Is your dog itching like crazy? Dog allergies are more common than you might think, and most of the time, it’s a pretty easy health concern to get under control.

However, to solve the mystery of dog skin allergies once and for all, you first must be able to pinpoint what’s causing the allergic reaction in the first place. From there, you and your vet can develop a strategy to eliminate the symptoms and stop the allergy at the source.

Read on to learn more about skin allergies in dogs, including the most common causes of itchy allergies, the symptoms to look out for, and treatment options you may want to consider.

What Causes Skin Allergies in Dogs?

The three most common pesky sources that lead to dog skin allergies include the wrong kind of food, environmental allergens, and an allergic reaction to fleas.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

What is the most common skin allergy in dogs? The answer is usually dermatitis in dogs. When fleas bite dogs, they leave traces of their saliva behind on the skin, and there are proteins and antigens found in this saliva that many dogs are allergic to.

This allergic reaction can result in flea allergy dermatitis, which can lead to a whole lot of scratching, itching, and uncomfortable skin for your pooch.

Flea allergy dermatitis is most often seen near the base of the dog’s tail or at the tail end of their back, where fleas tend to bite the most. The skin in this area often biomes inflamed and red, and eventually, may scab over due to constant scratching. You may also see tiny black specks, which are usually flea feces, or fleas themselves crawling around.

A good flea protection medication can keep a flea allergy and resulting dermatitis at bay. If your dog is not on flea medication or is on a dose too low, you may find that this is a recurring issue with your dog until you get them on the right dosage.

Food Allergies

Dogs can be allergic to the food they are eating. Other times, they are simply sensitive or intolerant of certain foods, and limiting these foods gradually can help tame the symptoms.

Some signs of food allergies to look for include scratching at ears or paws and digestion troubles such as diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation.

Most food allergies present on the skin, either on the paws or inside the ears, and it can lead to chronic ear infections, a buildup of yeast in the ears, or even facial swelling and hives.

Environmental Allergens

The third most common cause of skin allergies in dogs is environmental allergens, which can result in atopic allergic reactions or atopic dermatitis, which is different from flea allergy dermatitis. You may find that these allergic reactions are only seasonal, as dogs may be allergic to certain grasses or pollens, much like humans can be.

The best clues to an environmental allergen are itchy paws and ears as well as irritated skin between the toes, around ankles, around the muzzle and eyes, as well as on wrists and armpits.

Symptoms of Skin Allergies in Dogs

Skin allergies may present themselves differently from dog to dog. Still, if you’re familiar with the most common kinds, you’ll be able to respond appropriately after the first sign something is wrong.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Excessive licking in certain areas
  • Excessive scratching in certain areas or all over
  • Rubbing face or ears – on paws, furniture, carpet, etc.
  • Biting skin – especially on paws
  • Scooting or rubbing on rough surfaces
  • Irritated, red, scabby, scaly, or flaky skin
  • Loss of hair
  • Skin sores

Sure, getting the discomfort managed is important, but so is managing the risk of secondary infection that could result from skin allergies. If your dog creates an open wound by scratching and biting, there’s a higher risk that bacteria and yeast can enter into the skin, requiring much more serious treatment.

How Can I Treat My Dog’s Skin Allergies?

Asking yourself, “How can I treat my dog’s skin allergies?” You’re not alone. Many pet parents face this issue, and they just want to help. Here’s what to do.

Avoid Your Dog’s Triggers

First, avoid what seems to trigger the allergic reaction. If it’s fleas, keep them on high flea control and get your yard sprayed. If it’s pollen, avoid long walks during spring. If it’s grass, keep your lawn cut short and wash its paws after coming in.

Anti-Itch Medication

You may be able to treat the allergy locally with anti-itch medication. Some steroid sprays, tablets, injections, or creams can calm down the reaction on the skin quickly. You may get these over the counter or through your vet.

Supplements, Shampoos, and Antihistamines

Skin allergies are unique in that they present themselves physically on the skin. Most dogs can benefit from gentle and allergy-friendly skin supplements (like those with fatty acids such as salmon oil), a skin-calming dog shampoo (with ingredients like oatmeal), or antihistamines either daily or as needed.


If other treatments are not working, immunotherapy through injections can help dogs become less allergic to their triggers over time. This is not a cure-all and is usually a slow and long-term treatment plan. Many dogs also require medication and other treatments in conjunction.

Other Treatments

Some other options that work in certain cases include antibiotics if a secondary infection has developed, or regular ear cleaning to minimize ear allergies.

If you’re not sure where to begin, we offer a new client exam and would be happy to give our professional recommendations.

Can Dogs Get Tested for Allergies?

You can test your dog for certain allergies, though not all allergies are year-round. Skin samples, as well as serologic blood testing, may be performed. Intradermal testing, which is often used with humans when a small amount of the allergen is injected beneath the skin, can also identify the cause of an allergic reaction.

However, these tests can become expensive, so general treatment may be more cost-effective than advanced testing.

When to Contact Your Vet

If you’ve tried a few things and your dog is still itching and scratching, or if problems are getting worse over time, always contact your vet and bring your pup in for a check-up to get to the root of the issue and find a good solution.


Dog skin allergies are a pain in the neck, back, tail, or snout. Regardless of what causes these allergies, they can make the reality of everyday life extremely uncomfortable for man’s best friend. If you notice your dog itching or scratching incessantly, it’s time to schedule an appointment and bring them in so our experts can get to the bottom of it and find a lasting fix.

Dr. Erin Downes VMD

Dr. Erin Downes graduated valedictorian from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1992. She and her husband, Dr. Jay Rowan are the owners of Paoli Vetcare | Main Line Vet & Animal Hospital.