Caring for a Bichon Frise that suffers from allergies can be genuinely soul-destroying. Although not a life-threatening condition, allergies cause relentless itchiness, and many dogs will scratch themselves raw.
Your Bichon's beautiful white curly fur becomes patchy and thin. As their owner, you feel powerless, unsure how best to help your pet cope.
According to the Bichon Frise Club of America, allergies and skin problems are the number one health issue that Bichon owners and their pups face.
The breed seems to be prone to all types of allergies, and it is probably inherited.
Buying your puppy from a conscientious breeder who screens for allergy-related problems before breeding may help. It's no guarantee that allergies won't arise, however.
A weakened immune system due to previous illnesses can also make a dog more vulnerable to developing allergies.
When your dog has an allergy, his symptoms will be quite different to your own when hayfever season kicks in. Dogs don't get a runny nose, itchy eyes, or breathing difficulties.
Usually, dog allergies manifest in skin issues.
The most common signs include:
- Scratching and licking incessantly at certain areas
- Ear infections
- Coat thinning in places
- Areas of skin are raw or scabbed over and thickened
Fire off a few google searches on dog allergies, and you'd soon start to think that all allergies are caused by dogs eating the wrong food. In truth, only a tiny percentage of dog allergies are food-related.
According to the Banfield Pet Hospital, environmental and flea allergies are on the rise in pet dogs.
- 3.6% suffer from Environmental Allergies
- 1.8% suffer from Flea Allergies
- 0.2% suffer from Food Allergies
Let's take a look at each of these common types of allergies in Bichons. We'll examine what causes them and then look at how you can help your Bichon Frise feel better.
An ‘allergen’ is a normally harmless substance that can trigger an allergic reaction in the immune system of sensitive dogs.
The types and spread of allergens vary a lot by region and climate.
Some common allergens include pollen, dust mites, dander, mold, cleaning solutions, and feathers.
Many allergies become more of a problem during the summer months, particularly those caused by pollens.
Others exist around the home at all times of the year, such as dust mites.
When your dog comes into contact with an allergen, it can cause a hypersensitive reaction from his immune system.
- Obsessive licking, scratching and chewing of problem areas
- Red patches develop on paws, groin, around the base of the tail, ears, and face
- Problem areas are very sore and may get infected
- Scaly, dry, and rough patches of skin
A Bichon Frise with allergies can scratch areas of skin raw, so preventing infection from setting in is very important. According to Banfield Pet Hospital, your vet may recommend that you:
- Bathe your dog regularly (every 3 – 7 days)
- Treat ears after every bath to wash off pollens
- Disinfect skin and ear canals
- Use an anti-microbial shampoo
- Apply anti-itch conditioners and sprays
If your Bichon's allergies are severe, your vet may also prescribe medications such as antihistamines and steroids for short term control.
The good news is that you can do quite a few things around your home to help reduce the number of allergens hanging around.
If you are not already house proud, you will soon have to be!
Keeping up with regular washing of soft furnishings in the home is an absolute must.
Carpets, curtains, bedding, cushions, and rugs will all need regular cleaning as they are ideal places for common allergens to collect.
Your pet's bedding will need washing even more frequently.
Many owners of dogs with allergies swear by elevated beds with wipe-clean covers like this one from Paws and Pals.
Top the elevated bed with some fluffy, cozy bedding that can be washed at high temperatures to kill any lurking allergy triggers like dust mites.
Vetbed pads that can go in a wash cycle of up to 95 degrees are ideal.
If you know your dog is sensitive to a particular seasonal allergen, such as tree pollen, try to keep windows in the home closed during peak pollen times.
Direct skin contact with allergens is one of the causes of Contact Dermatitis in dogs.
You'll find that the common allergens involved, the symptoms and the treatments are very similar to the ones we discussed above for environmental allergies.
Allergens do not always cause Contact Dermatitis. Sometimes direct contact with an irritant is the cause of skin problems.
Your vet will be able to help you find the true cause of your Bichon’s itchiness.
Fleas are the most common parasites you'll find on your Bichon Frise. Annoyingly though, these little critters are notoriously hard to catch in the act!
Bichon Frises tend to react badly to flea bites. They often suffer from Flea Allergy Dermatitis (also known as FAD).
FAD causes inflammation or infection of the skin due to a reaction to the saliva left behind after a flea bites your dog.
‘Hot spots' can appear anywhere a flea has bitten your Bichon. The bites usually occur around the base of the tail, or on the upper part of the rear legs.
Affected areas will be extremely itchy and annoying for your pup. If the reaction is severe, your Bichon Frise may do some serious damage to himself with his constant scratching and chewing.
If your Bichon is suffering from a particularly bad flare-up, you'll need to take him to the vet.
Your vet may prescribe steroids to help control the problem in the short term.
Flea treatments are available as oral pills that take effect very quickly but these drugs are not for long term use.
If you want to stamp out your dog's flea problem permanently, you need to start treating him every month with preventative medication.
Spot on treatments, usually available in small tubes, can be applied once a month to give roughly 30 days of protection.
Always talk to your vet before starting a new flea treatment for your pup and follow the instructions carefully.
You must get the right type of product and the right size pack for your dog. Small dogs like Bichons will need far less flea treatment than a huge St Bernard!
Keeping up a regular and uninterrupted flea treatment schedule is the key to preventing a re-infestation.
Even if you don't ‘see' any fleas, you must continue the treatment so the critters can’t stage a comeback.
Every cat or dog in the household will need treatment too—especially cats, as they are more likely to bring in fleas from the local neighborhood.
IMPORTANT: Cats need a totally different type of flea prevention product to dogs. Discuss with your vet the best options for all your pets.
Sometimes when our Bichons are digesting their tasty kibble, certain proteins are not broken down properly into their smaller elements (amino acids) before the gut wall absorbs them.
The body then interprets this as an invasion, and the immune system responds accordingly.
An allergic reaction to a particular food could also happen if your Bichon's digestive system is weak due to previous illness or an inherited condition.
One Bichon Frise may react differently to another when suffering from a food allergy. Common symptoms include:
- Recurring ear infections
- Dry and itchy skin
- Excessive scratching and licking
- Vomiting and diarrhea
If you've noticed these problems, take your Bichon to the vet. If your vet suspects a food allergy, he or she may suggest you try putting your dog onto an elimination diet.
Elimination diets help you rule out potential culprits for your Bichon's food allergy. You'll start feeding a simple diet with just one protein source and one carbohydrate.
Elimination Diet plans will usually follow the format outlined below:
- For ten weeks your dog will go on a new diet that contains only 1 x novel protein source and 1 x carbohydrate source (for example, Duck and potato-like this limited ingredient Blue Buffalo diet).
- Make sure you stop feeding ALL other food or treats during the trial (don't forget to remind other family and visitors too!)
- If the symptoms start to clear during the test, it’s likely that something in your dog’s original diet is causing the allergic reaction.
- You can now start introducing suspect ingredients from the original diet one by one. Watch to see if the reintroduction causes a flare-up of the original symptoms.
Have you tried feeding your dog many different proteins and carbohydrate sources, with no changes in your dog's symptoms? It’s possible your dog is actually suffering from environmental or flea allergies. Your vet can help you discover the real cause.
Ingredients blamed for the majority of canine food allergies are beef, wheat, and dairy. Chicken, pork, and soy are also known to cause issues in some dogs.
You may see dog foods labeled as ‘hypoallergenic' in your local pet store. ‘Hypo' means low, so a hypoallergenic food is simply one that is free from common allergens.
A hypoallergenic diet often contains novel (unusual) proteins. Venison, bison, duck, rabbit, and salmon are often used instead of beef and chicken. Problem carbohydrates like wheat and soy are often replaced by rice or sweet potato.
An ideal diet for a dog with a food allergy or sensitivity often includes:
- Single, novel protein sources e.g., venison or salmon
- Antioxidants to assist with all-round cell health in the gut and skin
- Prebiotics to nourish existing good bacteria
- Probiotics to add more beneficial bacteria to the gut
- Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat
Providing your Bichon Frise with a high-quality diet can help support his overall good health and help support a robust immune system. Here are some ingredients or supplements that may be beneficial.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are known to help reduce dog skin allergies, dry, itchy skin, hot spots and dog shedding.
EPA and DHA are two types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. They can be given as a daily supplement. Salmon oil, in particular, is an excellent source.
Cheap salmon oil, however, can do more harm than good. Look for a high-quality variety that has had contaminants such as mercury removed.
Nulife Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil for dogs is top of the line and ‘molecularly distilled to remove all toxins, mercury, and other heavy metals'.
Many premium dog food brands include various fruits and vegetables known to help boost the immune system and protect cells. Antioxidants help to slow down cell damage from free radicals.
Look for diets that contain natural sources of:
- Vitamin C (commonly provided by cranberries, apples, tomatoes or blueberries)
- Vitamin E (usually listed as mixed tocopherals)
- Citric acid
Calvin is the co-founder and one of the main contributors to dogtemperament.com. He has been an avid dog lover all his life. He enjoys researching and sharing great ideas on how you can avoid common pitfalls of dog ownership and build the most loving and enjoyable relationship with your dog.