Allergies are an incredibly common (and often very frustrating) cause of itchy skin in our canine friends, and in some cases are equally difficult for the pet parents to live with!
Sleepless nights, constant scratching, and frequent vet visits can quickly become distressing for the whole family, two-legged and four-legged alike.
It’s a common issue I encounter as a veterinarian, and over the years I’ve compiled a list of home remedies for dog allergies that actually work.
So, in this article, I’ll discuss the best vet-recommended home remedies for dog allergies, which can help provide relief for itchy, irritated skin in a pinch whilst you wait for an appointment to see your veterinarian.
What are Allergies in Dogs?
Canine skin allergies, which you might also find referred to as “allergic dermatitis,” occur when your dog’s immune system overreacts to molecules in the diet or environment, which should normally be harmless.
You can think of an allergic immune system as being like a particularly overdramatic friend, who is making a big deal out of something very minor, resulting in discomfort and frustration for everyone involved!
In dogs, allergic reactions are most commonly to flea saliva (‘flea allergy dermatitis’, or ‘FAD’), environmental allergens (we call this ‘canine atopic dermatitis’, or ‘CAD’), or to food stuffs (most often, specific dietary proteins).
What are the Signs of Allergic Dermatitis in Dogs?
It’s not always obvious from the allergy symptoms whether a dog is suffering from flea, food or environmental allergies, although sometimes the pattern of signs can be diagnostically helpful. If your dog is suffering with allergic skin, you may notice some combination of the following signs:
Home Remedies for Dog Allergies
Skin allergies are a lifelong condition, and it’s important to be aware that there is no “cure”. All dogs with allergies will require medical management to a greater or lesser extent (depending on severity), for the rest of their lives. All but the very mildest of cases will require veterinary intervention to set in place a long-term treatment plan in addition to the home remedies described below.
So, whilst you can (and should!) definitely make full use of the information provided herein to assist you in the task of relieving your dog’s allergies at home, please keep in mind that this article (and these natural remedies) shouldn’t be considered an alternative to seeking advice from your own veterinarian.
Housekeeping completed, let’s get started – here are 10 home remedies for dog allergies:
1. Wash Away Environmental Allergens
This point relates specifically to environmental allergies, that is, dogs with canine atopic dermatitis, who frequently react to microscopic allergens such as mould, tree and grass pollen, dust mites and yeast. A great way to prevent and alleviate an allergic reaction in such dogs is to ensure any allergens clinging to the skin between your dog’s toes following outdoor adventures are thoroughly rinsed away as soon as possible after returning from walks.
This is easily and effectively achieved by rinsing your dog’s feet well with lukewarm water after every walk, with or without the use of a gentle shampoo, and then drying them well. Drying is important because any lingering moisture will ensure the overgrown of yeast and bacteria between the toes.
2. Adjust Your Dog’s Diet
If your dog’s itchy skin and upset stomach are due to food allergies, you can achieve full resolution of their symptoms by making sure they have no further opportunity to eat the foodstuffs that are producing an allergic reaction.
The simplest sure-fire way to treat food allergies is to feed your dog a strict hypoallergenic or (even better) anallergenic diet. Ideally, pick a diet which is “hydrolysed”; this means that the proteins have been broken down into such teeny-weeny molecules that your dog’s immune system cannot recognise them, and so won’t be able to cause a fuss!
Patience is a virtue here, as it takes 8-12 weeks for your dog’s digestive system and skin to adjust to the diet change. And, to be effective, these diets need to be strict; your dog must never be allowed to eat anything except their prescription dog food. I fully appreciate how boring and tedious that sounds, but I promise you it’s easier and cheaper than living with untreated food allergies!
3. Add Omega Fatty Acids
When we’re thinking about skin health benefits, there are two really important omega fatty acids to consider, and ideally both should be supplemented in cases of atopic dermatitis. These are omega 3 (salmon oil is a great source) and omega 6 (found in abundance in flaxseed and borage oil).
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids can reduce inflammation (in turn alleviating itchy skin), and improve the robustness and overall health of the skin barrier. Salmon oil is also a rich natural source of vitamin E, an essential little micronutrient known to provide itch relief in its own right, amongst other health benefits.
Omega fatty acid supplements are widely available without a prescription.
One of the best options is salmon oil from chewy as it makes dosing the correct amount for your dog easy.
4. Regular Oatmeal Baths
Using a shampoo that contains colloidal oatmeal to indulge your dog with a weekly oatmeal bath can be really helpful for dogs with many skin issues, allergies included. Colloidal oatmeal acts as a potent natural moisturiser, as well as providing anti-inflammatory and even some natural antihistamine effects. Colloidal oatmeal also boasts antioxidant powers, and a strong immunomodulatory effect, meaning it can actually help quieten down an immune system which is overreacting to a harmless allergen.
Not every oatmeal shampoo contains colloidal oatmeal, so do keep your peepers peeled for this particular little keyword!
I particularly like this shampoo from Burt’s Bees, which is pH balanced and cruelty-free.
5. Keep Things Hygienic
Dogs with allergies tend to be more prone to skin yeast and bacterial overgrowth…which is unfortunate, as this can increase their discomfort tenfold and severe itching can result! A great way to help prevent superficial microbial overgrowth is to incorporate antiseptic, antifungal skin products into your dog’s routine.
I’ve been smitten with Douxo’s products ever since they came out, and find them to be a highly effective component of the allergy management plan for many patients.
Douxo wipes and foam deserve a place on the hallway shelf of every pet parents with an allergic canine family member.
Douxo Wipes and Douxo Foam are both great products.
6. Clean Ears Regularly
Dog allergies are synonymous with chronic or recurrent ear infections in many cases. Keep your pooch’s ears free from waxy buildup using a cleaning product which maintains an appropriate ear pH balance and microenvironment.
I have been recommending this cleaner by Virbac for a number of years now. It’s non-irritating and won’t upset the ear canal’s delicate pH balance.
If you think your dog is currently suffering from an ear infection, please see a veterinarian before applying any products into the ear canal. Topical cleaning products can be dangerous in cases where an infection has damaged the ear drum.
7. Add a Moisturiser containing Ceramides
Ceramides are a type of lipid (fat) found naturally in the skin. Having an adequate level of skin ceramides is important when it comes to maintaining a healthy skin barrier, something many atopic dogs could use a little extra help with!
This home remedy is supported by recent research, which showed a promising reduction in allergy symptoms following ceramide application.
Moisturisers containing ceramides can be purchased online; this one is pH balanced and hypoallergenic.
Simply apply to dry, cracked paws or affected areas of itchy skin (so long as the skin is not raw and there are no open wounds), for an instant natural ceramide boost.
8. Consider Chamomile Soaks
Chamomile has been shown to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and may even improve wound-healing when used topically.
A good way to make use of this handy little flower at home is to brew a cup of chamomile tea, and – once fully cooled – decant into a spray bottle and apply liberally to red, itchy skin. You can keep the spray bottle in the fridge (for up to three days) between uses; your dog will appreciate this even more, as it will help to cool irritated skin.
9. Apply Aloe Vera
It’s long been known that aloe vera offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects when applied to the skin. What’s more, it’s antiseptic and antifungal nature can be of benefit where yeast and bacterial overgrowth are proving problematic, such as between the sweaty toes of an allergic pooch.
Whilst the benefits of a topical aloe vera gel should not be underestimated, it is important to ensure your pet does not ingest the gel through licking. It’s sensible to place a buster collar on your pet if you’re using any topical medication, to ensure that this cannot happen.
10. Finally…Ask about Antihistamine Medications
Ok, so technically oral antihistamines are not completely “natural”, but I wanted to include them anyway because they are a very valuable way of proving itchy relief for some dogs at home…especially whilst waiting for an appointment (say, over the dreaded ‘vet void’ of a bank-holiday weekend)!
Piriton (which contains the drug chlorphenamine) is most commonly used. I’ll be honest: it’s not the most effective tool in the box, only seeming to work for about 1 in 3 dogs. However, it is generally a very safe drug. In fact, the only time I’d hesitate is where a patient has a history of seizures, since Piriton can lower the seizure threshold. It’s also cheap, and available over the counter at the local pharmacy.
Even with Piriton’s solid safety profile, it’s still advisable to check with your vet before giving it to your dog, and to confirm the most appropriate dose for your pet; often, this can be done over a quick phone call, especially if your dog has visited your local clinic recently.
…And What Doesn’t Work
Apple Cider Vinegar
As it currently stands, there’s no evidence to provide support to the notion that apple cider vinegar belongs on the list of home remedies for dog allergies. In fact, there’s a serious lack of reputable, published studies investigating the effects of apple cider vinegar for dogs with allergic itchy skin.
Studies have been conducted to assess the response of patients with human atopic dermatitis to apple cider vinegar (mixed with water and applied to the skin surface), but the results are not promising; application of a dilute, 0.5% apple cider vinegar solution daily for two weeks was found to have no effect.
Don’t get me wrong, I love an epsom salt bath! But when it comes to treating a dog’s itchy skin, it appears that there really isn’t any place for epsom salts on the shelf. There’s a distinct lack of proof that they work, so – for now at least – it’s best to steer clear.
Applying Yoplait to your itchy dog in the hope or relieving their allergies will likely to result in a dog who is equally itchy, but moderately less hungry following the inevitable, immediate consumption of said yogurt.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the topical application of yogurt really doesn’t have any proven benefit for your dog’s skin. But, please, don’t ask your dog: they’ll probably suggest that you try it anyway.