Skin and allergy



You just arrived at one of the most visited pages of the Old Hickory-site. The statistics of this Old Hickory-site, and the statistics that track the web searches of Google, indicate systematically that many dog owners have regular (recurrent) problems with the skin and/or fur of their dog.

We have therefore decided to dedicate a little bit more time and attention to this specific subject on this website than we would normally do.

Please see this section in the right perspective. Normally an Amstaff is a dog which would not need that much attention regarding its coat. But again, the reality shows that nowadays it can be a common reoccurring problem.


Recognizing an allergy

The American Staffordshire terrier is a dog with a short coat, which should be stiff to touch and glossy. Should be …

The hardest and most frustrating in this chapter is how to recognize that specific allergy we are dealing with.

  • Is the allergy genetically determined? Is it build in, in the dog’s DNA?• Is it a particular dog in a breeding program or is it an entire bloodline that has the tendency to develop certain allergies.
  • Does the allergy relate to the food that we give to our dog?
  • Or is the reason another external factor, such as for example a grass allergy?
  • Or could it be a combination of the given diet and external factors together?First, let’s go into more detail regarding the variety of allergies we have and then later we talk about the food. And finally, we will give you a case example of which we had in our own kennel.


Gras allergy

This is probably the most common allergy that occurs with the American Staffordshire Terrier. The symptoms are small red spots, usually on the tummy of the dog, and in the armpits of the dog. It can be a seasonal problem (usually in spring).

Most of the AmStaffs won´t be affected by this problem when they get to a later age. This will be as soon as they have built up enough resistance. The dog will also suffer little to no trouble from this.

Aggressive treatments with antibiotics or cortisones, for example, do more evil than good in our opinion. Only in severe cases is it will be necessary to intervene with medications.


Flea allergy

Fleas can be, by biting (regularly), the cause of a flea allergy, one single bite of a flea can be the reason that your dog will be pruned for months to intense itching, scabs and alopecia. The saliva of the flea contains a protein which prevents coagulation of the blood of the dog. Some dogs (and as well cats) can have an allergy to this flea saliva. This substance causes itching and irritation. An occasional bite can be enough to maintain the flea allergy for a long time.

Contrary to common belief the main part of the flea’s living cycle does not take part on the pet, but in its direct environment. Infection occurs therefore usually not by direct contact with another infected animal but by being present in a place where has been an infected animal before. A flea, or better said, the larva in the cocoon, can survive for a long time in, and in the right circumstances, up to about 6 months.


Other allergies

An inhalant allergy (atopy), this can be allergies related to pollen molds, grass or dust mites. Or an allergy where an allergic reaction occurs when the dog comes in contact with certain substances, such as, for example, cotton, wool, feathers, rubber, cleaning products, perfumes, drugs, or even fumes like cigarette fumes.

As you can see, we can make this list almost infinite.  And it shows even more how difficult it is to figure out what causes the physical discomfort of your dog.


Food allergy or food intolerance

Food allergy or food intolerance occurs when a dog is allergic to a particular ingredient in its food. In most cases this can be a particular protein such as beef, chicken or wheat gluten.Often these terms are used interchangeably, but in despite of that the fact that the symptoms can be the same we are talking here about two different conditions.

Food allergies

With a food allergy the body shows an allergic reaction whereby the immune system is activated. Whilst tis reaction is active the body can release a histamine that causes the symptoms of an allergy.

Food intolerance

In food intolerance, the body shows signs of hypersensitivity, however, the immune system is not triggered. In a food intolerance situation, we often see multiple, vague symptoms, whilst the symptoms of an allergy usually are immediately and clearly.


Hypo-allergenic food

Giving hypo-allergenic dog food diets can be a first step in the treatment, but this food does not eliminate the feed cereals and maize. In this food, the protein molecules are artificially broken into even smaller pieces, this so that the body of the dog will no longer recognize these molecules.

The danger of this method is that these proteins will travel as free radicals through the animal’s body, and therefore can give in the long run an increased risk of tumors.

This is a chapter on its own, and not known by many people. The term hypoallergenic is relatively new in the animal food industry, and in our opinion used inappropriately in a lot of cases.

One specific hydrolyzed protein source

Personally, we have a good experience with the hypo-allergenic variety of Pro Plan, and the an-allergenic variety of Royal Canin. Just try to make sure that you use a food in which there is only used one specific hydrolyzed protein source, and next to it a minimal number of other added ingredients. There is now even a hydrolyzed dog food on the market consisting of only rice and insects.

Every allergy case is a special case on its own, which means that a certain brand, or variety might do the trick with your dog. It´s not a case that brand A will be better than brand B. But please be aware, yes, there might be a difference in the quality, and the amount of hydrolyzation between the several brands.


Elimination Diet

Another step is the elimination diet, this is a test diet containing and adding foods that the dog has never had previously this to minimize the chance of an allergic reaction.

An elimination diet based on one source of protein (and possibly only 1 carbohydrate source) is the most reliable method to determine if there is a food allergy because the chances are minimized that the dog will be reacting on something.

When giving an elimination diet, there are two possibilities:
1. A self-prepared food.
2. A commercial hypoallergenic food.


Treat secondary infections

Before the start with an elimination diet the secondary/allergic infections need to be treated first.
This could be treated with a corticosteroid (e.g. Prednisone *), or a specific product which is used in the treatment of the clinical manifestations of atopic dermatitis, a product such as Apoquel **.

If this is not done, it will be more difficult, almost impossible, to detect a positive reaction to the diet. While following this diet the dog can absolutely eat nothing more than only this food.

When the symptoms are significantly improved after this diet or even disappeared, we can start to ‘provoke’. This means that slowly 1 new single component ingredient is added to the dog’s menu (write this all down on a piece of paper, because before you know you are confused and you don’t know where you are in this process). And then see if the allergy symptoms are coming back after giving this new ingredient.



Probably 100% of all dogs are infected with this mite which is present in the skin. The vast majority of dogs have no complaints, but if a dog has complaints, the problem can be present itself in two ways: locally or generalized.

Demodex is transferred from the mother dog to the pups, and this in the first days after giving birth. Here, intensive physical contact is needed. The complaints in young dogs are often seen in the areas where the pup has had the most contact with the mother when drinking milk: this will be around the mouth, the eyes and the top of their legs, especially their forelegs.


Local Demodex

With local Demodex, we usually see the symptoms appear for the first time if the dog is under 1 to 1.5 years old. The majority of the problems occur with 3-6-month-old puppies. With this form of Demodex, 90% of patients have a good prognosis. In 30% -90% of dogs, the problem will resolve within a period of 2 months, but for some it may take longer. With 10% of the patients, the complaints are actually expanding over time.

Factors that can play a role in the occurrence of complaints due to the Demodex myth are other parasites, stress or a drug treatment, hormone change (e.g. having the period) or poor nutrition.Abnormalities that can be seen in the skin are redness, pigmentation and skin flakes.


Generalized Demodex

In generalized Demodex, we see that the complaints are spread over more than 50% of the skin or on their 4 legs. The prognosis is less good than with local Demodex, because it requires a much longer period in which the dog needs to be treated. In this second Demodex there are two varieties to distinguish: the juvenile form and the mature form.

The juvenile form develops at an age younger than 1-1.5 years. In a mild infection, there is a fairly good prognosis when treated, we see that some dogs are cured by themselves. However, if there is a nasty inflammation of the skin due to this Demodex mite, the prognosis is somewhat less good.

The mature form of Demodex occurs at the age between 2 and 4 years old. The prognosis is less good than in the juvenile form.

We recommend once again to give importance to a well-balanced diet and in special cases don´t shy away of giving your American Staffordshire terrier special nutritional food supplements.

Then “last but not least”. Some other possible factors we would like to raise that we might not consider, or which we don’t think of, and which could also cause an allergic reaction.

These factors could be:

• Stress, Stress factors in a dog’s life can be:  a dog show, school, shopping center, shelter or pension, “home-alone”, loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks, visits to the vet, obedience training, exciting and physically demanding exercises, courses, (busy) children (visit), other dogs, cats, mis-use of a lead /choke chain, and even a muzzle could cause stress.

Factors in this list can be added indefinitely. It is important that we learn to see what our dog stresses, this depends as well on the age and the health of the dog. Stress is normally easy to prevent or easy to limit. Observe your dog and try to find out what are the necessities of your dog and in which situation he feels right, and of course in which situation he shows stress symptoms. Learn your dog’s “language”.

• Hormone fluctuations.• Change of ambient temperature. For example, the switch between different seasons.

• Swimming in (open) water. A moist skin may form the basis of a moist microclimate at the skin through the wet coat. Bacteria and fungi love moisture and heat and thereby they will grow faster, resulting in a possible microbial dermatitis.

Exception to the rule is swimming in saltwater. Seawater functions as a disinfectant. Which means that an allergic dog can swim in the sea every day.

• A surplus of “waste” and other foreign substances in the body can make it susceptible to inflammation. Substances which may result in such an increase are: medicines, food additives in foods (for example, an excess of food supplements), contaminants from water and / or air, pesticide residues, heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, nickel, aluminum, arsenic.

Metabolic products from microorganisms (bacteria and fungi in the intestines or elsewhere in the body), degradation products of proteins (uric acid, ammonia), degradation products of hormones (gender, blood sugar level-, stress hormones), degradation of body tissues (blood, mucous membranes, etc. etc. ).

And here again, a combination of the previously mentioned points can be quite possible. For example, a combination of stress with increased waste products in the blood can make your dog more susceptible to allergies. The bottom line is that the immune system can be overstretched, with all its consequences.

To get the immune system back on track or make the immune system stronger we can use for example:

  • Herbs, for example, the skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis). This is an herb that is a natural inhibitor of histamine. Black Currant (Ribes nigrum), this berry works as an anti-inflammatory and inhibits the functioning of the immune system (immunosuppressant).
  • Fatty acids, like the omega 3 and omega 6. These fatty acids are a part, and engaged, in the production of hormone-like substances which are various substances which are released during an immune response in the body, controlling the immune system.
  • Pro-biotics such as FortiFlora, this is a specially formulated product sold by Pro Plan, this product stimulates the intestinal health, balance, of the immune system of our dogs. Each little bag contains a guaranteed amount of a unique probiotic strain.
  • Pre-biotics, which are fibrous materials such as Psyllium which serve as food for the ‘favorable’ aforementioned pro-biotic bacteria.
  • Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is understandable that the body of your dog in this stressful situation will have an increased need for extra vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In order to support its body, we can use a well-balanced multivitamin preparation.

Please pay attention! Don’t mix up the above mentioned points.An elimination diet, in combination with giving certain nutritional supplements may not be desirable in some cases. And could even have adversary effect.

Every step that will be taken in tracing the cause of the allergic reaction of your dog should be a well-considered step.
In doubt always consult an expert, and/or your veterinarian!


Sample case

And finally, we will give you a sample case of a, at the time of the first signs of an allergy, 3-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier bitch. She is not spaded, in good health. On a diet of Pro plan Optiderma, this with several different food supplements.
We don’t use any anti-parasite products on her. And she follows a routine of different physical training methods like swimming and a treadmill.Until her second year of life, this bitch had no problems at all with her skin.
Until we noticed that this bitch had some “troubled patches” in the area of her neck.
Initially it was thought that this was due to some rough playing with some pups. We did not pay too much attention to it, but over time it was noticed that these skin issues did not disappear.


Changing food

The first thought was that was that there could be a hypersensitivity to the Pro Plan food we gave her. We switched therefore directly to a fresh chicken meat product. And stopped as well with the given food supplements. The symptoms disappeared, and it was assumed that the change in diet could be the basis of the disappearance of the allergy.

Until two months later we noticed a small wound appearing on her forehead. It was thought that the bitch might have bumped into a sharp object or would have been damaged during the playing sessions with one of the other dogs.

Again, we noticed that the healing did not go that well, and then suddenly there was even a second place appearing on her head. There was again a strong thinking that another food allergy had appeared here.

We immediately switched to a hypoallergenic food. So, no fresh food, no “normal” food. Now just a diet of hypoallergenic food. (Note: There are foods that pretend to be hypoallergenic, but in fact are not, or to a lesser extent) Over time, about 4-6 weeks, all symptoms of the allergy disappeared. Then we gently moved back to the fresh food, and again no problems after the switch for a long amount of time.


Nutrition? External factor? Or both?

It became clear to us that it could be the given first commercial Pro-Plan food, or maybe an external factor. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

Because the bitch was regularly trained in a swimming pool. It was thought as well that perhaps there was also a sensitivity to the chemicals in the water. We switched therefore to other principal training methods, plus from time to time training in saltwater.

Again a few months passed without any significant problems. Until six months later when the bitch was in no time covered completely with a skin rash. A rash ranging from bumps all over the skin, a patch of skin that looked like it had an inflammation, this along with damaged “bloody” skin. (Due to the frequent scratching)



It was then, that we decided together with an allergy expert to give her Apoquel. **. Apoquel ** is a recently (2013) developed drug which is known to fight effectively severe atopic / external allergic reactions. As well we switched back directly to a hypoallergenic diet, this is now the only intake together combined with the drug Apoquel **.

After three weeks no positive result, therefore we decided to stop the Apoquel**, and move on to a medicine called prednisone * (This is a last resort medicine to fight violent allergic reactions). During the entire period the dog has been washed with a special Coatex *** shampoo which is frequently used by allergies.

After a short cycle of prednisone, the situation was again fairly quickly under control. Unfortunately, when we are working with a cortisone, we are only reducing the secondary reactions, the underlying problem, the cause of the allergy is hereby not addressed.


Some sort of luck?

Again a few months more down the line, given solely hypoallergenic food. The situation has improved to a certain extent, until we noticed that at the same time with the “problem” bitch, another young dog in our kennel got almost exactly the same allergic symptoms. The only small difference was that the young dog had this in a somewhat milder degree.

Additionally, this young dog was on completely different diet. But it had had to deal with exactly the same external factors as the “problem” bitch, factors like a few trips abroad, same stay in “foreign” kennels, etc. etc.

We began now strongly to doubt whether the food was the real issue here. Is it the (main) cause of the allergy) or are there other factors that we have to consider?! We then were even more aware that we had to investigate this even more intensively and meticulously to get to the bottom to which external factor we are dealing with here? Might she be allergic to pollen? Dust? Ticks? Mite? Flea bites?


Was it a flea anyway?

As indicated earlier, we don’t use any synthetic anti-parasitic drugs. We don´t use them because of various reasons. But would she then be allergic to the (occasional) flea bite?

After much consideration we decided to give her a synthetic anti parasitic treatment. This to make sure that we can rule out the role of the unwanted parasites in this story.

We again decided to give her a short cycle of the medicine prednisone* next to the hypoallergenic diet, this to make sure to reduce the allergy symptoms, as quick as possible. Or at least bring these signs to a minimum.
The young dog we left untreated regarding the prednisone* medicine.  But similar as the “problem” bitch, we also gave this this young dog an antiparasitic treatment.

Step by step, the situation improved. The drugs did it’s job, and after a few weeks the situation was under control with the “problem” bitch. We saw exactly the same improvement with the young dog. The allergic reaction disappeared, and after a few weeks, of both dogs the skin was healed.

After several months of no problems we switched back to the normal version of the Pro Plan food. We did not notice an allergic reaction. And to the date of today we have not encountered any problems anymore with the skin of our bitch. The total time Lapse from the first outbreak of the allergy, to the total disappearing of the allergic symptoms has been a total of about 18 months.

At the end, has it been the flea allergy? Or maybe a combination of multiple (external) factors …? Only God will know….!



Writing this case is purely to show how frustrating an allergy can be. Obviously for the dog itself, but also for us people who have to deal with this every day! The time this process consumes to get to the bottom of the allergy, let alone the frustration that it causes us. If, if you ever come to a solution.

Please, don’t forget that you can´t get rid of the allergy itself, you can only control the circumstances to make sure that there won’t be an outbreak of an allergic reaction. We need to learn and live with it.

Attacking the allergy is a process which takes time and energy. The continuous observation of the dog. Analyzing the different situations throughout the entire process. Studying everything that is, or can be related to allergies, this to make sure that you understand why the experts involved make certain decisions.


Footnote 1: We considered throughout the whole above process to carry out a costly allergy test. This is a test which consists of two parts: a skin test and a blood test. What held us back from having to this test is that the experiences from ourselves and people around us is that the result of this test is not that conclusive. The allergy test is just a snapshot. Think of it as a picture while we, with our dog, live in a sort of a “movie”. It can indicate for example that the dog is sensitive to substance X, or protein A, at a certain point of time, and months later, the same dog has been tested negative for exactly the same substances or proteins.

Footnote 2: The entire case was accompanied by several experts.

* Prednisone: 

** Apoquel:, Apoquel only works if there are external factors involved.
So, that is to say that this drug does not suppress the allergic symptoms, which are derived from the given food.

*** Coatex:

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