Is your dog scratching or chewing itself constantly? Is it shaking its head, sneezing, licking its front paws or rubbing its face on your carpeting? While this behavior may make you crazy, the dog can't help it. The problem is most likely one of the many dog skin allergies that makes it crazy, too.

What Is An Allergy?

An allergy is a hypersensitivity reaction to allergy-causing substances that are called allergens or antigens. Like us, canines can be born with an allergy or can develop one at any age and the signs of the allergy can appear very suddenly. The most common dog skin allergy is an allergic reaction to flea saliva.

How Does A Dog Get A Skin Allergy?

It might hard for you to believe this but there are just about as many things that can cause a dog skin allergy, as there are things that can cause us to suffer an allergy. The reason behind this is the fact that dogs react to allergens not with nasal problems – the way we do – but with skin problems. What makes the problem even worse is that your dog's skin allergies have a whole spectrum of causes so that diagnosing your pup's problem could be very difficult and time consuming.

There are five different types of skin allergies in dogs that could affect your dog, along with secondary yeast or bacterial infections that can cause your best friend to suffer a skin problem.

Nutritional Dermatitis

Have you ever had a food allergy – where you break out into an itchy rash? Your dog can also have a food or nutritional allergy, except you may not be able to see it because, after all, dogs are covered with fur.

Most veterinarians believe that nutritional dermatitis occurs because the dog is being fed poor quality food. You can be feeding the dog food that's labeled “Complete and Balanced,” but it may be anything but. The truth is, if your dog isn't getting the proper amount of nourishment, it will continuously be in a state of stress, that can result in dog skin allergy symptoms such as nutritional dermatitis or dry, itchy skin. This happens if they are fed a poor diet or weight-loss kibble over a period of time.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is, according to many veterinarians, the most common type of allergic dermatitis (dog skin allergy) that affects dogs. It usually starts when they are very young.

Atopic dermatitis or atopy, as it is often called, can be triggered by many different antigens – or offending agents – including substances your dog inhales such as molds, pollens, dust and other static and airborne microscopic organic substances. Skin allergy symptoms in dogs that have atopic dermatitis tend to chew and lick at their paws and scratch their faces, ears and eyelids. To make matters even worse, the dog may look and feel normal one minute and then chews its paw or face raw from the intense itching the next minute. This can be very confusing for both the dog and you.

Parasitic Dermatitis

If you see your dog scratching and pawing at itself, the first thing you may think is that it has fleas. And you may be exactly right. Fleas are a big cause of parasitic dermatitis and so are chiggers, deer flies and gnats –to a lesser degree. Ticks will occasionally cause parasitic dermatitis and so can Cheyletiella mites. Sarcoptic mites are really nasty creatures that can create very intense pruritus (itching), along with inflamed skin and multiple small scabs. This dog skin allergy is usually called scabies or red mange. It most often affects the dog's face and front legs.

There are also mites called Demodex that mostly attack young dogs. These mites cause a skin allergy called Demodex, which seems to attack dogs that are stressed from disease, poor nutrition, immune disorders or a harsh environment. There is also evidence that in many cases of Demodex, an underlying cause may be a genetically transmitted immune protein deficit.

Neurogenic Dermatitis

Sometimes a vet will be unable to say exactly what is causing the dog's skin allergy. In this case, he or she may call it neurogenic, as there is nothing left except to blame the dog itself for its incessant licking and chewing. The most common neurogenic dermatitis is called Acral Lick Dermatitis, Lick Granuloma or canine neuroderamatitis. Persistent, obsessive licking and chewing at a target area characterizes it. It has been speculated that this form of a dog skin allergy might be caused by separation anxiety, frustration, confinement or even a minor abrasion that catches the dog's interest. The dog will persist in scratching or biting at the area, which is usually on its foreleg, or ankle so that the scratch or abrasion never heals.

Secondary Yeast Or Bacterial Infections

These infections or diseases fall into three categories – fungal infections, yeast infections and fungus/yeast infections.

One of the most common of the fungus/yeast infections is Candida Albicans, a common microorganism that lives in the dog's stomach. When there is an over-growth of this fungus/yeast, it becomes what is called a systemic yeast infection and the dog is said to have a pH imbalance. This imbalance can happen as the result of an overuse of antibiotics, poor nutrition, thyroid problems, hormone stress, environment or genetic stress, heartworm medications or for a host of other reasons.

The external signs of a systemic yeast infection include itchy skin on the dog's feet, licking paws, genital or vaginal area, rubbing its nose, redness, and inflammation. You might notice an odor in the dog's underarms, inner thighs or between its toes and it may have pain in its joints. Other results of a secondary yeast infection can be secondary bacterial infections that can affect the dog's ears, bladder, skin or feet and that can cause a sensitivity to light, sound and movement.

Since the never ending scratching and biting of dog skin allergies can make both you and your dog crazy, you should deal with them as soon as possible. The first step is to get your dog in to see your vet but do keep in mind that diagnosing a dog skin allergy is one of the biggest challenges that vets face.

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