Behavior Changes in Dogs With Skin Allergies

Adrienne Farricelli

You're not imagining things if you notice behavior chances in your dog with allergies. A new study provides insights.

If you have noticed behavior changes in dogs with allergies, you are likely correct. Just as it happens in humans suffering from skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis, skin problems can sure play a number on the mental health of man's best friend too. After all, excess itchiness can drive the most composed people insane, so why not dogs? Hence, the importance of keeping those pesky allergies under control, and most importantly, finding the source of the problem so to tackle it correctly. Unfortunately though, not always a clear cause can be found.

The Impact of Allergies on Dog Behavior

Itching and scratching, itching and licking, itching and chewing, itching and rubbing the body against furniture and walls. Whatever your dog does to try to ease the itch, he is likely stressed by the relentless pricking sensation and may even find it difficult to fall asleep.

When dogs are living with allergies, their itching can be downright challenging to control and this can impact their emotional well-being. Not to mention that, a vicious cycle of a dog itching, then getting anxious from the itch can cause the allergies to flare up, which then creates more anxiety and stress in a never ending cycle of physical and emotional suffering.

Here's the thing: when a dog becomes stressed, the dog's body goes into a flight and fight response which leads to the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

When too many of these stress hormones are produced, the dog's immune system is impacted, lowering its guard and predisposing the skin to an inflammatory response. People living with debilitating skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis are particularly susceptible to this inflammatory response.

What Studies Have Found

The Itchy Dog Project was launched by researchers at the University of Nottingham’s (UN) School of Veterinary Medicine in 2017 with the purpose of gaining a better understanding about the onset of canine atopic dermatitis.

Intrigued by the research conducted on humans showing how itchy skin conditions impact a person's well-being, the researchers hypothesized that canine atopic dermatitis could impact our canine companions in a similar fashion.

The studies have revealed some quite interesting findings. Dogs suffering from canine atopic dermatitis were found to exhibit several problematic behaviors as a result of their intense itching. Affected dogs were also found to be less trainable, possibly due to sleep deprivation.

Problematic behaviors included attachment/attention-seeking behaviors and food-seeking behaviors, possibly as a result of seeking comfort. Behavior problems noticed included mounting, chewing, hyperactivity, eating feces, begging for food, stealing food, excitability and excessive grooming.

The Impact of Medications

Something to consider with dogs suffering from itchy skin, is the fact that many of them are put on prescription medications. It is therefore possible that some of the behaviors observed may have resulted from the side effects of such medications.

For instance, the use of antihistamines in humans has been associated with sedation and a propensity for cognitive impairment impacting learning and the ability of making decisions. Dogs placed on steroids, on the other hand, have been found to be more prone to being reactive to loud noises and thunderstorms. So these are considerations that should be taken into account.


Harvey ND, Craigon PJ, Shaw SC, et al. Behavioural differences in dogs with atopic dermatitis suggest stress could be a significant problem associated with chronic pruritus. Animals 2019;9(10):813

Association of pruritus with anxiety or aggression in dogs. Klinck MP, Shofer FS, Reisner IR J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2008 Oct 1; 233(7):1105-11