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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ask the Veterinarian About Skin Rashes

by Dr. Julie Buzby
courtesy Moyen_Brenn via
My dog, Maddy,  is 3 years old and has a grain allergy. She is on a grain-free diet. However, when I got her at 3 months I was not aware of her allergies. It was at 8 months we discovered it.

Our Vet initially diagnosed it as yeast from grain allergy--gave us steriods pills, inflamation drops, and ear wash to use--and it worked great. However, several months ago my husband bought some chews he thought were grain free. She developed a rash on her belly and ears and I discovered the chews were made with wheat. 

I took her in to the Vet clinic had her checked out with a new vet; he gave her some antibiotics. It seems to have somewhat gotten rid of the rash but it has since then reappeared and she has eaten no grains. 

I have done some research on this and just like to humans--antibiotics kill the natural flora in our intestines. I think she is having over active yeast growth in her ears and flaky red bumps on her belly and genital area. I have treated her ears with apple cider vinegar and water (50/50) and it healed quickly. However, the few bumps on the back hind legs that I can't seem to treat because of all the fur. I spoke to the vet and he wants to give her antibiotics again! 

What do you recommend? A second opinion? Can I give her plain organic yogurt w/ live cultures or dog probiotics? I'm confused and annoyed because several vets I have spoken to just refer the rash to an allergy? An allergy to what? She doesn't eat any grains! They never seem to mention yeast growth. At this point any advice is welcomed. I hate to see her cry when she licks her belly. Thank you!
Best Regards. 
Michell B.
Dear Michell,

According to statistics, the top three reasons dogs visited veterinarians in 2012 were skin allergies, ear infections, and skin infections.  Poor Maddy appears to have all three, which is not uncommon.  The ears are just an extension of skin, and both are prone to infection secondary to allergies.

Pruritis (itchy skin) can have multiple causes and take months to sort out.  My goal is to equip you to better communicate with your vet about Maddy’s condition.

We have two issues to address:

1.  Maddy’s ear and skin infection.
2.  The underlying cause, which is most likely allergies.  We must manage her allergies to prevent recurring infections. 

I do think Maddy has food allergies, which are typically incurable in dogs, and can develop at any age.  However, she may also be affected by things in the environment.  Dogs with allergies seem to have an “allergic threshold”, meaning they have multiple allergies, but there is a point where “the straw breaks the camel’s back” and symptoms manifest.  The predominant sign of food allergy is that symptoms are year round, not seasonal.  Further, recurrent external ear infections are present in more than half of dogs with food allergies. 

The most common food allergens for dogs (in order) are: beef, dairy, wheat, chicken, egg, lamb, and soy.  About half of all dogs are allergic to more than one ingredient.  It’s important to understand that “grain free” is not synonymous with “hypoallergenic”.  Consider the ingredients in diets on which she thrives, versus the ingredients found in foods or treats that cause her to flare up.  I’m guessing there’s more to the story than just grains.  How can we determine what Maddy is allergic to? 

Blood tests for food allergies are not reliable and are a waste of your money.  A “dietary trial” is the gold standard for diagnosing food allergies.  Talk with your veterinarian about conducting a food trial.  Maddy’s doctor may recommend a prescription diet, or even home cooking a balanced recipe.  Over-the-counter diets should not be used for food trials, but can be fed once the offending ingredients have been identified.

As for her skin, the rash you describe sounds classic for a skin infection. While this is not the same thing as skin allergies, the two often go hand in hand.  This type of infection is caused by bacteria and/or yeast, and each is treated differently.

Bacterial skin infection, called pyoderma, is best treated topically and with oral antibiotics.  Through simple tests, your veterinarian can tell what types of organisms are causing her skin and ear infections and determine proper treatment.  If she requires another course of antibiotics, I would recommend administering high quality human probiotics, or a doggie product like FortiFlora, during the course of her treatment.

Ultimately, I completely understand your concerns.  Allergies are frustrating for clients and veterinarians alike, not to mention the dogs!  While, Maddy will likely always be prone to skin flare ups, I feel confident that you and your veterinarian can transition her out of a skin “crisis” to long-term successful management of her skin and allergies.

Dr. Julie Buzby is a homeschooling mom of seven, American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and International Veterinary Acupuncture Society certified holistic veterinarian, and passionate advocate for canine mobility.In her free time she serves on the Advisory Board for The Grey Muzzle Organization. She can be found at Twitter @DrBuzby and on You'll also find more of Dr. Julie's posts at our Ask the Vet Archives page.

Here are a few of her articles that may be of interest:
Dr. Julie's opinion or advice does not replace an actual exam with a veterinarian.
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bubblegum casting said...

Interesting article thank you!

Healing Paws said...

Allergies are extremely frustrating, especially environmental allergies and it seems that almost all of our allergy patients have SOME degree of environmentally mediated allergy. If only they were all just allergic to food!

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