Dog allergies: causes of dog hives & other skin rashes

Jack Russell Terrier rolls at green grass

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What types of dog skin allergies are there? Why is my dog itching? Can dogs get hayfever, too? If you’ve ever found yourself asking these questions, you’re not alone. We caught up with our resident vet to advise you of the 3 most common dog allergies, their likely causes, and the steps you should take to overcome any dog allergic reactions.

1. Fleas

A flea allergy in dogs – medically known as flea allergy dermatitis – flares up in the event of flea bites. The specific aggravator for a flea allergy is flea saliva. Other insect bites can cause dog allergic reactions but flea saliva is by far the most common. If you spot your dog losing hair around the base of their tail, continually biting and scratching at their skin, or developing an inflamed dog skin rash (aka a ‘hotspot’) or dog hives (bumps that spontaneously appear), your four-legged friend may have a flea allergy. Scratching and biting at their dog skin rash can lead to other health issues, such as yeast or bacterial infections – making it all the more important to seek the attention of a vet to help you treat your dog’s allergies. Protecting your dog from fleas should be part and parcel of pet parenthood, but this rings especially true when a flea allergy is brought into the equation. Your vet will be able to help you to swat up on  how to prevent fleas, how to spot fleas hidden in dog fur, and how to get rid of fleas – both from your dog and your home. Remember to deworm your dog if they’ve had fleas, as fleas also carry tapeworm eggs – and worms can be a cause of dog skin allergies, too.

 rid off fleas.

2. Environmental factors

Be it dust, pollen, or mould, dog allergies can flare up at any point in the year. Seasonal allergies are just as common amongst our furry friends as they are with us humans. Yes, a dog allergic to grass is a genuine sensitivity that can cause skin rashes and dog hives. Having said that, the summertime can be especially tricky when it comes to dog hayfever – amongst keeping your dog cool and entertained. If your dog is experiencing swelling and/or redness of the face, throat, lips, eyelids, and/or earflaps, this could be a sign of an allergic reaction. You should pay a visit to your vet with your pooch in tow. They may prescribe a medication such as antihistamines for dogs, steroids or immunomodulators, in order to control your dog’s symptoms.

Happy running dog in a field of dandelion in spring.

3. Food intolerances

Not many dogs suffer from true food allergies. Instead, they have food intolerances or food sensitivities. This kind of dog allergic reaction is a gradual one – rather than an instant immune response – to a particular ingredient (or ingredients!) in your dog’s food. A dog allergic to chicken is not unheard of. In fact, the most common food sensitivities are seen in different types of protein – be that chicken, beef, grain, eggs, or milk. Dog itchy eyes, ears, and paws are all symptoms of a food allergy, along with gastrointestinal issues (we’re talking dog diarrhoea and constipation). Some of the best food for skin allergies are hypoallergenic or made up of a single protein. Feeding a “novel” protein diet means feeding a protein that your dog’s immune system is unlikely to have been exposed to. Common examples of this are duck and venison.

What to do if you think your dog might have an allergy

  • Consult with your vet to ensure that it is a dog allergy and not something else entirely, such as mange or even a medical problem like Hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.
  • If your vet suspects your dog’s symptoms are due to an allergy, they may suggest a medical treatment as a first line. Discuss the various options available, including topical and injectables.
  • Avoid the cause of the dog allergy where possible – be it flea bites, a specific ingredient causing a food intolerance, or environmental factors such as grass.
  • Similar to human allergy testing, dog allergy testing is possible using a blood sample or skin tests. This is often quite complicated due to the complexity of the immune system. This means it may not always pinpoint the exact cause of the allergy, especially when it comes to food.
  • If your dog has a severe allergic reaction and goes into anaphylactic shock, you must take your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic.
  • Be patient! Skin problems are probably the most frustrating symptom to treat for vets. Work through the process with your vet step by step, as it can sometimes take months or even years to control skin allergies in dogs.

Our articles are not a replacement for face-to-face vet advice. It’s important to consult with your vet on a regular basis to raise any pet concerns that you may have.


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