Itching, red paws, tear stains and a dog with allergies
Why are my dog’s paws red and your dogs aren’t?
Where are Maggie’s tear stains?
Why is my dog’s beard discolored?
Why does my dog constantly lick his paws?
Why are my dog’s paws not red like a lot of poodles (and other breeds)?
Believe it or not, I get asked these questions all the time.
All of those things don’t just happen. Often, these are all signs of allergies. We’re all familiar with obvious signs of distress like diarrhea but discolorations are another way for your dog’s physiology to show that something isn’t sitting well with them.
Allergies – either environmental or food-based – are very common but usually, allergies are manageable. Both of my dogs have allergies; this surprises most people because you never see them uncomfortable, licking their paws or scratching at hotspots. This is because we’ve identified the allergies then followed management and treatment protocols. Both my dogs have Bichon in them which is the #6 most allergy prone dog breed.
When Maggie was a young pup she began itching a lot. She itched and scratched, to the point where her skin as raw and red. I consulted with our vet and we tried removing one protein – chicken – from her diet. Chicken allergy is a common one, especially among bichons and bichon mixes with pink skin. We also switched foods. Each time you switch proteins it takes about a month for the effects of the old food to work their way out of your pet’s system. Then you need to wait and see how they react to the new food.
For me, the result was far from a miracle cure. I didn’t see much of an improvement at all. The itching continued. I went back to my vet and we decided it wasn’t fair to Maggie to keep guessing and switching foods. We decided to do a blood panel allergy test. This is probably one of the best decisions I made for my dogs’ health.
We ran a blood test through Spectrum Labs. The results, which came several weeks later, told us so much about her allergies and their varying levels of severity. Potential allergens ranged from peas to house flies to weeds and grasses to protein sources like chicken and fish.
I now manage her allergies, mostly by avoiding allergens where possible, which is easier with food allergies (I don’t give her those foods) and less easy with the environmental allergies like pollens and dust mites (Maggie hates the vacuum cleaner but it’s a necessary part of our lives). We retest every few years to see if and how her results change just like in humans dog allergies. One big help to me with management is feeding a diet with limited ingredients like Ziwi. With very few ingredients, I don’t have to wonder if she’ll react to something we haven’t seen before.
For her environmental allergies, we started allergen immunotherapy, a series of individually-formulated desensitization injections given at specific intervals.
Life changing. Maggie’s skin changed color from an angry pink to healthier white color, her hair changed texture and it no longer was falling out. She no longer itches and – probably because she doesn’t have to spend all that time scratching – her energy level soared. Because Maggie was allergic to so many ‘small’ things – white potato, kelp,green peas, eggs, – I never would have figured them out on my own without the testing. Which means she would have been uncomfortable for more years. No dog owner would want that.
When I noticed Rossi scratching a lot, I knew it was time for an allergy test. He was past the six-month mark – most puppies don’t develop allergies before six months of age – and I was eager to identify any allergies as early as possible in his life to spare him any discomfort.
Types of allergies:
Your pet may be allergic to something simple like one protein or food ingredient or to something present in his environment like a type of grass or pollen.
If you find your pup is licking his or paws frequently consider wiping their paws down after a walk with some malacetic wipes and see if it has any effect on the licking. If he stops the behaviour, this might indicate that the issue is environmental.
For some dogs with tear stains switching to purified water is the cure, if not then an allergy test can tell you a lot as tear stains if your dogs body excreting something not sitting well (and allergies aren’t fun for us or them).
If you don’t see an effect, try switching food proteins and see what happens.
If you find your pet is still having a reaction, I would contact your vet to discuss other options.
What to do about it:
Consult with your vet. There are a number of other conditions – like enzyme deficiency, parasites/worms and gut bacteria issues – that have similar signs and symptoms to allergies. You’ll want to rule these out as causes.
Allergy testing. Many of my clients have doodles or bichon mixes and both poodles and bichons are near the top of the list for dog breeds with allergies. When I see signs of allergies in my clients’ dogs, I recommend allergy testing.
There are two types of tests that I recommend. You can decide which one seems like the best fit for you and your pup.
1. A blood panel allergy test.
Pro: You will learn what your pet is allergic to. We are huge fan of the tests by Spectrum Labs. You can search here on Spectrum Lab’s site for a referral to a vet that offers their testing in case your own vet does not. Like any lab/blood work, you have to pay for the service but it’s worth it to get some answers.
Spectrum gives you a list of all allergies: environmental and food. For food allergies, you’ll also receive a booklet that lists treats and foods that don’t include your dog’s allergens. If your pet has a large number of environmental allergies, you might opt for allergy shots like described earlier. The injection serums are individually formulated for your pet’s allergies and are used in a series of injections taken at specified intervals.
Con: None really, although allergy immunotherapy does require a consistent and longterm commitment to the process. If you have health insurance for your dog, it may cover the cost of the treatment. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have insurance for Maggie when I started her testing and consequently her monthly shots (which I purchase about twice a year) come out of pocket. If you’ve been on the fence about purchasing health insurance for your dog, you might want to look into it before you begin the allergy diagnostic process.
The spectrum allergy tests are a blood test and done only through a veterinarian.
2. Saliva and hair testing
Maggie had some strange tummy issues that our vets couldn’t figure out. Her blood tests were normal and everything on paper looked fine but I knew something was up. The signs were odd, like she’d stop tolerating a supplement after two or three months of no reaction. I decided to do the test offered by Pet Medella (code Maggie takes $20 off) and much to my surprise it both solved the problem and gave us a holistic remedy too.
Pet Medella is an in-home saliva and hair test that’s different from a blood test in that rather than testing for antibodies to potential allergens, they look at your dog’s hair and saliva for exposures to over 600 substances and analyze the results to see what your dog is sensitive to. They also do a nutrition panel, toxicity screening, hormone test, and check to see if a holistic remedy would help address the different stressors that were found.
So I didn’t simply get an answer to what was causing Maggie’s GI issue, but I also learned a lot about her physiology, her sensitivities and what wasn’t functioning properly. My mind was blown – I thought I knew Maggie so well and then there were all these details of things I’d never have known without the test. Pet Medella gives you an online report as well as a consultation by telephone that really gives you an in-depth understanding of the testing and results. The phone consultation was really, really helpful and together, we customized a plan to improve Maggie’s health – this is included with your purchase.
I started with the Full Body scan for her and we’ll be re-testing soon with the Remedy scan. Along the way, I was so sold on this that I did the human version. Not because I was licking my paws or had tear stains but because the results had done so much to set Maggie on a path to a healthier, happier life.
Pros: The test is done in your home, no vet appointments needed. You get a super informative consultation call to ask all the questions you want. My vet even joined in on it. If your pet is experiencing wide-ranging health issues, these tests may give you some insight into that as well as identifying sensitives to food and the environment.
Cons: There isn’t a plan to help tackle the environmental allergies but with that knowledge, you and your vet can figure out a game plan now that you’ve identified the allergens affecting your dog.
This post is based on my own experiences. I wasn’t asked to write on this topic by either Spectrum Labs or Pet Medella. I paid for all tests myself. I’m hoping that sharing what I’ve learned will help other dog owners who want to improve their dog’s quality of life.