Allergic Skin Disease

Allergic Skin Disease can be manifested as excessive scratching or biting of the skin, chewing of the feet, hair loss at the base of the tail & redness of the abdomen. Recurrent ear infections and scratching of the ears can sometimes be the only symptom. In some animals it is a seasonal problem , in others it is a continual year round problem.


Up to 60% of all Allergic Skin disease cases have a flea component contributing to the reaction. A lot of the time more than one cause contributes to the overall problem so it is important to be aware of all the most common causes which are :

  • Parasitic e.g. Fleas (the most common)
  • Atopy (the pet inhales the irritant in and then gets a skin reaction ) e.g. pollens, grasses, dust
  • Food e.g. beef or chicken ( usually a protein but can be anything)
  • Contacte.g. carpet fibres, grasses


The itchy skin often results in severe self-mutilation where the damaged skin becomes infected with bacteria (very early) and/or fungi. Long standing, untreated cases can have severe skin infections. Dogs with severe skin irritation may go off their food or become short tempered with humans and other dogs. Cats can show signs of sever hair loss.

Diagnostic Approach

Allergic skin disease is one of the most frustrating conditions to get to the bottom of and treat successfully. A successful outcome depends mostly on the correct communication between pet owner and veterinarian and regular monitoring of the condition. A logical, standardized approach to all cases is necessary for a good response to treatment.

The first step is the recording of a complete and detailed history – What diet is your pet on? What flea control do you use and how often? Where does he/ she go for walks? How long has the condition been going for? Any previous medications that have been used? These are just some of the questions we may ask in order to best understand your pet’s allergy.

Secondly a full clinical examination will be done to look at the skin lesions – where do they occur on the body? Other parts of the body and other organs will be examined to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem present (this can be very difficult to determine at the time of presentation as allergies may often disguise other conditions. Often underlying problems can only be fully investigated once the allergy has been attended to).

Thirdly comes the diagnostic investigation and this may include some skin tests (where we have a look for any parasites as well as any infection).

The last part of the diagnosis involves response to treatment (see below). In some cases that do not respond appropriately, further tests may be necessary such as blood and hormonal tests or even intra-dermal sensitivity testing.

It is important to note that allergies are often life-long and require several consults to get to the bottom of the problem. Many cases never resolve completely and require lifelong management to ensure that the problem does not get out of hand.


This is often a stepped and logical approach:

1. Infection/Inflammation

Allergies are irritating and can be painful. They are also often infected with bacteria and may even have a chronic fungal infection present. This infection can cause the skin to be even more itchy than it originally was. We will therefore dispense medication to help to settle down and treat the symptoms. This may involve antihistamines, antibiotics and often cortisone to help relieve the discomfort. Shampoos can additionally be used depending on the symptoms.We have a separate handout for this .

2. Fleas

In most cases of skin allergies, an appropriate flea control program is essential. Even if there are no fleas evident, one still needs to address this as any flea infestation, no matter how small, can exacerbate the allergy. Speak to one of our vets for the recommended flea treatment plan for your pet. If your Pet has allergies and fleas have been suspected, then you must consider a spot on which works (such as Stronghold) as well as treating your carpets with a eterinary-grade spray ( such as Indorex).

3. Food

If your pet has allergies, you MUST consider getting them on a good diet. This means one that not only is low in possible allergens but also has supplements included which can help irritated skin. Many cheaper , supermarket brans contain cheap flavourings and preservatives which can often be he main cause of the itching and discomfort. We suggest you try a premium diet such as Proplan Sensitive which can help food allergies as well as support the general health of the skin and coat . If you are willing to try a diet such as Proplan, you must give it a go for at least 30 days (without mixing in any other treats) to see if it has helped.

In more severe cases,where a seasonal occurrence of symptoms is not obvious, a hypoallergenic food trial with a specific prescription diet will likely form part of both the diagnostic and treatment plan.

4.Evening Primrose Oil (EPO)

EPO is an extremely effective supplement to make your pet's coat more supple and able to recover from allergies. It works well in combination with those other treatments listed here and we will often recommend it as a compliment to other treatments or possibly even on it's own for mild , recurrent cases


A revolutionary drug gaining more favour in the treatment of Allergic Skin Disease is cyclosporine (Atopica). Whilst this drug can work out to be very expensive (especially in larger breeds), it’s advantage lies in the fact that cortisone is generally not necessary and therefore the side effects of long-term cortisone use are eliminated.


With specific cases that have undergone allergic blood testing, a vaccine can be developed which is given regularly in order to ”desensitize” your pet to various allergens. We have a separate handout for this form of therapy.

What else can I do?

Other possible ways that you can aid in the prevention of allergen exposure at home include:

  • Wash your pet’s bedding once weekly
  • Avoid pollen allergens – Avoid fields with heavy grasses and pollinating flowers , wash your pets feet regularly after every walk when the pollen season is in full flow.
  • Maintain stringent long-term flea control
  • Regular check-ups are necessary, especially in the first 3-6 months of treatment. It is during these check ups that we will make adjustments to treatment and monitor progress and eventually institute a long-term plan/ approach.
  • Attend to any flare-ups quickly before secondary problems set in, otherwise it is likely that treatment would need to start all over again with the treatment etc.
  • Understand that communication with us is paramount to a successful outcome. All these pets require some form of long-term and often life-long treatment in order to achieve control of their condition.