If your dog is scratching, lapping or digging his skin, chances are it's allergies. Just like humans, dogs can have allergic reactions to direct contacts, dust mites, mold, pollen and even dog food ingredients. Your vet can usually pinpoint the cause of the itching and find relief for your pup.
Commercial dog foods consist of proteins derived from meat, grains and vegetables. Some common proteins that can trigger skin irritation are chicken, wheat, corn, soy and eggs. Your vet may suggest a food elimination diet, which contains proteins your dog has never been exposed to in his diet. Your pooch stays on the diet until all symptoms disappear and then you slowly introduce the former foods -- one at time. Your vet may also suggest a hypoallergenic diet, which contains proteins that are broken down small enough to avoid an immune response such as the itchy, irritated skin.
Dust mites, mold and pollen are environmental allergens that can cause dog skin irritation. Similar to human diagnosis, the vet will inject small doses of the different allergens into your dog's skin. If he reacts with a reddened area, he is allergic to that allergen. Treatment options include antihistamines such as Benadryl or Atarax, steroids such as prednisone or the drug Atopica. You can help by eliminating or cutting down on some of the allergens by vacuuming often and removing any apparent mold.
Direct Contact Allergens
Laundry detergent, perfumes, wool and even pesticides used on the lawn can cause inflammation and skin irritations. The allergic reaction is localized in the area where the dog has had contact. Contact allergens are less common than food or environmental allergens. Your vet may do a skin scraping. Removal of the allergen is the best defense. Change laundry detergents, avoid perfumes, remove wool products or keep your dog away from the recently treated lawn area.
Besides fleas, other external parasites can infect your dog. Ear mites live in the ear canal and sometimes on the feet and tail. If your dog is scratching his ears or shaking his head, he probably has ear mites. Your vet will prescribe an insecticide to kill the mites. Chigger mites live in grasslands and attach themselves to the dog's skin. They secrete saliva that causes the itching and possible rash. A bath with a pyrethin-based product will remove the chiggers.
Dog breeds more prone to environmental allergens are retrievers, terriers, Dalmatians, miniature poodles, cocker spaniels, Shiba Inus, boxers and English bulldogs. Food allergies can occur in any dog and at any age. Your pooch may develop an allergen to a protein in his food that never bothered him before. Other allergens that may cause skin irritations are dog shampoos, dog medications prescribed for other conditions and even flea-controlled products such as flea collars and flea powders.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.