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Are German Shepherds Prone to Allergies?

Allergies are a problem that can affect German Shepherds and many other breeds. However, not all breeds are affected equally – some are more prone to developing allergies than others.

German Shepherds are prone to allergies. They are a high-risk breed predisposed to skin allergy known as canine atopic dermatitis (CAD). The most common allergies are caused by fleas, food, environmental triggers (such as pollen, dust mites, or mold), or contact with other irritants.

This article will explore why allergies are common in German Shepherds and the causes of dog allergies, including symptoms, treatments, and some helpful prevention advice.

Are German Shepherds Prone to Allergies? A German Shepherd wrapped in a towel after a bath.

So, read on for an in-depth look at German Shepherd allergy-related topics!

Do German Shepherds Have Allergies?

An allergy in dogs is an over-response or hypersensitivity from the immune system to a usually harmless substance, known as an allergen. Anything can be an allergen if it causes your dog’s immune system to react adversely.

This results in inflammation, signs of which include reddening of the skin, swelling, and itching, known as canine atopic dermatitis.

German Shepherds do have allergies. They have an exceptionally high predisposition to immunological disorders, including skin problems. They are particularly susceptible to skin allergies caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Usually, the genetic predisposition is due to one or more gene mutations transferred through the dog’s parents. Having one or more parents that have developed allergies increases the chances that your German Shepherd will also have an allergy.

This study even found a novel gene, PKP2, to be involved in the development of canine atopic dermatitis in German Shepherds.

Dogs may experience an allergy at any time. However, they usually develop between 2 and 5 years of age.

The immune system gradually builds up a sensitivity to the allergen before overreacting. This process is called sensitization and can take just months to years.

So, let’s now take a closer look at some examples of the different types of allergies that German Shepherds are prone to:

What are German Shepherds Allergic To?

There are quite a few different types of allergies in dogs. So, what are German Shepherds allergic to?

German Shepherds are allergic to four different types of allergies. These are fleas and parasites, environmental allergies (e.g., pollen, mold, or dust)food allergies (e.g., chicken, beef, wheat, egg, and dairy), and contact allergies (e.g., shampoo, fabrics, lawn pesticides). 

German Shepherd Allergies - German Shepherd in a Blanket on Bed

Contrary to common belief, most dog allergies are caused by fleas. Environmental allergies are the second most common, followed by food allergies. As you can see from the below table, a contact allergy is rare.

Common German Shepherd Allergies:


Flea Allergy

In dogs, flea allergy (also known as flea allergy dermatitis) is an allergic reaction to fleabites or flea saliva! This will make your GSD extremely itchy, and he will react to even a single bite with severe local itching, often at the base of his tail. Your German Shepherd’s skin may become red, inflamed, and sore and may scab over.

Flea allergy dermatitis (and other skin allergies) can also cause secondary infection due to your German Shepherd’s excessively scratching, biting, and licking at his skin. These secondary infections, either bacterial or yeast, will also require treatment.

This type of allergy is the simpler one to diagnose as you may even spot the nasty fleas themselves! Once you have identified fleas on your German Shepherd, you can apply a flea treatment to kill the unpleasant creepy crawlies. It can be highly problematic as just one flea can cause a reaction.

Other nasty bugs and parasites include:

German Shepherd Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. Group of tick
  • Blackflies and deerflies
  • Horseflies and mosquitos
  • Ticks
  • House dust mites
  • Spiders and ants
  • Bees, hornets, and wasps

Environmental Allergies

Most environmental allergies (also known as inhalant allergies) in German Shepherds are seasonal, which means your dog may only be prone at certain times of the year. However, the exceptions to this are molds, mildew, and house dust mite allergies, as these can occur yearly.

Here are the common environmental allergies in German Shepherds due to their genetic tendency to become sensitized to:

  • Tree pollens (oak, ash, cedar, etc.)
  • Grass and weed pollens (ragweed)
  • House dust mites
  • Mold spores and mildew
  • Other pet dander, such as a cat or human skin

These allergies also cause atopic dermatitis (atopy) that causes red, itchy skin, rashes, hot spots, hair loss, and infections.

Check out this short 4-minute video from veterinarian Dr. Wayne Rosenkrantz, DVM, DACVD. He discusses atopy in dogs, including clinical signs, allergies, skin infections, and treatment options:

Learn about Dermatitis & Environmental Allergies in Dogs (Atopy)

If you and I suffered from these allergens, we would suffer from hay fever (itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing). Although dogs can have similar symptoms, they mainly suffer from itchy skin (pruritus), especially around the face, paws, tummy, and armpits.

Your German Shepherd will continually scratch, lick, or bite his skin, making it red, sore, and prone to infection. He may also try to rub himself on furniture or the floor to help relieve symptoms.

Food Allergies

German Shepherd Allergies: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. Some examples - Eggs, Milk, Nuts, Soy, Wheat

German Shepherds are predisposed to gastrointestinal problems. One example is Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, which affects the normal digestion of food. They are also at risk of bloat (GDV), a life-threatening condition.

German Shepherds are also more prone to food allergies than other breeds, along with Labradors.

Although dogs can become allergic to a specific food, the overall percentage of dogs having food allergies is low, around 10%.

Dogs’ most common food allergens are chicken, beef, wheat, egg, and dairy. There is nothing unusual about these foods other than they have been the most common ingredients in dog foods for years, so dogs have been repeatedly exposed to them. 

Here are the common foods that may become an allergen to your dog:

  • Proteins: chicken, beef, pork, venison, rabbit, lamb, fish, eggs
  • Grains: rice, corn, wheat, oats, barley
  • Dairy: milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, cheese
  • Root vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots
  • Legumes: soy, peanuts, lentils, peas, beans

Most dogs are allergic to proteins but don’t just think of meats and fish as the only type of proteins as there are also proteins in grains and vegetables.

The occasional dog is allergic to a specific grain or vegetable such as potatoes or even carrots, but this is less common than an allergy to an animal protein: 

“What surprises many pet owners is that grains are actually uncommon causes of food allergies – most pets are allergic to animal proteins!”

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Despite this fact, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop hundreds of dog food companies from advertising their grain-free diets as being good for pets with allergies!


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Contact Allergies

A contact allergy (contact dermatitis) is the least common type of allergy in dogs but can still be very unpleasant. It is caused by your German Shepherd’s skin coming into contact with a specific substance or material (the allergen) that causes an adverse reaction in itching and rashes.

The allergic reaction will occur to the part of the dog that came into contact with the allergen, usually the paws, chin, neck, chest, groin, tummy, anal area, and tail.

Some breeds are more susceptible to contact allergies, including the German Shepherd.

“The only confirmed breed predisposition to ACD is in Danish German Shepherd dogs, which are affected three times more frequently than individuals from the local canine population.”

Veterinary Clinics of North America

Short-haired German Shepherds will suffer more than the longer-haired variety due to the allergen getting to the skin quicker and easier. Dogs may develop a contact allergy at any age, although those with weakened immune systems are more likely to show signs.

Here are some examples of irritants:

  • Shampoo, soap, creams, or lotions
  • Household cleaners
  • Flea treatments and medications
  • Lawn pesticides
  • Fabrics: wool, leather, synthetics, carpets
  • Plastics, rubber, metal, concrete
  • Some plants

The offending allergen can be identified by what is known as a patch test. This is where the suspected substance is placed on a patch and taped to the dog’s skin for 48 hours to see if there is any reaction. 

Another method is to completely remove the suspected allergen and then return it to see if the dog’s symptoms re-appear.

How Can You Tell if Your Dog has Allergies?

The diagnosis of flea, environmental, or food allergy in dogs can be difficult and lengthy as many symptoms overlap. Approximately 30% of pets with food allergies also have seasonal or flea allergies.

Besides, some dog allergies, for example, seasonal pollen allergies, can temporarily go away. Some symptoms can also be a sign of a completely different condition.

Food allergies are often diagnosed using an elimination diet. 

Getting to the root of your German Shepherd’s allergy can take some detective work! However, here’s a general list of signs and symptoms that may indicate your GSD is suffering from an allergy:

  • Dry, itchy skin, skin rashes (face, paws, tummy)
  • Red, inflamed skin, hot spots (patches of sore, infected skin)
  • Thickened, dark skin
  • Excessive scratching, biting, or licking
  • Swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids
  • Ear infections and itchy ears
  • Bacteria or yeast skin infections
  • Itchy, red, watery eyes, sneezing, pink nose
  • Loss of fur
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

Check out this short video from veterinarian Dr. Greenway from “Healthcare for Pets.” He describes the challenges vets face in diagnosing allergies in dogs:

How Do I Treat My Dog's Allergies and Finally Put a Stop to the Scratching?

How to Treat German Shepherd Allergies

To treat German Shepherd allergies, you will need to remove the offending allergen as much as possible and then treat the symptoms. Treatments will depend on the type of allergy and your dog’s symptoms. They can include a special diet, medication, and skin supplements.

Here are some allergy treatment options for your German Shepherd:

  • Medications. Antihistamines or corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory) can be prescribed to block the allergic reaction and help relieve symptoms. Immunosuppressive agents are also an option, but they need to be used wisely due to possible side effects. Antibiotics can also be given for secondary bacterial infection.
  • Supplements. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, such as fish oil, have effectively treated skin allergies as they can improve the response to steroids and antihistamines. They are also good for your German Shepherd’s general skin and coat health. You can try chew treats such as Zesty Paws Omega Bites from Amazon or Pure Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil that you squirt on your dog’s food. 
  • Medicated shampoo or cream. These can help with severe itching and inflamed skin. Some therapeutic shampoos also contain anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal agents to help your dog. Frequent bathing can help to remove allergens from the fur.
  • Holistic medicines or natural treatments. Some dog owners opt for alternative therapies such as essential oils like chamomile or aloe vera. Always consult a vet familiar with their use if you wish to try these.
  • Immunotherapy (also known as hyposensitization). A series of weekly injections (allergy shots) is given to your German Shepherd to introduce the allergen to him to desensitize him to it, for example, pollen. Success rates vary, but approximately 50% of treated dogs with allergies will see significant improvements.
  • Hypoallergenic diet. This contains a novel protein, such as kangaroo, duck, or venison. You will need to change your German Shepherd’s diet to a protein never eaten before. It can also consist of a hydrolyzed (chemically split) protein, but this requires authorization by your vet. Feeding new foods will prevent a continuation of the over-response.

Prevention Tips

Even though German Shepherds are susceptible to allergies, here are some prevention tips. Some of these tips can also be used if your dog already has his diagnosis to help to relieve his symptoms:

  • Flea prevention treatment. Make sure your dog’s flea treatment is up to date. My German Shepherd’s treatment is every three months, but consult your vet about what’s right for your dog.
  • Regularly vacuum carpets. To help prevent fleas and dust mites, vacuum carpets daily.
  • Wash your dog’s bedding. You should do this at least weekly with hypoallergenic, non-toxic detergents.
  • Regularly grooming. German Shepherds have two coats and require a lot of grooming as they shed all year round and even more when they “blow their coat” twice a year. For ease, I use the FURminator de-shedding tool from Amazon that does a great job as it gets right through to the undercoat and safely removes loose hair. Check out my article on how to reduce GSD shedding for some cool tips!
  • Avoid pollen. Walk your German Shepherd before dawn and late afternoon to early evening as this is when pollen is at its lowest. Wipe his paws and body after his walk to help remove pollen and other allergens.
  • Feed a nutritious, high-quality diet. Some of the preservatives and additives in commercial dog food may also cause allergies or intolerance. To prevent this, always make sure you feed your German Shepherd high-quality food. This is super important for your dog’s overall health and longevity. Opt for the most expensive you can afford.
  • Feed dog food with only one or two protein sources. This can help give you more choices later on, should your German Shepherd develop an allergy. 
  • Use an air purifier. Air purifiers help create a cleaner, healthier environment by capturing tiny particles such as dust, pollen, and mold spores. I use a Dyson (check price on Amazon) to help with my pollen asthma as it’s scientifically proven to capture allergens and bacteria. It’s also multi-functional, being a heater and fan in one. The latest model also comes with wi-fi enabled.
German Shepherd Allergies, German Shepherd lying next to Dyson air purifier re pollen allergy
My German Shepherd Willow with my Dyson air purifier
  • Use a dehumidifier. Dehumidifiers take moisture out of the air in your home. Drying out the air keeps allergy triggers to a minimum, subsequently relieving symptoms. For example, dust mites need a substantially high humidity level of 65% to survive.

Final Thoughts

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have a dog that suffers from an allergy. However, they are common and usually not serious, so don’t worry.

Although the German Shepherd breed is predisposed to allergies, they can still live a long, healthy, and happy life with the right treatment to control the symptoms.

I would also recommend you purchase a good pet insurance plan to protect your dog and your wallet as lifelong allergy treatments for your German Shepherd can become very expensive!

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