Skin or Coat

Allergies, Hairloss, and Other Skin/Coat Matters


Basically, allergies can be divided into skin allergies, food allergies, and acute allergies. The most common form is skin allergies. Skin allergies can result from flea bites, food, or environmental allergens.

With flea bite allergies, the dog is allergic to the flea saliva. Signs are red itchy skin, especially at the base of the tail. You may see fleas or flea dirt on the dog.

Food allergies typically results in itchy paws. The dog may have some gastrointestinal symptoms as well. Most dogs with food allergies are sensitive to one or two ingredients in the food. True food allergies are rare. Most often it is a food sensitivity we see.

Environmental allergies result from things in the dog’s environment. These are classified as inhalant and/or contact allergies. Examples would be dust, pollen, mold, etc. Most environmental allergies are seasonal; therefore, you may notice your dog itching certain times of the year.

Environmental allergies most frequently result in itching of the paws and ears most frequently. Dogs can also be red and itchy on their face, groin and underarms, or in between the toes. Uncontrolled itching can result in a breakdown of the skin, making these areas susceptible to yeast and bacterial infections.

Acute allergies are a result of things like bee stings or vaccine reactions. Depending on the severity of the reaction they can be fatal, although fatal allergic reactions are rare.

Environmental allergies are the most common. Many breeds of dogs suffer from allergies, just like people. Allergies can cause discomfort and affect the quality of life of Portuguese Water Dogs. The best way to treat an allergy is to avoid the cause. That may mean changing shampoos, adopting a flea treatment program, or limiting exposure to dust and pollen, etc. There are medications available from your veterinarian to treat allergies ranging from daily pills to monthly injections. Lifestyle changes and medications can ease to hopefully eliminate your dog’s symptoms.

Learn more about the Allergy research supported by the Foundation.


Thyroid deficiency, Cushing’s disease, allergies, parasites, environmental toxins and drugs are a few agents that can result in temporary hair loss.

The Portuguese Water Dog also has a genetic form of hairloss, known as follicular dysplasia. It presents as a patterned hairloss with thinning hair on the dog’s torso. With follicular dysplasia, the follicles of the hair are abnormal, or dysplastic, resulting in the hair falling out. In the early stages of this genetic hairloss, the hair will re-grow. But over time, it can affect larger and larger regions of skin.

Episodes of hairloss are often associated with seasonal changes and environmental stress factors; such as but not limited to, inoculations, surgery, and / or illness. Follicular dysplasia does not cause itching or scratching.

Improper Coat

Some Portuguese Water Dogs may have a coat pattern with a flatter, smoother coat and furnishings off the front and rear legs. This is NOT a health condition. This coat pattern is commonly known as Improper Coat (IC). IC dogs typically haven naturally short coat on the face and fronts of the legs and feet.

  • A wavy IC PWD will tend to have a coat texture and furnishings pattern similar to a Flat Coated Retriever or Border Collie.
  • A curly IC PWD will tend to have the pattern and texture of an American Water Spaniel or Curly Coated Retriever.


IC PWDs do shed, some more than others. An IC puppy can be identified by a breeder, with a practiced eye, as early as three weeks old. By 7 weeks it will be very clear that a pup is an IC. This IC coat pattern is genetic, and the result of a simple recessive mode gene.

There is a gene test that can be utilized by breeders to determine if IC pups might be produced in a litter. It is the breeder’s choice whether to potentially produce this coat pattern. This condition is one of appearance only, and not a health issue.