What Causes Sensitive Skin in Dogs?

Sensitive skin in dogs results from a variety of causes. Some canines suffer seasonally, and this sensitivity is generally related to triggers such as pollen and molds. Other dogs are in agony year-round if their allergies aren’t addressed.

If your dog has sensitive skin, take your pet to the vet for a thorough examination and testing. Treatment – and relief – starts after a diagnosis.

Breeds Predisposition

Some dog breeds are more susceptible to sensitive skin than others. Those with deep folds and wrinkles, which trap bacteria, are especially at risk. In other breeds, genetic factors play a role.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, vulnerable dog breeds include:

  • Boston terrier
  • Boxer
  • Chinese shar-pei
  • Dalmatian
  • Golden retriever
  • Labrador retriever
  • Lhasa apso
  • Scottish terrier
  • Shih-tzu
  • West Highland white terrier
  • Wirehaired fox terrier

Most dogs begin showing signs of allergies between their first and third birthdays.


If your dog is scratching, chewing on himself, or losing hair, the odds are an allergy is the culprit. Allergens run the gamut. Many canine allergy triggers are the same as in humans. Do you sneeze or have a runny nose when pollens are in the air? Your dog may react with itching. Prolonged itching may lead to secondary wounds and infection. Frequent ear infections are another sign of airborne allergies.  

Medication can relieve many seasonal allergies. Immunotherapy is another option. This treatment works by increasing the animal’s tolerance to environmental allergy triggers. Prior to therapy, the dog undergoes allergy testing to determine the allergens to which he is sensitive.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are responsible for many canine sensitive skin issues. Reactions to certain foods, such as corn, often occur in the form of skin problems. Your vet may recommend switching to a high-quality dog food designed for animals with sensitive skin.

If skin sensitivity persists, an elimination diet is needed. The dog eats a food with just one form of protein for a period of time – and nothing else. If the sensitivity does not clear up, another single-protein food is tried. This trial-and-error method is sometimes frustrating, but should eventually get to the bottom of your dog’s food allergy.


Certain disease symptoms may manifest as skin sensitivity. If your dog is scratching a lot and the area exudes a musty odor, a yeast infection is a possibility. Greasy, scaly skin is a sign of seborrhea.


The number one cause of skin sensitivity is flea allergy. The good news is that the severe reaction an allergic dog has to these parasites is preventable. Your vet will recommend a flea-and-tick preventive to keep your pet flea-free.

Mites are another parasite causing skin issues. In this case, mite infestation can result in skin scaling or flakiness. Mange is caused by mites. Symptoms include reddening, sores, and hair loss. The ears, face, and legs are most often affected.

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