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.
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.
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.
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.
Topical sprays are sometimes diagnosed to control itching associated with atopic dermatitis in dogs. As an alternative to steroid treatment, topical sprays contain the corticosteroid triamcinolone, which is used to block substances that trigger an allergic response.
Topical Spray Benefits:
Reduces itchiness due to allergies.
May minimize need for steroid treatments.
Can be used to minimize itching due to flea allergies.
Topical Spray Drawbacks:
Does not help with hair loss, infections or other allergy-related symptoms.
Helps to minimize symptoms, but doesn’t eliminate allergies.
Before we started Elsie on allergy shots, we regularly used Genesis Topical Spray on her red, inflamed paws. It seemed to help with her itching, although the spray tended to make her uncomfortable – I imagine it stung when it touched her raw feet. Genesis can be purchased from your veterinarian or through online pet medication sources, but does require a prescription.
Since flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common skin allergies in dogs, it’s important to stick with a regular flea prevention routine. Don’t wait until you see fleas – by then it’s too late. Anyone who has dealt with a flea infestation in their home will tell you that it is much easier to maintain a regular flea prevention routine.
There are a wide range of flea treatment products on the market, including carpet powders, sprays and shampoos. I’ve found that there is no better way to prevent fleas than by using Frontline® Plus, a topical flea and tick treatment. Frontline is a liquid that is applied to the back of your dog or cat’s neck. It includes an active ingredient called Fipronil, which is stored in the oil glands under your pet’s skin and is distributed to the skin and hair of your pet through its hair follicles. Fipronil affects the nervous system of fleas and ticks by causing paralysis and then death. It is designed to kill all fleas or ticks within 24-48 hours.
Be sure to treat all cats and dogs in your home, even if they don’t go outside. All of your pets can be carriers of fleas. Although Frontline and other similar flea and tick medications are EPA approved for use on dogs and cats, it’s important for you to discuss this treatment with your veterinarian before starting. Some pets are allergic to Fipronil and may have a negative reaction to this treatment.
When your dog has allergies and sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to eliminate their exposure to dyes, chemicals and perfumes found in many cleaning products. It will be difficult if not almost impossible to completely determine if your pup is allergic to the wide range of ingredients found in cleaning solutions. However, if your dog exhibits allergy symptoms while indoors, chances are high that your cleaning products could be adding to their discomfort.
Use Powder-based Bathroom & Kitchen Cleanser
Most kitchen and bathroom cleaning products come in aerosol or pump spray containers. Although these sprays make it easy for you to quickly cover large surfaces, they also throw chemicals and perfumes into the air – which could bother your dog. A great way to avoid these harsh chemicals and perfumes is to go back to the basics and use a good old fashioned power cleanser. These powder cleansers have little to no fragrance and don’t mist chemicals into the air.
I’m a big fan of Bon Ami Power Cleanser. Not only does it to a great job of picking up soap scum and stains, but it is also gentle enough to not scratch surfaces. It’s also amazing at removing dried on foods from stainless steel pots and pans.
After using a powder cleanser, your air may not have the “just cleaned’ scent that the perfume-rich cleaning products offer, but your surfaces will be just as clean and your dog may breathe a little easier.
Try Allergen-Free Dusting Sprays
Many traditional dusting sprays have a wide spray range to cover a greater amount of surface area. While this may make cleaning easier, it also increases the chance that these chemicals could spread into the air and be inhaled by you and your pet. New allergen-free varieties, like Endust Free, have a more narrow spray area that reduces mist. Allergen dusting sprays also should be fragrance free, as strong fragrances can trigger allergic reactions in humans and pets.
Sprinkle Baking Soda on Carpets & Rugs
An unfortunate side affect of dog allergies is dog odors. No matter how often we shampoo Elsie, we find that within days she gets a little musty smelling. This smell has a way of attaching itself to her dog bedding and our rugs and carpets.
Before I learned about allergies and cleaning products, I used to sprinkle carpet cleaners or use fabric sprays on our rugs to eliminate odors. Then, I learned that the chemicals and perfumes in these products could actually be contributing to her problems – and also her odors.
Now, the only product I use on our carpets is Arm & Hammer baking soda. Baking soda neutralizes odors by regulating pH, keeping a substance neither too acidic, nor too alkaline. Baking soda contains natural ingredients for odor fighting, which means it contains no fragrances or dyes.
Since sometimes the baking soda comes out of the box too quickly, I’ll put it in container with a lid for sprinkling – such as an old spice or parmesan cheese container. Just clean out the empty container, fill it with baking soda, and you’re ready to start sprinkling over your carpets.
Use Perfume & Dye-free Laundry Detergent & Dryer Sheets
Although some people love the fresh scent that laundry detergent and dryer sheets give their clothing, allergy sufferers often find that the perfumes and softening agents bother their skin and make it hard to breath. Our favorite brand of laundry detergent is Tide Free & Gentle. It comes in both a liquid and powder form.
Consider washing your bedding and your dog’s bedding with laundry detergents designed specifically for allergy sufferers. These products contain no dyes or perfumes. When you wash your dog’s bedding, I’d suggest eliminating dryer sheets altogether. Your dog won’t mind if there is a little static cling and you won’t have to worry about any of the softening agents bothering your dog’s skin.
Stop Using Commercial Air Fresheners
There continues to be much debate about whether air fresheners contain toxic chemicals that work as indoor pollutants in your home. In a 2008 University of Washington study of top-selling laundry products and air fresheners, it was discovered that these products threw several different chemicals into the air. Each product contained at least one chemical deemed as toxic under federal law.
Since there is too much unknown about the affects of these chemicals on humans and pets, it would be best to avoid regular use of air fresheners in your home. Here are some more natural alternatives:
Kill odors at the source. Rather than trying to cover up odors with perfumes, it’s ideal to figure out what the smell is coming from and to eliminate it. If the smell is your dog, then frequent baths are necessary. You’ll also want wash their bedding each week and use baking soda on carpets and rugs when vacuuming.
Simmer cinnamon. A great way to scent your home with little expense is to simmer a few cinnamon sticks in water on your stove.
Use essential oils. Essential oils are an excellent way to naturally scent your home. You can create your own room sprays or opt to use a diffuser or light bulb ring. Due to the potency of these oils, you need to be careful to not ingest the oils or rub them directly onto your or your dog’s skin. Read all directions when working with essential oils.
These are just a few suggestions on how you can eliminate the use of dye and perfume laden cleaning products. The key is finding more natural methods to clean and remove odors at their source.
Dust mites and mold, two common indoor allergens, thrive on humidity. One of the best ways to control the humidity in your home is with a de-humidifier.
Before I started researching allergies, I had no idea what a problem indoor humidity was for allergy-prone pets and humans. I always thought a little humidity was a good thing indoors – particularly during the dry winter months. In fact, I remember trying to keep the steam in our bathroom during showers to help “humidify” the rest of the house. I was even considering purchasing a humidifier to help with Elsie’s allergies. What a mistake that would have been.
What most people don’t realize is that their homes are often already too humid. Dust mites and mold both thrive in warm, humid conditions. If your home has an indoor humidity level higher than 50%, you could be contributing to your dog’s allergy problems. How can you tell what your humidity level is? It’s easy. All you need to do is purchase a hygrometer. A hygrometer will measure the moisture content (humidity) of your indoor air. You can find them just about anywhere – I purchased mine at Wal-Mart.
I was surprised to find that our indoor humidity was above 60%. This made our house an ideal breeding ground for mold and dust mites. After realizing we had a problem, I decided to purchase a de-humidifier to see if that would help bring the humidity down. It brought the humidity down below 50% within hours – it was amazing. Our de-humidifier has now become a regular part of our home life. We check our hygrometer once a day to see how our indoor humidity is doing. If the humidity level is above 50%, we make sure to keep the de-humidifier running. If the humidity is low, we turn it off or down to a lower setting. It’s amazing how much moisture that little machine pulls from the air. Since using the de-humidifier, we spend much less time fighting mold and I believe this device has contributed to air quality improvements for Elsie and the rest of our family.
If you decide to purchase a de-humidifier, you’ll want to do some research on how large of space you want to use it in. Some are pretty compact, but only work for small areas like bedrooms. Others are rather large and are ideal for large basements. None of these devices are terribly small and they do make some noise, and use some electricity. But, for our family, these drawbacks were much less important to us than improving the air quality in our home.
One thing you’ll want to pay attention to is the cleaning instructions for your de-humidifier. Since these machines collect water, it’s important to not just empty the water, but also clean out the container with bleach or mold remover to ensure no mold is growing inside. You’ll also want to regularly clean the filter to make sure it runs efficiently. Our little de-humidifier has been running almost non-stop for two years. We purchased a Kenmore brand from Sears, however, there are many other brands and models available to choose from.