“Tuck stop scratching buddy you’re going to hurt yourself”. If I had a dollar for every time I said that over the course of 5 years I would be able to cover another four rounds of every treatment option we tried to keep Tucker (my red nose pit bull with severe skin allergies) from scratching himself to death. Tuck is now a 7-year-old pit that I rescued when he was just 4 months old. He never had severe skin allergies until he was 2 years old but when they came….boy did they hit hard. Over the course of the next 5 years I went on to try anything and everything to help ease Tucker’s seasonal skin allergies. I knew his were seasonal as they would begin around May and then leave around October.
In this article I want to cover some of the allergy treatments I tried with Tuck and the research that I completed in the process regarding different options. Disclaimer alert, I am not a vet and I do recommend consulting with a vet to determine the best allergy treatment path for your furry friend.
There are three different types of allergies we will cover which are atopy, contact, and food allergies. Atopy is caused by environmental or an irritant such as seasonal allergies, mold or flea bites. Contact allergies are something that the dog must come in contact with and then has a reaction such as grass and cotton. Finally there are food allergies, which are pretty self-explanatory.
With atopy allergies having the dog not come into contact with the cause is ideal, however not always practical. In my case for example Tucker is highly allergic to certain grasses and pollens, but not letting him ever go outside wasn’t practical. A good option when dealing with outdoor allergies can be things such as wiping off your dog after every outing with baby wipes. You can purchase a lightweight cover that acts as a barrier between the dog and the outside world as well as dog booties to protect their feet.
A holistic option is feeding your dog local bee honey or pollen. This must be done with local honey or pollen FROM YOUR COUNTY. The reasoning behind this is that the bees use the local flowers and environmental plants to pollinate and it is then transported to the hive and turned into honey. By feeding it to your dog (I always started with a little drizzle and worked my way up to around a spoonful, however always consult your vet if you are concerned about dosing) you are allowing your dog’s body to build up a natural immunity slowly by introducing the allergens into their system in small manageable amounts. The same premise applies to bee pollen, however this is much stronger so I would highly recommend starting with honey.
With outdoor allergies a few more options would be to clear a spot in your yard (if possible) and either plant only grass if they are not allergic to grass or to keep it dirt. This would allow your dog to have a separate area within your yard for him to go to the bathroom and play. Also, keeping your grass cut short and keeping your dog inside during high pollen seasons as much as possible are both helpful in the maintenance of allergies.
With any inside allergies such as dust, dust mites, and molds avoidance is the best option. Things such as plastic covering over pet beds, washing bedding in hot water, avoiding stuffed furniture and toys, running AC in hot months, avoiding dusty dog food and toys, using/cleaning/disinfecting humidifiers, and avoiding a large number of houseplants are all helpful solutions.
When it comes to topical therapy there are some amazing shampoos on the market. I personally used Jax N Daisy, however ensuring you’re using one with a hypoallergenic or colloidal oatmeal component is key. Hydrocortisone shampoos can also be an option. Once to twice a week is a recommended bathing amount unless your dog is severe then you might want to try every other day for a week or two and then back off. It is important to make sure you do not over wash your dog as you can cause him/her to have dry skin, which then in turn can cause them to itch (it’s a never ending battle I swear). Once again, always check with your vet as he/she knows your dog best and may have a specific shampoo they recommend.
Hydrocortisone sprays, creams and powders are also available many times through your vet. These creams can be helpful but you must ensure if you are buying an over the counter cream that it is safe for you to not only apply topically (and in a certain frequency), but in the case that your dog licks the cream off.
There are different options you can give to your dog either in their food or if they will just take it by hand, that can help with skin irritation and allergies. Coconut oil as well as olive oil has both been shown to help ease irritated skin. Coconut oil also helps to calm the inflammation system when ingested. If this is something you are thinking of trying, I would choose one oil to start with and if it doesn’t work try the other, though keep in mind anything you start (with any treatment) can take a few months to start seeing any changes. Fatty acids are a fantastic option for allergies. There are many kinds of fatty acids so it is important to do your research on which one and why you are going to start using. This treatment however is a safe and scientifically supported option for assisting with dog and cat allergies.
Ingestible non-steroidal medications potentially have their place in the treatment plan as well. These can include options such as biotin, antihistamines, aspirin, and apoquel. Biotin is a B vitamin that has been shown to offer some relief, especially when combined with fatty acids, for dogs with dry skin, seborrhea, and allergies. Antihistamines can be given (in very specific amounts, please educate yourself on dosing sizes and frequencies for dogs prior to administration) to your dog as a way to control allergies. These drugs can have side effects so ensure you’re well versed prior to use. Aspirin is used for pain and inflammation from arthritis and injuries, however it can also help to ease discomfort from severe itching. The dosing amount, types (buffered, time released, etc), and frequencies should be researched and discussed with a vet prior to administration. Please note this is NOT a safe option for cats as it is toxic to them. Apoquel is a non-steroidal medication that has been shown to offer great relief to many dogs. This is one that must be purchased through your veterinarian and it is important to keep in mind that it can be a more expensive treatment option, so you might want to look into others first.
Now we are entering the injection portion of today’s read. There are two types of injection options (steroid injections not being counted here) that I tried with Tuck. The first one being a new medication on the market called Cytopoint. This essentially was an injectable version of apoquel, though it worked for Tuck for three months after apoquel had stopped working. This is also one that must be done through your vet. Be sure to ask prior to scheduling if your vet offers it as not every clinic does. Next is immunotherapy (hyposensitization). This is where your dog is tested to see exactly what he/she is allergic to and then a serum is developed to slowly administer a small amount of the top allergens to her/him to allow his/her body to build up immunity over time. There are two ways to test this, through dermal (skin) testing and through blood.
I first tried the blood testing with Tuck and after $700, over a year of daily injections, and the extended dosing schedule I was finally told the blood testing was not nearly as effective as the dermal testing (so lovely right?). Most recently I took Tuck up to the University of Florida where he had the dermal testing done. Through this as well as the blood testing the serum can be administered via injection or trans mucosal (a liquid squirted in his gums via syringe). Since Tuck had such a severe reaction to the injections, we opted for the mucosal administration option. FINGERS CROSSED his skin looks amazing and we have had zero set backs with this option. Though it is one of the more costly and time consuming options I can not stress enough the importance of this testing and treatment for your extreme allergy cases. Tuck being so severe and predictable, the University of Florida actually collected samples for a study they are doing on seasonal allergies in dogs.
Steroids are a rather controversial treatment option. Though they have their negative side effects, and you most certainly do not want to leave your dog on them long term due to these side effects, they can be extremely helpful in getting symptoms under control and manageable while you find an alternative treatment option(s). Steroids can be administered either orally, topically, or injectable. For some dogs (Tuck included) a course of steroids with a round of anti-biotic are needed to get ahead of everything due to the severe itching which then causes lesions in the skin which can then get infected and exacerbate the situation. With that being said, as mentioned above it is important to search for alternative treatment options due to the long-term ramifications of leaving a dog on steroids. These must be given by your vet, however be sure to have a conversation about the side-effects, the length your dog will be on them, and the game plan for what you’re going to be starting either prior to or as soon as they finish their course of treatment.
The next type of allergy we will discuss (I know you’re probably thinking how could there possibly be more?!) is food allergies. Food allergies are more common than a lot of people think and many times can be things we see in our dogs food everyday such as chicken, grains and potatoes. The most important thing to remember when trying to either rule out a food allergy or help it is that the dog must be on the one type of food that you are trialing for at least 2-3 months. This means NO other treats, table scraps, cookies etc. You want to isolate and eliminate the potential cause or see if the new food you’re trying is actually working. I personally always recommend dogfoodadvisory.com for any dog food select assistance (allergy or non-allergy related). This site gives a great breakdown of the food’s rating as well as ingredients and any recalls.
Last but not least are contact allergies. These allergies are simply that things the dog comes in contact with such as cotton, grass (which was discussed above), carpet etc. Once again the best option is avoidance. I know….super helpful and insightful.
Phhhhfff we are done!!! I know that was a lot of information and I hope you found at least some of it useful. I know I spoke about Tuck and all the things that didn’t work for him, however I want everyone to understand he is SEVERLY allergic to life and the outlier of the allergy spectrum. Many of the options discussed above have helped hundreds and thousands of dogs across the country suffering from allergies. It is also important to keep in mind that many of the dogs helped by the options above are combining some of these treatments such as whipping off the skin after being outside, fatty acids, and antihistamines so be option to combinations. It is important to do your research and trials to determine the best fit for your furry family member. Always be sure to give whatever you’re trying enough time to work (several weeks to a few months at the bare minimum depending on what you are trying). Last but not least please do not forget to consult with your primary vet and potentially even a vet dermatologist (I highly recommend Dr. Boyd at the University of Florida). Thank you for reading and I hope your furry friend finds some relief in some of the options above.