Itchy Skin and Allergies in Dogs

Itchy skin can happen for a number of reasons in dogs ranging from flea bites, to allergies, to infections. As the skin’s normal reaction to most causes of itchy skin is to become pink/red, with or without a rash, it makes diagnosing the exact cause at home particularly difficult. We understand that seeing your dog constantly itching, scratching, and chewing at their skin is incredibly difficult for both of you. The following information on this page is intended to educate pet owners on management & treatment option available to help control itchy skin & allergies in dogs. Tap on the links below to read further about:


Unfortunately for most dogs with allergies, there is no quick-fix or easy cure, and they will require lifelong management plans, unique to their particular diagnosis and allergic triggers.


Management & Treatment Options for Dogs with Itchy Skin & Allergies

There are many management and treatment options to help manage allergic skin disease in dogs. It can be very difficult, and sometimes impossible to find the allergens that are causing the allergic reaction. It is important to understand that we are unable to ‘cure’ allergies; rather, we control or manage their effects on our dog throughout their lives. Effectiveness will vary depending on the individual and what they are allergic to, and many patients benefit from a combination of treatments.  Our team of veterianarians will work sloely with you to formulate an individual diagnostic and treatment plan for your dog to help identify the cause of their itchiness and keep them as comfortable as possible.


1) Anti-inflammatory or ‘anti-itch’ medications

Multiple medication options can be prescribed to reduce itchiness in dogs. They can be used as a short course or long term for dogs with atopic dermatitis who experience itchiness year-round. Commonly prescribed oral medications include Apoquel (oclacitinib) and prednisolone (corticosteroid or ‘steroids’)

There is also a long-acting injection called Cytopoint (lokivetmab) which can be given every 4 to 8 weeks based on your pet's itch levels. Your vet will discuss which of these options is best for your dog and their side effects with long term use. As dogs vary in their individual response to medication, a trial may be needed to see which one works best.

Regular blood tests are recommended for any dog receiving long-term medication. Your veterinarian will discuss with you which blood tests are recommended to check and ensure that your pet's organ function are remaining healthy and coping well with the long-term medications. 


2) Antibiotics and antifungal (anti-yeast) medications

Dogs with atopic dermatitis are also prone to skin and ear infections. When an infection is present, they will require additional treatment with antibiotics and antifungal medications to control their itchy skin. A course of tablets (often several weeks), a medicated shampoo, and/or topical ear drops can be used depending on the location and severity of the infection. 

Regular blood tests are recommended for any dog receiving long-term medication. Your veterinarian will discuss with you which blood tests are recommended to check and ensure that your pet's organ function are remaining healthy and coping well with the long-term medications. 


3) Topical therapy

Simply washing your dog after a walk can be beneficial as it helps to remove allergens such as pollens from their skin. Specially designed shampoos and conditioners will also help to soothe irritated skin and should be left on for 5-10 minutes before rinsing for maximum effect. Your veterinarian will advise you on how often to shampoo your dog. Creams or sprays containing corticosteroids may also be used to soothe small areas of irritated skin.


4) Reducing the likelihood of contact allergies recurring

There are some measures you can do to minimise contact allergies:

  1. If possible, remove access to the offending allergen.
  2. If exposure to the allergen is intermittent (e.g. on a favourite walk), barrier creams can be applied to the finely-haired skin on the tummy to provide an occlusive layer that prevents contact of the allergen with the skin. As some barrier creams can be toxic if ingested, it is important that this is only applied to dogs that will not lick it off. The barrier cream can then be wiped or washed off after walks.
  3. Covering sparsely haired areas on the tummy/groin with clothing may be possible for some dogs, either using dog-outfits or baby/children’s clothes. Please ensure that your pet will not overheat while wearing clothes, particularly in summer when heat-stroke can occur. Do not allow your pet to swim with clothing on as wet & heavy clothing will increase the risk of drowning.
  4. Wash your pet down with clean water (+/- medicated shampoo as recommended by your veterinarian) after they go swimming. 


5) Immunotherapy – ‘allergy vaccine’

Immunotherapy introduces small amounts of the substances your dog is allergic to slowly over time so that their immune system builds up a tolerance. The process requires frequent injections and it can take over a year to determine the effectiveness. Your dog will often need medications to control their itchiness whilst the immunotherapy is taking effect. Immunotherapy requires referral to a veterinary dermatologist so that they can perform an intradermal skin test (see above) and identify what your dog is allergic to. Dermatologists have reported that 50% of dogs have an excellent response to immunotherapy, 25% have a moderate response and the rest do not respond at all.


6) Supplements and prescription dermatology diets

Supplements like omega-3 and 6 fatty acids may be beneficial to itchy dogs as they can help promote a healthy skin barrier and coat. There are several over-the-counter as well as prescription veterinary diets designed specifically to support healthy skin, and these diets are often rich in these ingredients and can be used instead of a supplement. Always discuss changing your dog’s diet and the addition of supplements with your veterinarian first, to make sure they are appropriate for your dog.


7) Flea control

Regular flea prevention is vital for all dogs but is even more important for dogs with a flea allergy, who will react to even a single bite. Dogs with atopic dermatitis also need no other reasons to itch, so make sure pets are protected year-round with high-quality and effective flea prevention.


Does your dog have itchy skin?

The above information is provided for educational purposes only and not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment; and should not be relied on solely as veterinary advice. 

If you are concerned that your dog has a skin condition, please phone us on (06) 3588675 to book them in with our team of veterinarians for a check over. It is helpful to bring along the flea medications, any pet shampoos and oral medication that your pet is on. It will also be very helpful if you could bring along the brand and flavour of your dog's food and treats to the consultation - take a photo of the dog food packets/cans if this is easier. 


Published by Cahill Animal Hospital on 27 June 2021
The team at Cahill Animal Hospital is here to provide you and your pet with the best possible medical, surgical and supportive care. Our motto "We care as much as you do" is a very important part of our day to day work. We are committed to providing you and your pet with the best options for care.

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