Skin problems or conditions are some of the most common things seen by veterinarians and can be caused by many different disorders, bacterias, mites or fleas, allergens or other problems. Mites and fleas can be read about on a different page under parasites. Usually there are bacterias (staph being the most common) and yeasts (such as malassezia) that are causing problems secondary to a primary condition (such as an allergy or immune conditions like thyroid disorders or pemphagus) The primary condition should be corrected in order for the bacterial/yeast infections to be cleared up with the help of medication and/or other treatments.


How common are allergies and what are the symptoms?

Allergies are a very common conditions and are sometimes misunderstood by owners. Allergies can be hard to diagnosis in some patients because of the many differnet way they can present in a certain patient. The most common symptom associated with allergies in dogs is itching of the skin either localized (in one area) or generalized (all over the body). Other symptoms could involve the respiratory system with coughing, sneezing an/or wheezing or the digestive system resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. For the ease of classification we will narrow allergies to 4 types: 1) Contatct allergies 2) Flea or Insect Bite Allergies 3) Inhalant Allergies or “Atopy” and 4) Food Allergies

What are the common allergy-causing substances?

There is a very large number of substances that can act as an allergen. Most are proteins of insect, plant or animal origin such as, pollens, dust mites, shed skin cells, insect protiens like flea saliva and some foods and medications.

Contact Allergy

This is the least common type of allergy and usually the easiest to identify. It results from direct contact to the allergens conatained in flea collars or pyrethrins, chemical in the lawn or the grasses themselves and beddings such as wool and cotton. If a pet is allergic to these substances then they will itch at the points of contact, usually the feet and stomach. Removal of the substances from the pet OR the pet from the substances will solve the problem, although medical therapy may be needed to relieve the pet.

Examples of Contact Allergies

Flea or Insect Bite Allergy

Flea allergy is the exaggerated inflammatory response to a flea bite or other insect bite. Flea saliva is the most common allergen in this instance. It is a common allergy for dogs, although only a minority of dogs will become allergic. Most dogs experience minor irritation but some can react with severe localized itching from a single bite. These pets can bite and scratch themselves removing large amunts of skin and hair, especially in the tail-base area. Secondary bacterial infection can them occur in the broken skin. The most common areas of irritation is over the rump in th tail-base region and hind limbs.

Both of these dogs have a Flea Allergy

Due to the fact that one flea can be a problem for the allergic dog, strick flea control is essential. The dog parasite information on the “Some of our Services” page will aid in options for flea control. When flea control is not possible or in cases of severe itching anti-histamines and corticosteriods can be used, under careful veterinary guidance, to block the allergic reaction or to give relief. If a secondary bacterial infection is preent, appropriate antibiotics should be prescribed.

Inhalant Allergy or “Atopy”

The main causative inhaled allergens are tree pollens (cedar, ash, oak, etc.), grass pollens, weed pollens (ragweed, goldenrods, etc.), molds, mildew, and house dust mites. Many of these allergens occur seasonally but many occur year-round. When humans inhale these allergens the allergy manifests mainly with respiratory signs – runny nose, runny eyes and sneezing (“Hay-fever”). But in dogs the results is itchy skin (pruritis) and due to this it is often referred to as “Inhalant Allergic Dermatitis”. Pet may often rub their face, lick it’s feet and scratch the thier underarms.

Most dogs that have inhalant allergywill begin to show signs between one and three years of age but it could show up later in life. Affected dogs will often react to several allergens but if the offending allergens can be identified by either a serum test or intradermal skin testing, the pet should be protected from exposure to them as much as possible. These allergies can be treated but a permanent cure is not usually possible. Treatment depends largely on the length of the dog’s allergy season. It involves three approuches:

1) Anti-inflammatory- Treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteriods or antihistamines will quickly block the allergic reaction in most cases. Fatty acid supplementation in the diet can improve the response to steriods and antihistamines in some cases. Newer drugs such as oral cyclosporines may hold promise for severely atopic dogs.

2) Shampoo Therapy- Frequent bathing with a hypoallergenic shampoo can be soothing and helpful. The bathing rinses out allergens in the coat that could be absorbed through the skin. Some therapeutic shampoos contain anti-inflammatory ingredients that may further benefit your pet. The gold standard of shampoos would be a quality oatmeal based shampoo, which helps to hydrate the skin but in some cases a medicated shampoo is needed. Also the Furminator brushes have also been shown to decrease the amount of allergens caught in the under coat and could be helpful as well.

3) Hyposensitization Therapy- The tird major form of allergy treatment is hyposensitization with specific antigen injections or “allergy shots”. Once the specific source of allergy are identified by allergy testing, a very small amount of the allergen is injected weekly to monthly with the objection of reprogramming or desensitizing the immune system. Results are sometimes great but success is variable. Approximately fifty percent of treated dogs will see significant improvement, while about 25 percent will see a decrease in the amount or frequency of corticosteriod administration.

Common look of Atopy but can present in many ways

For more information on allergy testing or hyposensitization you can visit:

Food Allergy

A food allergy can develop to almost any protien or carbohydrate component of food and at any age. It is most common in response to the protien of a particular food origin such as beef, pork, chicken or turkey. Food allergies can produce many different clinic signs such as itching, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress and mat occur with other allergies such as atopy and should be tested for when looking for atopy. Food allergies do not respond as weel to corticosteriods as other allergies do. Treatment requires identifying the ofending component(s) of the diet and eliminating them. Testing or specific food allergies involves allergy testing and/or a hypoallergenic diet trial. Because it takes at least 8 weeks for all food products to be removed from the body, a food trial must be conducted exclusively for 8 to 12 weeks. If a positive response and improvement is seen then your veterinarian will advise you how to proceed. it must be EMPHASIZED thatif the diet is not fed exclusively, it will not be a valid test. All table foods, treats or vitamins must be discontinued during the testing period. There may even be some problems with chewable heartworm prevention and should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Purina Hypoallergenic Hill’s D/D formula


Allergies can be confused with many other disorders or occur concurrently with them. Therefore, do not attempt to diagnose your dog without professional assistance. Be prepared for your pet to recieve a full diagnostic evaluation by your veterinarian. If an allergy is diagnosed, the whole family and extended family must follow your veterinarian’s advise very closely if sucess in controlling the problem is to be achieved.

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