The problem may not be with his feet but with his nose! That is because the most common reason for dogs to chew their feet is due to allergy to things they inhale. The same pollens, dusts, and molds that give us “hay fever” symptoms will give dogs itchy skin – typically chewing or biting of the feet, rubbing of the face and ears, and scratching in the armpits. Ear infections are another common manifestation of inhalant allergy. The scratching and itching can lead to skin infections with bacteria and/or yeast, which can make the itching worse.
The first step is to see your regular veterinarian. She will do a thorough exam to check for fleas, other parasites, and infections, which may cause or result from the itching and chewing. Treatment of the allergy usually starts with antihistamines. These generally give good relief from the itching with minimal side effects (sometimes drowsiness). There are many antihistamines and your veterinarian may suggest a trial of more than one to find out which works best for your dog. Symptomatic treatment of medicated baths, topical sprays or ointments, and oral fatty acid supplements will also help. If the allergy is severe and not relieved by antihistamines, corticosteroids may be used. They are usually very effective but may cause side effects, some of which can be serious.
If the allergies are ongoing, severe, and/or not relieved by antihistamine, your veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for allergy testing. Based on the results of this skin testing, “allergy shots” will be formulated for your dog to help reduce his sensitivity to the allergens that make him itchy. Most dogs get improvement from these “allergy shots” and can use fewer and milder medications to control their allergy symptoms but, like us, cure is rare.
With good communication between owner and veterinarian, we can help our pets get through their allergy season with less discomfort.
Presented by Kathleen Dougherty, DVM, Kenwood Animal Hospital, 301-654-3000.