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 #7. Dark, Red Skin.

Dark hair and skin caused by dog allergies. Photo courtesy of Elsie the Boxer.

If your dog has allergies, you may notice that their hair and skin is turning a reddish brown color.  This discoloration can show up anywhere on your pet’s body, but is often seen between toes, under arms and on abdomens.

With our dog Elsie, we noticed this discoloration most dramatically between her toes and around her muzzle. We first noticed that her white and fawn colored hair was taking on a reddish hue. Eventually this discoloration moved to her skin as well.

An example of Elsie’s dark red skin and fur is shown in the photo to the left.  You can see how bright the top of her white marking is, compared with the bottom area – around her toes.  Although not completely captured in this photo, the skin and hair between her toes was an even deeper red/brown coloring.

Some allergic dogs also have issues with dark, almost black patches appearing on their skin.  This is known as hyperpigmentation, a condition in which patches of skin become darker in color than the normal surrounding skin. Hyperpigmentation is often combined with hair loss or balding.

As with all allergy symptoms, if you see reddish discoloration or signs of hyperpigmentation, you should talk to your veterinarian.  They should be able to help you to determine if your dog is indeed suffering from allergies, or if their skin condition is related to a different health issue.

Dog Allergy Symptom #6. Hair Loss.

As our dog Elsie’s allergy sensitivities increased, her fur became dry and brittle. Her hair became thin around her neck, behind her ears, above her tail and on her hips.  Much like an aging, old man, it got to where you could see through her hair to her skin.  It was a pretty sad scene.

I recall one spring day (at the height of allergy season), I took Elsie for a walk and ran into an acquaintance.  Elsie was young and excitable at the time and started marching around in circles, pulling on her leash – as she would often do when I’d stop to chat with someone.

As we exchanged small talk, this fellow looked at Elsie and his face morphed into a concerned, almost angry expression.  I looked down too, to make sure she wasn’t doing something embarrassing.  She was just wiggling and wagging from what I could see – nothing unusual.  He then said, “You really should loosen her collar. It’s making all of her hair fall out.”

I recall being shocked at his statement; an emotion that was immediately followed by anger. I tried to explain that she had allergies that were causing the hair loss, but my efforts were a waste of time and energy.  He just nodded and continued on his way.  I’m sure it was much easier for him to believe that I was an uncaring dog owner, rather than try to understand the frustrating complexities of dog allergies.

Hair loss is a common symptom of dog allergies. Although seasonal hair loss and shedding is normal for dogs, if your pup’s hair is thinning in patches, be sure to have them checked out.  Be aware that hair loss can also be related to mange, ringworm, or other non-allergy problems, so visit your vet before jumping to any conclusions.

I’m happy to say that with Elsie’s current allergy treatments (allergy testing & allergy shots), her hair has grown back wonderfully. Her bald, thinning coat is now plush and glossy – well, at least as plush as a Boxer can be. I’m also happy to say that I don’t run into that know-it-all fellow on walks anymore.  I’m sure if I would, he’d take a look at Elsie’s plush coat and pat himself on the back for giving me such good and effective advice!