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.
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.
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.
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.
If 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.
Opal is a five year old purebred Shar Pei and a champion show dog. She is one of the top dogs of her breed in the country and also a wonderful family pet. Opal’s owner Sarah inherited Opal after she retired. Opal lives in the same home as Bailey, another of our featured allergy dogs.
Sarah says Opal never showed signs of allergies until she moved from her kennel into Sarah’s house. Sarah isn’t certain what the cause of Opal’s allergies is, but she does know that her symptoms started after she moved indoors. Sarah first discovered that Opal might have allergies when she started scratching her skin until it started to bleed. Opal also suffered from hair loss.
“Even top quality dogs from great breeding can have allergies,” said Sarah. “The key for owners is to find a way to make their dog comfortable.”
When Opal shows signs of allergies, Sarah has found that giving her a Benadryl once a day does the trick. She’ll give Opal two per day if her allergies are particularly bothersome. The Benadryl keeps Opal comfortable and stops the itching.
Allergies aren’t keeping Opal down. Sarah plans to enter Opal in Rally and Obedience next year. Go Opal!
Does your dog have allergies too? If so, we’d love to hear your story. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your dog allergy story.
As you clean you home to eliminate dust and other allergens, you could be causing more harm than good. Perfumes and chemicals found in air fresheners and cleaning products can often trigger allergic reactions in sensitive dogs.
Many cleaning products today, like dust cleaners, and bathroom and kitchen cleaners, come in aerosol cans or sprays which make it easier to cover large surfaces. Unfortunately, these sprays are also good at sending chemicals into the air, which can then be inhaled by you and your pets.
Laundry detergents and dryer sheets also contain dyes and perfumes which can harm allergy-prone dogs. These chemicals can be particularly bothersome if you wash your dog’s bedding – since your pup will be lying directly on these allergen-rich fabrics.
If your dog is itchy year round, particularly after a house cleaning session, you may want to consider changing your cleaning products to those which are more allergy-friendly. We’ll discuss more allergy-safe cleaning options in our Allergy Treatments section.
Elsie is a four year old Boxer dog and the inspiration for Allergy Dog Central and by book, “My Dog Has Allergies?!“. Before she came into my life I had no idea that dogs could have allergies.
We acquired Elsie through a local family, who could easily be considered to be backyard breeders. I thought I did my research by calling her parents’ veterinarian to ask about the parents’ health, but that call uncovered nothing. After living through Elsie’s health problems, I find it hard to believe that one or both of them did not have allergies as well.
Elsie started to exhibit allergy symptoms when she was a puppy. It started with her rubbing her chin and graduated to violent scratching, foot chewing, vomiting, diarrhea, skin infections, ear infections, hair loss, and on and on.
By the time she was two years old, my family was spending over $2,000 a year on allergy treatments and vet visits. For over a year, we had her on Atopica, which if taken frequently, can be expensive. Although I hear that others have had good experiences with this medication, for Elsie it helped with the itching, but did not stop the infections.
We were spending money like crazy yet her health was continuing to deteriorate. Faced with the possibility of not being able to afford our dog, I took to the Internet and tried to figure out how we could “fix” our sick dog.
After much trial and error and the help of a great Veterinary Dermatologist, Elsie is finally living a normal dog life. We had Elsie tested for allergies and we now give her regular allergy shots. These allergy shots have worked wonders and are considerably less expensive than the medication we had her, not to mention the frequent antibiotics and vet visits.
In addition to the allergy shots, I also switched Elsie to a limited ingredient dog food. I chose Natural Balance Sweet Potato and Venison formula. Since we found that she was allergic to feathers (among many other things), I thought it would be best to move her from her original Duck and Potato formula. The dog food change worked wonders for her digestive system as well.
Along with Elsie’s allergy shots and new food, we’ve also found good results from regular baths and ear cleaning sessions. We bathe Elsie every two weeks using Duoxo Chlorhexidine PS Shampoo. This shampoo was recommended by our pet dermatologist. It never dries out her skin and leaves her coat glossy and smooth. I was amazed at how well it works. We also have a weekly ear cleaning session using Epi-Otic ear cleaning solution. This keeps her ears dirt free and smelling good, which prevents excess scratching.
I’ve learned that no two dogs are the same. The treatments that have worked wonders for Elsie may not work for another dog exhibiting the same symptoms. And, there are varying degrees of allergies. Some dogs can easily be treated with a Benadryl or a medicated shampoo bath. Others, like Elsie, have much more severe cases that require more aggressive treatment.
Although there is no magic solution or cure for dog allergies, there are ways to keep them under control.
Does your dog have allergies too? If so, we’d love to hear your story. Please email us at email@example.com to share your dog allergy story.