If your dog is itching, there can be many causes, including skin allergies. Up to one-half of American dogs are allergic and most allergies affect a dog’s skin. 

What are skin allergies?

Allergies are when the body’s immune system overreacts to a substance (allergen) that it interprets as a threat. 

Allergic reactions manifest in your dog’s skin with symptoms that include inflammation, itching, skin changes, hair loss, and ear discharge. You may see your dog frequently licking, chewing or biting himself, scooting on the floor or rolling around, and repeatedly shaking his head or scratching at his ears. Your dog may also develop secondary yeast or bacterial infections from the scratching, biting and chewing. 

Four major causes of allergies can affect your dog’s skin:

  • Flea Allergies (this is the most common; they react to flea saliva)

  • Atopic Allergies (seasonal allergens such as grass, mold, pollen and dander are inhaled)

  • Food Allergy (less common but can cause skin, breathing or digestive symptoms) 

  • Contact Allergy (such as with carpet, shampoo, deodorants, or insecticides)

Skin allergies, also known as allergic skin disease or atopic skin disease, normally start to show up between the ages of 3 months to 6 years. The degree of sensitivity and allergic reactivity varies from dog to dog and can change over time. Just like in people, there is no cure for allergies, we must manage flare ups and symptoms as they arise. There are also seasonal fluctuations with allergies in pets just as in people.

What medications are available for skin allergies?

Many products help to control skin allergy symptoms: 

  • Shampoo can remove the allergen from the skin but effects are temporary and require frequent baths. 

  • Dog-safe antihistamines may relieve the itch for 24 hours with few side effects for dogs with inhalant/contact allergies, but research has shown them to be mostly ineffective long term. They frequently require trial and error to find one that works for your dog. 

  • Topical cortisone provides short term relief. Oral steroids like hydrocortisone can help with managing symptoms in some types of allergies but have many side effects and the risk increases with long term use. 

  • Good quality, fatty acid supplements such as fish oil or salmon oil pills can help reduce skin inflammation primarily in inhalant and contact allergies. Your dog must take them for months before you are likely to see measurable results.

Allergy prescription medications called APOQUEL (oral) and CYTOPOINT (injection) have been a huge help in recent years for treating skin allergies. They go to the source of the itch and are longer lasting. They control both the itch and the inflammation that comes with allergic dermatitis. 

Tell me about APOQUEL for dog skin allergies

APOQUEL is used for long-lasting control of itch, inflammation and swelling that affect your dog’s skin. Its benefits have made it the most popular prescription allergy medication for treating allergic skin disease in dogs.

  • Fast acting – Dogs feel itch-relief in as little as 4 hours with full control within 24 hours. Oral steroids can take up to 24 hours to take effect.

  • Effective relief – APOQUEL targets a key itch signal in the nervous system to relieve itching and inflammation and get symptoms under control. Dog owners report a 97% improvement in their dog’s quality of life with APOQUEL.

  • Safer with minimal side effects – In studies, dogs were treated with APOQUEL for more than 2 years and showed only minimal side effects.

How long can you safely use APOQUEL? Speak with your veterinarian. Since being on the market, a few dogs using APOQUEL have reported side effects after several months of use. Report any unusual symptoms. Dogs under one year of age should not take APOQUEL. 

Veterinary Dermatology

If your dog has severe skin allergies, your veterinarian can refer you to a specialist in Veterinary Dermatology for immunotherapy. The dermatologist conducts a skin test to determine the exact allergens that are affecting your dog. Based on the results, a customized allergy vaccine is given orally or by injection over a 3 to 6-month period to desensitize your dog to the allergens that trigger reactions. Be aware that immunotherapy can start to help during treatment but takes up to a year to be fully effective. 

At Union Lake Veterinary Hospital, we stay on top of the treatments that best help your pets stay as healthy and comfortable as possible. Contact us or speak to your veterinarian to determine the right skin allergy treatments for your dog. Give them some much-needed relief from the unrelenting itch of skin allergies.