Bulldog Allergies – Causes and Treatments

Written by Vet Evidence Based

Although allergies in dogs are pretty rare, all dog breeds can still develop an allergy to food or other allergens throughout their lifetime. In this article, we're exploring the main allergies your Bulldog could have, what exactly is causing them and what is the best way to treat them. Are you a Bulldog owner? Start reading and learn more!

All dogs have the potential to develop allergies, but unfortunately, Bulldogs seem to one of the breeds that are a little more prone to them. Allergies can be a frustrating problem for both the owner, who often feels helpless, and the dog who constantly itches until his skin becomes red and sore.

Allergies are not a very straightforward problem, for instance, there are many different underlying triggers that could be causing the problem. Also, sometimes a dog is allergic to more than one thing! But what causes allergies? And how can they be treated? In this article we will take a detailed look at allergies in Bulldogs, providing you with all the information that you need to know.

What is an Allergic Reaction?

An allergic reaction is when a dog’s immune system overreacts to certain substances (known as allergens) it comes into contact with. An allergen can be something that the dog eats, breathes in or comes into direct contact with its skin.

The immune system recognizes the allergen as an invader into the body, triggers an attack against it and the release of a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes many of the clinical signs that are commonly associated with allergies such as itchiness and redness of the skin.

Why are Bulldogs Prone to Allergies?

Some breeds are more prone to suffering from allergies than others, such as the Bulldog, Shar-Pei, Boxer, West Highland White Terrier and Labrador Retriever(1). This means that they have a genetic predisposition to develop allergies, and are more likely than some other breeds to develop this problem.

A genetic predisposition is due to the genetics inherited from their parents. If your Bulldog suffers from allergies its likely that one of his parents or grandparents, had a similar allergy problem too and passed it onto some of the puppies.

This is why it is really important to really check out the parents and health history of any prospective Bulldog puppy. It is also advised not to breed from dogs with allergies problems, as this frustrating disease is easily passed onto the puppies!

Different Types of Allergies

There is not just one thing that causes allergies in Bulldogs. Unfortunately, there are many things that could cause an allergic reaction. These can be divided into three main types of allergies:

  1. Environmental allergies
  2. Flea allergy dermatitis
  3. Food allergies

Let’s take a look at each one of these allergies in a little more detail:

Environmental allergies

Environmental allergens are things your bulldog could come into contact with in the environment including dust, dust mites, storage mites, pollen, grasses or mold. The allergies can be seasonal, with only itching in the summer for example, or can occur all year round. These can cause an allergic reaction called atopic dermatitis or atopy (2). Atopic dermatitis most commonly affects the paws, ears, armpits, and face, but can affect the whole body in severe cases. The skin is red and itchy often with little spots. As the dog continues to scratch and lick, it can lead to hair loss, staining of the hair from continual licking, crusting and skin infections.

Flea Allergic Dermatitis

Flea allergic dermatitis or FAD is an allergic reaction to the saliva of flea bites. If a dog with this allergy is bitten by fleas it makes their skin overly sensitive, red and itchy. The most common place to encounter fleas is on the back and at the base of the tail. Fleas can be seen as small brown, fast-moving insects on the skin. Sometimes they can be difficult to find, but using a flea comb is a really helpful way to check for fleas or the black specks of flea dirt (flea poop!).

If you’re suspecting your dog might have caught some fleas and you don’t have any flea repellent or a flea comb to help you get rid of any flea trace, you might want to try bathing your dog with a baby shampoo, or making a lemon-based water solution that you can spray on your pup’s fur.

Food Allergies

Food allergies and sensitivities can cause a variety of signs from dry, itchy skin to ear infections to gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. Most commonly food allergies cause an itch which affects the ears and paws. Chronic ear infections can also be a sign of an underlying food allergy.

Food hypersensitivity reactions can occur a few minutes after eating a new food or a few days later, and often cause an upset tummy. However, some food allergies may develop after feeding the offending food allergen to your Bulldog for YEARS before the allergy develops. This is why food allergies can be quite difficult to diagnose!

One study in the United States found that the most common food allergens for dogs were beef, soy, chicken, chicken egg, cow’s milk, wheat and corn(3).

What are the Signs of an Allergy?

The symptoms associated with allergies in Bulldogs vary a lot from dog to dog, and what the underlying cause of the problem is. Some allergies will come on immediately after a dog eats a new food or uses a new type of bedding. Other types will take days before the signs start to show. Generally, any of the following symptoms could be a sign of an allergic reaction:

  • Itchiness can affect the whole body but most commonly the ears and paws.
  • Small raised bumps over the skin called hives
  • Swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Itching and licking the paws
  • Ear infections
  • Itchy eyes, sometimes with eye discharge
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

If a dog continues to itch, bite and lick its skin, a skin infection can quickly start. This can cause pimples or yellow crusts to develop, or sore areas that ooze discharge. The Bulldog’s trademark folds of skin can quickly become the perfect hiding place for a bacterial or fungal infection. These can all be very painful and frustrating for the dog! Therefore, if you are concerned that your dog is showing any of the signs listed above, it is always best to have a consultation with your vet.

What is an Anaphylactic Reaction?

An anaphylactic reaction is a very severe allergic reaction and can be fatal if not treated, as the body goes into shock. Bee stings, vaccine reactions, new foods or new medications, are some of the things that can cause anaphylactic reactions in dogs.

Thankfully this type of reaction is rare in dogs. An anaphylactic reaction often comes on very fast, and common signs include sudden drowsiness, collapse, swelling of the face, severe hives, or difficulty breathing. It is an emergency situation, and if you think your dog is having a severe allergic reaction, you should bring him to the veterinary clinic straight away.

How are Allergies Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of canine allergies can actually be quite challenging! It is best to seek veterinary help if you suspect your Bulldog has allergies.

The role of the veterinarian

A good veterinarian will ask you lots of questions about your Bulldog to develop a detailed clinical history. Is this the first episode of skin problems? What signs is your dog showing at home? Is he eating ok? Are there any recent changes in diet or environment? The questions help the veterinarian understand if there are any patterns, obvious allergic triggers and what tests might be required. Your vet will then carry out a full clinical examination- examining your pet from head to toe. Sometimes they might suggest a blood sample, a swab sample to check for bacteria on the skin, or a hair pluck or skin scrape to check for mites.

Flea allergic dermatitis is the easiest one to diagnose, and also the one that makes everyone’s skin crawl. It is confirmed by finding fleas or flea dirt, and an improvement in the skin issues when the dog is treated with a suitable vet-recommended anti-flea product. Often the dog will need to have regular flea treatments for a few months AND the house should also be treated with a flea spray. This ensures the flea cycle is fully broken, as fleas lay eggs which hatch in your home and easily re-infect your dog!

Unfortunately, atopic dermatitis is complicated. It is usually diagnosed based on the breed, history and clinical signs that the dog is showing. Extensive research has allowed veterinarians to have certain criteria to help them diagnose it(4). For example, some of the criteria includes that it usually starts when the dog is between 6 months and 3 years and causes the feet and ears to be red and itchy- if the Bulldog doesn’t tick these boxes, then it probably isn’t atopic dermatitis!

There are also blood tests for allergen testing which can be a helpful aid when trying to figure out what the dog is allergic to. However, they may not be 100% accurate(5).

The best way to diagnose a food allergy is by completing an elimination diet. An elimination diet can be home cooked (but it is best to seek the advice of a veterinarian!) or a commercially bought hypoallergenic diet. In simple terms, it involves feeding your dog a novel protein and a novel carbohydrate source, something which he hasn’t eaten before. An example might be white fish and sweet potato. Ideally, the new diet is fed exclusively for 8 weeks (NO treats, NO flavored toys, and NO human food) before deciding if it has worked(6). It takes a long time for food allergen particles to work their way out of your dog’s body, so it is important not to give up half way through!

If the dog’s signs improve, then a food allergy is highly suspected. If you want to try to figure out what food was causing the allergy, you can start adding foods back into the diet and keep a food diary. No one likes a diet, but honestly, in this case, it is definitely worth the effort. The last thing you want is to do is give your Bulldog lots of medications for months, only to realize that a simple change in food may have made your Bulldog better.

How are Allergies Treated?

The treatment options depend on the type of allergy. The best way to treat an allergy is to avoid the allergen or the thing causing the problem. Sometimes this may be easy, and sometimes it may be nearly impossible especially if your Bulldog is allergic to more than one thing.

Flea allergic dermatitis can be treated by regularly using a veterinary recommended flea spot-on. Food allergies may just require your dog to avoid a certain type of food or may require a total change in diet. Sometimes a special hypoallergenic diet is required.

Unfortunately, allergic dermatitis is a lifelong condition that needs to be managed and is not cured. Allergic dermatitis often requires prescription medications from your veterinarian to help reduce your Bulldog’s itchiness and treat any skin infections if they are present. Common medications include antihistamines, steroids or antibiotics. Sometimes a diet change or supplements are recommended to help improve the dog’s skin and overall health, or medicated shampoos are prescribed to help soothe sore skin.

Finally, there is a desensitization treatment called allergy shots or immunotherapy. This involves administering tiny amounts of the allergen to the dog by regular injections, in the hope that the dog builds up a resistance and stops reacting to the allergy. Numerous studies have shown that excellent results can be achieved through this treatment(7)(8).

Conclusion

Allergies can be a frustrating problem to deal with. Apart from causing your Bulldog to feel extremely itchy and sore, they can often lead to skin infections and chronic problems.

It is important to seek veterinary help if you are concerned your Bulldog is suffering from an allergy. The veterinarian can help diagnose the type of allergy and provide a suitable treatment plan. Unfortunately, atopic dermatitis and some types of food allergies will require life long management and do not have a quick cure. Often a change in diet, medicated shampoos, prescription medications or supplements are recommended for affected dogs. Immunotherapy injections are also a possible treatment option for some types of canine allergies.

Hopefully, this article has been helpful in explaining all about allergies in Bulldogs. Feel free to share it!

This article has been written by Dr Margarita Boyd, BVSc MRCVS.

Margarita graduated from the University of Liverpool, earning a Bachelor in Veterinary Science with distinction. She worked in small animal and equine practice for a few years, before choosing to focus solely on companion animals. She has developed a special interest in internal medicine and ophthalmology.

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