Dog Allergies: Making Dogs Itch Like Crazy

dog with allergies, itchy dog

Does it seem like there’s a major uptick of dog allergies lately? So many dogs are itching and scratching, or licking their paws incessantly, throughout every season. It’s no fun for them … or you.

Dog allergies are one of the top reasons for vet visits and google searches. They can be tough to diagnose and even get rid of. What’s interesting is that dogs can be allergic to the very same pollen and other allergens as humans, but their symptoms can be different or even harder to spot. In some dogs, allergies worsen as they age (compared to children, who often outgrow their allergies over time). 

Let’s look at some common types of dog allergies and causes for itch.


Dog allergies can cause everything from skin symptoms to respiratory or digestive issues. Allergies themselves have many causes, even in dogs. The main ones in dogs are environmental allergies and food allergies. 

Dog scratching his body

Environmental Allergies and Atopic Dermatitis

Your dog can have an environmental allergic reaction to any substance they may encounter, such as grass, mold, pollen, and dust. These allergens are typically inhaled, although some dogs will develop contact allergies to things like shampoos, plants, or specific chemicals. Affected dogs are often very itchy and will lick, chew, and scratch all over. 

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Typically, dogs that have allergies to multiple environmental factors, have severe symptoms, and/or are affected for multiple seasons of the year are termed “atopic.” These dogs often require more aggressive management and most have to stay on allergy medications all year long.

It is often difficult to determine the specific cause of a dog’s allergies. Keeping a log of the seasonality of your dog’s allergies may help identify patterns and guide a treatment plan. The key to treating environmental allergies is to be proactive. Utilizing maintenance medications to prevent itching before symptoms are severe will keep your pet comfortable and you will avoid frequent visits to the veterinarian for secondary infections. It is also important to keep in mind that we can never cure allergies. We can only manage the symptoms for the duration of the dog’s life.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are way less common than environmental allergies in dogs, but are still present in 10–15% of canine allergy patients. Symptoms of food allergies include chronically soft stool, chronic anal gland inflammation (pets frequently “scoot” at home), chronic ear infections, itching, and sometimes frequent vomiting. Did you know dogs can even be allergic to some of the same things humans are allergic to, such as nuts?

nuts for dogs

Many dogs will occasionally “react” to something they ate, but acute, short-term, or infrequent episodes of stomach upset do not necessarily represent food allergy or intolerance. In an allergic reaction to food, antibodies are produced against some part of the food, usually a protein or complex carbohydrate. Since antibody production is required for an allergy to develop, food allergies usually manifest after eating the same food for a long time.

There is no reliable test for food allergies. Saliva and blood tests that claim to detect food allergies have not been proven to consistently predict real allergies. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is with a food trial. A food trial may consist of a limited-ingredient diet with a “novel” protein (a protein source the dog has never eaten, such as venison or rabbit). If the first food trial is not successful but your veterinarian is still suspicious of a food allergy, a trial with a different type of food may be suggested. This is why food allergies can take so long and be so difficult to diagnose.

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Flea Allergies

Although flea allergies could technically be considered an environmental allergy, the clinical symptoms and treatment are often different from other allergies. In a pet with any kind of allergies, good flea control is crucial, because anything that triggers itching can exacerbate already inflamed skin. You should always consult your veterinarian if you are concerned about a flea allergy or infestation.


Unfortunately, allergies are quite common in dogs of all breeds and backgrounds. Warm spring air brings pollen! Trees, shrubs and flowers are beginning to bloom which will soon lead to itchy pups. Fall and winter bring mold, dust, and weed pollens such as ragweed! Dogs primarily get allergies and have itchy skin around their eyes, ears, foot pads and near their bottom or hind end.

Mild symptoms may be:

  • Itchy back or base of tail (most commonly flea allergy)
  • Increased scratching or rubbing of the face
  • Itchy ears and sometimes ear infections
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Sneezing
dog shampoo for sensitive skin

Moderate to severe symptoms are:

  • Itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin
  • Paw chewing/swollen paws
  • Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
  • Constant licking
  • Vomiting – more common with food allergies
  • Diarrhea – more common with food allergies
  • Secondary bacterial infections
  • Yeast infections may develop easier

Food and environmental allergies can wreak havoc on your dog’s skin and overall demeanor. While symptoms of both often overlap, there is a big difference between food and environmental allergies for dogs, so it’s important to speak to your veterinarian for advice. They’ll be able to help you decide whether it’s best to try an elimination diet or to conduct testing for environmental allergies.

It can take time to figure out what is triggering your dog’s allergies, and how best to treat them: what works for one dog may not work for another, so patience is key. There are many allergy treatments available, both prescribed and natural . This is because there is no “one size fits all” approach to allergy treatment. But by being a knowledgeable advocate for your dog, you can figure out how to prevent your pup’s allergies from being a pain in the paw.




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