My Dog is Paw-Licking, Scooting & Head Shaking…Help! These are dog allergy symptoms.


Dog allergy symptoms are varied but three of the most common clinical signs are excessive paw licking, scooting (anal itching), and head shaking due to ear inflammation.

Paw-Licking is one of the most frustrating behaviors a pet-owner endures.  A dog licking their paws is one of the most common signs of allergies. They are not just “cleaning” their paws, as you would expect from a cat!  Nor are they chewing their nails from boredom!  Licking and/or chewing the paws can be a feature of ALL types of allergy- both food allergy and environmental allergies.

Seasonal vs. Year-round?  The foot licking may occur seasonally or may be year-round depending on which allergens are bothering your dog. Allergens are often classified as indoor allergens (dust mites, molds, etc.) or outdoor allergens (weeds, grasses, trees).  Some dogs are allergic to a large number of allergens and may lick all year long with flares, of more severe symptoms, seasonally.  

Worse during certain times during the day? Most allergy patients suffer most during the morning and evening hours and will exhibit excessive licking.  Of course, this is when most pet-parents are home and trying to relax.  Instead, you spend time trying to alleviate your dog’s discomfort.  The slurping of paws in the middle of the night is always welcome!

Age of Onset:  Allergies typically develop between the ages of 1-6 years of age and will often worsen with time. This is the opposite of what most people expect, as we tend to see lessening of our symptoms over time.  We now know that dogs are similar to humans with eczema. Dogs absorb the allergens through their skin explaining why dogs’ feet are a common trouble spot. After all- dog feet come in contact with a lot of stuff! Once the allergens enter through the skin they elicit inflammation then resulting in itch (foot licking or chewing), redness & possibly secondary infection.

Therapy Options:  Treatment must involve controlling the itch (so the feet are not continually traumatized) and treating any secondary infections (bacteria and/or yeast) that may develop.  While seasonal allergies may require less aggressive therapy, non-seasonal symptoms are often treated with a combination of medications and allergy testing/allergy vaccine therapy.  For additional information, please check out our educational articles and recent video on this topic @


Scooting…….so Embarassing!!

Why Dogs Scoot…Answers from a dermatologist!

Believe it or not, researchers have actually looked at this! An abstract presented at The North American Veterinary Dermatology Forum  (NAVDF) in April 2014 addressed the underlying causes of dog-scooting . The medical term for this is anal pruritus. In the study 250 “client-owned” dogs were evaluated.  The researchers found that allergy (food allergy or atopic dermatitis-environmental ) was the primary reason for dog scooting! In addition, the study found that food allergy was not more likely to be associated with dog scooting than atopic dermatitis (environmental allergy.)  This finding debunked the myth that if your pet was primarily itchy in the anal region that you are likely to have a food allergy.  Not true!  Anal sac impactions and infections were also found to be an unlikely primary (sole) cause of persistent anal itching or scooting.  Unfortunately, we often see patients in our dermatology offices that have undergone anal sac removal surgery in a failed attempt to resolve scooting.  

Chronic irritation of the skin can cause marked thickening and hyperpigmentation.  The medical terminology is lichenification although the colloquial term is “elephant skin”.  The thickened skin is a great environment for yeast and bacterial overgrowth.  The yeast and bacterial organisms contribute to continued inflammation and pruritus and help perpetuate the problem.

We suggest having your veterinarian evaluate your pet for allergies if you notice symptoms of discomfort in the anal region, especially if coupled with scratching/itching in other areas (ears, face, feet).  There are a number of therapeutic options available to help control “scooting”.  Food trials, allergy testing for environmental allergens, and numerous medications are well recognized beneficial options. 

Why is my dog head-shaking?? Ear infections!

 Ear infections (otitis) will typically cause a dog or cat to shake their head and scratch at the ears.  It is a common myth that only droopy-eared dogs get infections.  Not true. We can see ear problems in all breeds of dogs. Ear infections affect approximately 20% of all dogs and the most common underlying cause is allergy.  

ear with wax (cerumen) and hair in the canal 

Aural Hematomas or blood clots of the ear-flaps (pinnae) can occur with  trauma from violent head shaking.  The pinnae will look thickened or swollen.  Sometimes the blood can be extracted by syringe from the region but at other times surgical intervention is required.


Bacterial and yeast organisms readily colonize an inflamed “allergy ear”.  It is that secondary infection that causes the horrible odor and discharge.  The lining of an ear canal that has been damaged by an infection is more likely to be susceptible to repeat or recurrent infections.  Contact your veterinary dermatologist for help in identifying the underlying problem, eliminating the current infection, and formulating a plan to prevent recurrence.  

pseudomonas bacterial infection in the ear canal


Remember, avoid the use of cotton swabs since they can contribute to impaction of debris in the canal and cause damage to the ear drum.  Dark brown discharge in the canals does not always mean ear mites are present.  Normal earwax as well as some microbial infections can be dark brown or reddish color.  Contact your veterinarian before a simple problem becomes serious.  Some infections from the external canal can spread to the middle ear by passing through the tympanum (ear drum).  In advanced stages of otitis, we can see infections involving the inner ear, which can then affect the pet’s balance, cause a head tilt, a droopy eyelid and lip. 

Ear Infections should not be ignored.  Chronic or recurrent ear infections are medical problems.  If ear infections are left untreated, the canals can become proliferative (cauliflower appearance), stenotic (completely closed), and even mineralized (cartilage becomes bone).

The ultimate disaster is the need for surgical removal of the ear, called a Total Ear Canal Ablation (TECA).