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Dog Allergy Symptoms

Updated on November 8, 2009

Skin and allergy problems are some of the most common diseases that affect dogs. In fact, if you look at pet insurance claim forms, dogs are taken to the veterinarian most often because the owner is concerned about some kind of skin problem--whether it be related to itchiness, fur loss, or some kind of rash or infection. These conditions can often be difficult to diagnose and treat because often there is more than one underlining cause for the problem. There is hardly one simple solution that works for every dog. Even if allergies are to blame, there is often more than one type of allergy present or the dog may have a secondary underlying condition.

Dogs can be allergic to many different substances (known as allergens) such as pollen, mold, mites, dust, food, and parasites. Just like people, some dogs are more sensitive than others. What causes one dog to have a severe reaction may not affect another dog in the slightest bit. However, unlike people that seem to have numerous hay fever-like signs such as sneezing, congestion, wheezing, tearing, itchy skin and hives--the most common symptom of dog allergies is severe itching. Some other clinical signs are outlined below.

Pet Lover's Guide to Cat and Dog Skin Diseases, 1e
Pet Lover's Guide to Cat and Dog Skin Diseases, 1e

This book contains a lot of good information about allergies and other dog skin diseases.


Is it Really Allergies?

Atopy, or atopic dermatitis, is a genetic condition and is the most common type of allergic skin disease in dogs. The dog's skin often becomes extremely itchy, red, scaly, and irritated. Of course, there are many other things that can cause the same clinical signs in dogs so your veterinarian will want to rule those out first.

Often allergies are more difficult to treat than the alternative causes which may include parasites, hormonal imbalances, and a bacteria or yeast infection. Depending on your dog’s age and medical history the veterinarian may recommend the following test(s):

1. Skin smear: an impression of the skin is made using a glass slide which is used to identify the presence of organisms such as bacteria or yeast.

2. Skin scrape: the top layers of skin are scraped off and examined for the presence of parasites (mites) such as sarcoptic and demodectic mange.

3. Fungal culture: to identify ringworm.

4. Thyroid panel: a thyroid hormone abnormality can cause often cause problems related to the skin and coat.

5. Low dose dexamethasone suppression test and/or ACTH stimulation test: Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) can also cause skin problems.

West Highland White Terrier
West Highland White Terrier

Which Breeds are Most at Risk?

While any dog can be affected by allergies some dogs seem to be more genetically at risk than others.The typical age of onset usually occurs between the ages of 6 months and 3 years but of course this can vary.

According to Karen Campbell, DVM, ACVIM, ACVD, veterinary dermatologist and author of the Pet Lover’s Guide to Cat and Dog Skin Diseases, 10-25% of dogs are affected by atopic dermatitis. Because the condition is genetic, responsible breeding practices are essential for ensuring that future generations are not affected. Puppy mills and backyard breeders that simply produce puppies for profit are not helping the cause.

In humans, there is an 80% chance that children will develop atopy if both parents are affected. The risk drops to 60% if one parent has atopy. As far we can tell, the risks are similar in dogs.  Here are some dog breeds that seem to be the most commonly affected by allergies:

Golden Retriever
West Highland White Terrier
Chinese Shar-Pei
Carin Terrier
Scottish Terrier
Lhasa Apso
Boston Terrier

Sealyham Terrier
Wire-Haired Fox Terrier
Cocker Spaniel

American Staffordshire Terrier
German Shepherd
Irish Setter
English Setter
Miniature Schnauzer

Of course, there are different gene pools depending on where you dog comes from and certainly any dog can develop atopic dermatitis--including mixed breeds. As a licensed veterinary technician that has worked in Michigan for the past ten years, I’ve bolded the breeds that seem to really stand out in my mind.

Dog Allergy Symptoms (Clinical Signs)

Just for the record, “symptoms” really isn’t the term that veterinarian prefer to use when talking about pets. A symptom is most commonly referred to as a feeling or sensation perceived by the patient as a result of their condition. Since pets can’t tell us “where it hurts” veterinarians prefer to use the term “clinical signs” instead. Clinical signs are objective observations that typically don’t need to be interpreted such as temperature, and other features relating to the pet’s physical appearance. Symptoms are just too subjective to be used in veterinary medicine.

Anyway, now that we have the technical mumbo-jumbo out the way, here are ten “visual clues” or clinical signs you should watch for if you’re concerned about dog allergies.

1. Excessive licking, itching, or head shaking
2. Odor (ears or body)
3. Discharge from the ears
4. Inflamed, bleeding, or copper-stained paws
5. Hair loss (alopecia)
6. Circular crusting lesions or sores
7. Red pimples
8. Oily or greasy skin
9. Thickened, leathery skin (lichenification)
10. Scaly or red skin

Ask Your Veterinarian!

Of course, the information provided in this hub should not be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If you have questions about dog allergies the best person to ask is your veterinarian. Besides you and your family--they know your pet better than anyone.

Also, the video below emphasizes the point that you need to research your dog breeds, breeders, adoption agencies, and rescue organizations *BEFORE* you bring your new dog home!


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    • profile image

      Mark 7 years ago

      I fed my english pointers chunks of fat which had been used to daste venisen

      One of the dogs 20months old developed tufting of hair as though a pimple had developed in the skin

      this was all over the dog.

      I reverted to normal feedong cleaned out the water bowl

      the tufting disapeared after 36 hours