Chocolate Labrador in a field

Food and skin allergies in dogs

  • Common allergies include food, flea and skin allergies (otherwise known as atopy)
  • Allergies are caused by various types of environmental factors
  • Treatments vary depending on which allergy your dog suffers with
  • Speak to your vet if you think your dog may have an allergy

Humans are not the only ones to suffer with allergies. Unfortunately our four-legged friends do too.

Allergies can be caused by many different environmental factors and, depending on the cause and your dog’s reaction, can be managed in various ways.

Food allergies in dogs

Food allergies can develop in dogs of any age and typically occurs with a food they’ve been fed for some time (ie not a ‘new’ food).

Symptoms of food allergies

Symptoms can vary, but typically result in one or more of the following:

  • itching all over the body
  • itching in specific areas (eg face) 
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea 
  • passing blood or mucus regularly

How are food allergies treated?

If your vet suspects that your dog is suffering from a food allergy they will suggest a diet trial.

Your vet will usually recommend a special food to feed your pet for between six and 12 weeks and they must have no other food at all during this time, including dental chews and treats. 

While feeding the special diet, your pet may show improvement from their symptoms. Towards the end of the trial you can arrange a recheck appointment so you can discuss the next steps with your vet.

Note: Diet trials are worth it as simply feeding the correct diet means your dog won’t require long-term drugs (which can affect their general health) to control their condition.

Flea allergies in dogs

If your pet has not received regular flea treatment, your vet may be concerned about flea allergies. 

Flea allergies typically cause intense itchiness and sore skin around the base of their tail, back and thighs. Sometimes you will see evidence of fleas, or flea dirt. 

An allergy to fleas will mean being especially cautious when it comes to flea treatment, not just for your dog, but for all dogs and cats in the household.  It’s also important to treat the house too, as the fleas don’t just live on your pet’s fur.

Treatment for flea allergies

  • Flea treatment all year-round for your dog and other dogs and cats in the household
  • Treatment for your house; deep cleaning carpets, bedding and other surfaces within your home
  • Household flea spray (take care to follow the directions carefully as it can be harmful to fish and birds if you have these)
  • Speak to your vet about any concerns and advice regarding further treatment if you’re concerned

Skin allergies in dogs

Atopy (skin allergies) is an inherited condition affecting many breeds, especially terriers. Signs usually develop between six months and three years of age.  

Your pet may become itchier than normal and may bite, lick, chew, rub or nibble at their:

  • paws
  • ears
  • face
  • tummy
  • groin
  • bottom
  • inner thighs

As the disease progresses they may develop skin infections which may make the skin smell, feel greasy or you may notice a rash. Some animals will be worse in the summer if they are allergic to a particular grass or pollen and may suffer with ‘hay fever’. However, because house dust mites are the most common allergen, most animals will be itchy all year round.

Frustratingly there is no test for atopy, instead your vet will need to rule out all other causes of itchiness which can be a time-consuming process.

Your vet may take skin samples to look for parasites and infections. They will also ensure all the animals in the household are receiving regular flea treatment. 

To diagnose atopy they will need to ask you to do a diet trial (see above) to rule out the possibility of a food allergy.

Treatment for atopy in dogs

There is no cure for atopy and the disease is life-long. However, there are things your vet may recommend to reduce your pet’s discomfort and improve their quality of life. It’s important to note that no single treatment is effective for all animals and your vet will tailor your pet’s treatment according to their individual needs.

Potential treatments include:

  • Steroids or other medications to reduce the immune response
  • Bathing with medicated shampoo
  • Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids – these have a mild effect 
  • Regular flea treatment (you may need to look at alternatives to spot-on treatment if you’re bathing your pet regularly with medicated shampoo)

Important: Steroids can make your pet more hungry and thirsty, so water must always be available but you need to manage your dog’s diet to avoid weight gain.

Neutering your dog

If you have a female dog with atopy, your vet may suggest neutering them, as this will help reduce the severity of their symptoms. It is also strongly advised that dogs with atopy are not used for breeding because this condition is inherited and will pass on to their puppies.

— Page last updated 26/05/2023