Does Your Dog Have Allergies?

Elsie - my Boxer with dog allergies
Elsie in her favorite spot.

My dog Elsie has very extreme allergies. My experiences in treating her allergies inspired me to write both this blog, and an ebook all about dog allergy symptoms, causes & treatments. I should be finished very soon.

Although I share a lot of my experiences with Elsie’s allergies, what the book really needs are real life stories from other dog owners.

If your dog has allergies, I would love to be able to share your story with others. What symptoms does your dog have? How do you treat your pup’s allergies? What techniques worked/didn’t work?

If your story is used, I’ll be sure to include your name and your dog’s name in the book (assuming you want that – you can remain anonymous if you prefer) and I’ll send you a free copy of the ebook when it is published.

If you are interested, please email me at khrach@allergydogcentral.com.  I’ll be happy to send you some questions to get started.

Thanks!
Kathy

Using Topical Sprays to Treat Dog Allergies

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.
Dog allergies red skin
Elsie's irritated paws

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.

Antihistamines to Treat Dog Allergy Symptoms

Antihistamines to treat dog allergiesWhen your dog is exposed to allergens, its body releases histamines. These histamines attach to your dog’s cells, which cause them to swell.  This causes your dog’s excessive itching and other allergy symptoms.  Antihistamines decrease this inflammation by inhibiting histamine release.   Many dog owners use antihistamines to minimize their pet’s allergy symptoms.

Antihistamine Benefits:

  • One of the biggest benefits to using antihistamines is cost.  As over the counter drugs, antihistamines tend to be much less expensive than other prescription allergy medication.
  • Often a good solution for dogs with seasonal allergies and mild allergy symptoms.

Antihistamine Drawbacks:

  • Many dogs don’t respond to this form of treatment.  For dogs suffering from extreme allergies, an antihistamine may only slightly minimize itching and inflammation.
  • Antihistamines can cause slight lethargy in dogs. If your dog is on antihistamines, you’ll probably find that it is sleepier than normal.

Antihistamine drugs available on the market include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine (Atarax), chlorpheniramine (Chlortrimeton) and cetirizine (Zyrtec). Check with your veterinarian to determine which type of antihistamine and dosage amount they recommend for your dog.

Flea Prevention as a Way to Treat Dog Allergies.

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.

Use Allergen-free Cleaning Products to Treat Your Dog’s Allergies.

allergen-free cleaning sprayWhen 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.

Use a De-humidifier to Control Indoor Allergens. Dog Allergy Treatments.

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.

hygrometer
Our hygrometer on a humid day – it’s 57%. Time to keep the de-humidifier running at full force!

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.

de-humidifier
Our dehumidifier, pulling the extra moisture out of the room.

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.

Dog Allergy Treatments. Remove Mold in Your Home.

Mold can be a big problem for allergy-prone dogs.  In addition to outdoor mold, mold can grow indoors in humid spaces like bathrooms, kitchens, basements, garbage cans, refrigerators, carpets, and sheetrock.  Once you start looking for mold, you may be surprised at how prevalent it is in your home.

I live in an older home, in the Mid-Atlantic, where it can get quite humid.  After I started researching allergies, I’ve learned that my home can be a breeding ground for mold.  Here are some of the regular places I find and treat our mold:

  • Showers and Sinks.  These are likely the most common place for mold to grow in your home.  Since showers and sinks contain a lot of moisture, it’s an easy place for mold to grow and spread.  I’ve found the best solution is to spray on a mildew and mold cleaner or bleach, leave it on for 10 minutes and then rinse and wipe clean.  This should keep the mold at bay for a couple of weeks.
  • Window panes.  In the winter months, I find that our home has some condensation forming in the corners of our window panes.  If left unattended, mold will eventually appear. I now wipe the condensation regularly, and use a mold cleaner or bleach as needed.
  • Basement corners.  One year, when left unattended, our basement walls started to grow a bit mold in the corners.  After cleaning up the mold, we’ve now learned to check these walls regularly and not lean any items against the corners – to prevent excess moisture buildup.
  • Window unit air conditioners.  We use some window unit air conditioners in our home during the hot summer months.  One year, I took a close look at one of our units and found mold growing on the intake vent.  I now include a good bleach wipe down of these vents as part of a regular summer cleaning routine.

In addition to the sources of mold I’ve listed above, you can also find mold growing in dishwashers, washing machines, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, since all regularly contain water.  Be sure to check these devices regularly and be prepared to eliminate mold as needed.

Dog Allergy Treatments. Vacuum, Sweep & Mop Often.

clean floor allergiesIf you suspect that your dog has allergies, it’s a good idea to start a regular cleaning routine.  Allergen particles are first carried through the air, but eventually will setting onto your furniture and flooring.

Some of the biggest allergen magnets in your home are carpeting and rugs.  Carpeting, especially designs with a higher pile have a lot of nooks and crannies that allergens can settle into. It’s difficult to ever completely remove allergens, but with regular vacuuming (at least once a week), you can eliminate most allergens.

It’s important to know that many old or inexpensive vacuums may actually contribute to poor air quality in your home by throwing allergens back into the air.  There are now several asthma and allergen friendly vacuums which include a small-particle or a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.  Be sure to follow the directions for cleaning or changing these filters to keep them working efficiently.

In addition to vacuuming your carpets and rugs, you’ll also want to pull out your vacuum attachments and regularly clean fabric chairs and couches.  Allergens can settle into your furniture and then be tossed into the air each time someone sits down.  As mentioned earlier, if you have slip covers or area rugs, these should be washed in hot water every couple of weeks.

Allergens are not quite as problematic on hard surfaces like hardwood floors, tile and linoleum, since there are fewer places for them to hide. But, you’ll still want to clean these surfaces each week as well.  I’ve found that it works well to either gently vacuum these surfaces or sweep with a broom.

Once the surfaces are clean of crumbs and dirt, I follow up with the following techniques to rid the floor of any additional dust or allergens.  For my wood floors, I like to use a dry dust mop, such as the Swiffer Dry Mop.  These do a great job of picking up additional dirt that I wasn’t able to pull up with the broom or vacuum.

For my tile and linoleum, I’ve recently started using a steam mop.  Steam mops clean your hard surfaces using hot water – no chemicals or detergents.   I use the Haan Steam Cleaning Floor Sanitizer , but there are many other brands and models as well. I’ve found this steam mop does a nice job of cleaning my floors, without leaving behind chemicals or sticky cleaning agents.  The cleaning pads can be washed in the washing machine, which makes maintenance really easy.  These steam mops certainly cost more than a traditional mop, but I’ve found it’s easier to use – which means I’m more inclined to use it regularly.

References:

Allergy-proof Your House by the Mayo Clinic staff
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/allergy/HQ01514

Tips to Control Indoor Allergens by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=18&cont=533

Dog Allergy Treatments. Wash Bedding & Fabrics in Hot Water.

washing machineIn the last post, I reviewed the benefits of dust mite covers.  Although dust mite covers are an excellent way to prevent dust mites from living in your mattress and pillows, you should also plan to regularly wash bedding and other fabrics to prevent these creatures from invading your bedding and furniture.

It is recommended that you wash your bedding – including comforters and bed spreads once a week in hot water.  The hot water will kill any dust mites and the regular washing will eliminate the presence of dead skin cells (what dust mites live on) in your bedding.  Regular washing can also rid your fabrics of other air-traveling allergens like pollen.

In addition to your own bedding, don’t forget to wash your dog’s bedding each week as well.  This includes dog beds.  When you shop for dog beds, look for a model that can fit in your washer and dryer and use hot water when washing.

Be sure to regularly wash and slip covers or throw rugs as well. Virtually all fabrics in your home can attract dust mites and other allergens.  Although it may seem time consuming, the time you spend washing these items will save you time that would otherwise be spent at the vets office or administering allergy treatments.

Dog Allergy Treatments. Use Dust Mite Covers on Bedding.

Dust mite covers for dog allergiesIn a previous post, I discussed how dust mites can cause allergies in humans and pets.  Since these microscopic creatures feed off of dead skin cells, they are most often found in bedding, furniture and carpeting.  This makes your bedroom a popular hangout for dust mites.  If your dog sleeps in or near your bed, dust mites could be contributing to their allergy problems.

An easy way to prevent dust mites in your bedroom is using dust mite covers on your mattresses and pillows.  These special dust mite covers or encasings are designed to prevent dust mites from entering your mattress or pillows.  Dust mites that already exist will die off.

Our dog Elsie sleeps on the floor of our bedroom.  Once I learned about the potential problems with bedroom dust mites, we started using dust mite covers on our mattresses and pillows.  Since we did this along with several other steps to prevent indoor allergens, it is hard to say if this effort alone helped with Elsie’s allergies.  My husband said that after we started using the dust mite covers, he felt more refreshed and less stuffy when he woke up in the mornings.  So, I say it was a good move for all of us.

There are several kinds and qualities of dust mite covers available on the market.  The key is to make sure that you cover all mattresses, box springs and pillows.  Just covering your mattress is not enough. You must also be sure that the covers you purchase are designed to prevent dust mites – basic mattress and pillow covers will not help.  Dust mite covers have a special weave that eliminates the chance that these tiny creatures will enter your bedding. You can purchase dust mite covers from specialty allergy stores online or even from stores like Target and Wal-Mart.