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Learn : Dog Allergies

Shih-Tzu with Skin Allergies


The shih-tzu, pronounced “sheed-zoo”, is a small toy breed that is perky, playful and personable. In Chinese, shih-tzu translates to “lion-dog”, which is fitting for their mane-like coat and fierce (but sweet) personalities. Unfortunately, shih-tzus can also face fierce skin allergies, causing discomfort if not treated.

Type of Coat

Shih-tzu’s have a double coat that is long, straight and luxurious. While some shih-tzu owners prefer to let their dog’s hair flow free, others prefer to keep it groomed to a short length for easier maintenance. Either way, shih-tzus require regular grooming, bathing and brushing to prevent coat matting. Shih-tzus can be found in any color and often have dark patches around their eyes.

Susceptibility to Skin Issues

The shih-tzu’s long coat can be a trap for a wide variety of allergens. If your shih-tzu is experiencing allergies, you may notice itching, biting and scratching at the source of their discomfort. Additionally, hot spots, hair loss, dry flaky skin and rashes are all common skin reactions. 

Skin allergies can occur anywhere on the shih-tzu, but you should keep a close eye on their eyes and muzzle, feet and paws and underside, especially when contact allergens are suspected. With atopic dermatitis, joints, ears and face and belly are all come locations of skin irritation. Catching a skin reaction early can help prevent infection.

Cause of Skin Allergies

  1. Flea allergy dermatitis in shih-tzus is very common, as their coat makes a luxurious home for fleas. 
  2. Common contact allergies inside the house include dust mites, cleaning products, plastics and shampoos. 
  3. Outside, shih-tzus frequently react to grass, pollen, and lawn products. 
  4. Shih-tzus can also experience skin allergies to perfumes, cigarette smoke, molds and other airborne allergens.
  5. While true food allergies are rare, common dietary intolerances for shih-tzus include wheat, corn, soy, particular proteins, eggs and food additives.

Treatment Options

Bringing your dog to the vet can help rule out conditions like mange, kidney/liver disease, a bacterial or yeast infection or eczema. If a skin allergy is confirmed, an intradermal skin test or an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) blood test, can be performed to detect common allergens. Here’s how you can help your shih-tzu once you know what’s ailing them.

  1. Avoid any discovered allergens.
  2. Keep your home clean with hypoallergenic cleaning products, wash their bedding frequently, avoid plastic/rubber food and water vessels, and perhaps consider an air purifier if an inhalant allergen is discovered. 
  3. Regularly bathe your dog (but not so much to overdry their skin), use high-end sensitive skin products, wipe them down after being outdoors and consider a humidifier during drier months. 
  4. If flea allergy dermatitis is discovered, both the dog and the home must first be rid of fleas, then regular flea prevention tactics should be implemented.
  5. An immunosuppressive or steroid topical spray, containing drugs like cyclosporine or hydrocortisone, may be recommended for fast itch relief. 

When dietary skin allergies are suspected, identifying the culprit is a whole different ball game. A shih-tzu experiencing an adverse reaction to a food item will often experience symptoms like gas, diarrhea, vomiting, swelling and inflammation and coughing and sneezing. Shih-tzus often react to food preservatives and colorants, corn and soy. The best way to identify a food allergen is to perform an elimination diet, of at least 8 weeks that uses one protein and carbohydrate source. During this time your shih-tzu cannot have any alternate food sources, so don’t let them eat scraps from the floor. At the end of the elimination diet, additional food items can slowly be reintroduced with close monitoring for adverse reactions. 

Key Ingredients to Fight Skin Allergies

Good nutrition is important for maintaining your shih-tzu’s luscious coat and skin. Poor nutrition can also lead to hair loss, a dull coat or dry, irritated skin. Dog food that contains high-quality fish oil (a potent source of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA) has been suggested to improve skin and coat health. Research also shows that probiotics can make a positive difference for your dog’s health by improving their immune response. 


Coat Color Changes

Dietary Needs and Adjustments

Increase amino acids which can be found in  protein (>75 grams per 1000 calories); use our calculator to convert a label percentage to the caloric basis (grams per 1000 calories)

Concurrent GI Signs

Avoid foods with tryptamine and histamine such as dairy or fermented vegetables and meats (yes, this includes bacon); try a simple ingredient food trial

Chronic Itching and Dermatitis

Fortify the diet with Vitamin E, B Vitamins, Zinc, and omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil; add a probiotic; try a simple ingredient food trial

Dull Coat and Scaling

Adjust EPA and DHA levels in the diet (added fish oil being the most common way); try a food that has added zinc

Dandruff and Crustiness

Add Zinc and Vitamin A levels

About Nom Nom

A fresh food diet may be able to help your shih-tzu with his skin allergies but preparing home-cooked, fresh food for your dog can be challenging and time-consuming. With Nom Nom, you’ll get fresh food for your dog without the time or hassle. 

Nom Nom uses no chemical additives and all ingredients are human-grade. With Nom Nom, your dog’s meals are delivered weekly in pre-portioned packages that consider your furry friend’s life stage, health and size. Nom Nom food contains our special Nutrient Mix, a powerful boost of minerals and vitamins designed to keep your dog happy and healthy. So why not give Nom Nom a try? Your shih-tzu will thank you. 

  1. Kriss, R. Shih Tzu. American Kennel Club (2017).
  2. Common Shih Tzu Allergies in Vancouver, BC | Veterinarian.
  3. Atopic Dermatitis Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments | petMD.
  4. Olivry, T., Mueller, R. S. & Prélaud, P. Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (1): duration of elimination diets. BMC Vet. Res. 11, 225 (2015).
  5. Diets and the Dermis: Nutritional Considerations in Dermatology | Today’s Veterinary Practice. Today’s Veterinary Practice (2017).

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