Here Comes Lucy

By: April 

With reference and formatting assistance from

Barbara Spilchuk, PhD and Senija Hodzik, BA



This is the story of Lucy, a 5-year-old Havanese dog who has a combination of Autoimmune Allergies and Hypersensitivity to Allergens. Here Comes Lucy was written by Lucy's mom, April, with a minimal amount of referencing and veterinarian reports added so that the story flow has been unimpeded. 

Following is a concise explanation for what an Autoimmune Disease is:


What is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease is basically a condition where something “goes haywire” with those codes produced by the MHC, and the body starts treating “friends” as “foes” – and basically turns on itself.


“Autoimmunity" literally means "immunity against self". The symptoms of autoimmune disease are caused by the body mounting an immune response to antigens that would normally be recognized as “self.” Most autoimmune diseases in dogs, as well as in humans, have a genetic basis. It is believed that there is genetic variance in the MHC that causes the individual or dog to be more susceptible to an autoimmune reaction, and that various environmental factors from viruses, bacteria, and allergens, to toxins can set off that susceptibility.


Goodman, S. (09/13/2010). Major Histocompatibility Complex and Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs. Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @…/your-…/major-histocompatibility.html


This is an educational story that will assist readers in understanding how this Havanese Owner educated herself in order to manage her dog’s medical problems during the first 5 years of Lucy’s life.

Here Comes Lucy: by April


Before Lucy, I had a pair of border collies. Molly had passed away at age twelve, two years earlier, and her brother, Morgan, was almost fourteen. They were wonderful dogs although, I think Morgan who had a strong herding instinct would have been happier as a working dog.


I decided I wanted to get a puppy before I lost Morgan, and this time my priority was to find a breed whose needs I could easily meet. That meant a dog who would be happy and healthy with one walk a day, and one I could tuck under my arm and carry upstairs if need be - a female. I began researching online and in books and discovered the Havanese. They seemed just what I was looking for.


I joined the Havanese Forum to learn more about the breed. In looking for a breeder, there was one group of breeders in my area who seemed very well established, had an extensive website, and had been successful showing their dogs. They emphasized that their puppies were raised in kitchens not kennels which was important to me. When the time was right, I contacted two of these breeders both of whom had litters advertised on the site. One replied immediately and I arranged to visit. The other replied a couple of days later saying that she was sure I’d find the right puppy at the first breeder’s. I was a little annoyed by this, because they apparently had an arrangement about “territory”. It also seemed to suggest that once I saw the pups, I would, of course, fall in love with one and not need to look further. In fact, I wanted to see pups from more than one litter; I would not necessarily choose one from the first litter I saw. In any case, I decided I’d go and meet the first breeder and see her pups. This was in February, 2012.

When I arrived, she took me into the kitchen where the pups were fenced in and I went and sat on the floor with them. I think there were two females, though possibly three, and a couple of males, seven weeks old. Although they looked healthy and happy, I realized within a few minutes that none of these was the pup for me. My foremost consideration with choosing an individual puppy was their energy level. One of these females was very passive and the other quite the alpha of the litter and higher energy than I wanted. Secondarily, none of these puppies were at all interested in me.

I told the breeder that I was looking for a pup whose energy level was between that of these two females. She excused herself and came back with a pup from a different litter. This little one was ten weeks, black and tan. The breeder put her down in the puppy area where she went over and urinated on the pee tray, greeted the other pups, and came over to check me out.

After a good sniff, she climbed onto my lap and settled in. Her coat was incredibly silky; I’d never actually felt a dog’s coat like that; quite different from the other pups which was the more common cottony coat. 


She had apparently had a bite near her eye (the owner said that the vet speculated a spider bite, noting “swollen eyelids” two weeks earlier). It was being treated with an antibiotic and seemed to be healing. After sitting with me for a while, the pup left to play with the others for a few minutes and then returned to my lap. It seemed that we agreed we were right for each other, so I did find my puppy at the first breeder’s after all, if not from the litter I had been going to see.

I needed to be away the following weekend, so arranged that I would come and pick her up in two weeks. The breeder emailed me a couple of times during that period, letting me know how she was doing, saying she had been outside to play when the weather was fine, and thoughtfully, sent me some photos of her enjoying the spring weather. I was all prepared for her with a crate, bed, toys, etc. etc. (Unfortunately, I was also quite sick the day I was bringing her home which added an unwelcome challenge to the trip.)


The breeder took the time to give Lucy a bath to show me how to do it, as well as clipping her nails, all of which I appreciated. She recommended that I start grooming her regularly so she would be accustomed to it by the time her adult coat came in. And then came the paper work. I was astonished to see that the contract had her, the breeder, down as co-owner with me. I had never heard of such a thing. She dismissed it as a safety precaution in case the dog was lost and whoever found her couldn’t locate me. This made absolutely no sense, but I thought that perhaps she wanted to be able to get the dog back if she were to discover it was being neglected (the contract included such a clause). In any case, I couldn’t imagine her wanting Lucy back when she was being well-cared for, and I wasn’t about to walk away without this puppy, so though I wasn’t happy about it, I signed it, and Lucy and I headed home.


Once here, Lucy got settled in. Morgan, the collie, did a good job of pretending she wasn’t there. Her eye which was pretty much healed seemed fine, at least for a while. But less than a month later, I had Lucy at the vet because both eyes were runny. He determined that her tear ducts were blocked and what followed was two weeks of battle twice a day as I tried to get the required drops into her eyes. I finally returned to the vet shortly before the end of the course of treatment, and said I couldn’t do it anymore. He said that by that point, she would have had enough of the medication so she would be okay. And she was. And I eventually recovered too. Of course, I had let the breeder know. She was very surprised.


Lucy continued to grow into a wonderful companion dog with a delightful disposition though a little shy sometimes. We walked every morning (and still do) and I brushed her every day. Her “blowing coat” phase at 9-10 months had me spending inordinate amounts of time grooming, but I held firm on her having a long coat for about a year. Now she has a trim every eight weeks and we both feel less burdened. She sits up in her booster seat in the car where she can enjoy the view when we go out and she loves to accompany me into the post office and dog-friendly businesses, and to check out what is going on in the village. She has basically become my “right-hand girl.”


One thing that puzzled me from early on was Lucy’s on-going licking of her feet and pulling at the nails on her hind feet, but skin issues didn’t show up in earnest until she was two years old, in December 2013. (I read later that that timing is typical for these symptoms.) Our local vet diagnosed unspecified allergies. Lucy had sores and scabs, was itchy, chewed at and licked her feet and licked at her groin. He advised using Advantage for a couple of months to rule out a flea allergy. I was pretty sure she didn’t have fleas (I groomed her every day, so surely would have encountered at least one flea), but went ahead with this.


Allergies in Dogs Causes

The range of allergens responsible for allergies in dogs is vast and this can give rise to numerous types of allergies e.g. to food, to insects etc. In effect, there is potential for almost any substance to elicit an allergy reaction in an individual hypersensitive to it, although in practice, the overwhelming majority of allergens are protein molecules.

Dogallergiesonline. Allergies in Dogs Causes. Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @  [1] 


After a couple of months with no relief, I came across a video from Dr. Karen Becker recommending foot-dips of half apple cider vinegar half water for dogs who get yeasty feet. I found that this was a little miracle for Lucy. Whenever I

did a quick dip, she left her feet alone for at least an hour. I still use this occasionally, though I find it hard to believe she still has a yeast issue. But we go through periods where I use it a couple of times a day; other days, she leaves

them alone with a verbal reminder or a distracting rub.


Becker, K. DVM. (10/03/2011). Yeast infection in dogs.  Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @

So the foot-dip helped but she was still bothered by sores and her groin area which could get quite red from the licking; moreover, while a flea allergy had been ruled out, food issues had developed. For over a year, I had been giving her a meat blend I got from the butcher’s which included ground beef, tripe, beef heart, and poultry. I added vegetables and omega 3 oil. She had been very happy with that, but suddenly was refusing it. The vet suggested pork since he’d never seen a dog allergic to that, and also the possibility of a biopsy. I changed her meat to pork, but I really wanted to go with a holistic approach in addressing her situation, so I was hopeful when a local pet food store owner recommended a holistic vet up island.

This vet first saw Lucy in May of 2014 and Lucy is fortunate to have continued to be under her care since then. It’s pretty much of a full day for a visit since it means a 50-minute wait in the ferry line, a 25-minute ferry-ride, and then a 1.5 hour drive to get there, but it is well worth it, and we connect also by email and phone. I count myself very fortunate to have the benefit of her support and knowledge. She’s also different from a traditional vet in the way she handles Lucy. First of all, there is no slippery stainless steel table, but rather a crib-sized low table with a thick foamy on it. The vet sits on the table with the dog and has the dog’s back to her, at least to start with, so there is no sense of confrontation for the dog. She takes her time, moves slowly and gently… it’s a whole different experience.


The vet diagnosed Lucy with atopy (a tendency to be hyperallergenic), food allergy, yeast allergy, and possible environmental allergies. She wanted to start off by seeing what we could accomplish by using herbs from TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Western herbs, and homeopathy. I followed all of her suggestions using the remedies and diet she advised, as well as a hypoallergenic shampoo that nourishes the skin. What seemed most helpful was a powder for Lucy’s groin area which would still sometimes get raw from licking. It seemed to soothe the area so she would leave it alone for a while.


Understanding Canine Allergies

Allergies can present as a range of symptoms, but in the dog, the most common symptoms occur as skin irritations: itching, scratching, digging, and gnawing at the skin, often to the point of creating open raw wounds over large areas of the body. Chronic ear infections are another common symptom. Occasionally dogs will have respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, or a nasal or ocular discharge. Food allergies may produce, in addition to skin irritations, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Symptoms can extend to include epileptiform seizures, and many holistic vets feel that allergies can ultimately result in chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, chronic urinary tract infections, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.


Kidd, R. DVM, PhD. (August 2004). Understanding Canine Allergies.  Retrieved on Dec 14/2016 @


I emailed the breeder to let her know, and ask if she had come across any allergies with her line of dogs and/or had any suggestions. She responded saying that their dogs are not prone to skin disorders, so she unfortunately had no suggestions. However, she did recall one pup with a different sire having an allergy thought to be to dust mites. The dog was fine with Advantage Multi (although I believe Bayer does not claim that this product treats for dust mites).


We know there is a genetically derived propensity for developing allergies, but of course, there’s not much you can do about this after the fact, after your dog’s allergies have already begun to surface. About all we can do is to support breeders who select individuals for immune competence, Zheng Chi vigor, healthy vital force, or for any of the health-giving attributes necessary for long-term, holistic well-being. (Ibid)

In any case, over that summer, I touched base with the vet every two weeks and we tried various things but the skin problems persisted. I wondered if perhaps it could be dust mites. The vet said that was a possible contributing factor, but they were usually worse in the winter. I invested in dust mite mattress and pillow covers and vacuumed a lot, just in case, but to no avail. She said that in some cases a low dose of prednisone may be necessary. In August 2014 Lucy suddenly got worse while the vet was on holidays. We got in to see her at the beginning of September and by that point, poor Lucy’s eyes were not looking good - conjunctivitis and rawness around her eyes and redness in her ears. Her stools had been mucousy and soft for two weeks.

In addition to an antibiotic, a probiotic, and several herbal products, the vet prescribed one mg. of prednisone per day. She explained that this was a physiologic, not a pharmaceutical dose, and suggested I might want to read a book, “Pets at Risk: From Allergies to Cancer, Remedies for an Unsuspected Epidemic” by a vet named Alfred J. Plechner. She felt that he had part of the answer to Lucy’s problems. I ordered the book immediately and was very interested in the conclusions he had drawn from his 35 years of experience. Basically he maintained that dogs like Lucy suffer from cortisol insufficiency with all sorts of possible ramifications (including allergies and thyroid issues). He attributed this primarily to inbreeding and maintained that such dogs would always need to have medication to redress the insufficiency, as my vet said, in a very small dose.


The problem with the immune system: If you break it, it's yours

Most people don't worry about the health of the immune system when they consider breeding options, or if they do it's down the list a ways from color, size, and other traits. But if we are not deliberately selecting for a healthy immune system, we are likely to break something that is going to be very, very hard to fix.


Beuchat, C. PhD. (8/24/2015). The problem with the immune system: if you break it, it's yours. Retrieved on December 14/2016 @


My vet also told me about the work of Dr. Jean Dodds, whom she had recently learned about. Dr. Dodds does saliva testing for food sensitivities. I sent off for that test kit and from the testing learned that Lucy was sensitive to all grains, and all protein sources except for beef and lamb, so I was able to adjust her diet accordingly.


Dodds, J.D. DVM. (28/06/2012). Food Sensitivity VS Food Allergy: Is it Not Really Just the Same Thing? Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog. Retrieved on 14/12/2016 @

Within ten days, Lucy’s eyes were much better. Here she is after six weeks of the treatment prescribed by the holistic vet in September 2014 (including prednisone). At this point, her eyes and skin were good, she had no sores, and was not scratching. Her gut had cleared up.


Again, I wrote to the breeder explaining what I had learned about Lucy, about the food sensitivities and apparent cortisol insufficiency. I emailed before and after pictures of her eyes and explained that she would need to continue on medication. I didn’t want anything from the breeder, but thought she should know for the sake of breeding considerations in the future. In fact, I included the other breeder (who is at the centre of this breeding group) in the correspondence. 

Dog Allergies

Today's veterinarians are merely treating the effects of dog allergies and not their cause. Have you ever wondered why one dog has allergies and another one does not? During my past 50 years of dealing with dog allergies, I have found a regulatory mechanism now called Atypical Cortisol Estrogen Imbalance Syndrome (ACEIS) or as the public refers to it as Plechner’s Syndrome, that does identify the cause of dog allergies and can be identified with a simple blood test.


Plechner, A. DVM. (2012). Dog Allergies. Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @

In mid-October 2014, we reduced the prednisone to 1 mg. on one day, and .5 mg the next, but needed to go back to the 1 mg. Lucy’s well-being continued to fluctuate over the next year, but she was certainly better than before starting the prednisone. In December of 2014, I had a consultation with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that Lucy was getting a healthy diet in spite of the restrictions her sensitivities imposed.


In January of 2015, Morgan passed on. In March 2015, we had blood work done on Lucy to monitor any side-effects from the medication and the results were fine. In February 2016, we were finally able to reduce the prednisone to 1 mg. alternating days with .5 mg. She had a check-up in March 2016 and the vet declared her atopy “under control.” She did notice that Lucy had developed some arthritis in one knee (“but she’s only four!”), so she now has glucosamine added to her supplements. This time blood work showed that the liver was being affected by the prednisone, so she now gets milk thistle to support her liver. Since then, we have managed to reduce Lucy’s prednisone to .25 mg. alternate days. I don’t like her being on it because of the potential of significant side-effects, but it seems the best option.


Lucy is doing well now on that very tiny dose, and with a restricted diet and a myriad of supplements. This fall, her coat started turning grey. Havanese do change colours, but generally before age 2. The vet commented that premature greying can be part of the compromised immune system picture. It makes me a little nervous. Lucy just turned five.


Understanding Canine Allergies. 

It has been said that sometimes, along our journey to wellness, we need to see and feel how it looks and feels to be well, so we can try to get back to this place. Sometimes I get the feeling that dogs affected with allergies – after perhaps months of itching and scratching, of evident pain and sleep loss – have forgotten how it feels to be well. With these cases, I think it is important to let them experience wellness, however briefly, even if it means that we may have to resort to types of medications such as glucocorticoids and/or antihistamines that I would ultimately like to avoid.


Kidd, R. DVM, PhD. (August 2004). Understanding Canine Allergies.  Retrieved on 14/12/2016 @


Up to this point, I have spent over $3,800 on vet bills directly related to Lucy’s allergies. This does not include all of her dietary supplements, her spaying or vaccinations, or travel to the vet in another city. It also doesn’t take into account Lucy’s discomfort from all the problems.


Throughout the past 5 years, neither of the two breeders who were in contact with me from this group ever acknowledged that Lucy’s problems could have anything to do with her breeding, nor that the situation might have implications for their breeding practices in the future. While I was thanked for sharing information about allergies in case they were asked by owners of other breeds, there was never an acknowledgement that while Lucy looks great now, she still has a compromised immune system and it is medication, a restricted diet, supplements, and monitoring that keep her as healthy as she is.


In closing, I know that Lucy is not alone in her situation. I have known three other people in my community who have bought puppies from this same group of breeders. Each one has had significant health issues. This fact alone is one I would certainly take into consideration when looking for a breeder in the future should I ever choose to buy another Havanese puppy.


Why is My Dog so Itchy?

Given its complex nature, it is unlikely that we will find a genetic mutation that will help us completely eliminate CAD. However, identification of associated mutations in the future may help us in choosing more appropriate mates in order to decrease the likelihood of producing affected puppies through genetic testing of breeding animals and selective breeding programs.


Carl, C. (09/07/2014). Why is My Dog so Itchy? Part 2: Environmental Allergens and Canine Atopic Dermatitis. The Paw Prints Genetic Blog.  Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @



Over time, April accumulated a 73 page file on Lucy that was copied and provided to buyhavanese from the multiple veterinarian clinics used for Lucy between March 9/2012 -11/23/2016. The following excerpt, from a single Oct 2014 report in that file, encapsulates Lucy's medical situation:


Pet Name:          Lucy

Species:              Canine

Breed:                 Havanese

Sex:                     F

Pet age:              2 Yrs 9 Months

Weight:              11

Diet:                   pork, kale, brocolli

Medication:       1. Prednisone; 2. Metronidazole; 3. Chinese herbal supplement

How much:       1 mg: 82 mg: ¼ tsp

How often:        1X/day; 2Xday; 2X/d



Problems: inflammation, skin bumps and sores. Itchiness, reddened eyelids, rawness under eyes. Allergy symptoms started at age 2. Had been on raw meat and veg. diet; started rejecting beet/poultry blend. Started seeing wholistic vet in spring – switched to pork and greed veg. Has improved under her care till August. Eyes and skin got worse. Saw her last Wed. by which time Lucy had a bacterial infection in gut and her eyes were a sorry mess. Vet prescribed low dose of prednisone to give her a break from the inflammation, plus antibiotic for gut, plus Chinese herbal blend. The herbal powder to apply topically continues to soothe her skin, but is addressing the symptom only, of course. Lucy also gets some vitamin and mineral supplements and an algae-based Omega 3.

The complete file tracks the progression of Lucy’s allergies through ongoing testing, prescriptions for medication, bills, veterinary reports and other documents that track Lucy’s medical needs as a result of her Autoimmune Allergies and Hypersensitivity to a variety of food sources. Within this 73 page file, 36 of the pages, or approximately half, are either hand-written veterinarian notes, or testing report results. 

Autoimmune Allergies and Hypersensitivity is complex. There is no one stop shop to assist a dog in autoimmune distress like Lucy. April has continued to search out the best resources to assist her dog for the past four years.


The Canine Immune System In Relation To Allergies

While the sources capable of stimulating these reactions are almost endless, the clinical signs in dogs are often similar: skin eruptions of varying severity and duration, and, less often, eye and ear discharges, or nasal and bronchial inflammation. Why individual dogs respond differently to the presence of allergens is not yet fully understood. What is well understood is the role of genetic transference. When both parents exhibit an allergy, there is a 75 percent chance that the offspring will exhibit that same allergy; if one parent is allergic, the likelihood drops to 50 percent.


Govier, R. (Jan. 2000). The Canine Immune System In Relation To Allergies. Retrieved 16/12/2016 @



Becker, K. DVM. (10/03/2011). Yeast infection in dogs.  Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @


Beuchat, C. PhD. (8/24/2015). The problem with the immune system: if you break it, it's yours. Retrieved on December 14/2016 @


Canadian Kennel Club. (2013). Litters registered in 2012. CKC: Etobicoke, ON, CA    


Carl, C. (09/07/2014). Why is My Dog so Itchy? Part 2: Environmental Allergens and Canine Atopic Dermatitis. The Paw Prints Genetic Blog.  Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @ 


Dodds, J.D. DVM. (28/06/2012). Food Sensitivity VS Food Allergy: Is it Not Really Just the Same Thing? Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog. Retrieved on 14/12/2016 @


Dogallegiesonline. Allegies in Dogs Causes. Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @ 


Goodman, S. (09/13/2010). Major Histocompatibility Complex and Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs. Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @


Govier, R. (Jan. 2000). The Canine Immune System In Relation To Allergies. Retrieved 16/12/2016 @


Havanese Gallery. Trial Breeding Pedigree of Seantiago’s Lucia. Retrieved on 15/12/2016


Kidd, R. DVM, PhD. (August 2004). Understanding Canine Allergies.  Retrieved on 14/12/2016 @


Plechner, A. DVM. (2012). Dog Allergies. Retrieved on 15/12/2016 @

Lucy’s registered CKC name is Seantiago’s Lucia. Her tattoo number is #YY451145.

Lucy was born on Dec. 10, 2011, the only female of four puppies in Litter TN162734YY.

A Trial Breeding of Lucy’s Dam and Sire on Havanese Gallery indicates the following is Lucy's pedigree:

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