An Itchy Hound

Did you know dogs can be allergic to many substances, including grass. With spring upon us, allergy season is in full force for not only us humans, but our pets too. Have a read of Dr. Mark's advice for one of our readers with a very itchy pup.    


Hi Dr. Mark, I have a one-year-old Chihuahua who I adopted from my local shelter three months ago. Since I got her she has been frequently itchy. She scratches her coat in all places, and she chews her paws and wrists (this is by far the worst area – she chews until the skin is bright red).
She’s never had fleas since I’ve had her, and I suspect she is allergic to grass. We walk twice daily and she seems worse after walks, especially if the grass has just been mowed. Is it common for dogs to be allergic to grass? I appreciate your advice, thank you. Kind regards, Kysa.


Hi Kysa, one of the most common reasons that dogs itch, chew, scratch and have irritated skin is because they have an allergy. Dogs can develop allergies to a wide number of things including food ingredients, synthetic or natural fibres, medications, chemicals, plant material such as pollens or seed, parasites and even dust. Treatment involves reducing contact with the allergen (the cause of the itch), moderating the response that the pet has to the allergen and treating any secondary complications such as bacterial or fungal skin infections. Finding out what the allergen is can be difficult but a diagnosis is made based on history, blood tests, skin allergy testing and elimination diet tests.

Reducing contact with the allergen depends on what the allergen is, but can involve keeping dogs away from plants or grasses etc. that they are allergic to, eliminating fleas, or changing their diet. Washing with an appropriate shampoo reduces the amount of allergen on the coat too. Reducing the response to the allergen may involve supplementing the diet with a fatty-acid supplement rich in omega 3 and omega 6, and possibly medications such as anti-histamines, cortico-steroids and cyclo-sporins. Veterinary dermatologists can formulate vaccines against many allergens which are given to desensitise the pet against the allergen.

Treating secondary complications may involve washing with medicated shampoos such as Malaseb to treat fungal and bacterial infections or a course of antibiotics. It is important to have cases of allergies thoroughly investigated by a veterinarian experienced in such diseases to determine the exact cause. A suitable treatment plan can then be started.

In the meantime, a few things you can try are:

  • Try a shampoo and conditioner shown to reduce the irritation, such as Aloveen Shampoo and Conditioner.
  • Try changing to a low-allergy diet such as fish and potato or a commercial hypoallergenic diet.
  • Consult a veterinary dermatologist.

As you are already doing many of these things, I’d recommend consulting a specialist veterinary dermatologist. Once the allergen has been identified, a suitable treatment plan can be instigated. Without knowing the exact cause, treatment will often be a hit and miss.

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