As the owner of a boxer dog with allergies, I’ve learned that some of the best allergy treatments involve good old-fashioned cleaning. I really don’t consider myself to be much of a home maker, and cleaning is usually the last thing I feel like doing during the evenings or weekends, but running the vacuum regularly really does help keep Elsie’s itching down. That along with her allergy shots.
A couple of years ago, we decided to get rid of our clunky old vacuum and buy a more powerful model designed to better filter out allergens. We were drawn to the Dyson vacuums – and came VERY close to purchasing one, but it just was too hard to stomach paying $300+ for a vacuum.
After lot’s a research, and receiving one of those excellent 20% off coupons from Bed Bath and Beyond, we decided to purchase a Shark Navigator Vacuum (NV22L) vacuum. Apparently they were widely advertised on late night television, but since I usually only watch Netflix or Amazon streaming now,I wasn’t familiar with the company or their products.
I’ll admit, when I first used it, I figured it would only last me a year and then fall apart. It was so light and made entirely of plastic. It felt like a toy vacuum. But, it was so easy to move around – especially in our old house that had quite a few steps. So, I decided to give it a chance.
I’ve been very pleased with this vacuum. Here’s what I love:
Easy to Clean Filters With an allergic dog, it’s important that I keep the filters in the house clean – so as not to throw more allergens into the air. The Shark Navigator filters can easily be rinsed out in the sink – I try to do so each week – and then just air-dried over night. Nothing to replace. Just rinse, dry and repeat.
Carpet and Hardwood Floor Settings
We’ve always had a combination of hardwood, tile, rugs and carpeting in our homes. Since I’ve never much enjoyed chasing crumbs and animal hair around with a broom, I absolutely love how easy it is to use this vacuum to clean tile, hardwood and laminate floor. Just flip the switch to move from hard flooring to carpet and you’ll catch every speck of dirt.
I never much liked dragging heavy vacuums around the house – and I’m not terrible gentle with vacuums. The light weight of the Shark Navigator makes it easy for me to move around from room to room and I don’t cause as much damage when I accidentally bang into tables or floor boards.
Best of all – Elsie does a lot less ear scratching and my house smells so much better after running this vacuum across the floors. It picks up the fur, dust and pet dander and keeps the house looking and smelling good.
After 15+ years of living in the Mid-Atlantic, we made a big, big move and picked up the family – Elsie, the cats, my toddler son and husband and moved to Tampa, Florida. Although it was a major – and I mean major – change in our lives, we’re loving our new location. But, I will say I was a bit nervous about moving our Boxer Elsie.
But, the thing about allergy shots is that they are customized for your geography. The grasses, trees and outdoor allergens in Washington, DC are much different from the allergens in California – or in our case, Florida. We knew that moving here would potentially put her at risk for returning to pink paws, hair loss, raw skin, upset stomach and all of the other unpleasant allergy symptoms she had to deal with for so long.
I called our veterinary dermatologist before our move and explained our situation. I asked if there was anything preemptive that we could do to possibly prevent any issues she may have adjusting to the new environment. Unfortunately, the answer was no. But, they did say that many dogs adjust very well to moves – and that their office ships allergy shots to dogs who have moved all over the country. It all depends on the dog.
The good news is that we have been in Florida now for 4 months and Elsie has been doing great. In fact, we just experienced a couple of really intense weeks of heavy pollen and so far no flare-ups.
My fingers are crossed that this new move will be fine for Elsie’s allergies. So far she is loving the warmer weather. She was never much for snow. I’ll keep you posted on how things are going.
The changing seasons usually bring on an allergy flare-up for our boxer Elsie. The Fall flare-up is most often brought on by increasing outdoor molds. Those pretty fall leaves pile up, get wet and breed molds. Even if we rake up every last leaf in our yard, it won’t prevent molds from other yards to bother her. I just make sure to wipe her feet when she comes in from outside and to give her regular baths. And, of course, her allergy shots keep the flare-ups from getting too problematic.
Many allergic dog owners have had success feeding their pets homemade diets. Most fall into one of two camps: They either prepare their dog home-cooked food or they stick to the BARF/Raw diet. I personally have not tried any homemade diets for my boxer Elsie. We have had good success with her most recent Natural Balance dry food, so I see no reason to change her diet. Since I can’t vouch for either diet, I’ll simply provide information on what other owners are doing.
A home-cooked diet is just as it sounds—it involves you cooking your dog’s meals. Home-cooked diets allow you to have full control over the ingredients your dog ingests. This allows you to completely eliminate certain trouble foods that may be causing allergic reactions.
Home-cooked diets can consist of brown rice, cooked meats, such as lamb, beef, or poultry, cottage cheese, eggs, and vegetables. Many dogs on these diets are also provided with a mineral supplement, to ensure they’re receiving their required amount of minerals and vitamins.
If you’re considering feeding your dog a home-cooked diet, I recommend you read Pet Allergies—Remedies for an Epidemic by Alfred J. Plechner, DVM and Martin Zucker. Dr. Plechner’s book shares home-cooked diets he has used to treat allergic dogs and cats for many years. In addition to home-cooked diet information, Dr. Plechner also shares his views on commercial dog food. As a warning, some of his information about commercial pet food is a bit disturbing, but it’s interesting.
BARF OR RAW DIET
I can’t see a diet with the name “BARF” becoming a hit among humans, but the BARF diet has become quite popular among dog owners. BARF stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, a diet developed by Dr. Ian Billinghurst. A BARF diet typically consists of up to 60 to 80 percent raw meaty bones (bones with 50 percent meat) and 20 to 40 percent fruits and vegetables.
The BARF diet believes that your dog should receive protein from sources like their wild ancestors did. Therefore, there are no cooked meets or grains. Your dog is fed raw meats, bones, and vegetables.
There is a bit of controversy surrounding raw diets. Those who support it believe their dogs are being fed a much more natural and digestible diet. Those who don’t subscribe to this diet have concerns that dogs on a raw diet may not be receiving proper nutrients and could risk parasites and bacterial contamination when being fed raw meat.
If you’re interested in feeding your dog a BARF diet, you’ll want to visit www.barfworld.com, a website dedicated to the BARF diet.
With both of these homemade food diets, you should discuss your plans with your veterinarian prior to making any changes in your dog’s diet. It’s likely he has worked with other dog owners who have tried these diets and they may have some useful advice. And, as always, do your research to be sure that you’re giving your dog the right amount of nutrients.
If you suspect that your dog has a food allergy, you’ll want to take a close look at the ingredients in his food. Most dogs start on a commercial dog kibble that can be purchased at grocery stores. Many of these foods work just fine for non-allergic dogs. However, if your dog exhibits year-round allergy symptoms that can’t be cleared up with flea treatments or by minimizing the effects of inhalant allergies, it’s likely that the ingredients in these commercial foods are causing problems for your pet.
Many owners have found that dog foods designed for allergic dogs have done wonders for their pet. These dog food brands refer to themselves as “simplified diet” or “limited-ingredient” food. This means they only include one unique protein and one carbohydrate. The unique protein is often lamb, bison, duck, or venison. The starch can consist of ingredients like potatoes and sweet potatoes. These formulas often promote the fact that they include “no grains,” which are often the cause of many food allergies. The key is that these foods don’t mix several kinds of proteins and carbohydrates, but focus on one key ingredient of each. This simplification eliminates the filler ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy, which can cause problems for many dogs.
If you consider switching your dog to a simplified diet or a limited-ingredient food, you’ll need to be patient. It will take eight to twelve weeks before you’ll be able to notice an improvement (or lack thereof) in your dog. What you don’t want to do is change your dog’s diet every couple of days or weeks. This will only make it harder for you to know what is causing your dog’s allergy symptoms. You may also find that the initial diet change can give your dog an upset stomach.
If you do move to a simplified diet, you need to remember that this special diet doesn’t just cover meals, but all snacks and treats as well. If you give your dog treats, you’ll need to find treats that match the ingredients in your special dog food. Most allergy dog food brands also make dog treats with the same ingredients. It does your dog no good to feed him a special diet, while feeding him table scraps and dog treats that include ingredients he’s allergic to.
Roughly a year into Elsie’s allergy problems, she was having serious cases of colitis, an inflammation of her colon. I did some online searching and read about a Boxer rescue owner who swore by Natural Balance’s Potato and Duck Food for colitis treatment. We decided to try it out and found that after a couple of
months, her colitis was gone—which was a good thing. She still had runny stools, but no more colitis.
Later, after we had Elsie tested for allergies and learned that she was allergic to feathers (among many other items), we decided to stay away from poultry and moved her to Natural Balance Sweet Potato and Venison Formula Dog Food. This was the magic formula for us. She rarely ever has bowel or stool issues on this new food and has been doing wonderfully. We feed Elsie a dried kibble version, but it also comes in a can and in the form of treats.
You’ll find that this limited-ingredient food is more expensive than the regular grocery store brand food. But if it helps your dog’s allergies, the extra expense could pay off in the long run by saving you vet visits.
Clayton, an American Pit Bull Terrier, was six weeks old when his owner Cassandra brought him home. Cassandra, a Veterinary Technician, first suspected that Clayton had allergies when he was four months old and developed Alopecia (a condition which causes hair loss) on his outer thighs. Cassandra thought that Clayton had Demodex (parasitic mites that can cause hair loss in dogs), but his skin scrapes came out negative.
Shortly after the Alopecia started, Clayton began constantly scratching and chewing at his skin. This frequent scratching caused the hair on his ears to fall out and the skin under his arms to bleed. He chewed on his feet and gnawed at his tail from tip to rear. Cassandra placed Clayton on an antihistamine for a month, but found it provided no relief.
Cassandra then asked to be referred to a veterinary dermatologist. Being in the veterinary field, Cassandra knew how difficult allergies could be for dogs and their owners and she wanted to get Clayton on the right treatment as soon as possible.
The veterinary dermatologist started Clayton on steroids, but the steroids did not end Clayton’s discomfort. For a while, Cassandra also had Clayton on Atopica, a drug designed for dog allergies, but it was also not effective in treating his condition. When the steroids and Atopica did not help, they started Clayton on a food elimination program to try to identify which foods he may be allergic to. They eventually found that Clayton was allergic to chicken, turkey, duck, beef, rabbit and fish. After trying different brands of food, Cassandra eventually found that Nutro’s limited ingredient Venison Meal and Brown Rice food worked. Clayton stopped scratching his ears and chewing on his tail.
Cassandra also made another important food allergy discovery. Many foods and medications contain gelatin, especially many medicine capsules. Gelatin is made from cow parts. Since Clayton and many other dogs are allergic to beef, they can have allergic reactions when they digest gelatin. Cassandra is careful now to avoid gelatins. If a medication is provided in a gelatin capsule, she first opens the capsule and sprinkles the powder on Clayton’s food. She also requests tablet forms of medication when available.
Clayton showing hair loss on his ears.
In addition to food allergies, Clayton also has environmental allergies. Clayton had a skin test when he was seven months old. They found he was allergic to 70 of the 75 allergens, the top three being human dander, wool, and cat dander. He is now on weekly desensitization injections (allergy shots). To eliminate allergens in the home, Cassandra regularly shaves and bathes her cats. She also vacuums each day. Because her dogs sleep in her bed, Cassandra uses a special allergen detergent to wash her bedding.
In addition to his desensitization injections, Clayton receives weekly baths with a chlorhexidine shampoo. He also takes daily Zyrtec and Alaway eye drops. Although Cassandra has Clayton on small amounts of Prednisone, she is hoping to get him off of this steroid treatment soon. Cassandra also purchased a Lycra body suit from K9 Top Coat, which some dog owners use to protect their dog’s skin by reducing irritation.
Cassandra’s advice to other dog owners is to not give up. Eventually things will get better for you and your dog, but you will have to be willing to work for it. Think of it from your dog’s perspective, they are itching like crazy and can’t tell you what is making them itch. They need your help to make life more comfortable. Cassandra also recommends that if you find that your dog needs to be on a limited diet, don’t feel bad about not being able to feed them scraps or everyday treats. She suggests using your limited diet kibble as a treat. Your dog won’t know the difference and they’ll just be excited that you are giving them something to eat. Her final word of advice is to join a warehouse membership at a store like Costco or Sam’s Club. Benadryl, Zyrtec and other human medications used to treat dog allergies can be purchased much cheaper at these stores.
After months of trial and error, for the first time since he was a puppy, Clayton is starting to grow some hair on his ears. And, the skin on Clayton’s face and feet is no longer red and swollen. It is likely that Cassandra will always have to treat Clayton’s allergies, but through her efforts, she is giving him a much more comfortable quality of life.
Atopica for Dogs is an oral pill which is becoming a popular alternative to dog allergy steroid treatments. Many veterinarians and dog owners are turning to Atopica to treat their dog’s allergy symptoms. As stated on Novartis’ Atopica website, it “can be used for long-term control of the allergic response in a dog’s skin.”
Atopica (cyclosporine) is a canine atopic dermatitis treatment drug manufactured by Novartis, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2003. It is designed to blocks the release of inflammatory molecules such as cytokines and histamines. The Atopica website states that “This oral treatment has been proven through extensive clinical trials to be effective and well tolerated in reducing the pruritus and skin lesions associated with atopic dermatitis.”
As with any medication, there are potential side effects. According to the Atopica product insert, the following side effects were reporting during clinical testing of this drug: “Vomiting and diarrhea were the most common adverse reactions occurring during the study. In most cases, signs spontaneously resolved with continued dosing. In other cases, temporary dose modifications (brief interruption in dosing, divided dosing, or administration with a small amount of food) were employed to resolve signs.
Persistent otitis externa, urinary tract infections, anorexia, gingival hyperplasia, lymphadenopathy and lethargy were the next most frequent adverse events observed.”
It’s recommended that you do your research and talk to your veterinarian about any potential side effects prior to starting your dog on a long-term drug like Atopic.
Designed more for long-term usage than steroids.
If your dog has a positive experience, they can often be tapered down from a daily to a weekly treatment.
If effective, could minimize your visits to your veterinarian.
Can be costly. Atopica costs anywhere from $50-$200 per month.
Common side effects include vomiting and diarrhea.
Not all dogs will have a positive experience on the drug.
When we first learned that our dog Elsie had allergies, I did some reading about allergy tests and allergy shots. At the time, the allergy test seemed like an expensive option. I didn’t even know any humans who had been allergy tested – much less a dog. It seemed like an outrageous expense to go to a pet dermatologist, have our dog tested for allergies and then give her an ongoing supply of shots.
We changed our attitude after two years of almost weekly vet visits and many thousands of dollars spent on various medications, antibiotics, ointments and sprays. In reality, the one-time allergy test and dermatologist visit cost us less than most of our regular vet visits. And, most importantly, the regular allergy shots have almost completely eliminated Elsie’s allergy symptoms. In the past two years, she has only had her annual vet visits. No more rushing to the vet with ear infections, hair loss, diarrhea, and an endless list of other health problems. You name it, Elsie had it. These allergy shots were our savior.
Unfortunately, if your dog has a flea or food allergy, allergy testing and allergy shots will not help. This form of treatment is specifically designed to desensitize your dog to indoor and outdoor inhalant allergens (molds, pollens, dust, etc.) and contact allergens (wool, cotton, etc.).
I’ll explain how the allergy tests and allergy shots work. This form of treatment will not be necessary for many allergic dogs, and may not be the best option for all owners either. I’ll admit that allergy shots are a pretty big commitment. You’ll likely be administering allergy shots to your dog for the rest of its life. You’ll want to discuss this option with your veterinarian and your family to decide if this is the best option for you and your dog.
Before you start your dog on allergy shots, you’ll need to have your dog tested to determine which allergens your dog is allergic to. There are two forms of tests available: blood tests and intradermal skin tests.
With a blood test, blood will be drawn from your dog and your veterinarian will perform a test that checks for antigen-induced antibodies in the blood. The benefit of a blood test is that it is often cheaper and easier to administer than a skin test. In fact, most veterinarians can draw your dog’s blood and perform the test. The drawback is that this test does not provide the same accuracy as the skin test. If you are serious about starting your dog on allergy shots, it is recommended that you visit a veterinary dermatologist or other veterinary specialist who can perform the full skin test.
Intradermal Skin Tests
An intradermal skin test involves the injection of a small amount of antigen into your dog’s skin. This procedure is most often performed by a veterinary dermatologist or pet allergy specialist. Here’s how the process works.
First, your dog will be administered a mild sedative, and a 4”x8” area on their side (near the armpit) will be shaved – so it is easy to see the skin. Next, the Dr. will inject small doses of a wide variety of common, regional antigens into their skin. Our dermatologist injects 62 different antigens. When Elsie had this procedure, it looked like she had a little polka-dot tattoo under her arm for a couple of days. Each injection location is documented, so the Dr. will know exactly which antigen (or allergen) your dog is allergic to.
Within minutes, small red bumps will occur when there is a reaction to the antigen. The Dr. will document this and then be able to provide you with a list of allergens that are affecting your dog. They will then prescribe a custom vaccine (or allergy shot), based on the results of your test. You can see an example of Elsie’s allergy test results below.
I was amazed that this entire process took less than an hour. Elsie was tested and we learned exactly what she was allergic to in less than 50 minutes. Not only was she allergic to house dust, four types of mold, and seven types of trees, grasses, and weeds but I was also surprised to learn that she was allergic to cotton and feathers.
When I asked how they knew what antigens to test her for, they said their tests include indoor antigens (like cotton and dust) as well as a number of regional grasses and trees. They said that if we ever moved to a different climate, such as Texas or Arizona, we’d have to have her re-tested for a new variety of antigens. So, depending on where you live, the allergens your dog is tested for may be quite different from Elsie’s test.
Allergy Shots – Hyposensitization
Once your dog has been allergy tested, you will move on to the allergy shot treatment. Allergy shots, more officially known as hyposensitization, involve injecting your dog with small amounts of the allergens that were identified during their allergy test. This type of therapy is designed to “reprogram” your dog’s immune system so that it becomes less reactive to these allergens.
When you first start this process, you will need to help your dog (and you!) to slowly adjust to the injections. For the first month, the injections will be a very small amount and will take place every other day. Then, depending on the severity of your dog’s allergies, their veterinarian will prescribe injections every 1-3 weeks. If this form of treatment appears to be helping your dog, it will likely need to continue for the rest of your dog’s life.
Hyposensitization benefits 68%-85% of the dogs who are placed on this form of treatment. You should not expect to see any significant improvement for the first 4-6 months of injections. And, it may take as long as 12 months before the improvements are truly noticeable. We started to notice improvements in Elsie’s skin and overall health in less than four months.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for us was learning to be confident when administering the shots. Neither my husband nor I are medical professionals. We were both concerned that we would “hurt” Elsie during the injections and cause her to be scared and traumatized – making the process all that much more difficult. However, over time, my husband has become the main “shot giver” in the family and has become quite skilled and proficient. His technique is to be calm and quick, so as not to make Elsie nervous. Then, he follows with a dog treat – which always makes these procedures much more tolerable.
We keep a regular supply of syringes, which are provided by our dermatologist office along with the vaccine. The vaccine is kept in our refrigerator, never frozen, just kept cool.
Since these injections will need to occur for your dog’s lifetime, most people choose to perform the injections themselves. However, if you really cannot stomach the idea of giving your dog a shot, you should contact your local veterinarian to see if they can assist with your regular injections.
For us, the entire process, including the dermatologist consultation, intradermal allergy test and 6- month vaccine cost roughly $500. Her ongoing 6-month vaccine costs roughly $140. Compared to the $300 per month veterinary visits and medication fees we were paying, the cost for these allergy shots is a drop in the bucket. Plus, we have a much happier and healthier dog.
Hyposensitization/Allergy Shot Benefits:
Hyposensitization works on 65-85% of dogs placed on this form of treatment.
Often the only solution for dogs who do not respond to other allergy treatments.
A more natural approach to allergy treatments than steroids – trains the body to heal itself and not respond to allergens.
Hyposensization/Allergy Shot Drawbacks:
May not work for 15-32% of dogs who are placed on this form of treatment.
May not see significant results for four months to a year.
Initial test and first round of vaccine costs roughly $500. Ongoing vaccines run roughly $300 per year.
Lifetime commitment – injections are given every couple of weeks for the lifetime of your dog.
As I mentioned earlier, allergy shots have been very effective for Elsie. However, it is a long term commitment and depending on the severity of your dog’s allergies, it may be more costly than other forms of treatment.
Gator is a 13 year old Lab mix. When he was 6 months old, Gator was abandoned along a rural road in South Georgia. When his owner Catherine rescued him, she noticed that he had severe skin problems. She assumed that these skin issues were caused by fleas and ticks or that Gator suffered from mange, all common skin problem suffered by abandoned animals.
After Gator was treated for his ticks and fleas, he was then checked and cleared for mange. Yet, his skin problems continued. Gator had oozing rashes on his stomach, under his legs, in his groin area and on his muzzle. He also developed frequent ear infections. Catherine found that Gator would scratch at his skin until it became raw and bloody.
Catherine and her family continued to look for other causes for Gator’s skin problems. They began to realize that he was likely suffering from allergies. Catherine started trying different foods, but found that it had no affect on Gator. They also tried to limit the amount of time Gator spent outside and were careful to wipe him down when he came back indoors. Yet, none of these solutions helped with Gator’s skin condition.
After about sixteen months of trial and error, Catherine was starting to narrow down the cause of Gator’s allergic reactions. Catherine discovered that Gator’s allergies were very seasonal, and she believed they were caused by molds and pollen since his allergies are always worse in the Spring and Summer months. Working with Gator’s vet, they found that the best treatment for Gator’s allergies was through a combination of medication and bathing.
To treat Gator’s allergies on a daily basis, Catherine gives Gator a 2.5mg dose of Prednisone (steroid medication), a Claritin tablet and 250mg of milk thistle. The milk thistle is given to protect Gator from potential liver damage problems which can be caused by continual dosages of Prednisone. Gator is also given weekly baths. If Gator is having a strong allergy flare up, Catherine will increase his Prednisone dose up to 10mg daily and his baths are increased to every three days.
Catherine and her family have found that regardless of where they live, Gator continues to have skin problems. Their family has lived in Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Virginia, Maryland and Florida and has seen no change in Gator’s allergy problems.
When asked what advice she would offer to other dog owners, Catherine suggests that owners never assume that their dog is allergic to just one thing. If the dog has allergies, they are usually allergic to several different elements. She also suggests that if dog owners decide to use Prednisone, they should go with the lowest dosage available and look into giving them milk thistle to prevent against liver damage. Owners should be open to trying new medications and therapies and never give up. It’s important to try everything they can to keep their pup as comfortable as possible.
Catherine has certainly been keeping Gator comfortable. He is thirteen years old and going strong thanks to her efforts to keep his allergies under control.
Veterinarians often prescribe corticosteroids, most often referred to as steroids, for dogs with reoccurring allergy problems. Steroids can effectively relieve dogs of their itching and red skin as soon as 24 hours after the drug is administered.
In most cases, steroids are supposed to be subscribed at an initial starting dose, and then reduced to smaller doses until they are completely discontinued. When used as a short-term treatment to ease inflammation and swelling, steroids can be very effective.
Unfortunately, due to the quick results of this form of treatment, many dogs are prescribed steroids for much longer periods of time than recommended, which can cause harmful side effects. And, when administered at a high enough dosage, steroids can suppress your dog’s immune system – making them more prone to infections.