Why Does My Dog Chew on His Feet?

Take a look at your dog’s feet — are they reddish and discolored? Does he constantly chew on them?

Your dog probably has hay fever.

I know what you’re thinking, “Hay fever? When my hay fever acts up, I get sneezy and wheezy and my eyes and nose run like faucets. I don’t chew at my feet!” But your dog’s hay fever is different from yours — even if the root cause (pollen) is the same. The medical name for hay fever is “atopy” (sometimes called atopic dermatitis) and it’s responsible for more canine misery than just about any other disease I can think of.

Dogs, the most common atopy sufferers, usually get itchy, smelly ears (the smell is from the yeast that likes to live in the moist and inflamed ear canal) and areas of severe inflammation and infection on their skin called “hot spots.” Dogs also chew at their feet for some unknown reason.

Blood tests for inhaled allergens can be helpful to diagnose the cause of your pet’s allergies. The list of potential bad guys goes on and on, but includes dust mites, ragweed pollen — even human skin! Yes, you read that right — your dog or cat can actually be allergic to you! Your veterinarian can help you with testing or may talk to you about visiting a veterinary dermatologist.

Managing atopy and decreasing the itch isn’t a simple process. In most cases, we can make pets more comfortable but you can’t cure an allergy. Just as people with hay fever find relief with medications or allergy shots, we use these tools to help our pets who suffer from allergies.

Here are a few tips to help your itchy pet:

  • Limit exposure to grasses and pollens by keeping dogs indoors as much as possible in spring and summer. Also be sure to use air conditioning units with a HEPA filter to avoid the allergens.
  • Watch for early signs of hot spots. Early intervention helps keep these spots from worsening.
  • Bathe allergic pets regularly in a hypoallergenic and/or soothing shampoo.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about antihistamines and other means of controlling allergies.
  • See your veterinarian for severe, painful or recurrent hot spots.
  • Consider a visit to a dermatologist for severe or recurrent cases.
  • Use a hot spot topical soothing cream or spray to decrease inflammation on early and small hot spots to keep them from getting worse and growing.

How FLEAS fit in: Pets can have many allergies at the same time. It’s common for a pet with atopy to also be allergic to fleas. Since new technology and topical flea and tick products have made flea control safe and convenient, it’s especially important to ensure fleas aren’t making your pet’s itching problem worse. Great flea control is really important for any itchy pet — regardless of cause.

Allergies aren’t easy to manage and can’t be cured. But with a little patience and understanding, you can make you pet more comfortable.

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