It’s tough to watch your dog scratch and whine because they are suffering with skin allergies. Washing can be a very useful tool in managing this unfortunate condition and, if done correctly, can become a pleasant experience for both pet and owner.
Bathing your dog with skin allergies once or twice a week with a suitable shampoo can be a useful way to help alleviate symptoms such as inflammation and itching.
However, it is important that this is done correctly to avoid making your dog’s condition worse.
Skin allergies in dogs can be difficult to treat, and veterinary advice should always be sought if your dog’s condition is not resolving or is worsening.
What are skin allergies in dogs?
Allergies are common in both humans and animals, and can occur for a variety of reasons. An allergy is when the body’s immune system responds inappropriately to a substance, causing a reaction to something which normally would not pose a threat to the body.
The substances which trigger an allergic reaction may be different types of food, insect bites, medications, or environmental triggers such as dust or pollen. The allergic reaction to this substance can cause a wide range of symptoms which may affect different body systems including the skin.
Skin conditions are one of the most common reasons that owners seek veterinary attention for their dog, and skin allergies are the most common type of allergic reaction in dogs.
What are the symptoms of dog skin allergies?
Dogs with skin allergies, also known as canine allergic dermatitis, may show a range of different symptoms, including:
- Itching – this may be localized (in one area) or generalized (over the whole body)
- Licking – normally focused on the paws
- Chewing – particularly at sore or infected areas of skin
- Face rubbing
- Inflammation of the skin – the skin may look red and sore initially, and may become thickened over time
- Skin sores or infections
- An unpleasant skin odor
- Dry skin and/or dandruff
- Rashes or raised lumps on the skin
- Hair loss
What causes skin allergies in dogs?
Many things may trigger an allergic reaction in dogs, including environmental pathogens, insect bites and dietary intolerances:
- Environmental pathogens: Mold, dust and pollens are all types of environmental pathogens which may trigger an allergic reaction. Sometimes these triggers may be seasonal, such as pollen; others are present all year round.
- Insect bites: Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva, leading to a condition known as flea allergic dermatitis.
- Dietary allergies or intolerances: Dogs are rarely considered to be truly allergic to different foodstuffs, however some do commonly develop intolerances to certain diets over time which will lead to similar symptoms as an allergic reaction.
The simplest way to treat an allergy is to remove the cause, for example by modifying the diet. If you suspect that your dog has an allergy then veterinary advice should always be sought; they may do tests to help to identify the cause of the allergy.
Sometimes it can be very difficult or even impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of the allergic response, even with extensive testing; in these cases the allergic response will need to be treated symptomatically.
Why washing helps a dog with allergies
Skin allergies upset the natural balance of bacteria and yeasts on the skin. Normally the immune system maintains this balance but the immune response to allergens disrupts this delicate balance.
This leads to the itchiness which many dog with skin allergies suffer from. When the dog scratches to relieve this itching they may cause tiny tears in the skin surface, allowing these bacteria and yeasts to penetrate the uppermost skin barrier and cause infection.
Washing a dog with allergic skin disease will help to relieve symptoms by removing allergens, rehydrating the skin and rebalancing the levels of bacteria and yeast on the skin surface. Regular and effective washing will help to reduce the incidence of secondary skin infections in dogs with skin allergies.
How to wash a dog with skin allergies
There are many factors to consider when washing a dog with allergies, including:
- When should you wash your dog?
- How often should you wash your dog?
- Should shampoo be used?
- What method should you use to wash your dog?
When should you wash your dog?
If your dog has a new skin condition, then it is very important to seek veterinary advice before taking steps such as washing your dog, especially if you suspect your dog may be suffering from a skin infection or has inflamed skin.
The earlier your dog’s skin condition is investigated then the sooner a treatment plan can be put into place. Veterinary advice will also help to identify and hopefully remove the cause of the allergic reaction; you can then start to wash your dog to help to alleviate their symptoms.
You may have been dealing with your dog’s skin allergies for some time with the help of your veterinarian, in which case you will become more familiar with identifying when your dog is ready for a wash.
You might notice that the skin is starting to become dry and showing dandruff, or your dog is beginning to scratch more than normal. It is best to wash your dog as soon as possible when symptoms start to worsen, in order to prevent excessive scratching which may lead to a skin infection.
How often should you wash your dog?
Each dog will be very different, and it is important to tailor your washing routine to suit your own dogs needs. As a general rule, a weekly bath should be sufficient to relieve soreness and itching in most dogs suffering from a skin allergy.
You can also remove allergens from your dog’s coat by wiping them down with a warm damp cloth; it is a good idea to make this part of your daily routine, ideally when you return from exercise or outdoor activity with your pet.
Washing your dog too frequently may actually worsen their condition, by causing the skin to become dry and flaky. Washing is also not recommended if certain types of flea treatment have been used, so ensure that you check the instructions carefully.
It is important to be mindful of how enjoyable your dog is finding the washing experience; if the skin is particularly sore or inflamed then washing may cause considerable discomfort. In these cases veterinary advice should be sought.
Should shampoo be used?
This is one of the most important factors to consider when washing a dog with skin allergies; using the wrong product may make the condition worse or even be harmful to your pet. It is important to seek veterinary advice before selecting a shampoo.
Your dog may be suffering from a secondary bacterial or yeast infection, in which case your veterinarian may advise the use of an antibacterial or antifungal shampoo.
For routine maintenance something like an oatmeal shampoo can be very effective for rehydrating dry skin and reducing itchiness. Commercial oatmeal shampoos are available but it is also a very simple shampoo to make at home – simply grind oats in a blender until they are a fine powder, and add to your dog’s bath water.
Another natural product which can be useful to soothe skin allergies is coconut oil; use after a bath on localized areas of dry skin and smooth over the coat.
What washing method should you use to bathe your dog?
It is vital that having a wash is an enjoyable, relaxing and soothing experience for your dog. A dog with skin allergies may require a weekly wash for the rest of his or her life, so it is better for everyone if it is a pleasant experience.
Watch how your dog responds to each step of the process; if they are showing signs of discomfort or distress then modify your technique to make them more comfortable.
Before you wash your dog, make sure that they are settled and calm to give you the best chance of a relaxing washing experience. Ensure that the water is lukewarm; water which is too warm or cold will be uncomfortable for your dog particularly on sore or irritated skin.
Placing a mat or towel in the bottom of the bath can help to prevent them slipping on the surface, and a jug can be used to pour water over the body rather than immersing your dog fully underwater.
Shampoos should be smoothed over the skin and coat and very gently rubbed in using a massaging motion. After the shampoo has been on the skin for the recommended length of time ensure that it is completely rinsed from the coat.
Take your time over drying your dog, as again this could potentially be a distressing and painful experience for a dog with sore or inflamed skin. Avoid rubbing the coat and skin with a towel; instead pat gently with the towel and squeeze any excess water from the fur.
This can be a good time to add a small amount of coconut oil to the fur, using the towel to distribute it. Allow your dog to rest somewhere warm and quiet until they are completely dry, and give them a gentle brush to ease out any tangles and knots.