Itching and scratching are as uncomfortable for dogs as they are for you, the dog parent, to watch as your dog engages in these behaviors. There are quite literally millions of articles floating around online about how to help a dog with allergies. Here, we cut to the chase, tell you what has worked for us, and offer some expert advice from a webinar we attended with Dr. Deva Khalsa, acclaimed holistic veterinarian, author, and lecturer.
Allergy or Sensitivity
The word “allergy” gets tossed around like a rubber duck on ocean waves. What some call an allergy might just be a food sensitivity in dogs.
There are food allergies and there are food intolerances. There are dogs who are sensitive to certain food ingredients and there are dogs who have allergic reactions to things in the environment. There is a subspecialty of veterinary medicine that involves dermatology. Seek a specialist if symptoms are ongoing. Do you seek the help of a specialist in times of need? The same should hold true for your dog.
Pollen is something that people are allergic to and it manifests as sneezing or stuffiness. With dogs, they may sneeze but are more likely to develop skin or ear infections or start biting or scratching themselves. The reason for this is that allergens get absorbed through a pet’s skin whereas with people we inhale pollen. According to Dr. Khalsa, allergies can manifest in a variety of ways:
Bacterial infections from allergies tend to cause issues such as rashes and hot spots. If your dog rubs his face on the furniture, scoots across the floor, licks their feet, or scratches excessively, this could be from an airborne allergy. Although dogs are less likely to sneeze from allergies, they can, as my dog does.
We know that my dog is allergic to certain environmental factors. According to Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, pets can get allergic reactions in different ways. Among them:
- Environmental allergies, caused by tree, grass and weed pollen. Also, mold, dust mites and other substances.
- Contact allergies, caused by coming in contact with certain weeds, mulch and other substances.
- Food allergies.
- Flea allergies. Fleas can be annoying enough on their own. But when a pet is allergic, one single flea bite can cause a serious reaction for one to two weeks.
Dog parents should take special notice if their dogs scratch themselves excessively, rub their faces along the furniture, lick their feet, or repeatedly scoot their bottoms across the floor.
If dog parents notice these signs, they should contact their family veterinarians to see if allergies might be the cause. If problems persist, a veterinarian may refer the pet to a specialist.
Treatments can include vaccines, antihistamines, steroids, the use of air filters, bathing and avoidance of the allergens.
Or you can try other things, as we did. Keep reading.
What About Food Allergies or Food Sensitivities in Dogs
Your dog may be allergic to a few foods but it is not enough to push him above threshold level to itching except in some cases says Dr. Khalsa.
She says that pollens, weeds, trees, molds, or other environmental allergens come into play seasonally and guess what happens? The dog’s threshold is pushed and he begins to itch.
Often times, your dog’s veterinarian will recommend you change foods and/or look for a protein (a novel protein) the dog has not yet been exposed to. Having been down this road with two Cocker Spaniels, this means a process of elimination.
Switching foods does not always work and there is a scientific reason for this. In simple terms, you can blame phenolics. Phenolics are compounds that are naturally present in foods. Phenolics, says Dr. Khalsa, gives food taste and smell. Protein sources have phenolics in them.
Why does this matter to your dog and trying different foods to see what he or she is “allergic to?” One phenolic can be present in many different foods. So you try beef for your dog and he itches. You try chicken weeks later and he itches. And so on.
Beef has ten different phenolics and chicken has five. Due to this cross reaction, it is nearly impossible to sort out by changing from food to food. This can also upset a dog’s digestive tract. I know because I tried this with my first Cocker Spaniel. Ah, I wish I knew then what I know now.
How To Treat a Dog With Allergic Issues
(1) Minimize the vaccinations your dog receives. Personally I am not anti-vaccine; I am anti over-vaccination. Our first Cocker Spaniel was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor on her skin at the site of vaccination. From that point on, I decided to become a more educated dog mom and dog writer. Here I am.
A pet’s immune system is not designed to receive multiple substances injected into the body.
(2) Second, have your dog’s thyroid checked regularly. Veterinary pioneer, Dr. Jean Dodds wrote an entire book on the topic of the canine thyroid epidemic. Thyroid problems can contribute to allergic symptoms in a dog.
Use caution in treating allergies with prednisolone. Of course, there is a time and a place for treatment. Dr. Khalsa says, “Using prednisolone to treat allergies is comparable to pulling out the fuse to your dash when the oil light goes on.”
The oil light is a symptom your car needs oil, just as a dog’s allergic manifestations are a symptom that your dog’s body needs help.
(3) What about Apoquel? I have been reading the amazing results of this kinase medication. In fact, I know many dog parents who successfully treat their dog with Apoquel.
Here’s why Dr. Khalsa would not give her dog Apoquel.
Bottom line: Apoquel stops something called JAKs from working in your dog. Your pet should not be without JAKs for long. JAKs are “just another kinase” which are messengers in the body that help growth and development.
Use caution if you treat with Apoquel.
How Can I Help My Dog With Allergies or Sensitivities?
- Supplement with Omega 3’s: They help with anti-inflammatory, skin, and ear health.
- Zinc can help: It builds a healthy immune system and is an antioxidant for the skin.
- Vitamin D: Dr. Khalsa says there is an epidemic of vitamin D3 in dogs. It is a hormone and is important for normal immune function.
- We use organic coconut oil as well. Remember, you need to eliminate and control what is causing the symptoms for any of this to be effective.
According to Dogs Naturally magazine, coconut oil, when used regularly, can help dogs who suffer from eczema, flea allergies, contact dermatitis, and itchy skin. Since adding a dollop of coconut oil to my dog’s food once a day, I’ve noticed a decrease in his itchiness. Bonus: People can use it for a variety of things from softer hair to improved skin texture to butter substitute in recipes (think :zero cholesterol).
Control the Itch
There are a variety of topicals and also more natural alternatives. We use Benadryl for extreme flares when traveling to a dry climate and use Atarax antihistamine as needed. We are able to control the majority of our dog’s issues with itching thanks to building up a strong immune system, avoid toxins, limiting vaccines, feeding a healthy diet, and ensuring his weight is in check.
We will discuss food and sensitivity issues in a future article but for now, we leave you with this:
CLICK THIS: 7 Ways to Help a Dog With Allergies
QUESTIONS: Has your dog ever been diagnosed with allergies or food sensitivities? How are you dealing with it?
(Always seek veterinary advice for any medical issue with your dog and before adding any new medications).