Often times, when pet-owners see their German Shepherds (GDSs) scratching, licking and biting their skin aggressively, they think nothing of it. When told that the dog may be suffering from an allergy, the situation doesn’t ring any alarm bells either, because we imagine a dog’s itchy skin allergy is pretty similar to us humans getting mosquito bites. Annoying while it lasts, but that’s just about it.
To understand canine allergy, we ought to measure their discomfort with what we feel when we have contracted flu or a cold. Our runny noses, itchy eyes, headaches, aching limbs and congested chests are comparable to the distress dogs feel when they’re suffering from allergies.
Understanding that will help you realize the need to investigate the causes of a chronic GSD skin allergy, and then take steps to get rid of the cause.
Typically, skin allergies in German Shepherd dogs are of 4 kinds:
# 1: Food Mediated Skin Allergies
• Over the past decade or so, industrially processed foods have become one of the biggest causes of skin allergy and illnesses in canines. (Remember the 2007 pet food recall incident when melamine contamination resulted in over 8,500 animal deaths?)
It is more important than ever to read ingredient lists carefully when buying any kind of commercial dog food because even if the front label says “pork” for example, the ingredients list may reveal that “chicken” is also a part of the food. And if your German Shepherd is allergic to chicken, you are unknowingly feeding him/her more of it because you took the front label on the food container at face value.
# 2: Insect Mediated Skin Allergies
• Insect bites and stings are one of the most common causes of allergy in GSDs – who have thinner skin than humans — and fleas are the biggest perpetrator. With the easy availability of tick and flea medications, collars etc., this kind of allergy is easily contained, but if your GSD is not regularly treated with any of them, then you should think of the possibility of insect bites as a cause for the skin allergy.
# 3: Inhalant Skin Allergies
• Though it is a possibility all year round, season change is a time when GSDs most often contract skin allergy from increased volumes of allergens in the air. This high-energy breed needs a lot of playtime and exercise in the outdoors, and therefore, they are more exposed to all kinds of inhalable allergens like mold, weed pollen, grass, dust mites etc. that lead to Atopic Dermatitis (an inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with exposure to allergens).
# 4: Skin Contact Allergies
• As the description suggests, some GSDs are hypersensitive to certain chemical/organic compounds, and symptoms of Contact Dermatitis can be triggered when those compounds come in direct contact with the skin. Household cleaning agents, for example, are a common culprit indoors. Sap from poison ivy or snow-melting salts on the road are examples of contact allergy causing agents that can be found outside. If your GSD is showing signs of Contact Dermatitis, you should look at the cleaning agents you normally use to clean floors, counters etc for a possible cause. Daily grooming, frequent baths and frequent washing of your dog’s bedding also help to minimize contact dermatitis to a large extent.