Is my pet’s itchy skin from an allergy?

May 29th 2019

 By Dr. Jennifer Hewitt, DVM
May is Allergy Awareness month and one irritating consequence of allergies for our pets is itchy skin. However, getting a skin allergy diagnosis is not straightforward, so I want to break down itchy skin, in all its forms and explain the process of diagnosing if it is an allergy causing all that itching.
Allergies aren’t the only cause of itchy skin and many other reasons need to be ruled out first.

Causes of itchy skin in animals

  • External parasites (fleas, lice, ticks, mange, etc)
  • Food allergy
  • Environmental or seasonal allergy (Atopic dermatitis)
  • Skin infections, bacteria or fungal (hot spots)
  • Contact reactions (pesticide or chemical)
  • Drug reactions
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Some types of cancers can make the skin itchy

What you need to know about pet allergies, diet and itchy skin

Allergies are a lifelong condition. The main focus is on maintenance and minimizing clinical signs. The underlying cause(s) will determine how well we can control the disease. Unfortunately, our pets can still have flare ups despite our best efforts.
If a food allergy is suspected, there are veterinary supervised food trials that can help determine if diet is the underlying cause. Food ingredients resulting in allergy can cause clinical signs for up to eight weeks after they have been eliminated from the diet. As a result, food trials can take several months before we know if they are working. Veterinary skin diets can significantly reduce clinical signs or itchiness regardless of the underlying cause and your veterinary team will be there to help you and try to support you through the process.

What are the symptoms of skin allergies in dogs and cats?

  • Itchy skin including: chewing paws, rubbing face or anal region, scratching ears and other body parts, frequent licking
  • Rashes
  • Hair loss
  • Redness
  • Dandruff
  • Pustules (pimples)
  • Smell
  • Greasy skin and coat
  • Irritablity 

How are allergies diagnosed in pets?

Your vet needs to do a complete history, physical exam, cytology and rule out all other causes.

What is the treatment for skin allergies for dogs and cats? 

The treatment for a skin allergy includes controlling the itch, treating recurrent infections and trying to find the underlying cause to help minimize future flare ups. We can refer patients to a veterinary dermatologist to help in this process.

Do skin allergy home remedies work for pets? 

If you search for homemade remedies for itchy skin, you will find a lot of recommendations. However, many of them will not only not cure the problem, they will make it worse.
For example, using olive or coconut oils can trap bacteria and yeast on the skin and make infections worse.

Using apple cider vinegar stings and burns irritated skin and orally there is no proven research on benefits for pets.

Tea tree oil is another natural remedy touted for hot spots and skin irritations, but it is actually toxic for pets both orally and when applied onto the skin.

Do not use hydrogen peroxide on your pet’s skin because it kills good bacteria and can harm tissue and slow healing. Polysporin should also not be used on your pet’s skin incase of oral ingestion.

Supplements that can help your pet’s itchy skin

Omega 3s are a natural anti inflammatory, but they need to be from a cold-water fish source and omega 6’s are good for the skin barrier.

Should I use special shampoos for my pet’s itchy skin?

We recommend veterinarian branded and medicated skin shampoos, sprays and topical therapies specific to your pet’s needs.
Pets that don’t have chronic skin issues can likely use any animal shampoo so long as it does not cause irritation. Products with excessive amounts of fragrance can sometimes irritate the skin in a healthy pet.
If you are concerned that your pet has an allergy or is suffering with itchy skin, you can call us at (403) 615-8016 to make an appointment with our vets who would love to help your pet get some relief.


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