Dog Skin Allergies - What You Need To Know About Symptoms, Causes And Hypoallergenic Diet

Like people, dogs also experience allergies which are quite common among some breeds. However, unlike people who react to allergens with a runny nose and/or hives, dogs react with skin and/or gastrointestinal problems. A dog with allergies may scratch relentlessly, and a peek at the skin often reveals an ugly rash. 


Dog Skin Allergies

Photo by Autri Taheri on Unsplash

How to tell if your dog is having an allergic reaction? 

One of the telltale signs is if your dog is constantly scratching but does not have fleas. Other symptoms include swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids or earflaps, diarrhoea, vomiting, sneezing and runny eyes. 

What causes skin allergies in dogs? 

Skin allergies, called allergic dermatitis, are the most common type of allergic reactions in dogs. Dogs can be allergic to grooming products, food and environmental irritants such as pollen or insect bites. Other causes include:


The most common food that dogs are usually allergic to are chicken, dairy, wheat, egg and soy - to name a few. Most pets are allergic to animal proteins rather than grains, and dogs are usually allergic to more than one thing. 

The most common places that dogs with food allergies itch are their ears and paws. This may be accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms. 


Some dogs are allergic to flea bites and you will notice this if you see your dog often scratching the base of their tail, or notice redness and scabbing on their skin. You may also spot signs of fleas, such as flea dirt or even see the fleas themselves. 

Grooming products

Grooming can help keep a dog healthy by removing its dead hair, tangled fur and dirt as well as remedy fleas, ticks and other parasites. However, some grooming products may contain ingredients that may cause skin allergies on some sensitive dogs. 


Dust, pollen and mold not only affect the paws and ears but also the wrists, ankles, muzzle, underarms, groin, around the eyes and in between the toes. 

Skin allergies pose the risk of secondary infection. As your dog scratches, bites and licks his skin, he risks opening up his skin to yeast and bacterial infections as well as open wounds that require further treatment. 

How can I treat my dog’s skin allergies? 

Allergies develop through exposure.  If you know which substances your dog is allergic to, avoidance is the best method of control. The quickest way to determine which foods your dog may or may not be allergic to is through diagnostic allergy testing. 

Dairy, beef and wheat are responsible for 80% of food allergies in dogs, hence these items should be avoided. 

Most hypoallergenic diets incorporate proteins and carbohydrates that your dog has never had before. Novel protein sources used in such diets include venison, duck, kangaroo, crocodile meat and certain types of fish. Carbohydrate sources include potatoes, yams, peas, sweet potatoes and pumpkin. 

Most pets respond well when switched to a store-bought hypoallergenic diet, but occasionally an animal suffers from such extreme allergies that a homemade diet is the only option. In this case, the diet should be customized with the aid of a veterinarian. 

Some dogs will also have allergic reactions to environmental allergens. For example, mold in the walls of your house may cause your dog to itch. It is also unhealthy for you and your family if the mold does untreated. 

Mold can be reduced by using a dehumidifier or placing activated charcoal on top of the exposed dirt in your house plants. Dust and pollen are best controlled using an air cleaner with a HEPA filter. Using the air conditioner instead of a ceiling fan can also reduce circulating amounts of airborne allergens. 

What is the best hypoallergenic dog food? 

Hydrolyzed Diets 

Diets in this category are prescription and veterinary diets and can only be recommended by a veterinarian. This diet contains a protein that has undergone a process called ‘hydrolyzation’ where the protein structure is broken down into its component amino acids. Hydrolyzation is a process that reduces the ‘allergenicity’ of the protein, making it so small that it is unlikely to trigger an immune reaction. 

Home-cooked Diets 

Dogs with skin allergies respond well to a home-cooked diet. With home-cooked meals, you are taking full responsibility for all your dog’s nutritional requirements. Furthermore, your buddy will be getting the best of healthy fresh foods.

Some fine human foods that your dog will love include lean meat, fish, boiled potatoes, leafy greens and fruits. However, practice moderation in the use of ingredients. It is also advisable to cross-check with your vet or a pet nutritionist to ensure your homemade diet is balanced and complete.

Nutrition deficiency can lead to diseases such as malnutrition or obesity, and can be fatal. Also, there are some foods you should avoid such as chocolate, avocado, grapes, raisins, onions and garlic. 

Limited ingredient dog food

Limited ingredient dog food refers to food that contains fewer ingredients than regular dog food. As it may still contain potential allergens such as common proteins like chicken and beef, it is not really hypoallergenic. However, you can give your dog a limited ingredient diet as part of a food trial to pinpoint the offending allergens. Sometimes, if your dog has a food allergy, just making the switch to a high quality limited ingredient diet can help its symptoms to subside. 

Does grain-free dog food help with my dog’s skin allergies? 

A grain-free diet does not consist of popular grains such as rice, soy, wheat and corn. These grains may cause dog skin allergies, therefore eliminating them from your dog's food may help reduce or prevent skin allergies.

Some dogs suffering from skin allergies have shown noticeable improvement after being put on grain-free diets. Read more here for the different types of dog food to help treat allergies.

Chicken allergy in dogs

Chicken is another food that dogs can become allergic to. As dogs may take some time to build up an intolerance towards a certain type of food, many dog owners are caught by surprise when they find that their dog is allergic to this common protein. This is especially so if it has not shown previous allergic reactions towards chicken.

However, chicken allergy in dogs is not unheard of. Dogs who are allergic to chicken display general allergy symptoms such as itchiness, and gastrointestinal discomfort. 

Once you pinpoint that your dog is allergic to chicken, the best way to manage the allergy is to avoid feeding it this protein. You can ensure that the allergies do not return by feeding it chicken free dog food

As dogs who are allergic to chicken may also be allergic to other poultry such as duck and turkey, it is also best to avoid these proteins when your dog is healing. 

What can I give my dog for severe itching? 

To give your itchy dog some relief, you may consider some of the best dog food for skin allergies and natural remedies but it is wise to consult a veterinarian before starting on any therapy. 

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce itchiness and help a dog with dry skin. It can be administered like a spot-on cream, given orally or sprayed on the area directly. 
  • A fish and sweet potato diet might be able to help your itchy dog. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids while sweet potatoes lack the wheat that might trigger an allergic reaction. 
  • Eggs is a good source of protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that will give your dog a nutritional boost. You can give it to your dog raw or scrambled. 
  • Natural raw dog food does not contain preservatives and additives that might cause your dog to itch. It also helps to strengthen your dog’s immune system to help fight allergic reactions. 
  • Aloe vera can be applied to soothe your dog’s skin and promote healing. You can either buy it from a grocery store or harvest fresh gel at home if you have an aloe vera plant. 

How can you bathe a dog with skin allergies? 

Bathe your dog one to two times a week with a gentle, soap-free shampoo made for dogs. Itchy dogs may benefit from shampoo ingredients such as oatmeal and aloe. Your dog may be prescribed a specific shampoo for medicated wash. Follow the instructions carefully on how much to use and how to apply it. 

bathe the dog

Photo by Autri Taheri on Unsplash

What do vets prescribe for dog allergies?

Some allergies can be serious and even minor ones cause a good deal of discomfort. There are a number of treatments that may be prescribed for dog allergies. 


The vet may prescribe antihistamines, depending on what kind of allergy your dog is suffering from. However, these are only effective in around 30% of all canine allergy cases. It is a relatively safe and cheap way to treat allergies. 


This can either come as a topical cream, an injection or a tablet. While it is effective, it is a medication with side effects and should only be used on a short-term basis or when necessary. 

Topical Therapy: 

Shampoos and soaks can provide relief for itchy dogs. While this offers short-term relief, it works right away so it is great for instant alleviation of symptoms. 


The best way to treat an allergy is by avoiding the cause and allergen, while the best way to treat food allergies is to change your dog’s diet. 

If your dog has a severe allergic reaction, get him to an emergency veterinary hospital as quickly as possible.

You can try to introduce probiotics for a dog with skin allergies to help it replenish bacteria that are beneficial to its guts and lessen any medications’ unpleasant side effects.