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The Papillon Information Center       
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Papillon Allergies

Allergies with canines are more common than some owners think… While they affect humans in the form of hives, sneezing and itchy eyes, depending on the trigger, allergies can cause quite an upset to a delicate Papillon.

This breed can suffer reactions from:

Exposure allergens- These are substances that the dog comes into contact with.

Inhaled elements-  These are miniscule triggers that include dust, pollen, tree, grass  and weed pollens.

Ingested triggers – Some Papillon dogs have sensitivities to certain food ingredients.

This section is going to discuss the signs of allergies, steps you can take to decipher what the trigger is and treatment options , both those you can offer at home and those that require testing and possible prescriptions from a veterinarian.

The Symptoms

With many cases, no matter what the cause, a Papillon will show a reaction via the skin.  The Pappy will have an overall itchiness… when scratching, sores and red spots often emerge. With continued scratching, these can become infected… There may be discharge and quite a bit of discomfort.

When a Papillon has an itch, the dog will do one or more of the following:

•    Shake his head
•    Paw at an area
•    Chew at an area
•    Have an increased urge to lick areas of the body

Other signs that a Papillon is having an allergic reaction may manifest in the following ways:

•    Eyes – They may be runny with a discharge that needs to be wiped away several times per day. There may also be a thick discharge that accumulates in the corners.

•    Nasal Passages While not as common as skin and stomach irritations, canines may also sneeze or have signs of nasal congestion or secretion; this may cause a soft snorting noise as the dog tries to clear the throat.

•    Stomach Woes –
The immune system may disturb the digestive system. A Papillon may vomit, dry heave and/or have diarrhea.

•    Coughing – Not always a symptom, canines can develop a cough, most often seen with inhaled allergies, including 2nd hand smoke.

Contact Allergies

What can a Papillon be allergic to? Unfortunately, quite a few things! The single layer of fur does not offer much protection to the skin in regard to substances that the dog will come into contact with. The most common culprits are:

Carpeting – A common Papillon allergy problem can be the cleaner that is put down on carpeting or it can be an accumulation of pollens that were airborne but have settled into the fibers.  If you suspect this to be the cause, there are a number of steps that you can take to resolve this.

#1 - The first step (if possible) is to obtain a vacuum with a certified HEPA filter.  Without this, microbes are stirred back into the air, only to settle down once again into the carpeting.  With a HEPA, mircrobes as small as 0.3 microns are removed from the carpeting and trapped in filter.

#2 - Stop the use of any fragranced cleaners. Many owners will put down a heavily perfumed cleanser to cover up the lingering odor of urine accidents or in cases of a Papillon marking the house. In most cases, this only compiles the problem…as most dogs will mark again in an effort to lay down their own scent on top of what the owner has put down.  Better is an enzymatic cleaner that breaks down urine odors.

# 3 – Any sores, also known as hot spots, should be checked by a veterinarian. Prescribed topical creams can offer quite a bit of soothing comfort. In addition, other medication such antihistamines and/or cortisone or prednisone may be prescribed and with short term use, usually work very well for this type of health issue.

#4 –
While you are waiting for possible allergen testing and/or allowing medications to work to their full effect, it can be very helpful to lay down a soft baby blanket onto any surface the Pappy normally sites or lays.   One common symptom of a Papillon allergy is for the skin to react; often with a drying and sometimes with a thinning of the coat.  This can create sores, also known as hot spots as noted above.  For many Pappies, this can occur on the elbows which make lying down uncomfortable.   First, you will want to wash the blanket hypo-allergenic detergent (free of dyes and fragrance) with a touch of baking soda added to that.  Encourage your Papillon to rest on the blanket; as it can help with sore spots, particularly when on the elbows and/or tummy.

Grass –

Rolling around and playing in the grass may seem like the most natural thing that a dog can do…however, with the chemicals that are used in yards and even public places can wreak havoc on a dog’s immune system.  

That green, fresh looking grassy area can hold numerous triggers for possible Papillon allergies.  Weed control chemicals and growth enhancers can be toxic,  if the coat rubs into these, the skin can break out into an itchy rash.  In addition, insects can cause a problem. Sitting or lying on a pile of ants had been known to happy to Pappy dogs.

Being a toy size breed, the Papillon can have a reaction just walking through a grassy areas, since often the stomach will just touch the tips of the blades.

If you suspect that an area does have chemicals on it,  you will want to avoid that area when you take your Papillon outside. If your Pappy was in an area that you are not sure about, it can help quite a bit if you wash off the stomach and paws before going back into the house. If the weather allows it, a gentle rinse with a garden hose will rinse off any residue so that it cannot be tracked inside of the home.

Shampoos and Conditioners –

The grooming products that an owner uses to keep the skin and coat healthy looking can be the very thing that causes problems.   Some products are so bulked up with perfumes and follicle softeners that the idea of gently cleansing the coat goes out the window.

If you suspect that this may be the cause of your Papillon’s allergies, there are a couple of things that you can do to resolve this.

#1 Immediately switch to a basic, oatmeal based canine-only shampoo and conditioner to give the skin a rest.  It will smooth and cool down hot spots.  This should be used until any drying, flaking or red rash areas are cleared up. If there is no improvement after 2 weeks or if any areas look moderately to severely inflamed, please seek the help of your veterinarian.

#2 – While it may seem like a good idea to offer as many soothing baths as possible, this is a double-edged sword, since too many baths will dry out the skin.  Unless otherwise directly by the vet,  give baths every 3 weeks.

# 3 – Topical creams prescribed by your veterinarian, and/or cortisone or prednisone, if the allergy is severe.

 #4 – Do not use a blow dryer when grooming your Papillon until the allergy has cleared up.  Gently comb hair to prevent matting, while being careful to not scrape the skin. Allow the coat to air dry.

Inhaled Allergies

 If your Papillon is allergic to pollens or irritants in the air, there are some steps that you can take to help.  First, since the outside air is unavoidable, the use of prescribed antihistamines can be of great help.  Keep in mind that this seasonal issue can happen during any season: Spring, summer and fall for various weeds, trees and pollen and winter for indoor dust allergies (the use of the aforementioned HEPA vacuum will help in this case).

If possible, it can be very helpful to be mindful of high pollen count days (information is available via your local weather channel).  You will want to walk your dog after 10:00 AM; since it is most abundant in the air between 5 and 10 o’clock in the morning.  In addition, windy days will stir up more allergens, while rainy days (and damp days that follow) can clear out the airborne elements a bit.

A note about 2nd hand smoke:  While so much attention has been put on this issue in regard to humans, we must not forget about what it can do to our Papillons. Canines are susceptible to the same health issues as we are in regard to inhaled smoke.  If anyone in your home (or guests) has this habit, we highly encourage you to have a separate area for this, either outside or in a garage, etc.

Food Allergies

It is uncommon for canines to be allergic to basic food ingredients, such as plain unseasoned chicken.  Problems can arise when commercial food is offered, which can have a multitude of additives, preservatives, coloring and fillers.

For upset stomachs, one will want to switch to a very basic, plain diet for 3 weeks minimum. In order to find the triggering ingredient, no extra snacks should be given at all. Plain, de-boned boiled white chicken breast and plain, unseasoned white rice is a good place to start. The goal will be to allow the body a rest, with no possible chance of a reaction…and then after 3 weeks, once things have settled down, one ingredient will be added every 7 days.  

The reason that one waits 7 days is because in some cases, it takes more than one serving for an allergic reaction to occur with a Papillon. Allowing a week to pass gives the best chance of knowing if a certain food can be considered to be safe. In many cases, it will be recommended to home cook from that point on, which actually is a very healthy choice for this breed and quite affordable.


To identify Papillon allergies, there are tests that a veterinarian can perform to try and identify substances that are causing allergic reactions; however we must take note of the word “try”; as unfortunately these tests can result in false positives. Originally designed for humans, they are not 100% accurate for canines. There are 2 types of blood tests, which look for antigen-induced antibodies in the Papillon’s bloodstream.  These are the RAST and ELISA tests, with the ELISA being the most commonly used as it offers more accurate (yet still not completely reliable) results. Additionally, intradermal skin tests can be performed. However dogs are sedated for this and this is one reason why many veterinarians will not advise this test since the Papillon breed has a sensitivity to anesthesia.

Furthermore, this type of test is only 75% accurate at best.

Treatment at Home VS Prescribed

Adding an Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid supplement to your Papillon’s daily diet can offer help. It works best for dogs that have allergy skin symptoms (dry, flaking, and/or itchy skin) and it moderately helps with swelling. It does take some time to see full benefits; however giving this 2 to 3 months to build up in a Papillon’s body can bring about excellent results.

If home treatments are not enough to provide relief or in cases of moderate to severe allergies, a visit to the veterinarian can offer a dog great relief.  Topical creams can soothe skin irritations. Cortisone or prednisone medications, when used short term, can be very helpful.  Many veterinarians are now choosing Cyclosporin (Atopica) for the Papillon breed, as it is not a steroid based medication and up to 85% of dogs respond to this treatment.