Sensitive Dog Skin: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments and 7 Ways of Managing it at Home

Sensitive dog skin may be distressing for both pets and their loving parents. Symptoms like excessive scratching, loss of fur and red, inflamed spots can be rather uncomfortable for your pet. These are usually caused by allergies, or negative reactions to the environment.

Thankfully, there’s an abundance of medical treatments and ways to manage itchiness at home that pawrents can opt for. As different remedies work better for different causes of the condition, it’s good to know as much as we can about it.

In this article, we cover what to look for if you suspect your dog may have sensitive skin, its causes, treatments and more. Read on to learn how to best care for your beloved furkid.

*Disclaimer: The information and suggestions in this article are not meant to replace the advice of vets. Please consult a vet on your dog’s condition for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Signs of Sensitive Skin in Dogs

Some symptoms that may indicate your dog has sensitive skin include:

  • Excessive scratching, head shaking or licking
  • Excessive rubbing on furniture or other objects
  • Loss of fur, bald patches
  • Dry spots or flaky patches on skin
  • Pink or red, itchy skin
  • Behavioral changes (e.g. aversion to touch, lethargy, irritability)
  • Digestive problems
  • Bad odor on skin or ears

Schedule a visit to your veterinarian for a diagnosis and advice on the best ways to treat and manage your pet’s sensitive skin. Prior to your visit, try to note down any symptoms your pet may be displaying.

Summary: Causes and Treatments for Sensitive Skin in Dogs

To properly treat your pup for sensitive skin, you’ll first need to know what’s causing it. These are typically either genetic, environmental or a mixture of both.

Here’s a summary of the most common factors that cause skin sensitivity in dogs and their respective treatments.

TypeFactorWhat it isCommon treatments
Genetic factorsAllergies
  • Commonly known as atopic dermatitis
  • Common allergies include flea bites, certain food or environmental allergens (e.g. pollen, dust, mold
  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Biological therapy
  • Immunosuppressant medication
  • Desensitization therapy
  • Change in diet
  • Gut health
  • Bacterial imbalances in gut microbiome may cause bodily inflammations
  • Change in diet (e.g. introduction of probiotics and prebiotics)
  • Environmental factorsWeather or seasonal changes
  • Cold, dry weather may cause flaky, itchy skin
  • Hot, humid weather may flare up allergic reactions or cause heat rash
  • Antihistamines
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Antibiotics
  • Fatty acid supplements
  • Using air humidifiers indoors
  • Applying moisturizer or aloe vera on skin
  • Using gentle shampoos
  • Stressful changes to lifestyle or environment
  • Anxious dogs may react to stressful situations by developing sensitive skin symptoms
  • Behavior modification training
  • Calming techniques
  • Stress relief products
  • Parasites
  • Fleas, mites and ticks may cause sensitive skin symptoms to emerge
  • Skin infections may develop on untreated scratch wounds
  • Steroidal medication
  • Antibiotics
  • Skin irritation
  • Broken skin from flea bites, hot spots and scratching may cause further sensitive skin symptoms to develop
  • Antibiotics
  • Healing barrier creams
  • Using gentle shampoos
  • Poor nutrition
  • Nutritional deficiencies in zinc, vitamin A or fatty acids may result in sensitive skin
  • Change in diet
  • Dietary supplements
  • Harsh grooming products
  • Harsh products may aggravate the skin, causing symptoms like lesions and hair loss
  • Using gentle shampoos
  • Genetic Factors That May Cause Sensitive Skin

    Some dogs are born with a predisposition to having sensitive skin due to genetic factors like allergies and poor gut health.

     Allergies

    A common cause for sensitivity is a skin allergy called atopic dermatitis, which may be diagnosed via a blood test or intradermal skin test. Your pup may experience itchiness when exposed to:

    • Flea bites

    The saliva from flea bites may cause certain dogs to develop irritations or swelling around their tail, rump, groin and thigh areas.

    • Specific types of food

    They may be allergic to specific food groups like corn-based gluten products or certain types of meat (e.g. beef, chicken, eggs). Itchiness typically develops around the ears and paws, and other symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea may arise.

    Here’s a list of best dog food for allergies that may help manage their condition.

    • Environmental allergens

    Allergens include dust, pollen, mold, and certain types of weeds and grass. They may develop an itch over their entire body, or in localized areas like their front legs, armpits, face and ears.

    Allergic reactions may be treated through desensitization therapy (exposing your dog to the allergen to reduce sensitivity) or medication.

     Gut Health

    A bacterial imbalance in your pup’s gut microbiome may result in inflammation on their body, causing sensitive skin. A healthy gut with a diverse community of bacteria may be achieved by introducing pre and probiotics to your dog’s diet.

    Environmental Factors That May Cause Sensitive Skin

    External factors like the weather or parasites may cause sensitive skin symptoms to arise as a result of skin irritation or allergic reactions.

     Weather or Seasonal Changes

    Changes in the weather and seasons may cause certain reactions in your dog’s skin. 

    • Dry and cold weather 

    Cold or dry weather (e.g. during winter) may irritate your pup’s skin, causing it to become flaky, dry and itchy. Common solutions for this include using an air humidifier in your home or applying pet-friendly moisturizers on their bodies.

    • Hot and humid weather 

    Hot weather (e.g. during summer) may cause allergic reactions to flare up or even heat rashes in certain dogs. Many pet owners use aloe vera or hydrocortisone creams to reduce skin irritation, redness and inflammation.

     Stressful Changes in Lifestyle or Environment

    More anxious dogs may develop sensitive skin symptoms when they’ve undergone significant changes in their lifestyle or environment (e.g. moving to a new home, sudden change in food). They may begin to lick or bite themselves excessively, or experience increased hair loss.

    Behavior modification training, calming techniques or use of stress relief products are typically used to address this

     Parasites

    Your dog’s skin sensitivity may be caused by the presence of parasites like fleas, ticks and mites on their skin and fur. This typically causes excessive scratching to occur, which may result in skin redness, bleeding or oozing lesions, and hair loss.

    For diagnosis, your vet may have to do a physical examination and take some blood and skin samples for testing.

     Skin Irritation

    Untreated irritations like hot spots, flea bites and open wounds from scratching may result in skin sensitivity in dogs. Healing barrier creams may be used to prevent further irritation, and vets may prescribe antibiotics to heal any infections that may arise.

     Poor Nutrition

    Sensitive skin may be a result of nutritional deficiencies in your pet’s diet. This is commonly attributed to a deficiency in zinc, vitamin A or polyunsaturated fatty acids (e.g. omega 3 and 6), which are important for maintaining healthy skin.

     Harsh Grooming Products

    Certain ingredients in grooming products like shampoos and soaps may cause unwanted reactions in your pup’s skin (e.g. itchiness, lesions, hair loss). This may include irritants and allergens like certain preservatives, emulsifiers, fragrances and essential oils. 

    Symptoms may also arise if products aren’t washed off properly after grooming.

    Common Medical Treatments for Sensitive Dog Skin

    Happy dog being examined by a vet

    Medical treatments for sensitive skin differ according to the root cause of the condition. For instance, antihistamines are most suitable for treating sensitive skin caused by allergies. 

    Here are some common treatments your vet may prescribe after identifying the root problem.

    Antihistamines

    Antihistamines are a common medication for skin allergies like atopic dermatitis. They help to remove histamines, a chemical that causes itchiness and irritation, released into the body during an allergic reaction.

    They may be prescribed with essential fatty acids to control sensitive skin symptoms.

    Common treatment for sensitive skin caused by:

    • Allergies
    • Weather or seasonal changes

    Biological Therapy

    Biological therapy is the use of substances from living organisms to treat illnesses and diseases by mimicking the body’s immune system. For example, Cytopoint is an engineered antibody that may be used to relieve itchiness and sensitive skin symptoms in dogs.

    Common treatment for sensitive skin caused by:

    • Allergies
    • Weather or seasonal changes

    Immunosuppressant Medication

    Immunosuppressants like Apoquel may be used to treat itchiness in dogs with atopic dermatitis. It works by inhibiting certain enzymes and proteins that are responsible for inducing itchiness during an allergic reaction.

    Common treatment for sensitive skin caused by:

    • Allergies
    • Weather or seasonal changes

    Steroidal Medication

    Otherwise known as corticosteroid medication, these drugs help reduce the symptom of itchiness in sensitive skin dogs. They rapidly reduce swelling and inflammation, providing quick relief for your pup. They can be given orally or in the form of topical sprays and creams.

    However, there are several side effects associated with the use of steroidal medication, such as:

    • Increased appetite, and fluid uptake and output
    • Lethargy
    • Worsening of preexisting skin and bacterial infections
    • Kidney problems
    • Development of thin skin
    • Behavioral changes (e.g. aggression, depression, anxiety)

    Common treatment for sensitive skin caused by:

    • Allergies
    • Weather or seasonal changes
    • Parasites

    Antibiotics

    Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections that may arise due to sensitive skin (e.g. infections from untreated wounds caused by excessive scratching). They may be given orally, topically or via injection.

    Common treatment for sensitive skin caused by:

    • Weather or seasonal changes
    • Parasites
    • Skin irritation

    Common Ways of Managing Sensitive Dog Skin at Home

    Sensitive dog skin may be managed at home with some adjustments to your pup’s lifestyle. In fact, switching to specially formulated food and grooming products often contributes largely to keeping symptoms at bay.

    1. Switch to Sensitive Skin Dog Food

    Product recommendation: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Dog Food

    Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Dog Food product image

    One of the best ways to manage your furkid’s sensitive skin is to give them a high protein, low carb diet that’s specially formulated for their condition. Hill’s Science Diet provides a holistic, grain-free meal for your pup chock full of prebiotics, vitamin E and omega 6 fatty acids for healthy skin. They have options for large and small breed dogs.

    Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach Dog Food is another popular option among pet parents. It’s made without common food allergens like wheat, corn, soy, chicken and beef, and contains omega 3 to help with skin inflammation and repair.

    2. Add Supplements to Enhance Their Diet

    Product recommendation: Kala Health Dermatrix Skin Conditioning Nutrition

    Kala Health Dermatrix Skin Conditioning Nutrition product image

    Dog supplements for skin and coats like Dermatrix by Kala Health contain beneficial vitamins and fatty acids to enhance skin health. 

    For example, the omega 3 present in these supplements have anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve the symptoms of an allergic reaction. The fatty acid may also keep your pup’s skin moisturized, preventing dryness and flaking.

    Vitamin E is another helpful nutrient that may help relieve symptoms and keep your furry friend’s skin healthy.

    3. Use Specially Formulated Shampoo for Bathtimes

    Product recommendation: Aloveen Oatmeal Shampoo

    Aloveen Oatmeal Shampoo product image

    Using dog shampoos, conditioners and soaps for sensitive skin can prevent aggravating your pet’s condition. Aloveen Oatmeal Shampoo is gentle on the skin and is specially formulated to soothe itchiness while keeping your dog clean and smelling good. 

    Oatmeal shampoos are also known to create a barrier on skin, protecting it against irritants and allergens.

    4. Only Get Dog Accessories that are Suitable for Sensitive Skin

    Product recommendation: Trustie Reflective Collar (Extra Large)

    Trustie Reflective Collar (Extra Large) product image

    For accessories like dog collars and harnesses, avoid materials like nylon that are more likely to cause chafing due to friction. Materials like leather, cotton and polyester – like this collar from Trustie – are typically better choices for pups with sensitive skin. These materials are usually softer and more breathable, ideal for comfortable use.

    Tick and flea repellent accessories may also be useful for avoiding the onset of sensitive skin caused by these parasites.

    5. Keep Your Pup Well-groomed

    Product recommendation: Tommy&Coco Pin Brush

    Tommy&Coco Pin Brush product image

    It’s important to groom your dog everyday to remove any allergens and irritants that may aggravate their sensitive skin. Use a gentle brush with rounded tips like this one from Tommy&Coco to remove dirt and detangle any matts from their fur.

    It’s also helpful to clip the fur off any affected areas (e.g. areas around red, itchy bumps) and wipe their feet clean after going on walks. Here are some other dog grooming tips you can try out.

    6. Use Anti-itch Sprays and Creams

    Product recommendation: Cardinal Ecobath Manuka Honey Anti Itch Spray

    Cardinal Ecobath Manuka Honey Anti Itch Spray product image

    Relieve skin irritation with a soothing anti-itch spray like Cardinal’s Ecobath. Ingredients like manuka honey and aloe vera can help to heal the skin and prevent excessive scratching, while organic hempseed oil helps to condition your pet’s coat.

    7. Try Some Home Remedies

    Some pet parents recommend home remedies for natural, cost effective and often quick treatments for their pet’s sensitive skin symptoms. Common ones include easy-to-find ingredients you may have in your pantry like:

    • Herbal tea

    Steep chamomile, calendula or green tea bags in a warm water bath for 3 minutes, then let your dog soak in it for at least 5 minutes. This method is typically used to relieve discomfort from hot, itchy patches of skin.

    • Coconut oil 

    Rubbing coconut oil on affected areas is believed to create a protective barrier over them and soothe sensitive skin symptoms.

    • Sugar-free plain yogurt 

    Some pet parents feed their dogs 2 teaspoons of unsweetened yogurt weekly (1 teaspoon for small dogs) to improve skin and gut health.

    Dog Breeds That Are Prone to Having Sensitive Skin

    Some breeds that are more prone to having sensitive skin caused by atopic dermatitis include:

    FAQs About Sensitive Dog Skin

    Your dog may have sensitive skin if they frequently scratch or lick themselves excessively, experience loss of fur, or have inflamed spots on their skin. For proper medical advice, inform your vet of any behaviors or symptoms you observe.

    Sensitive skin may be treated medically using:

    • Antihistamines
    • Biological therapy (e.g. Cytopoint)
    • Immunosuppressants (e.g. Apoquel)
    • Steroidal medication
    • Antibiotics (for secondary infections)

    Symptoms may be treated or managed at home by switching to specially formulated dog food and shampoos, introducing dietary supplements and using anti-itch sprays.

    Your dog may have sensitive skin caused by allergies, dry skin, stress or changes in the weather.

    You may try applying anti-itch sprays, vitamin E solution or coconut oil to relieve itching. If the problem persists, visit your vet for medical treatment.

    Hidaya Alatas
    Article by:
    Hidaya Alatas
    Contributors:
    Bernice Quek
    An idealist who believes she can change the world through stories, music and the arts. Best friends include (but not limited to) her cats, Netflix and her a cappella group.
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