Just Moved Our Allergic Dog to a New State

Elsie - watching us pack up the truck.

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.

After several years of sickness, vet visits, and expensive medication, we had finally found the right solution to treat Elsie’s allergy symptoms: Allergy shots. I’ve written all about our allergy testing experience and our success with her shots. Once we started Elsie on allergy shots, she and we finally had our lives back.

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.

Dog Allergy Stories. Clayton, the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Clayton the American Pit Bull relaxing.
Clayton relaxing

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.

Clayton, wearing a t-shirt and socks to prevent chewing and scratching.
Clayton, wearing a t-shirt and socks to prevent chewing and scratching.

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 the pit bull showing hair loss on his ears.
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.

Clayton the dog in a lycra body suit
Clayton in his new Lycra body suit.

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.

Dog Allergy Symptom #4. Licking and Chewing Their Feet.

Dog PawsWhen our dog Elsie was less than a year old, she started to lick her paws whenever she was resting. I had read that Boxers were fastidious cleaners, so I assumed that this was a breed trait coming out and thought cleanliness was a good thing.

Over time, her foot licking became more frequent and vigorous, and eventually lead to foot chewing. She would often wake up from a deep sleep and start biting and chewing her feet such intensity that we realized something wasn’t right. Her paws became red and irritated and the hair around her toes became thin.

At closer inspection, we noticed that the skin between Elsie’s toes and the area around her nails were becoming a dark brownish, red color. Our puppy’s beautiful white “socks” were turning a rusty red and she was clearly uncomfortable.

Obsessive foot licking and chewing is a common sign of atopic dermatitis or skin allergies.  If you find that your dog is constantly licking or gnawing at their feet, it is quite possible that they are suffering from allergies.

Before you jump to any conclusions, you’ll want to inspect their feet. Gently check between their toes and the bottom of their paw pads to make sure there aren’t any cuts or splinter.  If you have a dog with longer hair, make sure they don’t have any items like matted fur or sticks or burs which may be irritating their feet.

Once you’ve determined that your dog’s licking and chewing is not related to an injury or irritant, take your dog in to a veterinarian. Too much foot chewing can lead to bacterial infections or other skin problems. Plus, it can make life quite uncomfortable for your furry friend.

Once we found an allergy treatment that worked for Elsie (more on that later), her rusty red feet eventually reverted back to their original pretty white coloring. She no longer licks or chews on her feet and is able to relax like a normal dog.

Dog Allergy Symptom #3. Gas.

For the first two years of Elsie’s life, our family and extended family had several good laughs about our farting dog.  She farted, tooted, squeaked – you name it.  My husband and I were used to it, but it would get a bit embarrassing during holidays or visits from friends.  I always tried to keep a candle going after dinner, in attempts to mask the suspicious odor that would come from her direction.  Inevitably someone would say “Oh, Elsie!” and the room would clear out. Poor smelly dog.

I remember thinking that maybe it was a boxer thing. My family never had boxers growing up. I read once that boxers tend to have digestive issues, so I just wrote it off as a breed problem. When we finally switched her to the right diet, the gas almost completely went away. Thankfully for her, and us, all we live with now is an occasional toot.

If your dog has excessive gas, he or she may have a food or environmental allergy.  Although farting can be humorous, excessive gas is often a sign of a more serious digestive problem and should be checked by your veterinarian.

Dog Allergy Symptom #2. Ear Infections.

Does your dog have frequent ear infections?  Do they continuously flap or scratch at their ears?  Do their ears have an odor? It is often assumed that ear infections are a sign of ear mites. However, in many cases, chronic ear infections are a sign that a dog allergies.

Ear infections were a regular part of Elsie’s life. In the beginning, whenever she had a bath, went swimming, or had any interaction with water, she’d end up with a nasty ear infection. As months went on, her ear infections would flair up for little reason at all.  The weather would change, we’d go out of town for a weekend – any small change in routine would trigger an infection.

In attempts to ease her discomfort, she’d claw at her ears and rub her head on the floor. Her head flapping and ear scratching resulted in cuts and scratches that would open and introduce new infections. It was a pretty ugly scene.

Elsie is now on allergy shots, and thankfully doesn’t have the same ear issues.  However, we still find that regular ear cleaning is an absolute must as part of her grooming routine.  To prevent infections, we clean her ears each week with a solution called Epi-Otic®. Your veterinarian will likely prescribe a similar non-irritating cleansing solution.

To clean your dog’s ears, simply squirt the solution in their ear canal, gently rub the ears and then wipe off any excess liquid.  It takes less than five minutes and can make a big difference in your dog’s comfort. If your dog is like most, it will automatically shake its head – so you may want to do this in your bathtub or outdoors to prevent your walls being covered with the cleanser.

If your dog has frequent ear infections, talk to your veterinarian. This is likely a sign of allergies or some other problem with their immune system.

Dog Allergy Symptom #1. Itchy, Scratchy Skin.

All dogs scratch themselves, right?  Of course, it’s part of being a dog.  There’s the occasional, normal head scratching and then there’s allergy itching. Allergic dogs scratch as if they want to remove a layer of skin – and they often will.

The itchiest areas are often their ears, muzzles and chin. If your dog often rubs their chin on the floor, rubs their paws over their eyes or scratches at their ears – they may have allergies. When my dog Elsie’s allergies were at their worst, she would wake up every morning and rub her face on the carpet. When she wasn’t rubbing her face, she was scratching at her mouth and ears.

Elsie with her ear-protecting bandage

Over time, this excessive scratching not only causes open cuts and sores, but can also lead to infections. At one point, we had to wrap Elsie’s head in bandages to prevent her from opening up existing sores on her ears.  During less dramatic scratching sessions, we would stick Band-aids on the tips of her ears to minimize the bleeding.  Sure, she would scratch them off, but they would usually hold for a couple of hours.

Although constant scratching is often a symptom of allergies, it’s important to know that other conditions such as mange and fleas can contribute to this itching.  First consult with your veterinarian prior to taking any steps to treat allergies.

Dog Allergy Symptoms

It’s safe to say that my Boxer dog Elsie has a severe case of allergies.  When her allergies were at their worst, I was convinced she would not live to be four years old. She was on a constant diet of prescription allergy drugs and antibiotics, which did little more than keep her from tearing out her fur. That year alone, we spent over $2,000 on veterinary bills. And all we had to show for it was a sick dog.

Elsie first started exhibiting allergy symptoms when she was less than a year old.  I remember giggling to myself one night as I watched her rub her chin on the floor.  I thought she looked so cute, bobbing her head back and forth on the rug.  “Oh, does someone have an itchy chin?” I said.  Little did I know how itchy that chin and the rest of the dog would get.

Over time, the cute itching would turn into violent scratching and chewing. Her scratching would create sores on her ears which would open and bleed each time she flapped her head. Her chewing would turn her paws dark red and cause hair loss on her haunches.  In the beginning, I thought she was just being a dog.  Later, I learned she was losing a painful battle against her deficient immune system.

Over the next several posts, I’ll share some of the top dog allergy symptoms. If your dog is showing some of these symptoms, it’s possible they may have a food or environmental allergy.  If so, you should consider consulting with a qualified veterinarian for specific instructions on the treatment and care for your dog.