How We Helped Our Bull Terrier Battle Skin Disease

Cisco lived a long, happy life, despite his illness. I loved him just the same, maybe more so, because of his suffering.


Steven Hipwell lives in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England. He has many happy memories of Cisco. He blogs at Maybe You Like Too about self-help, health, ideas, places, and travel.

I remember clearly the first time I saw my Bull Terrier Cisco. He was 6 weeks old and the last puppy to greet me from the litter, which had been sleeping in a large basket. Every bit of information I had seen about picking a puppy referred to not picking the last pup to greet you. Not only was Cisco the last pup to appear, he ignored my then-wife Gemma, and he seemed so much in his own world that I said to her, “He’s not the full ticket — we won’t have him.” We were duly told that he was our dog. I think Gemma had started playing with him by then, so that was it, we took him home.

On the three-hour car journey back home from Wales, he slept on Gemma’s lap the whole way. He was tiny and perfect; it was hard to not keep looking at him while driving. This was one relaxed dog. Maybe I’d been right initially, and he really wasn’t all there. On arriving home, he made the place his own immediately and started exploring and playing with the teddies and toys we had laid out for his arrival before getting into his bed exhausted and sleeping.

That night the crying started, a bit like a baby who needs attention. I spent many nights after that on the sofa with him curled into me. One night I awoke with a sharp pain in my nose to see him locked on to it with his needle sharp puppy teeth, tail wagging. I had two holes in my nose for a week. Getting him walking on a lead was another trial, as he was having none of it. He was a master of begging and emotional bribery in pursuing his love of food. I had read that English Bull Terriers are stubborn and not an ideal first dog. I often recited this fact to him, which I think he full well knew.

English Bulls are natural jokers and have a lot of fun winding people and other dogs up. My brother was often led around by Cisco, who would try and wrap him around lampposts and bollards with his lead, switching direction for maximum effect and wagging his tail in delight. That’s when it wasn’t raining, as he would not walk in the rain, common amongst English Bulls, apparently. He would also try to get you to hand feed him, and he expected some of whatever you were eating before eating his own dinner. He had my mother so sewn-up that I once found him propped up on some cushions reclining whilst she fed him grapes. It looked like a scene straight from the Roman Empire; all that was missing was this canine Caesar’s toga. He looked at me with aloofness and derision and carried on, taking grapes as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

We pampered him more because through his life he suffered from some appalling skin problems. These skin problems can be very common in white dogs, especially Bull and West Highland Terriers. Large patches that look like eczema can appear on the skin, and it is very unpleasant for the dog, who will understandably scratch at the area until it is bleeding. Large pustules and scabbing can also appear; it really is awful. It also takes a lot of effort to keep the dog clean and soothed and also to keep surfaces and blankets in the house free from blood and pus.

This becomes even harder when you are awakened throughout the night by the dog scratching and shaking, trying to relieve discomfort. I spent some nights holding Cisco trying to sooth him and stopping him from scratching himself to pieces. Eventually I started scratching, as I caught what he had. Gemma tried making him special soap from avocado stones, and we spent many hours bathing him and treating his sores.

Cisco pretty much made a full recovery from his skin problem, which we determined was pyoderma. His recovery was drawn out and costly, and he suffered a lot — and so did we. It’s stressful and upsetting seeing your dog suffer. His treatment included medicines and a visit to a specialist consultant dermatologist from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Cisco’s diet also included low-protein foods and herbal supplements from Herbaticus.

Cisco was a lot of fun, a great companion, and a gentle giant, who taught me a great deal about relaxing, living in the moment, loyalty, and instincts. All things in which us humans could take a few more lessons, with our often hectic and materialistic lives. Part of those lessons included getting things wrong, losing my patience, and not always appreciating my Bull Terrier; all very human stuff. Mostly, though, we played and went out — and he tried every food that we did. A 5-stone-plus Bull Terrier sitting on your lap in a restaurant being hand-fed attracts some attention. To us it was normal. He was our boy, and we loved and shared with him.

It’s never easy saying goodbye. On a few occasions throughout his life, I’d lost sight of Cisco in the park, and the feeling of loss chilled me to the bone. When you have a dog you know that you will probably outlive him, but when his day comes it is heartbreaking. Cisco died with dignity at home, with me holding him and looking into his eyes to comfort him and let him know that everything was OK. My mom and dad, who loved him dearly and added to his life immeasurably, had been feeding him all of his favorite foods on his last day. We made his death as we made his life: full of love.

Cisco’s ashes are scattered where he most liked to walk. I keep his blanket wrapped in plastic so that it will always smell of him. I have his picture on my desk. I think of him every day, most often with a smile, and his opportunist antics, gentle nature, and the pleasure he took in defiantly and irrepressibly making the everyday fun.

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