What can probiotics do for dog skin allergies?

Dogs don’t react to allergens by sneezing like humans. However, they do get rashes, and sometimes gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and flatulence.

More often than not, dog allergies emerge as skin problems commonly known as allergic dermatitis or atopic (atopy) dermatitis.

Since the root cause of skin allergy is deep-rooted in the dog’s genes, methods of treatment are usually focused on addressing symptoms or what triggers an allergic reaction. The most common triggers are fleas, food, environmental elements and flora on the skin.

Treatment is often a frustrating thing for dog owners, as it is hard to pinpoint the trigger. Among the many ways to address dog skin allergy is by feeding it probiotics.

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis

Dog skin allergy appears as an ugly rash due to relentless scratching. The more serious version of it is called acute moist dermatitis or hot spots – small bald areas that appear red, irritated, inflamed and often feel hot to the touch.

Atopic dogs will usually rub, lick, chew, bite or scratch at their feet, flanks, ears, armpits or groin. Their skin may also become dry and crusty or oily depending on the dog. 

The ear flaps of some dogs may become red and hot. Some get a bacterial and yeast (Malassezia) ear infection due to overproduction of wax as a response to the allergy.

Causes of dog skin allergies

Canine allergic dermatitis is an inherited trait where a dog has a tendency to develop allergic symptoms. This occurs after repeated exposure to an allergen or trigger, which is harmless to non-allergic dogs.

Most atopic dogs begin to show signs of allergy between 1 and 3 years of age. Among the substances that can trigger an allergic reaction are:

1. Environmental substances

These can be anything such as plant pollen, dust mites and mold. If a dog’s allergy flares up seasonally, it could be due to pollen. If it is persistent throughout the year, it could be due to dust or mold.

2. Food

A common misconception is that dogs are only sensitive to poor quality food. If the dog is allergic to an ingredient, it doesn’t matter whether it is in premium food. Often it is the filler in dog food that causes allergic reactions.

3. Fleas

The allergen is the proteins in the flea’s saliva. Dogs most prone to this problem are those exposed only occasionally to fleas. A single bite can cause a reaction for five to seven days.

4. Staphylococcus hypersensitivity

It is normal for the Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria to be on a dog’s skin. But an atopic dog can be hypersensitive. That’s when its immune system overreacts to the bacteria. This kind of reaction is more likely among dogs that have other conditions such as hypothyroidism, inhalant allergy, and/or flea allergy.

Breeds prone to skin allergies

These breeds are more commonly atopic than others:

  •   Boxer
  •   Bulldog
  •   Chinese Shar-Pei
  •   Dalmatian
  •   Golden Retriever
  •   Irish Setter
  •   Labrador Retriever
  •   Lhasa Apso
  •   Old English Sheep
  •   Shih Tzu
  •   most terriers,
  •   mixed breeds of the above


Allergy testing is the best diagnostic tool to identify whether a dog has predisposed allergies. The most common method is a blood test that checks for antigen induced antibodies in the dog’s blood. A small amount of antigen is injected into a shaved portion of the dog’s skin. If there is a reaction in that part of the skin, it means the dog is allergic to that antigen.

What can probiotics do for canine skin allergy? 

Medication, especially antibiotics, often kills all types of bacteria in their system.

This creates an imbalance in the dog’s gut as well as affects its ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Probiotics help to restore positive gut bacteria and reduce the unpleasant side effects of medications.

In addition to that, probiotics might also help to improve their mood, improve fur and skin appearance, and reduce bad breath.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are categorized as a supplement, which consist of live “good” bacteria that naturally live in a dog’s digestive tract.

There are many species of bacteria. Some of them live in the small intestine and some in the large intestine.

Those selected to form a probiotic supplement usually belong to these groups of bacteria: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus and Enterococcus. Different brands of probiotics have different combinations and varieties of these bacteria genera.

Types of probiotics

Probiotics come in the form of pills, powders, pastes or solutions. Each probiotic supplement contains one or more types of bacteria and/or yeast that can carry out a variety of different functions.

For example, Lactobacillus have shown benefits in helping dogs to increase the absorption of nutrients and to optimize their digestive systems.

Certain strains, such as Bifidobacterium, are known to be helpful in reducing the duration of diarrhea in dogs and for their overall immune boosting properties.

Do probiotics work for atopic dermatitis?

In a peer-reviewed journal, Dr. Marcella D. Ridgway notes that there is growing evidence which supports the use of probiotics for dogs. She states that one of the ancillary benefits of a daily probiotic supplement is reduction of allergy symptoms.

Several other reports show that dietary probiotics enhance specific immune functions in young dogs.

Another study was conducted on puppies which inherited the atopic dermatitis disposition. The puppies were given early exposure to a specific Lactobacillus strain of bacteria. Positive effects on their immunity towards allergens were seen after the first 6 months of life. The effects were seen even 3 years after probiotic administration was stopped.

Side effects of probiotics

A study was conducted using a synbiotic mixture of seven strains of bacteria and a blend of fructooligosaccharides and arabinogalactans. This probiotic blend was given to a group of healthy dogs daily for three weeks.

No negative gastrointestinal effects were recorded and no significant changes in gastrointestinal function or immune markers were observed during the study period. The study suggested that specific synbiotic administration is safe for dogs.

Probiotics are safe provided you give the correct dosage. However, each dog is created differently, so some may react negatively towards the supplement. Consumption of too much probiotics may cause extreme nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Another issue is that probiotics can multiply very quickly. Bear in mind that these are live bacteria. This can result in severe infection or inflammation. That is why you should consult your veterinarian before buying a probiotic supplement.

How much probiotics to give your dog

Probiotics can be given with meals or between meals. It depends on what the objective is. Your veterinarian will be able to advise accordingly. When using products intended for dogs, it is best to follow label suggestions for dosage.

Can you use human probiotics for dogs?

No. Here are reasons why:

1. Different creature, different microfauna

A dog’s intestine is home to bacteria that are slightly different from a human’s. Veterinarians recommend that pet owners opt for a probiotic that is specially made for dogs and contains the specific strains that a dog’s gut needs.

2. Unsuitable dosage

A human’s probiotic supplement bottle has dosage recommendations for a human, not a dog. As mentioned earlier, giving too much probiotics to a dog can cause negative side effects, what more the wrong type of bacteria.

3. Unpleasant-tasting human pills

A lot of puppy probiotics are made chewable and flavored with meat, so it is appetizing for them. Probiotic supplements for dogs also come in forms that can be mixed with their food. The last thing you want to do is give your dog a bad experience taking the supplement.

How long does it take probiotics to work in dogs?

It depends. There are so many factors that come into play when considering how long it’ll take for probiotics to be effective in your dog.

If your dog is healthy, you may notice health benefits for your dog soon after starting probiotics or later on down the line. The benefits will probably be subtle but you can be confident that probiotics are doing their job internally to keep your dog healthy and keep them from getting sick.

If your dog has any sort of health condition, probiotics may be able to help in treating the underlying cause or provide relief from symptoms. For example, if it has irritable bowel syndrome, you may find improvement in symptoms like diarrhea or constipation within a matter of days.

You may notice improvements in your dog’s health in as little as a few days to as long as a couple of months. There are just too many variables such as the dog’s overall health, its genetic makeup, its diet and gut health.

Best probiotics – how to choose for your dog

1.  Identify the right bacteria strains

The packaging should list the strains of bacteria found in the probiotic. It will also have a description of the reported benefits of those strains.

Your vet may recommend a certain type, but it might take some trial and error before the perfect probiotic formula can be found. Why? Each dog’s digestive system has a different percentage of bacteria. The secret is to find the right balance.

2.  Go for live bacteria

Make sure the probiotic actually contains live bacteria. The packaging should state how many bacteria will still be alive by the end of the product’s shelf life. Also note the expiry date to make sure the probiotic will still be viable.

3.  Know your pet’s preference

Some dogs don’t mind taking pills, some hate it. This can be solved by finding probiotic chews but the number of probiotics in a treat might not be substantial enough to provide much benefit to your dog. Alternatively, get probiotic powders and mix that into your dog’s food to make it easier for them to get the right dose.

Store correctly

Usually, probiotics need to be kept cool so that the bacteria don’t die off. The refrigerator might be the best place to keep your pet’s probiotic supplements.

Other forms of treatment for dog skin allergy

Supplements – fatty acids Omega-3 and Omega-6 improve the overall health of dog’s skin; they are natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative agents

Medicated baths – sooth injured skin, calm inflammation and remove allergens from the coat

Antihistamines – control symptoms of allergic skin disease and reduce itchiness

Antibiotics and antifungal medications – treat secondary skin infections

Flea control – eliminate fleas from the dog’s body if they are the cause of allergy

Hypoallergenic diets – these usually have novel protein sources (venison, egg, duck, kangaroo and types of fish not usually found in pet food) and are grain free

Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive medications - reduce itching by reducing inflammation, but are not advisable for dogs with renal diseases, and not advisable for long-term use due to side effects

Allergy shots/injections – effective  only after the allergens are identified

Environmental control – removing allergens in the dog’s living area is the best


In summary probiotics can help dogs with skin allergies. However, it is important to first ascertain whether a dog is allergic or whether there is another underlying health issue that is causing the skin problem. Then, a proper course of treatment can be carried out which may include the use of probiotic supplements.












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