after application. This time depends on the product used.
  • Most of the products require no bathing 3-4 days prior and after application. Excessive bathing and swimming should be avoided. Some oral medications need to be administered with food for best absorption.

Over-The-Counter (OTC) products are not recommended for the control of FAD!!!


2. Food Allergy Dermatitis

Did you know that your dog can eat the same food for years, and then, out of nowhere, they can develop an allergy to that food?

Food allergies in pets are extremely common! When your pet is dealing with a food allergy, their skin and coat will be the most affected.

Even if you try to give your dog a high quality food, this does not mean that this will prevent them from developing a food allergy. If your dog is allergic to a specific ingredient in his food, the brand is irrelevant, as long as the food contains that specific ingredient.

Treatment and cure:

  • Treating food allergies starts with avoiding foods that cause skin eruptions.
  • A good approach for this is an elimination diet, which contains a protein source and a carbohydrate source that has not been given to the pet in the past. This diet will be given for at least four weeks trial and we will monitor if any improvement occurs.

Below you can find some little-known signs that your dog may be suffering from food allergies:

2.1 Chronic ear infection

This means more than 2 or 3 treatments per year.

What It Looks Like: Stinky, yeasty ears with black or brown build-up.

Your dog has persistent head-shaking, scratching.

Even if you try over-the-counter otic solutions to clean your dog’s ears (a few times per week), these may treat the symptoms, but often don’t resolve the cause of the problem.

However(!): We first need to rule out any ear mites, yeast infection, or water (dogs who swim are prone to this).


2.2 Red, Brown Or Bronze

What It Looks Like: The base of your dog’s nails are red and sometimes this may be the sign of an inflammatory immune response (when you give the pet food with high levels of histamine). Also, lips, jowls, and toes may be red, pink, and inflamed.

Nails may be sensitive and your dog appears to itch or lick them often.

However(!): We first need to rule out any Foot injury (trauma), thyroid disorders or any other yeast infection (Malassezia).

2.3. Itchy Skin, Red Underbelly And Dull Coat

What It Looks Like! This can possibly cause hair loss in the affected skin area.

Skin underneath the hair is red/ pink, very dry, and most of the time, inflamed.

Even if you give your dog baths, conditioners, or over-the-counter allergy medications it`ll still not make him stop from stratching. You will still need your vet’s advice or even prescription, if such will be the case.

However(!): We first need to rule out any allergy that can be caused by an over-the-counter shampoo.


2.4. Watery eyes

What It Looks Like! If your dog has a gooey discharge, this can be caused by an allergen or a clogged tear duct and it can cause staining and irritation.

However(!): We first need to rule out any eye trauma.


3. Inhalant/ Environmental Dermatitis (Atopic Dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis (atopy) is an allergy to something in the environment (such as pollen, moulds, grass or dust mites).

Imagine you’re in your dog’s shoes (or paws) for a moment. You had your fun time outside, in the grass, and played around in piles of leaves.

Now you come back inside to relax, maybe give yourself a little grooming session to unwind. If you’re your dog, then all the potential allergens you’ve just contacted can go straight into your mouth and nose.

So, if you clean your dog’s paws when they come inside, this can surely help, but some of the potential environmental allergens may be inhaled/ingested by your dog, regardless.

Food and flea allergies can cause skin problems with almost the same symptoms to those with atopic dermatitis.

Over time, atopic dermatitis can worsen and become a serious health issue. Your dog`s skin can become extremely itchy, red, scaly and irritated. If your dog is not treated, there is a risk of hair loss, skin infections and ear infection.

Some common allergens:

  • Various types of pollen;
  • Fungal spores;
  • Tree bark;
  • House dust mites;
  • Grasses.

Dogs are not like cats, obviously, so staying exclusively indoors is not a realistic possibility. Seasonal allergies can lead to severe discomfort.

For dogs who seem to develop seasonal allergies, a few precautionary measures can be used to help:

  • Wash dogs’ bowls on a daily basis;
  • Clean paws when re-entering the home;
  • Try to limit outdoor exposure inseasons with higher pollen counts, especially in spring;
  • Limit exposure to highly moisturised areas of the house, such as basement and bathrooms.

Atopic dermatitis is a lifelong condition, but with help from your vet, the itching can be controlled so your dog and you can enjoy doing the things you love again.


Dog Parents Guide

Here you can find the steps needed to determine the cause of your dog`s itch:

Stage 1 – Itchy dog (investigation). We will try to rule out any potential infectious causes, testing your dog for ectoparasites (fleas, sarcoptes, demodex, cheyletiella), secondary bacterial infection (staph pyoderma) and fungal infection (malassezia).

Possible treatments: parasiticides, antibiotics and/or antifungals. If itching has not resolved, then allergic dermatitis could be suspected and we will move to stage 2 of our investigation.

Stage 2 – Allergic Dermatitis. We will prescribe you a treatment to relieve the immediate itch and advise how often to use it. We will investigate further to determine the possible cause of the itch, such as flea allergic dermatitis or a food allergy.

Possible treatments: anti-itch medications, dermatology diet, medicated shampoo/ topical skin treatments. If the itch remains once the possibility of flea allergic dermatitis or a food allergy has been excluded, we may diagnose atopic dermatitis and move to stage 3.

Stage 3 – Atopic Dermatitis. We will develop a treatment plan for managing your dog`s atopic dermatitis long-term, inclusing one or more of the following:

– Itch relief;

– Flea and parasitic treatment;

– Environment management;

– Skin barrier therapy;

– Diet;

– Plan for flare-up.

Possible treatments: Anti-itch and/ or anti-inflammatory medications, parasiticides, allergen specific immunotherapy, medicated shampoo/topical skin treatments.

♥ We will ask you to visit the vet practice at regular intervals to monitor your dog`s condition!

♥ In the mean time, take good care of your loved one! They deserve the best from us!


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