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Say Goodbye to GSD Skin Allergies

 Reviewed 11 March 2019 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

==> Dog Skin Allergies are the NUMBER ONE reason for costly vet visits!

Strategies how to Avoid at least some of them

As dog owners we cannot easily understand what a skin allergy means to a dog:

Imagine you have a flu-like cold, or remind yourself of the last one you had. At such times you feel very miserable, right? Head and limbs are aching, you are coughing and sneezing all the time, you are grumpy and you feel very weak. Ideally, you just want to stay in bed and get over with it as soon as possible!

When our dog has a skin allergy it may feel just as badly, but we might think this cannot be because "it's just a skin disorder".

However, a skin disorder for a dog is as bad as a flu-like cold for us: As you know say from the MYGERMANSHEPHERD Health Manual that you got for free upon your free subscription, allergic reactions* in dogs manifest primarily in the skin, while allergic reactions in humans primarily manifest in a runny nose, coughing, and itchy eyes (see dog skin allergies).

* An allergic reaction is basically a hypersensitivity reaction of your dog's immune system.

So when your dog is feverishly scratching its skin, think of it as if you had a really bad cold or a flu. This should allow us to better understand our dog's level of discomfort.

dog skin cross section

However, while for us a flu starts with an infection, canine skin allergies don't need an infection (see dog skin infections).

Brief insight into:

  • Skin Allergy Causes
  • Skin Allergy Symptoms
  • Treating and Avoiding Skin Allergies

Skin Allergy Causes

In the order of historical prevalence:

  1. Insect-mediated skin allergies
  2. Food or Drug-mediated skin allergies
  3. Inhalant skin allergies
  4. Skin contact allergies
  5. Heredity-mediated skin allergies

Until recently, insect-mediated skin allergies were the majority - allergies caused by insect bites or stings, and in maybe 90% of these caused by flea bites (this is why the layman's term for this group of allergies is Flea Allergy Dermatitis).

canine fleaCanine skin is thinner than human skin, and hence fleas can easily bite through your dog's skin to feed on your dog's blood. To make it short, the flea bite saliva is the allergen that causes an allergic reaction in your dog. Your dog's skin will itch 'as if it had fleas' - well, it has!

Although insect-mediated skin allergies are still a major cause, the dramatically increased and wide-spread use of good flea and tick remedies has helped to drastically reduce this type of skin allergy in most parts of the world.

It is probably fair to say that for the last 10 years food and drug mediated skin allergies have become the major cause of canine allergies - even if we look at all skin disorders combined, ie including skin infections!

This is a sad development because this type of canine allergies are even easier to prevent!

Today's prevalence of food and drug mediated skin allergies comes down to two reasons:

  1. Today's prevalence of industrially processed foods - in the dog food chain as well as in the human food chain!
  2. Today's prevalence of us humans feeling we have no time for anything - and thus simply nodding through any blanket drug treatment

No time to prepare home-made meals for ourselves and our dog, no time to think about the prescription of an average vet and to apply own common sense, and not even the time to open relevant emails, to click through, and to read them in full. rolleyes No time for anything really.

Well, every day is a new chance to put things right.

The third prevalent cause are inhalant skin allergies. This means that our dog inhales allergens such as dust mites, grasses, molds, tree and weed pollens, or chemicals from house cleaning agents, insecticides, room refreshers and the like.

Compared to these three major causes of canine allergies, the remaining causes are negligible. - Although in some households skin contact allergies do play a role too: Irritants that have direct contact with your dog's skin (or indeed your own skin!). Particularly chemical floor and carpet cleaners, wood preservatives, wall paints, and laundry detergents.

Finally, heredity-mediated skin allergies do play a role for some dog breeds, but are rather negligible for the German Shepherd breed.

Skin Allergy Symptoms

In the order of prevalence:

  1. Continuous scratching, biting and/or rubbing due to intense itching
  2. Miserable, snappish and generally unpleasant behavior
  3. Hives and/or swollen eyelids, or patches of hair loss, rashes, blebs/vesicles or bullae, or lumps or bumps beneath the skin
  4. Diarrhea, Vomiting, difficulty in breathing, weakness or even collapse
  5. Anaphylactic shock

Intense and prolonged scratching is an obvious symptom that your dog suffers a skin allergy.

A prolonged miserable and unpleasant behavior of a dog is overlooked by most dog owners as what it really is: The dog feels very uncomfortable itself, because of the allergic reaction of its immune system.

Note that all dogs, and this is particularly true for our German Shepherds, have an inbred extreme desire to please us, to make us smile, to make us happy. If your GSD shows no such desire for days on end, although you treat your dog well, you may want to consider if this may be down to an allergy your dog is suffering from.

Hives - raised, circular, itchy wheals on the skin - do not necessarily appear at the point of contact with the skin, or at least not there alone. Because hives are a symptom of an allergic reaction of the dog's immune system, they can appear anywhere on your dog's body (but typically in addition to the point of contact of the allergen with the skin).

Diarrhea, Vomiting, difficulty in breathing, weakness or even collapse can be another symptom of a hypersensitivity reaction to an allergen - typically in addition to the symptoms mentioned above.

Finally, anaphylactic shock is most commonly caused by drugs containing penicillin or other antibiotics. The next common cause is the venom in the sting of bees or wasps - or, depending on where you live, indeed snake or spider bites. The third most common cause for anaphylactic shock is vaccination (to be dealt with in a future Periodical).

This is the prime reason why you must not resort to DIY vaccination of your dog using OTC vaccines: If you cannot then also resort to DIY treatment of the Anaphylactic shock, your dog may die within a mere minutes(!).

Treating and Avoiding Skin Allergies

If your dog is facing a present skin allergy or you desire to prevent future skin allergies, consider the following treatment options and preventative measures to address the cause of the allergy - again in the order of prevalence:

  • Regular grooming - particularly brushing the coat twice weekly (and during shedding season rather twice daily)
  • Shower/bathe your dog - you see, bathing comes after grooming
  • Check for flea infestation - even if you believe this is 'impossible!'
  • Make use of good flea and tick remedies
  • Apply a good insecticide to all relevant surfaces (see below) - but do not use room foggers or household disinfectants!
  • Now really take some time out to thoroughly consider your dog's diet!
  • Eliminate all room refreshers (they are poison for your family's bronchia too, as I had explained already long ago)
  • Substitute your present house cleaning agents and laundry detergents against their more natural counterparts. Eg we do not use any floor cleaner at all, instead a quality steam cleaner used with pure water is so much more effective and hygienic and safe for both dogs and kids and us!

Regarding grooming: If you are new to GSDs and you are unsure what equipment and solutions to use (not just for grooming), there is a fully illustrated description of all of this in the Puppy Development Guide in the chapter Grooming. In case you didn't download the book (maybe because you wrongly thought it's only for puppy owners), a future MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL will specifically address this topic as well.

Re/ flea infestation: Place your dog over a large sheet of white paper that you have wetted with one of those plant water sprayers that you have filled with a good insecticide (apparently, the safest insecticides for kids and pets are those based on pyrethrin or fenoxycarb). Then undertake a special grooming session. When you see black dots on the paper (or brown dots depending on the wetness of the paper - useful as you can adapt it to your dog's coat color!), this is your dog's digested blood in the fleas' feces!

Note of caution: Although fleas cannot fly, they have powerful back legs. Some fleas can jump a meter or more (40 inches!) horizontally, and at least jump up half a meter vertically (20 inches) from a standstill position, in an instant! Also, they can even move through dense GSD coat like Eddy Merckx was cycling!

The more you wetten the paper, the safer for you that the fleas won't simply jump back up when you brushed them out.

Re/ household disinfectants: These must never be used on dogs. Such chemicals are absorbed through the thin dog skin, and your dog may die instantly or within hours - or first suffer for several days!

Regarding your dog's diet: Food allergies are least susceptible to being approached in a uniform attempt, because even among German Shepherds alone there is such a wide variety of possible allergens: Some dogs develop allergies to chicken, beef, pork, horsemeat, or fish, other dogs to milk, milk products, eggs, or certain proteins, and other dogs to grains, potatoes, soy products, or a certain additive(!) or food supplement.

If you suspect that your dog's allergy symptoms may be down to diet, then your first (and cheapest) option is to change your dog's diet - ideally systematically by taking notes - towards a hypoallergenic test diet in order to identify the offending allergen. Your second (and considerably more expensive) option is to consult your vet to organize a hypoallergenic test diet for you.

Note that the by far most common cause of food allergies is feeding a dog commercial dry dog food. Even the celebrated Purina Hypoallergenic Diet is full of additives (quite literally!). The better commercial dog foods we show on our Dog Remedies pages under "Yummies are mine".

And the second most common cause of food allergies is again very similar: Feeding a dog commercial tinned dog food (moist dog food).

The best and cheapest hypoallergenic diet really is homemade dog food, keeping records of what you feed when (for 8 to 10 weeks consecutively), and how severe your dog's allergy symptoms are, and with which foods they disappear.

vet needed or notThe Ultimate Guide to Dog Health illustrates well not just dog skin allergies but most problems and solutions relating to skin disorders, and practically all other canine health problems too. And this one, for a change, is graphical and inviting, ie it does not present itself like a veterinary study book. Rather, it allows you to make the quick and informed decisions that veterinarians give to friends and family:

You can check it out by clicking here to see if it is what you like. As it is an ebook, you can save a copy to your mobile phone or tablet, so that you have it always on you! I find this is the greatest benefit of ebooks, that we can take all of them with us wherever we go or travel or move! smile

There is so much more that could be discussed and explained regarding dog skin allergies - from flies, lice, mites, maggots and mange, to pelodera, ringworm, scabies, atopic dermatitis, etc. But preparing long Periodicals and not even seeing a comment/thanks from everyone who consumes them is very frustrating indeed - and not rewarding at all. sad



  • Typically, a skin allergy is to a dog as bad as a flu-like cold feels to us, so we should really be more considerate if our dog is intensely scratching its skin
  • There are 5 causes of skin allergies:
    • Insect-mediated skin allergies
    • Food or Drug-mediated skin allergies
    • Inhalant skin allergies
    • Skin contact allergies
    • Heredity-mediated skin allergies
  • However, the prevalent ones are the first three; with food or drug-mediated allergies having overtaken all other skin disorders combined, subject to your dog getting the right flea and tick remedies
  • The predominant skin allergy symptoms, in order of prevalence, are:
    • Continuous scratching, biting and/or rubbing due to intense itching
    • Miserable, snappish and generally unpleasant behavior (the often overlooked symptom!)
    • Hives and/or swollen eyelids, or patches of hair loss, rashes, blebs/vesicles or bullae, or lumps or bumps beneath the skin
    • Diarrhea, Vomiting, difficulty in breathing, weakness or even collapse
    • Anaphylactic shock
  • There exist countless measures to treat and avoid canine skin allergies: the most important ones are listed and explained above
  • If you seek more information on dealing with your dog's skin problems, see if you prefer a veterinary study book or rather a popular graphics-based look-up guide

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