Cocker Spaniel scratches himself

Cocker Spaniel Allergies: Diagnosis and Treatment Guide

Cocker Spaniel allergies are one of the top reasons pet parents take their dogs to the veterinarian. If you suspect your Cocker Spaniel has allergies, it’s likely because your dog is itching incessantly, has skin issues, ear infections, and may even be vomiting or having loose stools.

We’ve written extensively about itchy Cocker Spaniels, and we encourage you to read that content. Many people don’t realize allergies manifest in more ways than itching.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to manage and stop allergies in their tracks. Most times, allergies are managed and controlled but never cured. In this article, I’ll share what’s worked with my Cocker Spaniel allergies over the past 30+ years along with what veterinary medicine is doing.

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I am also an Etsy and Chewy affiliate.

What Are Cocker Spaniel Allergies?

There is a lot of confusion around the word ‘allergies’ in the dog world. According to renowned veterinarian, Dr. Jean Dodds, food allergies in dogs are relatively rare.

If your Cocker Spaniel reacts to food, this is called a food sensitivity or food intolerance. A true food allergy in dogs is akin to how a human responds to a food allergy. If someone is allergic to peanuts, they can have an anaphylactic reaction and even die if exposed to peanuts.

Dodds reveals that food sensitivities are at least 10 to 15 times more common than food allergies. A Cocker Spaniel who scratches frequently or has chronic bowel problems is probably suffering from a food sensitivity and not a food allergy.

Be sure to read and bookmark our article on food allergies in dogs.

When a Cocker Spaniel’s immune system overreacts to certain substances, these are called allergens. Allergens in dogs are very similar to those affecting people and include things like:

  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Grass
  • Flea saliva
  • Chemicals
  • Grooming products
  • Medications

When a Cocker Spaniel is exposed to allergens, its immune system produces antibodies and releases histamines and other chemicals, which cause allergic symptoms.

Symptoms of Allergies in Cocker Spaniels

Most pet parents I know, present company include, notice their Cocker Spaniel itching, biting their legs, and/or gnawing on their paw pads. This is usually the first sign that something is causing your dog distress.

There are many different skin conditions that affect Cocker Spaniels, often caused by an allergic reaction to something in their diet (an ingredient), the outdoor environment, or indoors. My first Cocker Spaniel itched more frequently in carpeted rooms of our home.

Common symptoms that your Cocker Spaniel may have an allergy include:

  • Scratching, chewing, or licking the skin, paws, or other areas of the body
  • Rubbing their face along furniture or carpeting
  • Odor from their skin or ears (infection signs)
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Hot spots, scabs, skin issue, rash (including on the belly)
  • Sneezing, wheezing, coughing, nasal discharge
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness, appetite changes
  • Itchy after application of flea and tick preventative

Common Symptoms and Treatments Reported By Club Cocker Members

I run an active Facebook group dealing with the health and wellness of Cocker Spaniels. Here are some of the symptoms our members’ dogs have dealt with in their own words:

John B.: “Our dog’s allergies are environmental, like grasses, most outdoor stuff. He gets very itchy.”

Pat. L: “My one Cocker had allergies to grass, trees, and mold. We found this out from a veterinary dermatologist. She gave him shots to desensitize him, and after a year he never had a problem.”

Jeanne G, veterinarian: “I have had Cocker Spaniels for 37 years and never had one with allergies that needed testing or treatment. As a veterinarian, I would check the thyroid and do allergy tests. Food allergies are not very common. Blood testing is best for environmental allergies, not determining ‘food allergies.’

Suzy L.: “Keep track of when your Cocker Spaniel has flare-ups. After several years, we figured out my girl had flare-ups around October through January. I give her more medicated baths and allergy shots almost weekly during those times. The rest of the year, she gets shots monthly.”

Pro Tip: Keep track of your dog’s symptoms and treatment in the DogMinder

Diagnosing Cocker Spaniel Allergies

There are three types of allergy testing methods for dogs:

  1. Blood tests
  2. Intradermal skin tests
  3. Saliva or hair tests performed at home

Blood Tests for Allergies (show three pics with results)

Called serum allergy testing, or RAST, this blood test measures the amount of IgE antibodies in your dog’s blood. It can take several weeks to get the results back, and it may narrow down some of your dog’s allergens.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, neither skin testing nor blood testing is consistently better. They often do both tests for the most information about a dog’s specific allergic sensitivities.

Intradermal Skin Tests

IDAT (intradermal skin tests) is what most veterinary dermatologists recommend. Club Cocker member, Diane B., reports, “I had allergy testing done recently. My Cocker has several environmental allergies. The treatment began with daily bathing and injections every other day along with a complete wipe down of his body after being outside. He is doing much better.”

Small amounts of an allergen are injected under your (sedated) dog’s skin. Within 20 minutes or so, a welt or wheel will form at the injection site if your Cocker Spaniel has an allergy.

Saliva or Hair Tests

I tried several different at-home allergy tests. These tests involve taking a sample of your dog’s hair, fur, or saliva. You order the kit, a vial with instructions are sent to you, and you return the pet’s sample to the lab.

Within a few weeks, you are emailed the results of the test. I found some tests more accurate and valuable than others, and I am not alone in this result. I will list my three favorite at-home allergy test kits below.

“I chose to do the 5-Strands test,” says Cocker Spaniel mom Diane Bakle. ” It tested for 152 foods and 48 artificial items – I was skeptical, but for $100, I gave it a try.”

Bakle knew her Cocker Spaniel had issues with peanut butter and chicken in the past and this test confirmed that they were a problem.

“I didn’t know that he had an intolerance to one of the probiotics I was giving him,” she shared. “After a week of checking labels and eliminating his sensitivities, his skin was free of sores… And I received my results in six days. It has been a life changer for me and my boy!”

My favorite dog allergy tests at home include:

5 Strands

5Strands makes an allergy test for dogs

5Strands Pet Food Intolerance Test

Easy at-home test for food intolerances

This kit assesses over 275 common pet food ingredients using a sample of your dog’s hair. Some items tested are proteins, grains, food dyes, dairy, fruits, additives, and probiotics. Once completed, the results are conveniently delivered to you via email.


Nutriscan food test kit for dogs


Created by Dr. Jean Dodds

NutriScan’s saliva test can detect pre-clinical issues in your pet before they manifest. It’s convenient to administer at home or with your veterinarian’s assistance. Unlike hair tests, this saliva test evaluates two types of antibodies. Pet owners receive a comprehensive report of results within a few weeks of the lab receiving the sample. I test my Cocker Spaniel yearly.

Glacier Peak Holistics

A pet intolerance test may help Cocker Spaniels with allergies

Glacier Peak Holistics

Not considered to be an allergy test, but a life stress wellness scan

Glacier Peak Holistics offers a comprehensive pet wellness test utilizing cheek swab or hair samples. Beyond dietary analysis, Glacier Peak’s methodology encompasses over 300 common and uncommon environmental stressors for dogs and cats, including insects, grasses, pollens, and chemicals.

Pro Tip: Some pet intolerance and allergy tests for dogs have specific age restrictions, limits, or recommendations. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Traditional Allergy Management and Treatment

Once you figure out what your Cocker Spaniel is allergic to, it’s time to stop the symptoms in their tracks. Avoiding the offending allergens is key, but sometimes that isn’t possible.

Here’s what most veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists recommend to stop allergy symptoms:


These include antihistamines, steroids, immunosuppressive drugs, allergy shots, or allergy desensitization injections. Commonly prescribed medications include Apoquel, Cytopoint, or Atopica. Each come with their own set of side effects, which can be quite serious.

Cocker Spaniels have extra-sensitive immune systems. Read my article about Apoquel and why I don’t use it for my dogs. Blood tests are often run regularly on dogs taking these medications or shots because they can impact the immune system.

Topical Treatments

Topical choices include medicated shampoos, sprays, or creams for temporary relief.

Dietary Management

If food ingredients are suspected or proven, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dietician or recommend a special diet for your dog. Read more about food allergies in Cocker Spaniels.

Environmental Management

We are never without an air purifier in several rooms of our home. My favorite air purifier is the Rabbit Air A3, which gets five stars for thousands of reviews.

To minimize your dog’s exposure to indoor allergens, you should use hypoallergenic bedding and regularly clean and vacuum your home.

My second Cocker Spaniel had allergies to certain grasses. My veterinarian prescribed Atarax antihistamine, which helped with his itchiness more than 50 percent of the time. We alternated that with Benadryl under our veterinarian’s supervision.

Holistic Allergy Management in Cocker Spaniels

Dogs who are allergic to one thing are usually allergic to other things as well. Cocker Spaniels have sensitive immune systems, and they tend to be among the breeds most prone to food allergies.

For this reason, I prefer more holistic management of my Cocker Spaniel’s itchiness or allergy symptoms. My success has been in treating the inside and outside of my Cocker Spaniel, and his veterinarian approves of what I do, which includes:

Nutritional Therapy

The mantra of ‘you are what you eat’ applies to dogs, too. Start by avoiding common allergens such as artificial additives, preservatives, and fillers can help alleviate symptoms.

Some pet parents prefer home-cooked or raw diets to control the quality of ingredients and eliminate potential allergens. However, it’s essential to ensure these diets are balanced and meet the dog’s nutritional needs.

I always tell my readers that the best dog food for your dog is the one that works for you. Not everyone can afford high-priced dog food or prepare a home-cooked meal for their dog. Here are my 10 top feeding picks for Cocker Spaniels.

Skin and Coat Treatment

I swear by the ZYMOX dog product line. Some veterinary dermatologists recommend batting environmentally allergic dogs once or twice weekly. The thought is that allergens are removed from the skin, which reduces the allergic response. ZYMOX has been resolving ear, skin, and oral conditions in pets for over 25 years without antibiotics or harsh chemicals.

My favorite ZYMOX products for skin and allergy control at home include:

ZYMOX Shampoo & Conditioner


ZYMOX Shampoo & Conditioner

The duo that makes a huge difference

We’ve used ZYMOX shampoo and leave-in conditioner for nearly 20 years on our dogs. They contain no harsh chemicals and, is free of detergents, chlorines, and does not sting. Ideal for dogs who itch and have flaky skin, and helps with overall dry skin and coat. It uses a patented enzymatic system and contains vitamin D.

ZYMOX Topical Hot Spot Spray

Skin support topical from Zymox

ZYMOX Topical Hot Spot Spray

Made with 0.5% hydrocortisone

I am never without this spray for my dog. ZYMOX spray is ideal for itchy skin, skin bumps, red or inflamed skin, wounds, cuts, hot spots, paws irritated by licking, and much more. Best of all, it is easy to use and recommended by veterinarians like all ZYMOX products.

ZYMOX Topical Cream

Zymox skin support for cocker spaniel allergies

ZYMOX Topical Cream

Made with 0.5% hydrocortisone

This effective yet gentle ointment with hydrocortisone helps manage skin issues without using harsh chemicals Made with gentle ingredients in the event of licking, the no-sting lotion means no pre-cleaning is required. I use this product on my Cocker’s face (lip fold dermatitis), paws, and body folds as needed.

Fish Oil

Quality control is first and foremost, so any fish oil used in your dog’s diet should be sourced free of unwanted nutrients and contaminants. Read our article on how fish oil may help your dog.

Non-Chemical Flea and Tick Options

Many traditional and holistic veterinarians are warning about the potential harm from chemical spot-ons, oral preventatives, and traditional flea collars. 

Here are our favorite non-chemical flea and tick options.

Consider Harsh Medication Alternatives

Here are alternatives to prescription medications to consider in managing your Cocker Spaniel’s itchy skin and allergies.

As you can see, curing an allergy is not likely, but managing it with various non-invasive options is possible. I know because I’ve been managing Cocker Spaniel allergies with success for over 30 years.

Cocker Spaniel allergies and their treatment

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