If you have a Lab, you’ve probably had to deal with the dreaded itching and licking that comes with allergy season. Or perhaps your Labby has chronic ear/ skin infections year-round? Allergies can be frustrating and there’s a lot of (mis)information out there. So, what’s a conscientious Lab parent to do? Well as always, don’t forget to talk to your veterinarian. Here’s some information to help you know where to start….


First things first. Does your dog have fleas??? Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a very common cause of allergies in dogs. Year round flea control is essential in preventing flea infestations, especially in the southern US. (Did you know it takes 3 months of preventives to get rid of an existing flea infestation in a home?!)

No fleas?

Seasonal Allergies

Determining if your pet has seasonal or non-seasonal allergies will go a long way towards helping your vet diagnose his or her underlying allergy. Seasonal allergies are most often caused by atopy, an allergic reaction to allergens either inhaled or absorbed by the skin, while non-seasonal itchiness/ infections are more likely to be caused by food allergies. This being said, probably some dogs are a combination of the two. Either way the goal of treatment will be to get the dog under his or her “threshold of itchiness.”

Canine Allergy Testing

If you are unsure if your dog is seasonal or non, or if your dog has a history of year round infections, your vet may recommend diagnostic testing. This may include cytology (to check for bacterial and yeast infections, which are common secondary invaders when skin is inflamed from underlying allergies), skin scrapes (to check for mites), a good ear canal exam (to check for possible underlying causes of chronic infections) and/ or a food trial.

Labrador Food Allergies

A food trial is the only reliable test to check for food allergies. There are blood tests out there, but they are not thought to be specific enough, because there are many immune-mediated components to food allergies that can not be measured in the blood. Food trials require you to feed a single food (single protein and grain source) for about 8 weeks. Strictness is key here because any “cheats” (treats, “people food,” bones, even kitty poo… those of you with cats understand!) make the test invalid. It is also important that the food trial be done with a protein that your Lab has never eaten before, so diet history is key here. If your Lab improves with the food trial, VOILA!, problem solved. You can now either stay on this diet and reap the benefits, or you can start challenging with new foods to figure out what your Labby is allergic to and therefore what foods to avoid in the future.

If your dog is not responsive to the food trial or is seasonal in nature, you have options…

Veterinarians will usually start by recommending treatment with “band aids.” These include antihistamines, fish oil, soothing baths, even antibiotics, antifungals and/ or steroids when deemed appropriate by your vet.

The down side of these treatments is that if your pet is on steroids too frequently, they could have some nasty side-effects. In this case of chronic itchiness, uncontrollable by antihistamines or very occasional steroid use, your vet may recommend another drug (Cyclosporine) to suppress the immune response to allergens, without the long-term side effects of steroids or may recommend skin allergy testing.

Skin allergy testing is a process by where small amounts of allergens are injected under the skin and your dog’s response is measured to figure out what he or she is allergic to. The end result allows us to create allergy shots specific for your Lab. Allergy shots are given at by you at home, and just like human allergy shots, mitigate the allergic response over time. There is also a new study from the University of Wisconsin, which suggests that placing allergy drops designed for your dog under his or her tongue may also be effective for those dogs who react poorly to the vaccine version (or for needle phobic owners).

Still have questions? Talk to your vet! He or she should be happy to help.


Dr. Erin Hernandez Horner, DVM graduated from the University of Georgia in 2004 and then went on to obtain her DVM in 2008. She is currently an associate veterinarian at Brookhaven Animal Hospital   [line-sep]

40 Responses

  1. Angie Killough on Facebook

    The only time I have found an allergy with one of my labs was a food allergy in my chocolate, she can’t have Labrador Retriever Eukanuba. All my dogs eat Purina Pro Plan Lamb and Rice now, with o problems

  2. Cindy Keleher on Facebook

    My poor Zeus is plagued with allergies and I tried to follow your link but it is not working for me. Would love to get any information on Lab allergies that I can.

    • Lisa M.

      My lab puppy has 42 allergies (8 are food related) I had his blood tested through Spectrum Labs. Made some changes, and I have the serum on order to start desensitizing with shots at home. Google them. Spectrum Labs. Ask your local vet :))

  3. It's a Lab Thing on Facebook

    Brody had bad allergies and constant ear infections and we tried a number of things. We found out it was a food allergy and in the end, we switched him to a Grain Free Diet and an even Higher quality Food and he is thriving. The fleas don’t even like his super healthy skin and coat so they just leave him alone.

  4. Linda Jackson on Facebook

    my chocolate Lab had blood tests which show food allergies. He is on Atopica 150mg daily & 4 Coatex tabs. I could write a book about Chesters allergies & bought a sports car with the money I’ve spent on him ! He is still chewing himself raw & there doesnt seem to be any real cure or help.

  5. Tracy Draganac on Facebook

    my poor Hank suffers non-stop! he has constant ear infections and his paws are always raw. we have gone through many different foods but the grain free was the worst for him. I think it is environmental mostly.

  6. Cindy Keleher on Facebook

    Thank you it worked for me this time. Just recently the company that made Zeus’s food changed the recipe with out warning their customer. Zeus became very ill again as he is allergic to something in the new additions. Now we have had to put him through a whole new food change.

    • Lisa

      Hello, We have a 6yr.old yellow lab who has never had a ear infection due to a vet who told us right from the beginning with our lab to use Burrows solution. W hich you get the vet to make it up. It costs around 30.00 Canadian and lasts 3 months.You put drops in ears just 2-3 times a week. It has worked amazing and have never had to deal with a ear infection . Good luck

  7. Jennifer Cooper on Facebook

    My lab has spring/summer grass allergies and I changed her food to Acana made by champion foods in Alberta canada and started her on 2 teaspoons daily of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar that you buy in a health food store or whole foods etc. Within a week her paws were no longer red and raw and her hair grew back on her paws within a month. She had been on many antihistamines, steroids, shampoos etc to no avail and something as simple and natural as apple cider vinegar did the trick. I now give her 1 teaspoon a day on her food for maintenance and no drugs. I do give her fish oil. You can also use it 50/50 with water in a spray bottle and spray on skin or in my case her paws and that works. I shared this with my vet and now she has recommended it to people whose dogs have skin allergies with success. If they won’t eat it on their food you can put it in their water. Of course my lab will eat anything so she just eats it on her food.

  8. Carey Panlener

    My 2 labs (13th & 14th generation in my family) don’t have skin or ear problems, BUT my oldest (8yr mom) HAD a problem with any beef based food product – loose bowels. Once we changed her diet to only chicken based, she has been perfectly fine “down there.” That plus you haven’t mentioned anything about “allergy eyes” – weeping & inflamed… only in the latter part of summer thru fall (golden rod, rag weed, mold & mildew season). Same sweetheart has a problem, goes outside to rub her face only in the grass to try to relieve the itching or in the house on the carpet or with her paws – which btw she still has her dew claws which then injuries her eyes & makes the whole situation worse (1st dog to have problems with dew claws in 14 generations). We do benadryl 3x daily… but going in every 3 or 4 weeks to have eyes restained for injuries (ointment for 5 days then drops) is getting out of hand. So we’ve decided to have her dew claws removed to stop injuries, but unfortunately can’t stop seasonal allergies…Without benedryl I guess it could be worse – in ears…

  9. Carey Panlener

    BTW, their skin & hair are perfect! Shinny & danderless… We put Brewer’s yeast & garlic powder in their food daily which brings out the natural oils in their skin. No dander or itching.

  10. Gale Hoey

    My yellow lab Maggie definitely has allergies. Her symptoms have been ear infection after ear infection and skin problems. We tried different foods, but with no improvement so finally had her tested for allergies and she is very allergic to dust, dust mites, storage mites, molds and fungus. There is a small allergy to pork but no other foods. She does very well on Hills Science Advanced Fitness and although it is taking longer than usual for the allergy shots to show improvement (still on 1 ml every 6 days after 2 years on them)–coat looks beautiful, ears doing great, etc. Neither her energy level nor her playfulness have ever waned since she was born 5 years ago! The only problem now is a seasonal one, something that bites her at this time of year. I just took her to the vet because of the bites and her chewing on the bites. Vet is pretty sure the problem is ants. We use Revolution once a month and that takes care of many things, but not those nasty ants. Right now she is on prednisone which will be reduced gradually, doxycycline and hydroxyzine (sp?) for itching. Our yard is treated for ants, but we have had so much rain that the effectiveness of the treatment was diminished.

    Another thing we have done is use nothing but Tide Free for laundry. We bathe her about once/week with a combo of Pharmaseb and Comfort shampoos. They do not dry her skin or coat. I clean her ears regularly and have her teeth cleaned. This is costly, but it helps her and it is not as costly as treating constant ear infections and skin problems.

    I freeze her food in large ziploc bags and just take it out as needed. That takes care of the storage mites. We do not feed her anything at all except Hills Advanced Fitness and treats..

    ‘ve had purebred dogs “forever” and Maggie is our second lab, but we have never had a dog with allergies before.This has been a real learning experience, and II hope what I have learned will help others with the allergy-prone labs.

  11. Penny Dew on Facebook

    Our lab is allergic to tap water :0(

    Ok so before you all think I am mad below is the very long story shortened…..

    Lab approx. 1 year old (female) and started to get bald patches around eyes and on paws. It got worse and started to be all up the legs to knees and hocks. Legs got to the stage of skin being red and weeping then would calm down again but hair wouldn’t grow. Eyes would come and go. No apparent trigger like seasonal allergies.

    Back and forth to vet, every lotion and potion possible, tests galore, hypoallergenic foods the lot and no improvement. This went on for maybe a year on and off and they could not tell me what was causing it.

    Had very good vet who basically said he would rather see a happy bald dog that an unhappy hairy one meaning enough testing and let her be. (She was never unhappy due to condition – was a normal happy lab apart from skin flare ups)

    One day in local feed shop that is related to a cat sanctuary (think snow leopards and exotic cats not next doors tabby) and they lost a cat suddenly for no reason. Had an autopsy done and came back as fluoride poisoning. Local water authority admitted overdose (humans unaffected but cats very susceptible).

    They suggested we try bottled water (nothing to lose at this point) and within maybe 2 weeks the weeping had stopped and within a month the redness had gone.

    Out for dinner maybe 2 months after changing to bottled and forgot to take any so gave tap water – within 3 hours legs red…..

    Been on bottled water ever since – never had the problem again…..

    Even our vets thought we were mad at first – now they tell others about the “Evian dog”

    We know it isn’t chloride as she has had hydrotherapy and been unaffected so can only assume is the fluoride that does it.

    For £1 week for well known supermarkets own she will stay on it for life (now 12 and never had a problem since).

    Really hope this helps others at their wits end like we were.

  12. Dianne Sawyer-Doescher

    Our Lab is 1/1/2yrs old & we have been dealing w/environmental allergies from the ‘getgo.’ Many pills, sprays, shampoos, food, etc. later, NOT to mention the $$, she’s still itchy. We are on a well & will definitely try bottled water, At this stage, any new suggestions are welcomed. Thanks for the info!!

  13. Maureen Zeschke

    Just wondering if anyone has come across psychological itching? Of if it even exists? I have tried everything with Sam short of antihistamine but nothing seems to work. I have noticed on holiday he is fine and generally ok when i sm around but if for some reason I am away – kids home- or I don’t spend

  14. Maureen Zeschke

    Oops – time with him due to longer hours at work – he still comes in etc not totally neglected 🙂 he becomes an itchy smelly mess – any thoughts?

  15. Michelle Michalek

    My Lab has severe Allergies, Food, Seasonal, and Environmental. What most Vets do not tell you is the Blood Test For Allergies are not very accurate, it is not the way they Test Allergies on Humans. I found that out the Expensive way by paying twice when I took my Lab to a Specialist. Diet is very important. Raw helped my Lab’s allergies the most. ALL his skin infections went away, No more ear infections, and NO more Stomach Issues!! WHich was HUGE!! The only Protein sources he can have is Venison and Rabbit. We know use Ziwi Peak, very expensive, but its pure Venison meat and organs. My Lab’s are severe to the extent of Human Dander, and to the common 4 different grasses, Trees, weeds, etc etc. Environmental were bad for him. I tried everything. I would highly recommend Titer Testing instead of over vaccinating for Allergy Dogs. Vaccines only mess up the dogs’ immune system more.
    I can FINALLY CLAIM SOME SUCCESS WITH ALLERGIES AND IN A HEALTHY SAFE MANNER!!!! I urge everyone with an Allergy Dog to Read Dr Martin Goldstein’s book THE NATURE of ANIMAL HEALING. Or anyone who owns a dog. I sent my Lab’s records to his Veterinary Practice Smith Ridge and My Lab has been under their care with the assistance of his regular Vet. For the first time in my Lab’s 8 years of his life HE IS DOING GREAT WITH ALLERGIES withOUT harmful medications. His coat is INCREDIBLE, WE JUST HAD HIS BLOOD WORK DONE AND IT FINAL WENT BACK TO NORMAL RANGES!!!!! Best of all he is NOT CHEWING Himself to pieces!!! Prior to this I HAD TRIED EVERYTHING!! My Lab had SEVERE Allergies. I never thought I would be to claim SUCCESS. Before Dr Goldstein/Smithridge My Lab was on Temaril P which has 2mg of steroid in it. He is a big Lab but over Time that low amount started cause damage. Even at an every other day schedule. I had tried other Natural/Holistic Vets and Treatments, and they all failed. Dr Goldstein and his practice is for real.

    • Jamie

      Do you just give them over the counter adult benydrl?

  16. Joelle Cullen Bedding Taylor

    We think our lab is allergic to spider bites. He swelled up with hives twice last summer and had to take benadryl both times. I’m wondering if he has other allergies as well since he seems to always have itchy ears…

  17. Teresa Thorpe

    Hi our Lab Charlie has allergy s too we hate this time off year,hot spots they are the worst thing ever. Could anyone tell me how much Benadryl to give as l have heard about this and lab owners say it really works.

  18. Melvin Bruccoleri

    An allergy occurs when the body’s immune system has an exaggerated reaction to a usually harmless substance. The most common allergens (substances that trigger the allergy) are dust mites, molds, pollen, pets with fur or feathers, stinging insects, and some kinds of foods.

  19. Audrie Amezquita

    Shots might seem like an unusual way to treat allergies, but they’re effective at decreasing sensitivity to triggers. The substances in the shots are chosen according to the allergens identified from a person’s medical history and by the allergist during the initial testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the standards used in preparing the materials for allergy shots given in the United States.

  20. Sean Frutchey

    Venipuncture is useful as it is a relatively non-invasive way to obtain cells and extracellular fluid (plasma) from the body for analysis. Since blood flows throughout the body, acting as a medium for providing oxygen and nutrients, and drawing waste products back to the excretory systems for disposal, the state of the bloodstream affects, or is affected by, many medical conditions. For these reasons, blood tests are the most commonly performed medical tests.’-“`

    Head to our own blog too

  21. Lucy

    We have two Labs. A 4 year old black female, who’s mother was yellow and suffered with ear problems and a chocolate father(allergies unknown). She has constant ear problems(she has long ears) but we have been able to keep that under some control by cleaning her ears out a few times a week. When she starts shaking a lot and scratching at the ears we know it’s gone too far. She has two problems that really bother me. I haven’t been able to conclude if it’s a food allergy or environmental. I can say that when the Spring growth starts and the outside temps rise her tummy starts out with small red spots or bumps that eventually look like flaking scars. I’m favoring this (have discussed with my Vet the last few years) to be grass or some other outside growth since it comes with a seasonal change. It happens sometimes in the early Fall as well, but seems to last longest during the Spring/Summer. Her second problem happens year round. She seems to scoot her bottom on the ground a lot. It doesn’t always seem that she’s trying to scratch around the anal area but more around her bottom(vulva). The skin around the Vulva is usually very dark and sometimes black and occasionally it looks like she may have boil on it. The skin area between the Vulva and Anus seem swollen a bit and, at times, it feels like bumps or knots on the area. She is constantly licking both and sometime between her toes when they are red. Can this be a food allergy? She and our 3 year old female yellow lab have been eating a Diamond’s chicken and rice formula that says no wheat, no corn, no soy for well over a year. We actually moved them to the Diamond due to the black lab’s problem but it doesn’t seem there has been much change The yellow lab doesn’t really have any problems, except she’s shorter and heavier(her parents were mixed colors as well) and she sometimes has the slight same problems with the red tummy spots when the season changes. Her ears look fine all the time. My step daughter swears by grain free food and I’m willing to try it for both of them(mainly the black one since she has the worst problems) but I’m a bit confused about “no wheat, no soy, no corn” compared to the ones that say grain free. Is it possible that my black girl has a chicken allergy? I have a local Tractor Supply which is where we get the Diamonds food from. Can anyone suggest a grain free or other food that may be helpful for these issues? Thanks so much!

    • Irish

      My Dog also experienced allergy before then I just ordered the ImmuneIQ test for my dog, Isabella. Maybe that will work for you also…

  22. julia

    have you found bakers dried food to be full of chemicals which the lad is allergic too