How to get rid of dog's skin allergies and hot spots?
August 31, 2010 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Best treatment for a dog with skin allergies and hot spots?

My year old American Bulldog was recently at the vet and the doctor believes she has skin allergies. His first suggestion was to give Benadryl a try so see if it relieves her itching and licking (also developing some itchy hot spots). He suggested that we bring her back in for a cortisone shot if it doesn't get any better. The Benadryl did nothing.

After doing a little reading on the cortisone shot I'm not completely sure I want to go that route. Maybe it was just one bad experience I read about with them in dogs, but I don't have experience with it.

I've heard radio ads for Dinovite which also allowed me to find NuVet Plus and Pet-Tabs Plus. What I gather from all three of these is that they are multi-vitamins and help shape up the immune system.

Has anyone had experience with any of these? Price isn't too much of a concern but I would like to be logical. For instance, Dinovite would cost several hundred dollars a year while a year supply of Pet-Tabs is $35 on Amazon. I don't know if she would need treatment year-round or just during the Spring/Summer months while she's playing outside in the grass.
posted by jwfree to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Please ask your vet for a referral to a dermatologist. It may cost a little up front, but you should get to the bottom of the problem and will be able to treat your dog that much faster without going back and forth with a day vet that, most likely, doesn't know a whole lot about dermatology problems beyond the basics.
posted by TheBones at 8:13 AM on August 31, 2010

As an owner of a bulldog with skin allergies (and I think they ALL have skin allergies) I would completely defer to your vet. Also I, a human, have had cortisone shots for skin conditions and turned out fine.

Your vet has years of accredited training and actual working experience on top of that. Your best plan might be to ask him what he thinks are the 2 or 3 options available to you and the pros and cons of each so you can make an educated decision not guided by advertising buys. If you are not happy with your vet, perhaps you can find one well acquainted with the breed in question. I did just that, and while it is expensive I feel it is money well spent.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:18 AM on August 31, 2010

Seconding the suggestion to get a doggie dermatologist referral. They can do allergy tests much like the ones that are done for humans to pinpoint just what your dog is allergic to, and can even mix up custom 'cocktails' to treat those allergies specifically (my sister's whippet mix had to have this done - turns out, she's allergic to just about every tree in her area, but after a course of specialized injections she's pretty much fine now).

Alternatively, if it makes you feel any better, my dog had had to get cortisone injections a few times when she was younger; she lived to be 14 and never had any problems with them - ymmv, of course.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:30 AM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: TheBones/2buckplus/DingoMutt: I think I'll definitely check with the vet again and see what all of my options are. I'll also ask for a dog dermatologist. I'll do that soon because she's a very hard scratcher, so she occasionally draws blood and that's not fun for anyone.
posted by jwfree at 8:41 AM on August 31, 2010

Skin allergies and hot spots in dogs, like humans, can often result from food allergies. Some breeds of dog, bulldogs among them, are especially susceptible to food reactions.
As well as treating the symptom with cortisone, try a lamb and rice dog food. Many skin conditions in dogs seem to result from a corn/grain/soy allergy. California Natural dog food has a pretty good reputation. This is available from many pet stores and seems to work well with Bulldogs.
A commercial dog food will contain all the vitamins that your dog requires: these have to conform with the nutritional levels established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Don't overdose your dog on vitamins. Just like humans, this can cause as many problems as it solves. You would only need additional vitamins if you chose a raw or home-cooked diet for your dog.
posted by Susurration at 8:45 AM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you'll need to keep going to a vet/doggie dermatologist to get the itching under control so healing can happen.

Once the dog is more comfortable, I can share two tips that got us through our dog's recent bout of skin allergies. Wipe her face and feet off with a damp cloth when she comes inside to cut down on the ammount of whatever allergens she might have picked up on her trip. To soothe hot spots, wet a plain green tea bag to use as a compress. This is the only topical treatment our dog would submit to peacefully. I do not think these actions will cure your dog, but both of these things were super easy to do for both human and canine, and seemed to help.

We did use benadryl, too, and she had one round of mild oral steriods and antibiotics.

Keep your vet informed about how much benadryl you are or aren't giving her and when as she continues to try different meds.

Susurration has a good point about food. Good luck.
posted by rainbaby at 8:55 AM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: Susurration: You're good. My dog has been on California Natural Lamb and Rice for awhile now. It's a great food and one of the only ones I have found that works well with her. Anything chicken and it upsets her stomach. I think I'll ask the vet about some things brought up here before I resort to vitamins. Thanks for the info!
posted by jwfree at 8:57 AM on August 31, 2010

I have a lab retriever/Irish Setter mixed-breed who has had a lot of skin problems in the past. We've given him the cortisone injections for really bad flare-ups and he's tolerated them very well. (It's really only with long-term exposure that glucocorticoids tend to become more problematic.) He also has a cortisone spray that we use at home. I'm a fan of both of those treatments as a sort of short-term band-aid on the problem. If you don't do something to cut down the inflammation, your poor dog is going to keep scratching, licking, and biting at himself and she'll keep getting those nasty hot spots (really they are secondary bacterial infections).

A lot of the more-recent human research shows that vitamin supplementation doesn't really do anything to help the immune system. And really, your dog's immune system isn't weak -- it's just mis-directed at something in her environment.

In the short term, glucocorticoid therapy is probably your best bet for getting your dog over this allergy flare-up. (And it is a godsend -- I have some horrible allergies myself, and it's really the only thing that works when your entire skin boils up into disgusting hives and itches worse than anything imaginable. I can't keep myself from scratching until I bleed, and I know what's going on. It must be so much worse for a dog who doesn't know what has happened to it.) In the long-term, you need to find out what specific things your dog is allergic to. A doggie dermatologist referral is probably the easiest and most accurate way to do this, plus they can do desensitization therapy to "cure" the dog's allergy.

We didn't have the money to allergy-test our dog, so we have had to treat him using trial-and-error methodology (and, of course, regularly checking in with our vet) -- taking something out of his environment, waiting a few weeks to see if his symptoms abate, and permanently withdrawing the probable allergen if so. He showed some classic signs of flea allergy dermatitis -- the itchy places were worst at the base of the tail and along the spine. We made sure to give him monthly doses of Frontline, and to keep him away from the dog park during the height of flea season (Frontline protects from infestation, but it can't stop an allergic dog from being bitten. Fleas can still jump onto the dog from the ground, or from infested dogs, and bite the Frontline-treated dog.) We also shampooed him once a week with a medicated shampoo during the summer months, to further calm down his skin. This fixed the horrible lesions at the base of his tail, but he still had a more generalized itchiness and dandruff all over his body. After a couple months of trial and error, we came to believe he has food allergies as well; specifically, he doesn't do well with grains in his diet (many dogs don't). We switched him to a salmon-and-brown-rice formula food, which stopped the itchiness for about two years. Earlier this summer, the itching came back! Now he is on a limited-ingredient diet, which contains no grain whatsoever. This has eradicated the itchiness and the dandruff for now -- hopefully things will stay that way. I'm mentioning this story because flea allergy and food allergy are two of the most common types of allergic reaction in dogs, and they're relatively easy to figure out and treat.
posted by kataclysm at 8:59 AM on August 31, 2010

My Old English Bulldog developed skin allergies earlier this year, and they were directly tied to me changing her food. My local pet food supply joint stopped carrying her brand, and rather than drive across town, I decided to switch her food to a (I thought) comparable food from a different brand. Cue skin allergies. Itching, scratching, hot-spots, etc. I bit the bullet, started driving across town, and switched her back to her original food, and everything cleared up in a couple of weeks. YMMV.
posted by brand-gnu at 9:17 AM on August 31, 2010

I also recommend Nature's Miracle Pet Wipes
posted by brand-gnu at 9:18 AM on August 31, 2010

Talk to your vet. It would be great to get a referral to a dermatologist, as TheBones suggested. If you get a derm appointment, be sure to find out how long they need your pet to be off of Benadryl or other histamine blocker, as well as any steroid treatments. It's an important part of making sure your dog's condition can be evaluated properly.

The H1-histamine blockers (benadryl, for example) do not seem to be as effective in dogs as they are in people. Sometimes they help, sometimes Benadryl just seems to make pets too dozy to scratch. Steroids are common for allergic dermatitis. My beagle has severe food allergies, and the difference in her quality of life after I took her to our hospital's dermatologist, started her on pred (until her reaction died down) and began a food trial was amazing.

Concrete example of why it's important to work directly with a veterinary professional: allergic dermatitis often leads to secondary infections from a combination of the underlying inflammation and the animal physically worrying the area (hello, hot spots! nice to see you!). In the case of food allergies or atopic dermatitis, nasty yeasty (or multiply invaded) ears are pretty common, especially in floppy-eared breeds. If you google home remedies you'll find references to BLUE POWER TREATMENT and commercially branded versions of that remedy.


Nope. There are little teeny warnings about never applying it if you suspect perforated eardrums. That's not just because it's bad to dump stuff in the middle or inner ears (it is)--it's because gentian violet is very ototoxic and will destroy the little bitty hair cells that allow your dog to hear and have proper equilibrium.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:19 AM on August 31, 2010

Shirley's Wellness Cafe has all the info you need on allergies, hotspots and their remedies. It's from a holistic perspective which is really the way to go when dealing with these issues. The skin is just broadcasting what's going on inside the body. Detox is usually the course to take, then finding the culprit simultaneously dealing with the skin topically in relieving the itching. She has superb knowledge on this subject. Good luck.
posted by watercarrier at 9:23 AM on August 31, 2010

If the dog is itching really badly, take the vet up on the steroid shot. This is something you don't want to do on a regular basis. This is only a temporary measure, but it will put out the fire and your pooch will be feeling much, much better for several days. (Fair warning - she's also going to be peeing like a racehorse during this time.) It also allows her body a chance to stop panicing and start coping a little bit. Tracking down the actual allergy, though, can take some time. We're still working on it with our bulldog. Summer complicates things, as there's all sorts of extra allergens out there and he's much worse during this time.

Also, keep a close eye on her ears. Our experience is that itchy dogs, especially bulldogs, are quite prone to ear infections. Sometimes this can hide pretty well, and they take out the itching frustration on other areas.
posted by azpenguin at 9:40 AM on August 31, 2010

nthing food allergies. my mixed dog had skin rash and after months of doctor reommendations, we tried anti allergen dog food that was made with fish and potatoes. cleared up in no time
posted by edman at 9:43 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

The thing that helped our seriously afflicted "allergic little dog" was Temeril-P, an antihistimine with a touch of prednisone. He's been on it for several years now. Before he started on it (before the allergies were diagnosed, and I don't have any idea why it took so many vets so long to figure out what was wrong with him), his symptoms were so bad we thought we might need to put him down--not just itching, but secondary skin infections that wouldn't go away, lethargy, depression, just miserable. This stuff is fantastic. He's now on a pretty minimal dose and it keeps the allergies at bay.

And in combination with it, I can also use Benadryl and get a lot more use out of the Benadryl--before Temeril-P, I saw no results from Benadryl alone. But now that the allergies are pretty well under control, if I notice he's getting more itchy, adding in Benadryl will help relieve it. Some times of year I need to double the dose of Temeril-P for a few weeks, but I can take it back down again when whatever-is-blooming lets up. (As far as I can tell, he's allergic to half the world.)

My vet tells me that if prednisone helps with the allergies, it's really not likely to be food-related. He does have at least one known food allergy, but several different food elimination tests didn't help with the constant miserable allergy symptoms at all, so we're sure at this point that his primary problem is environmental allergies, not food allergies.

And frankly, we wish we'd known about the pred BEFORE we tried the food elimination diets, because that was half a year that we wasted trying to figure out what food he was allergic to, while he just got sicker. Half a year is a long time in a dog's life. So now I suggest, if your vet is willing to try it, seeing if pred will relieve your dog's allergies BEFORE spending all that time on an elimination diet that may not help at all.
posted by galadriel at 10:04 AM on August 31, 2010

For quick, superficial relief of itchy hot spots, we've had great luck with spritzes of Bactine.
posted by bunji at 10:33 AM on August 31, 2010

Two golden retrievers here with mild skin allergies and a few hot spots a year. Here's how we keep the hot spots away and treat them when they arrive:

- Regular baths with a sensitive skin shampoo
- Grain free food (Core Wellness)
- Two Benedryl at breakfast and dinner during "the itchy times"
- Keep them on Advantage flea preventative to ward off non-allergy itching that invariably leads to a hot spot
- Gold Bond /medicated powder on the hot spot to dry it out and curb the itching (works great, and doesn't cause them to run from me like the sprays the vet gave us). Cut back fur in the area first to let the air in.

Previously had a golden with severe skin allergies and only Cortisone shots helped. They do supposedly shorten their life, but quality of his life was more important to us. He lived to be 10 1/2.
posted by cecic at 10:43 AM on August 31, 2010

American bulldog owner here with experience with hotspots. What worked was cooking food for the dog for a couple months. Cheap pork shoulder/butt roasts cooked in a crockpot and served with plain, white rice. Pound per pound, costs about the same as dog food if you buy the meat on sale. Made the hotspots go away and after a couple months, we could return to a grain-free dry dog food. Just switching dog foods alone was not enough. It's like the dog's immune system had to be reset with a "real food" diet. Also, regular baths with sensitive-skin soap helps as well.
posted by caveatz at 11:06 AM on August 31, 2010

I use Tea Tree Oil to quick stop hot spots. Benedryl stops excessive scratching but knocks my poor Golden Retriever out. I tried all kinds of food allergy theories and diets, nothing ever helped. One vet suggested it was an allergy to pollen, which did make sense, so we started having frequent swims. It seems to help. Tea Tree oil is the best hot spot remedy & treatment I've found. A quick dab when the first signs of itchiness develops prevents the spot from growing, a liberal dose when full blown dries it up overnight. Good luck. It's a battle.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2010

Our dog had skin allergies, the itiching and hot spots were driving her (and us) crazy. I started a home-cooked regimen and it cleared up so fast and she did so well that I'm probably going to start a small business selling home-cooked dog food. It really makes a difference and I can give you a quick, inexpensive way to do it. Memail me if you want more information. It takes very little time and effort and the results are pretty amazing. My little Jack Russell is now 17 years old and her vet is amazed at how healthy and robust she is.
posted by raisingsand at 6:38 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would also recommend taking your dog to a veterinary dermatologist. It was totally worth it for my dogs. That, and a grain-free food, cured their problems. The dermatologist will likely do a skin-scraping that may reveal the problem. It could be an allergy or something like demodex. The food allergy blood tests for dogs are, from what I've heard, basically useless, but the test to discover environmental allergies can be quite successful, and the treatment options hopeful.

Why go to the lengths of a coristone shot before even knowing the exact problem your dog has? The shot might not even help.
posted by grayber at 11:59 PM on September 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who recommended the cortisone shot. I went back to my vet and we talked about all of the issues. In the end I decided to get the shot and it worked great (and still is). It may not be a long-term solution but it helps while we identify possible issues. I'll be buying an air purifier (mainly for the cat but maybe it will still help), changing her bedding, thoroughly vacuuming, and changing her food.

Thanks everyone!
posted by jwfree at 6:22 AM on October 12, 2010

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