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Veterinary Clinic and Animal Hospital serving Indianapolis and Carmel

Office Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 9am-12pm

Phone: (317) 721-7387 | Fax: 317-564-4902


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When to Take a Dog with Itchy Skin Allergies to the Vet

dog itchy skin

There are RIGHT ways, and WRONG ways, to treat a dog with itchy skin.

This post has been a long time coming…

The top three presenting complaints for dogs in every small animal veterinary clinic are ear infections, itchy skin, and vomiting. I covered the vomiting dog in this article, and ear infections in this one, now I’m going to tackle itchy skin.

Actually, this is the second time I’m tackling itchy skin, I barely scratched the surface (LOL!) in this article over a year ago. The conclusion of that article: a diagnosis of seasonal allergies is a LIFETIME diagnosis requiring LIFETIME treatment.

We had a veterinary dermatologist write about food allergies once, so you might want to consider reading that too, since most derms will recommend an elimination diet before pursuing desensitization therapy.

Anyways, on to the itchy dog………………..


1. Dogs usually don’t start itching from seasonal allergies until they’re at least a year, usually 3-4 years old. (Your four month old itchy dog probably has fleas, or mange or something – take him to the vet.)

2. Seasonal allergies are just that – seasonal. Meaning, if your dog is itchy all year round, you need to instead consider indoor allergens and/or food allergens along with the usual pollens/grasses/weeds culprits.

3. Every day your dog is exposed to his allergens, EVERY year, FOREVER, he will be itchy. For some dogs that means they will be itchy from March 1st through August 15th, or whatever. As a chronic sufferer of seasonal allergies myself, I know it’s best to know approximately when you’ll need to start your pet on her yearly antihistamines and steroids.

4. Steroids aren’t (always) bad! Don’t be skeered, steroids (usually) rule!

How do veterinarians treat allergies in dogs and cats?

Veterinarians treat allergies in dogs primarily with oral antihistamines and/or oral/injectable steroids (prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, triamcinolone)

Secondarily, the antihistamine/steroid treatments above can be supplemented (not replaced!) with Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), prescription shampoos, creams, lotions, potions and salves, as prescribed by your veterinarian.


Steroids are short-acting drugs, that block the body’s inflammatory response (among other actions).

Logically, one should assume that if Fido’s allergen levels in the air are high today, Fido should take more steroids and/or more antihistamines today.

Once the tree pollen and grass pollen allergen levels drops next week, Fido can have less steroids.

Adjusting Fido’s steroid and/or antihistamine dose based on daily or weekly allergen levels often means NOT FOLLOWING THE DIRECTIONS YOUR VETERINARIAN WROTE ON THE BOTTLE OF PREDNISONE, but rather using a combination of intelligent observation and regular phone consults with your vet, to give your dog “as much prednisone as is required, but as little as you can get away with”, and continuing to do so for the duration of this year’s allergy season, whenever that is.

Recall that prednisone will, in every dog, cause increased drinking, peeing, appetite, panting, and sometimes behavior changes – all minor, transient side effects that disappear when you decrease the dose of the drug.


CONCLUSION: If you have a young dog with itchy skin, and your veterinarian thinks she has allergies, I STRONGLY URGE YOU TO FOLLOW THE FOLLOWING PROTOCOL:

STEP 1. Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a prescription 8-week elimination food allergen diet trial. You will need to buy 8 weeks worth of prescription food from your vet, and feed your dog ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE. No treats, no bones, no pig’s ears, no cow parts, no eggs, no bacon off your plate, NOTHING. Maaaaaybe you can give some carrot sticks or something as a treat, if you absolutely must. After 8 weeks of PURE ELIMINATION DIET, if your dog is still itchy, it’s not a food allergy. That’s the scientific method right there.

STEP 2. After you have completed step 1, if you have then determined your dog for SURE has seasonal allergies (“ATOPY”) I STRONGLY recommend you actively pursue a referral to a licensed veterinary dermatologist for skin prick testing, before you start spending a bunch of money on recurring vet visits or fall into the trap of asking Dr. Google what to do (that guy’s FULL of strange ideas…)

Pinpointing the exact pollens responsible for your particular dog’s seasonal allergies is best done with a “scratch test” ONLY available at the dermatology specialist vet’s office (don’t let your vet sell you the blood tests, they’re not as accurate). Pollen extracts are injected just under a shaved area of skin, and reactions are noted a few minutes later. The specialist will then customize a recipe of desensitizing injections you will administer for the rest of your dog’s life. This process usually runs several hundred dollars initially, that will then SAVE YOU THOUSANDS IN VET BILLS AND COUNTLESS HOURS OF MISERY FOR THE REST OF YOUR PET’S LIFE.

True, desensitization never cures anybody. (THERE IS NO CURE FOR ALLERGIES)

HOWEVER, desensitization does significantly reduce symptoms and duration in the majority of dogs who go through the process, meaning more symptom-free days, less prednisone, happier dog.

And that’s what it’s all about, right? Helping itchy dogs have more symptom-free days.

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