The hidden irritant

If your pet is dealing with a skin issue, an allergy may be the secret perpetrator. Although the skin issue could be due to another condition, like a bacterial or fungal infection, it could also be caused by at least one of the three most common types of allergies. Without diagnostic tests, it can be difficult to differentiate between skin infections and allergies.

The three most common allergies

Flea allergies

Not only do fleas disrupt you and your pet's quality of life, some pets are also allergic to them.

Food allergies

Many people mistake their pet’s skin issue for a food allergy, but food allergies are not as common in pets as you might think.

Environmental allergies

Animals react to many of the same allergens as humans, so being aware of your pet’s triggers is crucial to year-round relief.

Teamwork is key

Partnering with your veterinarian on preventive care is the best thing you can do for your pet’s allergies.

The internet isn’t always right

An overwhelming amount of information exists online. Some of it is scientifically supported, but plenty of it is not. And it can be hard to know the difference. Talking with your veterinarian is the best way to educate yourself and treat your pet.

Consistency goes a long way

Regular visits with your veterinarian can aid in proper diagnosis and help identify possible ways to reduce exposure to allergens. Additionally, catching flare-ups early can reduce the trauma of chewing and scratching, thereby reducing the need for antibiotics and the bacteria’s ability to develop a resistance to the medication.

We’ve got the tools

Your veterinarian has the latest scientific findings and medical treatments to properly diagnose and help treat your pet.

Stories of skin allergies**

Signs of skin allergies are usually easy to see, but finding the root cause can take time and diligence. Read about three different pets and how their owners worked with their veterinarians to bring them relief.

Luna's Encounter with Flea Allergies

Max's Food Conundrum

Daisy's Environmental Allergies

** These case studies are representative and not based on actual Banfield patients.

Diagnosis is a process

Reaching a diagnosis can take time, and sometimes it can feel like you’re getting nowhere. But administering multiple diagnostic tests helps your veterinarian rule out and identify underlying causes, potentially saving you time (and money) in the long run. A referral to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist may be the best option for difficult or complex cases.

Click each item to learn more

Skin impression

We press a small glass slide against the skin and examine it under a microscope for evidence of a bacterial or yeast infection.

Tape cytology

Much like a skin impression, we apply tape to the skin and examine it under a microscope for evidence of a bacterial or yeast infection.

Wood's lamp

The skin of pets with ringworm (dermatophytosis) may light up under a black light in a darkened room.

Fungal culture

We collect a few hairs and place them in a culture tube for up to three weeks to diagnose fungal infections like ringworm.


We examine a few hairs under a microscope to look for signs of hair loss and certain infections.

Skin scraping

To diagnose mange, we gently scrape the surface of the skin and examine the material under a microscope for the skin mites.

Ear swab

We get a sample from the ears and examine the material under a microscope to look for bacteria, yeast and ear mites.

Flea control

To diagnose a flea allergy, we may give your pet an oral, topical or other flea control product to see if their signs lessen or improve. In these cases, it’s important that every pet in the household be on flea control.

Diet trial

To identify a food allergy, we eliminate certain ingredients from your pet’s diet for six to eight weeks.

Allergy testing

Skin or blood tests are administered to identify specific allergens and help us develop the appropriate longer-term treatment.


Many pet owners are mistaken about skin allergies. Here are some common myths you may have heard:

  • Myth 1st myth

    Scratching is normal for certain breeds

    Fact 2nd fact

    Occasional scratching is natural, but “normal” is relative. Some breeds may be predisposed to skin infections or other conditions, and only your veterinarian can confirm what is normal for your pet.

  • Myth 2nd myth

    Allergies have a one-size-fits-all treatment

    Fact 3rd fact

    There’s no one fix for all allergic reactions, and getting allergies under control may prove more difficult for certain pets. Work with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your pet. In some cases, a referral to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist may be appropriate.

  • Myth 3rd myth

    Antibiotics are a quick fix for itchy pets

    Fact 1st fact

    Not all itchy pets need antibiotics, and your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests that could save you from administering a medication your pet may not need. This reduces the chance bacteria will develop resistance to the antibiotic, keeping medication as effective as possible for future infections.

State of Pet Health

There's more to your pet's skin than allergies

Visit Skin Care Central, our online guide to the signs, causes, and treatments for various skin conditions.

Get Started

*Dr. Chris Reeder, DVM, DACVD, a veterinary dermatologist with BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Franklin, TN, served as consultant for the State of Pet Health 2018 Report.


1. Merck Veterinary Manual, 2018. Accessed April 2018

2. Lam A. 2009. Overview of Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Compendium: Continuing Education for Veterinarians 31(5): E1-10.

3. Hensel P, Santoro D, Favrot C, Hill P and Griffin C. 2015. Canine atopic dermatitis: detailed guidelines for diagnosis and allergen identification. BMC Veterinary Research 11: 196.

4. Diesel A. 2017. Cutaneous Hypersensitivity dermatoses in the feline patient: a review of allergic skin disease in cats. Veterinary Sciences 4: 25.

5. Shmalberg J. 2017. Diets and the dermis: nutritional considerations in dermatology. Today’s Veterinary Practice

6. Verlinden A, Hesta M, Millet S, and Janssens GPJ. 2006. Food allergy in dogs and cats: a review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 46(3): 259-73.