Shih Tzu Allergies Got You Down? 
What You Must Know about these Allergies

by Janice Jones     |Last updated 10-13-2023

Shih Tzu Allergies is just one problem that many fur babies face, but it can be the most uncomfortable for your pet, painful for you to watch all the scratching, and hard on your pocketbook.

In this article I am going to examine the different types of allergies commonly seen in Shih Tzu Dogs, their symptoms, treatments, prevention and hopefully cures.

Just like human allergies, dogs can become allergic to one or many things in their environment.  Allergies are inhaled, come in contact with the skin, are ingested, or result from trauma left from a parasite such as a flea bite.

Shih Tzu dogs are not on the list of breeds most plagued by dog allergies, but they have their fair share, and many Shih Tzu Owners want some form of relief for this troublesome problem. 

Shih Tzu Allergies

My Personal Shih Tzu Allergies Experience

Years ago I had a little Shih Tzu girl named Dana.  She suffered severely from allergies, most likely from a food allergy exacerbated by fleas.  (We lived, at that time in an area heavily infested with dog fleas). 

We did everything—shampoos, antibiotics, antihistamines, steroids, flea treatments, bland diets—everything suggested to us; we tried. 

She lived to be a ripe old age of 16, but the allergies never entirely went away. 

Today we are fortunate to have more options.

According to The Bark Magazine, veterinarians are experiencing an “allergy epidemic.” While the reasons for this allergy epidemic are uncertain, some of the theories put forth include the aggressive vaccination protocols that many dogs have been subjected to, poor breeding practices and the feeding of processed pet foods.

Types of Shih Tzu Allergies

There are a variety of allergies that have been identified in the Shih Tzu breed.  Here is a list of types of allergies seen in dogs.

Contact Allergies

As the name implies, this type of allergy is caused by something your Tzu comes in direct contact with such as your carpet, plastics, bed linens, or even your clothes.

Cleaners or other household or lawn chemicals may be the offender in this type of allergy. 

Symptoms occur in the area of the body that comes into contact with the causing agent, so you are likely to see signs in the feet or paws, belly or around the mouth.  This type of problem results in:

  • Red, itchy bumpy or blistery skin
  • Loss of hair
  • Intense scratching

Some common allergens:

  • Perfumes
  • Cleaning Products
  • Lawn Products
  • Cigarette Smoke
  • Dander & Feathers
  • Rubber/ Plastics
  • Some fabrics
  • Shampoos, Conditioners, or other Grooming Products

These types of allergies are not as common in Shih Tzu dogs as other types that we will discuss next, but require you and your vet to determine what the allergen is and remove it from the environment.

Flea Bites:  Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Allergies that result from a flea bite are called flea allergy dermatitis which is the dog’s sensitivity to the flea saliva. Some dogs are not bothered by flea bites, experiencing just a minor irritation. 

Many Shih Tzu develop an allergy to the bite of just one flea experiencing severe itching.  The dog scratches and bites until the skin surrounding the bite is raw, and the hair is sparse.  If your dog is bothered on the hind legs and base of the tail, suspect a flea allergy.

Before you can treat this type of allergy, you have to get rid of the fleas.  Completely removing fleas from the environment is often easier said than done.  Modern flea medicines are much more efficient than the older powders, shampoos, sprays and collars and often require just a once monthly application.

Airborne or Atopy

If your dog suffers from allergies at certain times of the year, this might be the culprit.  The tiny particles or allergens that your Tzu inhales are responsible for this type of problem and  are the same that plague people such as pollens, molds, ragweed, and dust mites.

Dogs with allergies during the winter are likely allergic to dust mites, those that occur in the spring and summer are related to pollens and ragweed allergies are very common in the autumn. Pollens can include those from trees, grasses, weeds, molds, or mildew. 

Though dogs may be allergic to the same agents as us, their symptoms are different.  People will likely react to pollen with watery or itchy eyes, sneezing, wheezing and sometimes coughing—the typical symptoms of Hay fever.  Dogs respond by scratching, licking and biting at themselves.  Constant scratching causes sores, redness, and hair loss.

If your dog has this type of allergy, you will see him:

  • Chew at his feet
  • Lick his groin or side
  • Rub his face on hard surfaces
  • Experience chronic or recurrent ear infections
  • Wheeze or suffer from respiratory problems (this is less common)

Food Allergies

Food allergies are more common than once believed and may be present with other types of allergies, especially atopy.  Food Allergies are not to be confused with food intolerances or indiscretions where the symptoms are more likely to be intestinal, causing soft stools, diarrhea, and vomiting. 

Dogs can have an allergy to any type of protein or carbohydrate in their food.  Those that seem to cause the most allergies include beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, soy, corn, and wheat. 

With a food allergy, the dog will scratch, may have ear problems and skin infections that respond to antibiotics.  The symptoms return as soon as the round of antibiotics has been finished.  Itchiness occurs around the face, paws, legs, and anal area. Yeast infections in the ears are common, and they may also experience soft stools or more frequent elimination.

Reaction to a food allergy can include intestinal symptoms such as gas, vomiting, and diarrhea.  But other symptoms will also be present such as itchy skin, swollen paws, irritated eyes, even coughing, sneezing, and asthma-like symptoms.

The trick to curing this type of allergy is to find the source of the problem—identify the type of food containing the allergen.  To make this work, you will need to feed your dog a homemade diet or one prescribed by your veterinarian for at least 8 to 12 weeks. 

He cannot have anything else—no treats, no vitamins, no chewable medications, no table scraps.  He will eat this diet until there are no longer any symptoms.  At this point, you will  gradually reintroduce foods into his diet and watch for a reaction. 

Once you identify the food responsible for the symptoms, the trick will be to assure he never eats that food again in any form.   So, for example, if he is allergic to chicken—no whole chicken, no chicken meal, by-products, broth, or flavorings, either in his food or his treats. This is the only way to “cure” this type of allergy.

Diagnosing Shih Tzu Allergies

All dogs scratch a little here and there.  Shih Tzu may scratch if they have an annoying hair mat or piece of twig that has gotten tangled in a long coat.  These causes of scratching require a grooming and should not be confused with the more severe allergic reactions that I’ve just described.

Maybe your dog just has dry skin that causes him to scratch.  If your home is in an area with very low humidity, your dog may have dry skin and not an allergy.  Dandruff in the undercoat is the tell-tale sign of dry skin.   Dry skin can be a major source of scratching, but has different treatment options.

If your dog is showing any of the symptoms of Shih Tzu allergies, it is time for a visit to your veterinarian.  They will examine your Tzu, ask you some questions and determine an initial course of action. 

  • Does your dog have fleas?
  • Is itching most intense during certain seasons of the year?
  • Have you changed dog foods recently? ( food intolerance is more likely than a food allergy, if a recent change has been made.)
  • Have you used any new chemicals or solutions in areas frequented by your Shih Tzu?
  • Have you started offering your Tzu a different type of treat, medication, or food?
  • Have you started bathing her with a new shampoo or another grooming aid?

Allergy testing

Testing can be accomplished by taking a blood sample or doing a skin test.  Skin testing involves shaving a small patch of hair on your Tzu’s side.  Small amounts of different allergens are injected under the skin.  If the skin reddens or bumps develop after the injections, the dog is positive for that allergen. 

Shih Tzu Allergies:  Treatment

There are a broad range of treatment options for Shih Tzu allergies, depending on the offending allergen. 

Food Allergies:

As mentioned previously, the best only way to treat a food allergy is to assure your Shih Tzu does not ingest the ingredient known to cause his symptoms

Flea Allergies:

Prevention is much easier than treatment.  A flea control program should start before the flea season begins in your area.  Your veterinarian is the best source for flea medications and recommendations.

Drugs Often Prescribed

  •  Allergy injections for dogs help those who suffer from airborne allergens (atopy)
  • Since certain substances cannot be removed from the environment, your vet may recommend
  • Antibiotics are often used for secondary infections.
  • Antihistamines may help some.
  • Severe problems may require steroids.  These should be use used with extreme caution under the guidance of your vet.

Other Shih Tzu Allergies Options

  • Dogs suffering from Shih Tzu allergies should be bathed at least once per week using a mild shampoo to remove pollens, dust, molds and other debris.  Your veterinarian may also prescribe a medicated shampoo and conditioner that will contain an anti-inflammatory agent.
  • Remove any exposure to the suspected allergen if possible.
  • Wash bedding several times a week with a hypoallergenic detergent in hot water.
  • Don't allow smoking around your pet.
  • Use non-toxic cleaning chemicals
  • Invest in an air purifier to control dust mites.
  • Use filtered or bottled water.
  • Be wary of veterinarians wanting to over vaccinate your dog.  Too frequent vaccinations can create an over-reactive immune system which can lead to allergic conditions.  

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.