Skin Allergies In Dogs | Atopy

Updated November 29, 2020

Every Springtime my little Loki starts to show the signs of his allergies. From then until after Christmas I have to work hard to keep him comfortable.

He’s not alone; every day we see dogs like Loki. We call this condition atopic dermatitis or atopy.

Allergies look so different in dogs that most of the time their owners aren’t aware what the problem is.

Signs Of Atopic Dermatitis

Dogs with atopy typically get skin problems. These include:

Most skin allergies start sometime in the first year of a pet’s life. Once they begin they usually get worse up to around four years of age. In contrast, food allergies can happen at any age and are typically more severe. 

What Causes Atopy In Dogs?

The following table shows the positive reactions in 1000 dogs to intradermal allergy testing at a veterinary dermatology clinic in Melbourne. These results should also apply to dogs in Adelaide.

A quick look shows that dust mites are the overwhelmingly common reaction (marked as “a” and “b” at different test strengths).

D farinae a dust mite64.5
D pteronysinnus a dust mite47.5
D farinae b dust mite33.6
Yellow dock weed26.5
Melaleuca bush19.2
English Couch grass17.7
Wheat grass17.7
Rough pigweed16.6
Sweet Vernal grass16.3
Peppercorn tree15.8
Mexican tea weed15.6
Plantain weed15.3
Fat hen weed14.9
Privet bush14.2
D pteronysinnus b dust mite13.8
Short ragweed13.4
Cocksfoot grass13.2
Prairie grass12.7
Elm tree11.6
Perennial rye grass11.6
Kentucky blue grass11.5
Couch grass11.4
Oat grass11.3
Eucalyptus tree11.2
Paspalum grass11.2
Red sorrel grass11.1
Yorkshire fog grass10.5
Palm tree10.4
Bent grass10.3
Pine tree10.2
Penicillium mould10.1
Perennial ragweed10.1
Birch tree10
Canary grass9.8
Casuarina tree9.8
Dandelion weed8.9
Aspergillus mould6.4
Cladosporium mould5.1
Alternaria mould4

Before you wage war on dust mites, it’s considered impossible to reduce dust mite allergen levels enough to stop the symptoms of allergy. That is, unless you keep dogs outside without bedding or coats. You’re welcome to rip up the carpets and replace soft furniture but it won’t completely fix the problem. Here’s what may help:

What to do for dust mite allergy in dogs

  • Reduce access to soft furnishings and carpets
  • Use beds with smooth coverings (my choice is pictured)
  • Use dust mite covers or throws for where your dog sleeps
  • Clean bedding weekly in hot water and hang in sunshine
  • Vacuum carpet and lounge chairs weekly
  • DON’T use insecticides or dust mite killers

The other common causes are various plants. These can’t be identified without intradermal testing but here are some general ideas for dogs that react after exposure to grasses:

What to do for grass allergies in dogs

  • Limit access to grassed areas during the dog’s allergy season
  • Wipe down or bath your dog after exercise
  • Keep grass well-maintained
  • Avoid access for 24 hours after mowing (saps contain allergen)

How To Treat Allergies In Dogs

There’s a lot you can do, and a lot your vet can do. Please visit our pages on:

Allergy testing can be used to modify your dog’s environment. If you’re lucky it will identify a plant you can remove. However, airborne pollens travel a long way so the main point of allergy testing is usually to plan desensitisation injections.

If you are interested, these tests are available via referral to a veterinary dermatologist here in Adelaide. However, they are meaningless if your local vet hasn’t ruled out the other common causes of itching first, including using food trials discussed here.

More reading on allergies

P. B., & DeBoer, D. J. (2001). The ACVD task force on canine atopic dermatitis (IV): environmental allergens. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, 81(3), 169-186.
Mueller, R. S., Bettenay, S. V., & Tideman, L. (2000). Aero‐allergens in canine atopic dermatitis in southeastern Australia based on 1000 intradermal skin tests. Australian veterinary journal, 78(6), 392-399.

Proverbio, D., Perego, R., Spada, E., & Ferro, E. (2010). Prevalence of adverse food reactions in 130 dogs in Italy with dermatological signs: a retrospective study. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 51(7), 370-374.

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.