German Shepherd Skin Issues And Treatment Options
Health & Nutrition

German Shepherd Skin Issues And Treatment Options

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The German Shepherd is a multifaceted dog with a loving nature and extremely loyal temperament. They are incredibly smart and easily trained for a multitude of various jobs and tasks. They partake in a wide range of important jobs including guiding the blind, drug detection, police and military work, search and rescue, therapy and more. German Shepherds make brilliant companions and excellent guard dogs due to their protective nature. They are traditionally known for their beautiful black and brown furry coats but unfortunately the breed is susceptible to a variety of skin allergies that can lead to irritating and often painful skin issues. It is very important to recognize German Shepherd skin issues to make sure that you can appropriately treat them.

This article will cover all of the possible German Shepherd skin issues that your dog can face including environmental, food-related and genetic allergies.

Is the German Shepherd more prone to Skin Issues?

The German Shepherd was originally a herding dog bred to protect farmers flocks from any predators or threats. Their medium length thick double coat protected them from the elements of the extreme cold temperatures. Unfortunately the dense coat isn’t enough to protect them from some of the environmental factors that can lead to German Shepherd skin issues. The breed is prone to several different types of allergies. We will be discussing each of them and any treatment options that are available.

Common Causes of German Shepherd Skin Issues:

One of the most common causes of German Shepherd skin issues is CAD or Canine Atopic Dermititis. Several factors can lead to this skin disease which include the following:

  1. Environmental Factors
  2. Genetic Factors
  3. Contact Allergies
  4. Flea Allergies
  5. Food Allergies
  6. Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity

Where to look for German Shepherd Skin Issues:

You can find German Shepherd skin issues due to allergies all over the body but there are some common places to keep an eye on.

Common Locations:
  • Ears
  • Face
  • Hind End
  • Legs
  • Paws
  • Sides
  • Stomach

Symptoms of German Shepherd Skin Issues:

  • Dandruff
  • Dry Skin
  • Flaky Skin
  • Hot Spots
  • Patches of Missing Hair
  • Sores

If any of these symptoms present themselves, make sure visit your vet to identify and remedy the problem. In certain cases, an over the counter medicated pet grooming product may do the trick.

CAD or Canine Atopic Dermatitis:

Canine Atopic Dermatitis or CAD for short, is an inflammatory disease that is similar to eczema in humans. The cause of this condition is an allergic reaction to certain environmental elements such as dust mites, dust from human skin, pollens, soil fungi and more. When the dogs body comes into contact with one of these, otherwise harmful particles in the air, it overreacts and causes the skin to swell and or turn red.

Regrettably for German Shepherds, they have a predisposition for inheriting this skin disease. The condition is chronic and stays with the dog for the entirety of their lives. It is not completely curable but can be controlled using proper treatment. It is a Pruritic disease which subsequently results in an annoying itch in places where the eczema exists.

What causes Canine Atopic Dermititis?

CAD can have multiple causes and numerous factors can play a role in the onset of the disease and how serious it is. Allergies are the main culprit but according to a study performed in 2017 by PLOS ONE, environmental and genetic factors can contribute to the disease as well.

Environmental Factors:

  • A single dog in the home increases their chances of getting CAD. Conversely, multiple dogs in the household decreases the risk.
  • Living in a detached house.
  • Living in large urban cities, where the dog is more prone to be indoors, increases the risk for CAD. Conversely, living in rural areas decreases the risk.

Genetic Factors:

Genetics also play a significant role in dogs developing Canine Atopic Dermatitis. A recent study found that fifty percent of the risk associated with the onset of CAD was a result of the dog’s genes. The risk is low if neither parent has the disease and subsequently increases if one or both parents have the condition.

The main contributors to German Shepherd skin issues and specifically Canine Atopic Dermatitis are allergies found in dogs. These are the most common skin allergies that may be causing your dog to itch.

Contact Allergies:

Contact allergies are substances in the air, or inhalants, that are common to humans as well. These include pollen from dust mites, grass, molds, trees and weeds. A good way to determine if contact allergies are contributing to your dog’s skin issue, is to determine when the reaction is taking place. If it is happening during a certain season, then it is likely pollen. If it happens during the entire year then it is most likely dust or mold.

Flea Allergies:

Flea allergies are more common in dogs who don’t have a lot of fleas and less common in dogs with a ton of fleas. The allergic reaction happens when proteins from the flea’s saliva come into contact with the dog’s skin. One bite from a flea can result in an allergic reaction that lasts for five to seven days, leaving the dog itching and scratching.

Food Allergies:

A food allergy occurs when the dog has an allergic reaction to a specific ingredient in their dog food. This ingredient can be found in poor or high quality dog food. Therefore, hypoallergenic or fresh homemade food is the best way to avoid these allergies. This will help to avoid the frequently used fillers that can produce allergic reactions. Don’t assume that just because your dog has been fed the same food their whole life, that it isn’t the cause. They can slowly develop food allergies over a long period of time.

Staphylococcus Hypersensitivity:

This is the result of a dog’s immune system overreacting to the bacteria Staphylococcus on it’s skin. This bacterial hypersensitivity occurs more often in conjunction with other ailments such as contact allergies, flea allergies and hypothyroidism. It can be analyzed by performing a bacterial culture and examining the sample of the biopsy for particular changes in the skin’s blood vessels.

The German Shepherd was number eight on the PLOS ONE study’s list of dogs most likely to contract Canine Atopic Dermatitis with 31.3% of owners reporting the symptoms of CAD.

What are the symptoms of Canine Atopic Dermititis?

Symptoms normally present themselves between six months and three years of age.

Ear Infection:

The glands that produce wax in the ear tend to produce more than necessary in an attempt to counter the allergy. This can cause bacterial and yeast infections inside the dog’s ear flaps which may turn red and get hot.


Similar to eczema in humans, it will usually appear in the form of dark brown or red areas that itch. The symptoms can progress if the dog chews, licks or scratches the afflicted area. You may catch your dog rubbing up against furniture in the house to relieve the itchiness or pain. Also keep an eye out for any places on their fur that look matted down or wet.


This is the most common and obvious sign of CAD. It normally happens in areas such as the head, legs and stomach. It can present itself in various ways, including biting, licking or scratching. The most frequent sign is the dog licking its paws. While this is common in felines, dogs do not practice this to stay clean. They may also rub their face on the carpet to scratch the irritated area.

Hair Loss:

Loss of hair or patches of hair missing is a good indicator of CAD. Extreme itching can lead to excessive scratching. This can lead to abrasions or wounds on the dog’s skin.


The best way to diagnose a dog with suspected Canine Atopic Dermatitis is to get them tested for allergies at the Veterinarian. Many different methods of testing can accomplish this. Typically the Vet will perform a blood test that will analyze the dog’s blood for antigen induced antibodies. Another possible method used is intradermal skin testing which involves injecting antigen into an area of the dog’s skin that is shaved. They do this using a specific pattern that they check later for any reaction. This allows them to identify what is causing the allergy. Once the vet has determined the allergy, he can put together a definitive plan to use for treating the CAD. This allows them to identify what is causing the allergy. Once the vet has determined the allergy, he can put together a definitive plan to use for treating the CAD.

Treatment Options:

Treatment options will vary depending on the type of allergy and how severe the case is. The Vet should be able to help you develop a plan. Remember, this German Shepherd skin issue is life long and will never completely go away.


Antihistamines can be a safe and effective method of treating dogs with Canine Atopic Dermatitis. But results can vary depending on the dog. With some dogs they work excellent and with others they have hardly any effect. For this reason, it is recommended that you try a few different types before throwing in the towel. According to studies, one third of dog owners report antihistamines as a successful treatment therapy. They are definitely worth a try due to their minimal amount of side effects and low cost compared to most medicines.

Note: Using them in conjunction with fatty acids or EFA’s improves the results.

Fatty Acid Supplements:

Fatty acid supplements such as Omega-3 found in fish oils and Omega-6 found in plants have natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties. They are great for rejuvenating and restoring health back to the skin. They also help with arthritis, improve the immune system and boost the heart and kidneys. According to one study, twenty percent of dogs with allergies experienced help from taking fatty acid supplements. Similar to Antihistamines, they have very little side effects and are safe for dogs. Lipiderm contains Omega 3 & 6 and reportedly can help relieve itching and scratching within two weeks.

Flea Medicine:

A rigorous flea control plan must be implemented to combat this type of allergy. Even if fleas cannot be seen on the dog, it is of the utmost importance to stick to the flea medicine regimen and control the environment as much as possible. The majority of flea infestations happen during warm weather but they can still appear all year. Oral or topical flea medicines should be administered and will work to treat the condition.

Hypoallergenic Dog Food:

Hypoallergenic dog food is a good starting point if your dog suffers from food allergies. Most of these dog foods contain carbohydrates and proteins not normally found in your average store bought dog food. They exclude beef, dairy and wheat, which account for eighty percent of allergies in dogs. Hypoallergenic dog foods contain proteins such as duck, egg, fish, kangaroo and venison. They also contain carbohydrates that include canned pumpkin, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams.

This type of diet works because the protein has been hydrolyzed making it small enough so that it is practically unrecognizable to the dog’s immune system. This prevents the dog’s body from overreacting and causing an allergic reaction. Switching to a good high quality hydrolyzed dog food normally improves the skin health of dogs with food allergies. On the rare occasion that a dog doesn’t respond well to the food because of drastic food allergies, homemade food may be the only remedy. Consulting a veterinarian is recommended to establish the proper food diet plan.

Immunotherapy (Hypersensitization)

Immunotherapy, also known as hyposensitization, is a treatment that involves a series of allergy shots given to the dog over a period of time. During that time, the dog develops an immunity to the specific allergins. The allergens are first identified and then used to create the proper combination of antigens which subsequently form the hyposensitizing injection. It is a slow responding therapy that can take anywhere from six months to a year before any improvements are noticed.

Medicated Grooming Products:

Medicated shampoos, mousse and skin care products work very well for controlling Canine Atopic Dermatitis along with other German Shepherd skin issues. Douxo has an amazing line of products that are specifically designed to treat and restore the skin affected by this condition. Their shampoo and mousse contain the compounds chlorhexidine and climbazole which help to control the bacteria and fungi populations associated with CAD. Using one of these products in combination with weekly bathes can get rid of allergens in the dog’s coat that could be causing the skin issues.


Several different types of medications can be prescribed to your dog that will help CAD. They can include antibiotics for secondary skin infections, antifungal medications for secondary yeast infections, corticosteroids, immunosuppressive agents and thyroid medication for hyperthyroidism. The veterinarian can help determine the proper medication and dosage depending on the dog.

Tips for controlling environmental factors:

  • Avoid allergens specific to your dog
  • Lower airborne allergens by using air conditioning in the house
  • Reduce molds with a dehumidifier or active charcoal on dirt in plants
  • Use an air cleaner with a HEPA filter to reduce dust and pollen

German Shepherd Skin Issues In Closing:

German Shepherd skin issues have a major impact on the quality of your dog’s life. Being able to identify the cause of any skin issues will help in treating the condition. The first step in identifying the allergy that is causing your dog’s discomfort, is to get your dog tested for allergies. Your local vet can perform the appropriate tests and help you develop a plan to maintain your German Shepherd’s skin issues. Remember, this is a life long condition that must be properly managed.

Establish a healthy diet for your dog and try to avoid allergens specific to your dog. When possible, have more than one dog in the house and if you are moving, pick a house in a more rural area.

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

Do you have any experience with German Shepherd skin issues? Let us know your situation and if you have any remedies that have worked for you, we would love to hear about them!

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