What to Do When your Dog Has Allergies

You've found out your dog has allergies, and you are wondering how you can help!  Connecting the dots and realizing certain foods or environmental allergens can cause your dog to have allergic symptoms is the first step in treating your furry friend.  These allergies may come out of nowhere.  Your dog may suddenly develop itchy skin, constantly scratching themselves.  Other times, they may be red around their mouth right after they eat.  Food allergies can also trigger symptoms such as inflamed and yeasty paws.  You may start noticing your dog constantly laying down and licking their paws.  In other cases, dogs may also exhibit stomach issues such as vomiting or diarrhea.  



Food and environmental sensitivities can cause a dog's system to go out of whack.  Some puppies have allergies from a young age, and others show symptoms out of the blue.  Since dogs cannot speak, it is up to us to observe and take steps to treat them.  If you need professional help, expert vets who specialize in allergies might be useful in your research.  Understanding allergies and the kind of turmoil they cause is part of the learning curve.

From our own experience, our French Bulldog Eggy has exhibited allergy and sensitivity symptoms since he was a puppy.  It was a bit alarming and overwhelming initially.  We had other dogs in our past and never experienced any with allergies like his.  This opened up our eyes and our hearts to learning how to deal with his allergies and help him cope.  We have done our fair share of research and through trial and error, we've raised Eggy as allergy free as possible.  

SKIN ALLERGIES FROM SHAMPOO(?)

Our very first experience with allergies was when he was still a puppy, before he had even turned a year old.  We got quite a scare when we discovered he had developed sores all over his skin.  They showed up the day after I gave him a bath, coincidentally.  I didn't think anything of it, until I took him to the vet.  Our vet's immediate response was to treat the symptoms since there were a lot of sores. 

On a side tangent, I understand overly treating a dog, or human for that matter, with antibiotics too much can potentially be a bad thing.  We never want to use antibiotics to the point where we develop a tolerance to it.  My holistic belief is to only turn to antibiotics when the symptoms are extremely severe.  

During that first bout of allergies, I am thankful the vet administered antibiotics to calm down the yeasty sores that had spread so quickly.  He asked me about Eggy's shampoo since I had just washed him.  Come to think of it, I had used a highly fragrant blueberry scented shampoo which smelled amazing out of the bottle.  Our vet suggested scaling back on the shampoo or trying a different kind to see if it was the root cause. Once we changed his shampoo to a fragrance free, hypoallergenic, all natural shampoo, his skin did not react.  We thought we had scored and found the culprit.

If your dog shows allergic reactions shortly after a bath, be sure to check the ingredients of your shampoo and test to see if this is a contributor to the problem.  Generally milder shampoos are easier on most dogs, as fragrances can be an irritant.

WHAT THE SORES AKA YEASTY SPOTS AKA HOT SPOTS LOOK LIKE

When I first saw the yeast spots it took me by surprise.  I didn't know what they were, and why they were all over his body.  I didn't like how he looked really uncomfortable from having them.  I asked our dog, "Does it itch?  Does it hurt?  Are you OK?" almost half expecting him to answer.  Of course he could not, but by the look in his eyes, I could sense that he wanted me to comfort him.   My heart just wanted to ease his symptoms ASAP. 

allergicy reaction yeast hot spots on back

These skin sores basically look like raised pimples.  They popped up fairly quickly in multiple areas, under his belly, on his back, and near his rear.  They also started to develop a peculiar funky smell and sometimes they emitted a sticky residue.

severe dog yeast hot spots due to allergies

The important thing is to not panic and contact your vet.  The first time you see an allergic reaction, it's good to get a proper diagnosis from a veterinarian because they can rule out other conditions and suggest proper treatment.

TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET FOR SEVERE ALLERGIC OUTBREAKS

Our vet prescribed us an antifungal and chlorhexidine shampoo as well as gentamacin sulfate which is a little spray bottle of topical antibiotic to treat bacterial infections.  He also gave us an oral antibiotic since his symptoms were widespread.  You could feel and see the raised bumps underneath his fur.  If you parted his fur with your fingers along the bumps, sometimes you would see some oozing, inflammation, where skin has broken, and subsequently some hair loss.

This all sounds intensely awful, but if you experience the sores, you will know what I'm talking about.  I think half the battle for me was trying to understand what the heck these sores were.  Thankfully, once we administered his medication, the sores started to disappear and his skin cleared back up.

MORE ALLERGIES?

Even though we had switched shampoos and had found Eggy some immediate relief with the antibiotic treatment, the sores would return later in his life every so often.  It is my best guess that our little guy has multiple allergies not just one specific kind.  I found out that this is absolutely common.  French bulldogs are one of the breeds in particular that are prone to more allergies. Finding out all the things that trigger his allergies is an on-going lifelong process. 

As of today, by process of elimination and different trials, we've got the flare ups under control.  He can go months without showing any symptoms now.  We have not seen him have any severe outbreaks as bad as when he was a puppy.  Sometimes, we are told puppies can grow out of their extra sensitive puppy phase of allergies.  More often, they may just have the allergies for life, but we've just become smarter about keeping those triggers away from him.

SKIN ALLERGIES FROM FOOD SENSITIVITIES

In addition to changing up his shampoo, we noticed immediate improvement once we changed his diet.  It turns out dog foods contain all sorts of ingredients.  In his puppy stage, we had started him off with dry kibble because it was the most convenient.  Let's face it, how easy is it to just scoop a few cups of kibble into a bowl?  On top of that, his poop came out firm and was easy to dispose of as well.  We figured just any dry kibble would do. 

The dry kibble might be OK for some dogs who have no allergies, but for dogs with allergies, this is probably the source of some of their reactions.  What would we be able to feed him? We wondered.   Our trek for a healthier food quest started with researching all the different types of dog food available out there.  These are the steps we took to get him on a strict allergy-free food diet:

1. GO GRAIN FREE

We discovered the pet food industry in fact has jumped into this grain free craze as well for a multitude of reasons, grains being inherently unnecessary cheap fillers.  There's a newfound emphasis on going back to all natural foods by eliminating ingredients dogs really don't have a history of digesting, such as heavy grains.  Buying grain free food may be an excellent start but not full proof. 

2. TRY A BASIC DIET

We had to go through the elimination process for a few weeks.  For us this meant we went back to the bare basics and slowly re-introduced select items back in to see if those are the triggers.  

To go as basic as possible, we discovered Ziwi Peak.  Some people try to ramp up their dog to straight raw food because that's the most "natural" food you can get.  However, we just weren't ready to go that route.  Ziwi Peak was a nice middle ground.  Their foods didn't contain anything unnatural and their air dried food especially was literally just pure beef and limited ingredients.  Since Eggy did not react to the Ziwi Peak Airdried Beef, we knew it was a winner.

3. IDENTIFY THE FOODS THAT CAUSE SENSITIVITIES AND ALLERGIES

Eventually, just by introducing different foods into his diet, we discovered he was allergic to the following and more:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • potatoes
  • fruits (especially in large amounts) 
  • brown rice

Your results will vary since every dog is different.  Some dogs have no problems digesting the above, but they might be triggered by other things.  Some dogs are sensitive to lamb, while others are sensitive to beef.  You'll have to do your research to find out what foods your dog is sensitive to.

    4. TAKE THE TIME TO READ THE TINY PRINT

    Once you know the culprits, it's up to you to nix those things out of your dog's diet for good.  Read ALL the ingredients on the back of the bag or can. Even though a food might say "beef and vegetables" it most likely is comprised of additional ingredients you didn't know about.  Sometimes we would find an amazing food on the shelf with all natural ingredients but it would contain eggs, which Eggy is particularly allergic to, so we'd have to put it back.

    5. JUST SAY NO TO HUMAN FOOD

    Most dogs like to beg for food especially when they spy us enjoying our meals.  We made it a very good habit of NOT giving our dog any table scraps.  Just like dog food, a lot of human food contains ingredients that may be safe for humans but not tolerable by dogs.  One time I made the mistake of thinking it would be safe to give Eggy some oranges since it's technically natural, and that backfired.  He vomited and had upset stomach and I later learned that citrus can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.  

      6. AVOID PROCESSED TREATS

      The hardest part is that we've been unable to give him processed or regularly available dog treats because of the additional ingredients they put in them.  For example, Eggy did not react well to the a certain brand of jerky treats because it included brown rice and tocopherols.  We want to reward our dog with treats but it turns out a lot of shelf ready treats contain some type of preservative or binder which is a no go for our pup.  Once in a while, we have run into naturally dried fish or chicken and those are OK with Eggy.

      7. COOK SNACKS FROM HOME

      It's unfortunate for Eggy, that we've learned to not risk any harm and steer clear of anything processed.  There are just too many ingredients to take that chance.  We have tried to bake our own treats at home using garbanzo flour for example.  We also stick to pure beef or turkey as snacks to reward him.  We had to be careful and find him low sodium organic turkey free of carageenan and any other coloring or additives.  On special occasions we also buy him cubed steak or sliced shabu rib eye from the grocery store, cook it plain, and store it in the fridge for the next few days.  We've also steamed him some broccoli but made sure to cut them into tiny little pieces to prevent choking.  Our rule of thumb is to stay away from processed treats and stick to cooking our own natural protein snacks.

      8. FIND AND STICK TO THE FOODS THAT YOUR DOG IS NOT ALLERGIC TO

      I wanted to incorporate vegetables in our dog's diet to keep him balanced.  I found Honest Kitchen was made of all natural ingredients and the Kindly grain free vegetables were perfect for him.  We feed Eggy his Honest Kitchen Kindly veggie lunch daily at noon.  He gets about a 1/3 of a can of Ziwipeak beef and 1 small scoop of the air dried Ziwi Peak for breakfast and dinner. That way I know he's getting a well-balanced meal that's not just protein heavy.

      YOU REALLY ARE WHAT YOU EAT

      Everyone always asks us how Eggy is so buff and fit.  On top of getting his exercises 4-5 times a week, it's his strict diet that does the trick.  Not only do we avoid bouts of allergies by monitoring his food, but the end result is a super healthy and happy dog.  

      happy healthy french bulldog eggy

      Keeping him allergy-free has become routine.  We stick to only the foods that work for him.  Of course, we're not perfect, sometimes we accidentally give him something that's not on his diet, and that's OK because we know how to treat it right away. 

      HOW TO NIP THE SYMPTOMS IN THE BUD

      On those rare occasions his skin does react to any kind of food sensitivity or allergy, we deal with it right away.  If I see or feel a spot on his skin in  the beginning stages I treat it myself.   

      first signs of food allergic reaction dogThis is an example of a yeasty reaction due to a food allergy in its early stages.  You can see it is a patchy area with some sticky residue that leads to flaking and hair loss.

      TREATING THE YEASTY HOT SPOTS AT HOME

      • Witch hazel (as pure as possible, without the fragrance, without alcohol.  I like Thayer's brand Witch hazel Unscented Alchohol Free. 
      • A mini spray bottle to pour the witch hazel into and use as a convenient spray.
      • Cotton squares, balls 
      • Antifungal Chlorhexidine Shampoo like Ketohex
      • Towel

      I like to sit down on the carpet with my dog in the late evening, so that he's kind of tired out already and less fussy.  By sitting with him he doesn't feel threatened.  I instruct him to lay still and I grab my witch hazel spray bottle and some cotton squares to begin gently cleaning up the affected area.

      unscented thayers witch hazel alcohol free

      I take the witch hazel and spray a small amount in the area that is yeasty and splotchy.  Your dog might try to squirm or run away, understand that it's cold liquid and they might get a bit stunned by it. 

      Try your best to coax and calm them and after spraying have a cotton ball or square in your other hand to immediately press gently down on the area after spraying.  By holding the cotton ball down in that region it may comfort your dog so that it's not so cold, and gently start to rub that area clean.  Don't wipe too hard because it might hurt him if the skin is already broken.  I just do gentle little swipes and when I see a super sticky area I try to remove those little sticky yellowish-tan colored flakes of skin very carefully.

      By doing your best to lightly "disinfect" the area, you can help prevent bacterial infection and soothe the skin a bit.  Never pour the witch hazel directly onto the skin.  If you don't have a spray bottle, then pour a little witch hazel onto a cotton ball before applying.  The biggest tip I have is to make sure you pat it down pretty dry.  If you need to gently blot dry using a paper towel or towel is OK too, just remove any remaining moisture from the witch hazel.  Sometimes I blow air on the area afterwards, similar to when you're cooling down your soup.  This way it really takes out any moisture you can't see.  Your pup might lose their hair in that area once the hot spot has already formed.  The hair will return in a few days as the skin starts to heal. 

      For the most part the witch hazel trick has worked - it nips the problem in the bud.  If you don't get to it right away,I have found that the yeast will spread to other nearby regions and grow larger hot spots.  

      If it's more severe than just a few spots, sometimes I just take him straight to the bathtub and use the antifungal chlorhexidine shampoo.  You have to foam up and let the shampoo sit on that affected area for a few minutes before rinsing off.  Once again, you have to make sure you dry your dog completely, otherwise the moisture will cultivate a yeasty environment.  I've also found the trick to washing his paws when they're yeasty is to make sure after using the special shampoo and rinsing him off, to towel dry every crevice in between his paws.

      After spot treating with witch hazel and a thorough bath with the antifungal medicine, you'll start to see healing over the next few days.  

      healing day 3 treatmentThis is typically how the treated area looks on Day 3.  You can see it's pink but less red and free of yeasty residue.

      You should see significant improvement, no redness and no yeast by Day 4.  The hair might take one week or longer to fully cover up the patch so be patient.  If you don't see signs of improvement or symptoms start to get worse, please visit your vet.

      PROBIOTICS AND FISH OIL

      From around 12 months old to about 18 months, when our dog was still young and building up his immune system, we decided to give the probiotics and fish oil a try.  We have to remember that vitamins for humans are not the same dose for dogs.  Dogs have a different digestive system than humans so we don't want to over do it.  We didn't want to willy-nilly just try any probiotic or fish oil because some vitamins contain other ingredients. Also, if your dog is allergic to fish, you would want to avoid fish oil at all costs. 

      The most important thing to keep in mind is that dogs and humans are different in size and digestive system.  Do your research to find out if the vitamin is in fact safe for your dog, and to see what dosage is OK to administer.  Remember dogs are much smaller than humans and the amount we humans consume would NOT be safe for our little friends.  There are also supplements that are specifically made for dogs you might want to look into sold at your local pet supply store.  Trusting your vet is most recommended.

      This is the amount that worked for us, and we weaned him off of them after a trial of a few months.

      • Nature's Bounty Probiotic Acidophilus (only 1 tablet a day, with breakfast meal)
      • Nature's Bounty Fish Oil 1000 mg (only 1 capsule a day, cut it open with scissors and distribute the oil on dinner meal)
      naturesbounty probiotic acidophilus
      natures bounty fish oil 1000 mg

        You have to remember the first year of our dog's life Eggy went through a couple treatments of antibiotics.  The idea was that the probiotics would help reduce the likelihood of urinary tract infections, and possibly reduce allergic reactions by decreasing intestinal permeability. 

        Did the probiotics and fish oil work?  I can't vouch for certain. I felt like they did make him stronger and the reactions are rare now.  We weaned him off of them after several months, once his allergic reactions started to lessen.

        THANKS FOR READING

        If you were led here because of your own first experiences with dog allergies, hope this info has been useful.  I'm happy to share what worked for us but I'm not an expert.  I can't say everything that works for us will work for every dog.  Let us know if you have any other tips or experience to keep your dog allergy-free!

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