How to Help Dogs with Allergies, Food Intolerances, and Other Itchy Skin Issues

It's Important to Look for an Underlying Reason for Skin Inflammation

It might start with a chronic ear infection, red skin, or an itch that just won’t quit. But all these symptoms are pointing to one important thing–your dog has skin problems. Whether the cause is fleas, food intolerances, allergies or other issues, it’s important to look for an underlying reason for this skin inflammation before it becomes a serious concern. If you wait to find a solution, your dog could develop hot spots, hair loss or other significant issues. Plus, you probably will have difficulty enjoying quality time with your dog if they’re always scratching themself.

Check for Fleas, and Then Check Again

By far, the most common cause of skin issues in dogs are fleas. These tricky little insects are easy to overlook but can cause flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Essentially, when your dog has FAD, they’re just extremely sensitive to flea bites. This hypersensitive response causes them to immediately bite and scratch where they were bitten by fleas. Then, about 24 hours after the initial bite, you’ll notice that they’ll show evidence of a skin allergy. Skin redness, bumps, scabs and general itchiness may all occur. These symptoms can be severe and persistent for up to 2 weeks AFTER the flea bite and the flea may be long gone. Because there is a good chance you may not see the flea anymore most veterinarians will want to treat for fleas first to rule it out as a cause for your dog’s itchy skin.

FAD might have a typical roster of symptoms, but there’s also a chance that your dog may only have a mild response. Some veterinarians report that dogs that itch only around their groin, tail base, and armpits usually have fleas. So, if you take your dog to your veterinarian, they’ll probably recommend a flea treatment to rule out any possibility of FAD.

Some types of skin infections can also masquerade as an allergy or food intolerance. If you’re unsure what you’re seeing, consider scheduling a yearly physical with your veterinarian. They can quickly spot impetigo, mange or other skin problems that may be causing your dog to itch.

Boost Your Dog’s Skin Health and Immune System

No matter what the cause, skin problems can be hard on your dog. So, while you’re searching for the root cause, it’s a good idea to make sure your dog’s skin and immune system are getting the support they need. That support starts with the best possible diet you can afford to feed your dog, but there are also a few other categories of supplements that can help.

To improve your dog’s skin and coat, look for fatty acid supplements, such as salmon or pollock oil. This healthy source of fat is an excellent anti-inflammatory that can reduce the red, hot, itchy skin and will also help your dog’s overall health.

To keep your dog’s immune system in good working order look into digestive supplements, since almost 80% of the immune system is in your dog’s intestinal tract.  Consider adding prebiotics to their daily meals to feed the healthy bacteria in their gut. Digestive enzymes can also improve their immune system and overall health by making the nutrients in their food easier to process.

Other skin supporting compounds include turmeric, biotin, zinc, nettle, quercetin, medicinal mushrooms (cordyceps, reishi, shiitake, kind trumpet) and coconut oil.

Five Steps to Eliminate Canine Food Sensitivities

It can be tough to identify trigger foods, but once you do your dog should feel much better. The key to identifying these foods is consistency. It’s important to eliminate any source of protein that could trigger a reaction–so plan on eliminating chews, treats, table scraps and other consumable goodies that could expose your dog to the food causing the sensitivity.

Step 1: Find a novel protein to feed your dog.

Look for a protein source that your dog has never eaten before and find a food that contains only that protein. You should see a positive change in your dog after a few weeks, although it may take up to twelve weeks for them to completely feel better.

We recommend that if you try two novel proteins–and neither provide relief to your dog–that you stop changing your dog’s diet and make an appointment with their veterinarian. If you feed your dog every readily available protein, it makes it difficult for the veterinarian to guide you through an elimination diet. Dogs that have eaten every available protein source may need a hydrolyzed protein diet to help balance their system. Currently, these diets are only available through a veterinarian and cost-prohibitive for most people.

Step 2: Consider feeding a raw food diet to eliminate other allergens.

Raw diets contain active enzymes that make it easier to digest, plus probiotics which help support your dog’s immune system. There’s also phytochemicals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids which can also support your dog’s organs and skin. But feeding raw requires a large commitment–it’s more expensive than most kibbles, and you’ll need to follow safe food handling processes.

Step 3: Go grain-free if you can’t go raw.

Grains aren’t a necessary component of your dog’s diet, so you can safely cut them out to reduce their exposure to trigger foods. Grain-free canned food is a great option, but there are also many grain-free kibbles that don’t contain any cereal grains.

How to Effectively Battle Airborne Allergies

Fleas cause the most skin disorders, but inhalant or airborne allergies are the second most common reason for your dog to have noticeable skin issues. If you’ve completely ruled out food triggers, you might want to consider if your dog has an environmental allergy.

It can be tough to eliminate these allergy triggers without a cross-country move, but there are some things you can do to help your dog battle the molds, pollens or dust that’s making them uncomfortable. Also talk to your veterinarian to find out if a prescription medication can help. Our in-house veterinarian has seen great results prescribing a daily pill, such as Apoquel, or a monthly injection, such as Cytopoint, to manage environmental allergies in her own dogs. You can also find some support through supplementation using herbs, such as nettle, quercetin, bromelain and reishi mushrooms.

Step 1: Wash Your Dog’s Paws Every Time They Goes Outside.

Your dog’s paws will touch the most pollen, seeds and dust, so it makes sense to wipe each foot off after their outside jaunts. A simple grooming wipe is the easiest solution, but you can also use a damp washcloth as well.

Step 3: Control Your Dog’s Outside Environment.

Eliminating your yard probably isn’t feasible, but keeping your grass trimmed short can also have a positive impact on your dog’s allergies. Also, keep them inside while you’re mowing or otherwise gardening to limit their exposure to pollen. Steering them away from damp garages, barns and other areas that may have significant amounts of mold and mildew may also help.

Step 4: Battle Dust Mites and Other Allergens Through Cleaning.

Zip up pillows and mattresses in covers that trap dust mites. Then, wash your dog’s bed every week in hot water to kill any mites and remove any other lurking allergens. Also, be ruthless when eliminating possible sources of mold and mildew in your home.

When you vacuum, make sure your vacuum cleaner has a HEPA filter. These filters can trap allergens as small as 0.3 microns, which will trap most allergens in your vacuum cleaner’s bag. Also, try keeping your dog out of rooms that you’ve vacuumed or dusted for two hours. The act of cleaning temporarily stirs up dust in the air.

Step 5: Reduce Indoor Airborne Allergens.

Regular cleaning will help improve the air quality, but it pays to invest in some products that will filter out common allergens. First, make sure your furnace and air conditioner have high-quality air filters and that you’re changing them as recommended. Typically, you should expect to change a pleated filter every two to three months.

Second, consider investing in an electronic air cleaner that will help circulate air and filter it. Look for HEPA filtration systems to trap the largest possible number of allergens. Ultra HEPA filtration systems exist, but many don’t circulate enough air to filter more effectively than a regular HEPA filter. Placing these filters in areas where your dog spends the most time will have the greatest impact. Also, try to keep windows shut and use your air conditioner instead.

blue coiled nylon leash and collar

When to Visit a Veterinarian

While your dog is most likely to develop an allergy to their yard, their diet or fleas–sometimes the source of their allergies is more difficult to pinpoint. Getting a concrete diagnosis from your veterinarian can help you pinpoint what’s causing these itchy flare-ups. You can also get prescription allergy medication if you find out that your dog’s allergies are triggered by something that’s impossible to eliminate from their world.