Phoebe, my yellow lab, can put her entire front paw in her mouth. This is not a stupid pet trick! When she first started doing this, I thought there was something wrong with the pad on her paw and examined it thoroughly. There was nothing there – no ticks between her toes or cuts on the pad.
What I didn’t know was that itchy feet are a classic symptom of dogs that suffer from allergies. We humans may sneeze or have itchy eyes during pollen season but dogs show allergic reactions differently. And, they have as many different allergic reactions as we humans do.
In addition to the paw biting, you might notice your pet has red, raw, itchy skin or increased scratching. A common sign for flea allergy is itchiness at the base of the tail. My “All American” Mutt, Bailey, has a severe allergy to fleas and every summer even though she is on a flea preventative, she has a reaction and loses the hair on the back of her legs and develops hot spots from licking certain areas, usually on her ankles and feet. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, I want to put her in some kind of hermetically sealed jumpsuit that won’t let the fleas or any of the summer pollens near her. Bailey on steroids is not fun!
Dogs can also be allergic to the common allergens that make us humans sneeze like the following:
- Tree, grass and weed pollens
- Mold spores
- Dust and house dust mites
- Cigarette smoke
- Food ingredients (e.g. beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat or soy)
- Prescription drugs
- Fleas and flea-control products (The bite of a single flea can trigger intense itchiness for two to three weeks!)
- Cleaning products
- Insecticidal shampoo
- Rubber and plastic materials
Phoebe, it turns out, is allergic to grains (corn specifically) and chicken. She gets a special no grain, salmon food. Her food allergy also manifests into terrible ear infections. We can tell when she sneaks one of the other dogs’ foods because within a day, her ear becomes smelly and has a black yeasty discharge. We’ve also had to change treats to be no grain, no chicken biscuits or freeze-dried liver treats. You’d be surprised what has wheat and corn in it when you read the ingredients.
I recently read an article on allergies from Drs. Foster & Smith that broke dog allergies into three areas: atopy, contact dermatitis and food allergies.
Atopy is the most common form of allergy in dogs and cats. Atopy is often seasonal. If a pet is allergic to ragweed, symptoms occur in the fall. Pets who are allergic to spring tree pollen will show signs in April and May. If a pet is allergic to dust mites, the symptoms may be most dramatic in the winter, when more time is spent inside. Signs of atopy include:
- Chewing at the feet
- Constant licking of the flank (side) and groin area
- Rubbing of the face
- Inflamed ears or recurrent ear infections
- Recurrent hot spots in dogs and pinpoint facial scabbing in cats
- Asthma-like wheezing and respiratory problems (more likely in cats)
Less common allergies include contact dermatitis, which include allergies to carpets, cleaners, or plastic. These allergies may cause:
- Red itchy bumps or blisters on sparsely-haired areas of the skin and those exposed to the allergen such as the belly, feet, or muzzle
- Intense scratching
- Hair loss (in chronic conditions)
Food allergies account for about 10-15% of all allergies in dogs and cats. Food allergies may show up concurrently with allergies to pollen, dust, etc. Symptoms include:
- Itching, especially face, feet, trunk, limbs and anal area
- Ear problems, often yeast-related
- Skin infections that respond to antibiotics, but then recur as soon as the antibiotic therapy ceases
In any allergy case, the best reaction is to work with your vet to find the fastest relief for your pet.