Common Allergies in Labrador Retrievers


Labrador allergies crop up a lot, with runny noses, sore eyes and dermatological problems the most frequent signs. The most common allergies in Labrador Retrievers are environmental. House dust, pollen, food ingredients, bacteria, inhalents or insect bites can provoke an allergic reaction.

Labs are extremely prone to allergies because their immune systems produce high quantities of immunoglobulin E (IgE), the protein that develops as a response to allergens. IgE triggers the release of histamines, chemicals that cause irritation and inflammation.

Our chocolate Lab has been plagued by allergy related ear problems, but there are plenty of other invasive ways allergens can ruin your pup’s day.

The five most common types of allergies are food allergies, flea allergies, contact allergies, inhalant allergies, and bacterial allergies. Most allergies are easily treated with antihistamines, but can often be avoided by removing the allergen from your dog’s home.

Labrador Food Allergies

Food allergies in Labrador Retrievers are caused by allergic reactions to common ingredients in dog food such as beef, corn, soy, fish, wheat, chicken, and chicken eggs. Veterinarians report that food allergies account for approximately 10% of allergy problems in dogs. Common symptoms include:

  • itchy skin (often around the muzzle or face)
  • hair loss
  • ear infections
  • frequent bowel movements
  • and skin infections.

Antihistamines and occasionally antibiotics can be used to help dogs with extreme food allergies. But if your Lab has a food allergy, the symptoms will return when the treatment is stopped. Because they’re still being exposed to the allergen causing the symptoms.

The best way to prevent repeated food allergies is to feed your Lab a diet that doesn’t contain the ingredient they’re allergic to. Elimination diets with limited ingredients work well for most dogs with food allergies.

Most common dog food brands on the market offer hypoallergenic formulas(paid link). These recipes are free of some of the most common allergens we talked about earlier: corn, soy, beef, chicken, chicken eggs, fish, and wheat. They might also contain “novel ingredients” like pheasant or buffalo. Which dogs won’t typically have been exposed to before and might be less allergic to.

You can also consider feeding a raw diet consisting of unprocessed meats and veggies. Whichever method you choose, change your Lab’s diet gradually to avoid stomach upset.

Flea Allergies in Dogs

Flea allergies, or FAD (flea allergy dermatitis) are the most common allergies in Labrador Retrievers. FAD occurs when a flea bites an animal, injecting its saliva into the skin. Your dog will most likely be susceptible to FAD during the summer months. Because fleas thrive best in warm temperatures with humidity.

Early warning signs of FAD include itchy, irritated skin. You’ll probably notice your Lab scratching quite a lot and possibly biting the affected area. This in turn causes red, inflamed patches of skin called hot spots. Flea bites occur most often on the back and at the base of the tail. In severe cases, you might notice hair loss, oozing, or dark, crusty skin.

The easiest way to prevent flea allergies in Labrador Retrievers is to groom your dog regularly, and apply a flea preventative (such as Frontline(paid link)) during flea season. If your Lab does develop an allergic reaction to a flea bite, there are several methods of killing fleas instantly. Make sure to remove all traces of fleas both from him and from your home. Sweep floors and furniture thoroughly, spray your carpets with flea spray*(paid link), and consider fogging your house.

Sometimes your Lab can develop a yeast infection as a result of a flea bite. In which case you might notice an unpleasant odor. Vets will often prescribe antibiotics and a short course of prednisone to relieve his itchy skin. Taking preventative measures, however, and regularly observing your dog for early warning signs during flea season, can help to mitigate the problem.

Canine Contact Allergies

Contact allergies occur when your Lab develops an allergic reaction to noxious or irritating substances in the environment. These can include dyes, carpet deodorizers, or antibiotics applied to the skin. Rubber, wool, certain metals (like nickel), poison ivy sap, and salt on the road can also cause allergic reactions.

The allergic reaction usually develops on areas of the skin with little or no hair. Such as the backs of the paws, the muzzle, and the lower abdomen. These areas of the skin are most likely to come into direct contact with the irritant. You’ll likely notice that the affected area is very red, with small bumps or blisters.

In order to treat a contact allergy, your vet needs to use patch or exclusion tests to determine what allergen your Lab is reacting to.

Patch tests involve a small amount of the allergen being rubbed on the skin. In an exclusion trial, you’ll need to keep him in a non-carpeted area and keep him or her off the grass. If the condition improves, potential allergens will slowly be reintroduced one by one into the dog’s environment.

Inhalant Allergies in Labradors

Inhalant allergies (also called atopic allergies or atopy) are the second most common allergy in Labs after FAD. They are caused by an allergic reaction to airborne or inhaled allergens like mold, dust, or pollen. Simply put, think of atopy as the canine equivalent of hay fever in people.

Like FAD, inhalant allergies usually affect dogs during the spring and summer months. Atopic Labradors will develop very itchy skin and will usually bite and scratch themselves, often on the legs, face, ears, groin, and armpit areas. Red, irritated skin and hair loss are the most common warning signs as well as yeast infections in the skin and ears.

Your vet will likely perform one of two allergy tests on your dog to determine what is causing the allergic reaction. An intra-dermal or skin allergy test involves injecting a small amount of an allergen into his skin and watching for a reaction. The second test, the IgE allergy test, involves taking a blood sample from your Lab to test for IgE antibodies against specific airborne allergens. If a high number of IgE antibodies exist, this is usually a sign of an inhalant allergy.

There are several ways to treat inhalant allergies. Allergy shots involve a serum containing the allergen to which your dog reacts. Over time, the injections can desensitize them to the allergen, reducing the symptoms.

Your vet might also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs (such as corticosteroids or antihistamines) to relieve symptoms like itching and skin irritation. But it’s important to note that these drugs treat only the symptoms and not the allergy itself. You can also bathe your dog with hypoallergenic shampoo*(paid link) to help relieve symptoms.

Bacterial Allergies

Bacterial allergies (also called pyoderma of the skin) usually occur as a secondary infection as a result of the above allergic reactions we’ve discussed. Since allergies often cause skin irritation and hair loss, your Lab can often develop lesions or inflamed pustules. For these, your vet will likely proscribe topical medications like ointments and sprays as well as a round of antibiotics.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

If the infection is severe or doesn’t respond to these treatments, a skin biopsy or scraping might be performed. The vet will look for evidence that the infection is symptomatic of a more serious medical condition.

Dog allergies - getting help for a dog that suffers from skin and other allergies

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The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. Great site Great info
    2 year old English Yellow Lab
    Itchy since a pup 🙁
    On Apoquel 16m x 2 a day
    He is 90 lb. I give him oat meal soaks over his coat and rub in, I only wash his bedding with white vinegar, same with my floors
    Right on with Vets guessing and sending us for test after tests$$$ with no results. Just switched from Purina pro plan salmon and rice to Venture Alaskan Pollock meal and Pumpkin (if not completely successful will try their bison one) grain free and PEA free
    We share an apple a day no skin and his 1/2 c food before bed gets 2 tsp Yogart with the food
    Also having my kennel give him shampoo with my allergy shampoo and what hey call a blowout (labs have two coats )
    Remove most the shed-able undercoat. Also, labs are very sensitive and react to stress of their owners (more love and appreciate the silly things he does just because he is a lab 💕)

    Will let all know how it goes

  2. I never thought I would find a miracle drug for my 10 yr. old male yellow lab but going on three years ago while wintering in Fla. I took my pet for a teeth cleaning in Jacksonville where they found the gums growing over the incisors from the drug Riley was on at the time for his allergies that required constant monitoring, blood work every few months and it sometimes just didn’t do the trick Riley then suffering from secondary infections. This was the 4th treatment we had tried until finally the vet’s nurse in Fla. told me about the drug apoquel with no side effects, 1 tablet a day and blood work 1x a year. It is truly for me and which I was now finding out was for other pet owners. After only a month of treating Riley with the miracle drug the manufacturer ran out of supplies. It was only after months back on the old drug with side effects that a dog at University of Penn Vet Hospital went off the apoquel and the doctor at Penn gave it to Riley. What a story, huh ? What we do for our puppies. So besides some seasonal pollen allergies Riley is thriving in the real world thanks to the scientist who discovered apoquel, truly a miracle drug. By the way i saw the first commercial on t.v. couple of weeks ago, maybe you saw it.

    • Not a miracle drug, as it doesn’t fix the reason for allergy, just blocks signal to itching!
      It is argued to be immunosuppressive. An allergy specialist should be able to determine the cause of allergy.

  3. i think the rise in allergies has coincided with the rise of highly perfumed laundry[especially] and other household products being used would be worth going fragrance free to rule this out.

  4. My lab is 1,5 years. Since she is 5 months we know that she is allergic to human skin!! The more we hugh her to more she has allergic reactions ???? and she is so social!! We give her injections once a month to become hopefully immuun afther a while. Becourse of the injections she has more allergic reactions and therefor we give her daily medicine (pills). It has allready cost us a fortune. Only the pills cost us 4€ a day. But we love her soooo much.

  5. My 17 mo. Yellow lab has had an eat infection for over a yr. And spends most his day licking his law and rubbing his eye n muzzle. Ive changed his food,have had him on injections, 1st one worked great,ladt one did nothing for him. Weve tried antihistamines of all kinds. The only thing that has come close to helping is the apoquel. It’s expensive, but it’s sad to see him feeling so bad.

    • another common irritant[for humans too]is fragrance[cleaning,laundry products,air freshener etc]my old lab kept getting ear allergy until i realised the [vet recommended] ear cleaner was fragranced.once i started using just plain warm water to wash her ear it cleared up.

  6. It is heartbreaking to watch your beloved pet in so much misery. My yellow lab was just a mess from allergies. We tried elimination diets, allergy testing and daily shots, and ended up giving him a steroid called Temeril-P. It worked wonderfully for years but then he developed diabetes which I was told was most likely brought on by the steroids. He had to go off the Temeril-P when we started his daily insulin shots. He immediately regressed to the horrible condition he was in early on. He was just miserable. Then came the new drug Apoquel and it has been a lifesaver. It worked within hours and now we give him the maximum dose every day. It is expensive but worth! It’s a relatively new drug that was backordered for months but they have finally made enough to keep up with the demand. I strongly encourage anyone who has a dog that is miserable from allergies to talk to your vet about this new wonder drug.

  7. Hi My Name is Rohit and I have a Lab 3 years old . The basic problem with my dog is that he mostly have skin problem . Means whenever I took him for trimming then after trimming his skin has severals red points .
    So please suggest me what can I do bcz I m sure that it’s a kind of allergy mostly occurs .

    • Hi Rohit, You need to take your Labrador to the vet. They are the right person to help you diagnose the nature of the skin problem and the best solution for it.

  8. My 4 year old choc lab has suffered with skin problems for the past 2 years. In her groin, arms pits, anus, ears. Red and sore 🙁 we’ve tried antibiotics and sprays from the vet, changed diet multiple times from wheat free, raw diet, special food at £52 a bag from the vet and none of it works. I’ve put sudocrem on and it helps load’s. I’ve added coconut and aloe Vera to her diet too but doesn’t help long term.

    It’s breaking my heart as it’s really bad again at the moment. She weighs 38kg so a large lab but she’s fit and healthy. I’m at my wits end and don’t know what else to do 🙁

  9. Our labby, now 2, is also suffering with itchy skin, we have changed her food 5 times, giving her cortisone and allergex. She is getting so fat due to cortisone, please help? Merrill

  10. My dog has been put on Apoquel that has made a big difference. It’s great while the allergy shots build up tolerance.

  11. Where is the mention of injections in this article?! My lab food allergy test was done but we ended up taking her to a allergy and skin specialist whom said often blood tests for food often have some high negatives. In short, it was determined that environmental allergies are far worse. Turns out grass is a big one and some different weeds, as well as ragweed to name a couple. We’ve been giving her a shot weekly lately.

  12. My yellow lab of 6 yrs has been itching for a few weeks now and biting at her arms she wears a flea and tick collar and I see nothing on her what do I do

  13. I removed an 8 year old lab who was on monthly immunotherapy injections when he came to me. We stopped all the additives the previous owner had been giving him. Put him on a senior diet which had everything he needed and just added Yumega Plus oil to his feed. Within 6 months we had weaned him off the injections and he hasn’t looked back. Three years on he is a happy non itchy dog 🙂

    • Hi Lesley B,
      I read your letter and was so encouraged by it, that I want to ask what foods do you include in your dog’s diet??
      We live in the Western Cape, /Sout Africa, and I do not think we have Yumega Plus oil here. The vet gave me ‘Efazol’, to put over her food, for a healtier skin. I have tried everything, we bought all the different dog-food brands in an attenpt to calm her itching, ..with no positive outcome!! I would be so glad if you can sent me your diet-plan ! Kind regards, Wilna Venter

  14. My baby is 14 weeks old and has been scratching, licking, and biting himself silly for over 4 weeks now. We’ve been to many vets who have been trying to guess what’s wrong with him (literally guessing because they say stuff like maybe, I think, probably) and been prescribing meds without explaining to us what they’re for. He’s covered in what I think are hotspots (red dots, not swollen) and wounds from where he’s chewing on himself. It’s frustrating because I feel so sorry for him. It’s my first time to have a puppy and I can’t believe this is happening to my baby. So far, we’ve tried Antihistamines (didn’t work), we’ve changed his diet from Holistic Recipe to Eukanuba Dermatosis FP, he’s on skin and coat supplements (to aid in the hair loss), and we recently tried Benzyl Benzoate lotion. He’s also on Vitamin E for his skin. Help!!!

    • I can’t help you with a cure but I can certainly understand what you are going through. I myself have a Shih Tzu who has been suffering with allergy symptoms for years and as for me, it’s a very painful thing to watch your 14 year old dog end her best years this way. I like you have not found any safe treatment that works (and I tried many and spent many). Currently I choose to get a shot of steroids from the vet so my dog doesn’t suffer in misery. Good Luck to you.

    • Hi. He might be better off going to a dermatologists vet for allergy testing to see what he is allergic to and possibly start him on a raw feeding diet that Sidney have many chemicals or pollutants that are compromising his immune system and also causing discomfort and allergies.

  15. My 15 months Labrador retriever named blue is suffering from allergy, hair loss and red spots and looks ugly. I am feeding his with chapatti, soya nutry and paedygiree puppy large breed. I also give him treatment with Ivermectin Injections but it affects only few days and when I stop he again suffers with allergy. Please advise me.

  16. My 4 year old Labrador started with itchy, very smelly skin. Took her to the vet and he said its allergies and prescribed some tablets. However, as a working wife and mother, I cant take her for her followups when I’m supposed to. Its a mission and makes me feel terrible as I can see she doesn’t have quality of life. The next time he prescribed a lotion of 100ml to be administered twice daily. I’m sorry but this is ridiculous. She weighs about 40kgs and hairy so one bottle will last less than a week and at R160 a bottle, is more expensive than my own meds. She also loves swimming and 1. I cannot keep her out of the pool and 2. I cannot keep her off the grass. Please can someone advise me on home remedies or even my chemist has animal products I can buy. Easier, simpler and cheaper than the vet. I want my animal to love life and I don’t want to ignore her problem but expenses are a problem when the vets charge more than my General Practitioner.

    • Hi Tracey, I am sorry to hear that your dog is unwell.
      It is vital that you provide her with the proper veterinary treatment that she needs. If you are struggling with costs then take a look at this article, which suggests some options that might be open to you for lower cost or even free vet care:
      Regarding keeping her away from areas that make the problem worse, keeping her on a long leash or building a barrier to prevent access are potential ways to keep her safer.
      All the best,

  17. My 10 month old lab suffers terribly with hayfever, with itching and weepy eyes. Treated with a daily antihistamine she’s doing just fine and it’ll hopefully ease off soon!

  18. My 18 month old black lab suffered an allergy attack last summer that made one of his eyes swell shut. This lasted just a few hours. The vet said it is seasonal allergies and in a dog so young would probably indicate yearly allergies getting progressively worse. We treated with Benadryl and it helped immensely. This year, same thing…hair loss on the chest and forearms, slightly swollen eye (just one) and very itchy skin. I have bathed him in a natural allergy relief shampoo and started him on benadryl again. He is about 55 lbs. so I give 2 tablets about three times a day. Our fenced yard is kept mowed with no tall weedy areas etc. Any advice on making him more comfortable. Also, his rectum seems itchy and he is irritating it with his licking. Last year this condition lasted from May to frost.

    • My black lab is now 6 and has atopy which meams she is allergic to almost everything. I give her lots of salmon oil on each meal and 2 piriton tablets 4mg a day and this has corrected her immune system and stopped the itching. I also bath her in malaseb shampoo to help with the smell of yeast on her skin. Vets haven’t been any help at all. Hope this helps because i know it is really heartbreaking to see them suffer but my lab is so much better now.

  19. One of my boys has developed severe allergic reactions to house dust mites and food mites (ever heard of them before?). Treatment consists of monthly allergy shots and constant low-dose steroids, plus keeping the house preternaturally clean. This works most of the time, though it can be a bit galling to have your dog tell you when you’ve been lax with the cleaning! His food has to be kept in a special sealed bin which is sterilised between bags to get rid of any lingering mites. If he has a flare-up we have to increase the steroids for a day or two to calm it down, then get the hoover, carpet cleaner and premises spray going. He’s apt to be a bit of a worrier and stress can bring on symptoms too. We’re no longer young, so it can be pretty wearing.