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Approved By: Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM
Skin allergies are common in many dog breeds, and the Shih Tzu is no exception. It is believed that about 20% of Shih Tzus in the world suffer from at least one allergy, but the severity of that allergy may vary. When dealing with allergies, it can be a real struggle both for the dog and the owner; since no pet parent wants to see their fur baby suffer. Perhaps your pup is itching all the time, develops rashes or appears to have poor coat quality and sheds excessively? If so, it is time to start considering that your Shih Tzu may be suffering from skin allergies. The next step is to figure out what triggers it, and how to make it better.
Recognizing Skin Allergies
A dog that scratches, itches and bites their own skin is probably trying to tell you that something isn’t quite right. It could be that your Shih Tzu needs a diet change, or there could be other causes, but step one is recognizing allergy symptoms. The first thing to do is to make sure that there are no flees or ticks causing the irritation, since symptoms can be similar, and you can do this by purchasing a flea comb or by just looking through your pup’s fur using your fingers. You might also want to give your pup a bath with a soothing and natural flea shampoo, just to be sure.
Another thing to rule out is bacterial infections; such as Pyoderma and Sebaceous Adenitis (the second being incurable, but it can be treated to minimize the symptoms), and that it something your veterinarian can help you with. It is always recommended to book a trip to the vet if you notice a strange rash on your dog, before starting to experiment with allergy relief.
If the symptoms persist even after you have made sure there are no fleas or ticks present, and no bacterial infections, then it is time to realize that your dog might be allergic. Skin allergies usually present themselves with rashes or skin redness, and you can often see it in the dog’s armpits, around the neck and in their faces (redness around eyes and mouth). The first sign could be your dog itching more than what would be considered normal, and when looking closer you are likely to find some type of a rash or skin irritation, which is almost always a sign of some type of allergy.
It could be temporary; perhaps your pup touched a poisonous plant while running through the woods the other day, or it could be something you need to deal with. Itching, rashes, redness and even open sores (due to itching and biting) are indicators of an existing skin allergy, along with flaky skin, dandruff, bad odor, and hair loss. If you suspect your Shih Tzu may have a skin disorder, then it is a good idea to bring the issue up with your vet since some skin conditions need to be medicated.
Different Types of Allergies
The most common types of skin allergies are food allergies, contact allergies and environmental allergies; where the dog’s discomfort is either caused by something they consume on a regular basis, by something that makes repeated contact with their body (such as a sweater or the blanket or bag they sleep in) or by something found inside the home or yard.
Food allergies are directly linked to the dog food and/or treats your Shih Tzu eats, and if this is what you suspect is causing your pup’s allergy symptoms, then it is time to turn the bag or the can over and have a look at the list of ingredients. If it is, indeed, a food allergy – the answer to what causes it is among those listed food items. It can be very difficult to isolate that one ingredient that is making your Shih Tzu’s skin red and itchy, but it is an important step if wanting to find a solution. Some pet parents opt for switching food just to see what happens, and if so, most choose a dog food with a different meat source as a test.
Contact allergies can be caused by something as simple as the fabric softener you use when washing your four-legged friend’s winter sweaters, blankets or dog bed, or by a pesticide used on the grass in the backyard. It is something that directly makes contact with your pet’s skin and causes irritation, and it could in extreme cases also be a body lotion you use if your Shih Tzu spends a lot of time sleeping with their chin on your arm.
Environmental allergies are among the most difficult ones to diagnose. With food allergies, you just take a look at the pet’s food, and with contact allergies, there are a few limited irritants which could be causing it, but with environmental allergies – it instantly becomes a lot harder to narrow down the potential suspects. Dust is known to cause allergies in some dogs, along with pollen, mites, mold and other airborne particles. In simple words, an environmental allergy is a negative side effect of the dog’s body (the immune system) reacting to something in the environment. These types of allergies can often present themselves on the dog’s feet since they may be picked up during walks and outings but can also cause skin rashes in other places and breathing issues.
Why Allergies Occur
Many Shih Tzu owners blame themselves and feel bad when their fur pup develops a red rash or an allergy, but it isn’t much you could have done to prevent it, especially since some Shih Tzus are more sensitive than others. Yes, they could have a weak immune system caused by an inadequate diet or a lack of nutrients – something that can be prevented with high-quality dog food – but that would mean that all dogs fed store-bought low-quality food would present signs of allergies, which is not the case. It is a contributing factor, however, so all Shih Tzu owners are recommended to pay special attention to the food they are feeding those furry family members; preferably right from the start.
The immune system is a contributing factor in the development of allergies, both for dogs and humans, but research also shows that dogs can be born with allergies and that these can be genetic. This considered, it is not always the dog owner’s fault if a dog becomes allergic, and it does little good to blame yourself, instead of using that energy to find a solution.
Once you figure out what it is that your dog is allergic too, it is usually fairly irrelevant how it happened and who is to blame, and it is better to focus on providing your pup with proper treatment since no one wants to be itchy and sore, especially when there might be something to do about it.
Remedies & Treatments
Food allergies are many times caused by a sensitivity to the protein source in the food, and some Shih Tzu’s and other breeds are reportedly allergic to Chicken and/or egg. If your pup has allergies and your dog food contains one of these, it could be worth a try to switch it for dog food with another meat source, such as beef, lamb or fish. You can also try a limited recipe dog food, where the ingredients are kept to a minimum and where only one protein source is used, instead of several which is common in many high-quality kibbles and wet foods.
Low-quality dog food is an even bigger issue for dogs with allergies since they will almost always contain ingredients that are not ideal for canine digestion. Grocery store brands (not all, but many) are known for using fillers like corn – a vegetable the dog’s body is unable to process and retrieve nutrients from – and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Some food colorings, like Red No. 40, has been linked to for example cancer, so it is not a big stretch to think that these artificial substitutes could have other negative impacts on the body of the Shih Tzu.
For allergy symptoms present on paws and legs, try to make it a habit to rinse off your pup’s paw after coming home from a walk, to get rid of anything that might irritate the skin between their paw pads and toes. It might solve the issue, and it might not, but you will at least get a cleaner home in the process!
Importance of a Good Diet
Feeding your Shih Tzu quality food full of the nutrients they need to thrive is the best thing you, as their owner and protector, can do. What we feed our dogs is essential for their well-being, and many are amazed once learning all the benefits it can have for their health. Food and nutrients have a direct impact on the immune system, and the immune system is what controls almost everything in the canine body.
The immune system is what protects your pup from illnesses, stomach disorders and – as previously mentioned – allergies, and it is important to know that it is never too late to start strengthening it! Just because your pooch already has allergies, it does not mean the symptoms cannot be reversed, so it is recommended that you revise the food you are feeding your dog to see if a change needs to be made, and then go on to taking the appropriate action.
A healthy and natural diet is fundamental for a healthy dog, so let this be the first step towards dealing with your dog’s allergies, whether they are food related or not. Your dog can’t ask you for better food, so it is up to you to make sure that fur-friends in your family are getting the nutrition they deserve.