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Your Happy Pet: 2 common canine skin allergies can make pets miserable

Original Publication Date: May 5, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

The skin, while thin, is the largest organ in the body and serves as the interface with the outside world.

It makes up about 7 percent of a dog's body weight. So, skin accounts for about 12 pounds of the total body weight of a 175-pound Irish wolfhound.

The skin of a 20-pound dachshund weighs almost 1.5 pounds.

Similar estimates apply to the contents of a half square inch of surface area of the skin of a dog.

Allergies can upset the delicate structures of the skin and create great discomfort in the largest organ of the dog.

Two common skin allergies of the dog are environmental allergies and flea allergy dermatitis. Both can cause excessive licking, scratching or chewing and perhaps other symptoms that indicate your dog is not comfortable in its own skin.

In the home, environmental allergies may be triggered by mold, dust mites or chemicals in cleaning products. You may consider an air purifier to control mold and dust mites and switch to natural cleaning products if you suspect indoor environmental allergens are upsetting your pet's immune system.

Outside environmental allergens pose a different problem. Skin allergies that are seasonal and crop up only in the summer months are probably triggered by pollens, ragweed and grasses.

High pollen levels that send some humans into an allergic tizzy can cause your dog's immune system to respond with skin allergies.

Your pup may roll in the grass all winter without a problem, but that doesn't mean it's safe to do the same in the summer.

Flowers, trees and grasses send pollen far and wide on breezes. The grass in your lawn that seemed so innocuous all winter long can teem with pollens, dust, mites and weeds that can upset your pup's immune system and trigger itchy, irritable skin. Frequent bathing can be helpful. You may also want to try foot washes or soaks. Your pet can carry lots of unwanted allergens in and on its feet and spread them in his living area. A dip of the paws when returning from outside may be quite helpful.

Nobody likes fleas. It is bad enough that they bite your dog and cause him to lick and scratch incessantly. The flea bite, however, does not cause the misery. Instead, flea allergy dermatitis, an allergic reaction to flea saliva, can cause remarkable skin irritation. It does not require a flea infestation. One or two fleas can set flea allergy dermatitis in motion and make a dog itchy and miserable for many weeks after fleas are dead. If flea allergy dermatitis is a problem, bathe your dog often to kill any fleas and to soothe your pup's skin.

Skin is your dog's largest organ. Do your best to keep it healthy by limiting common allergens that can upset the activities of the blood vessels, nerves and other delicate structures that make up the skin.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at