Allergies in Dogs

In this post:

  1. What causes dog allergies?
  2. How to tell if a dog or cat has a food allergy?
  3. What other complications can be caused by dog allergies?
  4. Why does my dog lick and/or chew their paws?

Please note: Information in this post is not meant as a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog is sick.

There are many reasons that your dog is having an allergic reaction. Many times, this is due to something in the environment but there are many different things that your dog encounters every day that can cause them to have a reaction.

What causes dog allergies?

In general, we do see allergies. Allergies are one of the more common complications, and we see three areas of allergies in pets.

  1. Flea Allergies: Flea allergy dermatitis is by far the most common type of allergy that we see. Keeping your pet on year-round broad-spectrum flea control preventatives is recommended. Flea bite or other parasites that could be on the skin of the dog leading to itching and scratching and biting.
  2. Seasonal allergies: This is the second most common allergen is environmental allergens such as pollens, molds, and spores. Much like you and me when we have an upper respiratory allergy or a skin allergy that is often something in our environment.
  3. Food allergies: Food allergies can cause some of the allergy problems that we see but that is probably in less than 5% of the cases.

How to tell if a dog or cat has a food allergy?

Many vets are asked whether the allergy that the dog or cat has maybe food-related. In all reality, 95% of the allergies out there are related to something else.

Are corn and rice the main allergens in dog food?

When we are talking about allergens, one of the major misconceptions that are out there on the internet and amongst all the various people who are talking about food, is the fact that things like corn and rice may be primary allergens in pet foods. However, that’s really not the case.

They’re actually fairly low on the list of allergens.

It is very important as a pet owner that you go and talk to the veterinarian that you work with regularly and his or her staff to really develop good guidelines and feeding program depending on how you want to feed your pet and what you want to feed your pet.


The unfortunate thing is often if pets have an allergy to one of those three areas, they are going to have adverse reactions to within some of the other aspects. So, for instance, if a pet’s primary problem is a food allergy, they are still likely going to respond to fleas or even changes within the environment adversely.

What other complications can be caused by dog allergies?

Complicating factors with regards to allergies and the skin, in general, is very, very often we actually see in pets for secondary skin infections whether that is a bacterial infection or a yeast infection or the combination of those two things, and often those secondary infections though they are more straightforward to treat and manage, can be very complicated in long and drawn out in their management.

These are other common problems that are seen because your dog has allergies:

Hot Spots

If your dog has red, moist, hot, and irritated areas on his body then he may have hot spots. They are usually found near your dog’s head, hip, or chest area.

Hot spots are the result of constant licking and chewing prompted by skin irritation, stress, or boredom. You should visit a vet when you are able to. Most hot spots need medication. Discuss with your vet prevention options for your dog.

What causes hot spots in dogs?

Some common causes are:

  • Allergic Reaction
  • Insect/Mite/Flea bites
  • Poor Grooming
  • Skin Infections
  • Stress
  • Boredom

Hot spots are common in dogs with thick coats, dirty and moist skin, flea bites, and allergies. You need to see a vet when you see a hot spot on your dog. The bacteria from that one spot can spread really quickly and cause a huge infection.

How to treat hot spots?

You need to remove the hair around and on the hot spot site. Clean the area and then apply medication. You will need to buy a cone or another preventative to keep your dog from scratching and licking the infected area. For complete care please visit Healthy PetsYour vet can help you with preventative care. You might need to change the dog’s food if the hot spots become a chronic condition. A vet will be able to help you with topical medication and at-home remedies.

Ear Infections

Ear infections are fairly common and 1 in 5 dogs who visit the vet have some form of an ear infection. Because the infection can quickly travel from the outer ear to the inner ear, it is important to see a vet. Your dog will need to be on some medication for an ear infection. Some breeds are more susceptible to ear infections than others.

Common signs of ear infection in your dog are:

  1. Scratching ear
  2. Tilting head
  3. Discharge
  4. Odor in the ear
  5. Swelling and redness.

If you notice any of these signs, it is best to take your dog to the vet as they can start your pet on medication to help clear the ear infection.

Some breeds of dogs are more likely to develop ear infections because of… 


These dog breeds are:

  • Any pet with hot spots (flea allergy dermatitis)
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Schnauzers
  • Setters
  • West Highland Terriers
  • Wheaten Terriers
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…ear canal skin characteristics.

These dog breeds are:

  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Labradors
  • Setters
  • Shar Pei
  • Springer Spaniels
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…thick hair in the ear canal.

These dog breeds are:

  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Maltese
  • Pekingese
  • Poodles
  • Schnauzers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Spaniels
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Why does my dog lick and/or chew their paws?

Paw licking or chewing can be a couple of different things. Dogs lick their paws if there is a discomfort of some sort. Something stuck in the paw, fleas, irritation, or allergies. Inspect the paw and perhaps visit a vet. A second reason is out of boredom and/or stress relief. Licking is self-soothing so a bored or anxious dog will chew on his paws to make himself feel better.

The first thing that you want to do is inspect your dog’s paws, making sure you look between the toes. Make sure nothing is lodged, like spikes or foxtails. If you can’t physically see anything wrong with your dog’s feet, talk to your veterinarian about allergies. You don’t want to let allergies go as they can be very stressful and painful to your dog.

After eliminating allergies or anything stuck in the paw, try to work on stimulating your dog more. There are a lot of easy ways you can do this from changing up your dog walks to using an active dog toy during feeding.

Final Thoughts

Allergies are usually a lifelong battle that your dog may fight their whole life. Figuring out early warning signs and seeking vet care as soon as possible is the best. Working with your vet, you can help control your dog’s allergies so they can live a healthy and happy life.

Special thanks to:

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Pet Food Institute

The Pet Food Institute and its members are committed to helping dogs and cats live long and healthy lives. They advocate for legislation, regulations, and technologies that support the domestic manufacture and global distribution of safe, quality pet food and that provide for consumer choice

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Patrick Miles, DVM

Patrick Miles, DVM is owner and veterinarian at Priceless Pet Clinic in Normandy Park WA. He has worked in emergency medicine since graduating from veterinary school and spent seven years at Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services.
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions