(Originally published in Natural Medicine magazine.)
More dogs visit the vet for skin allergies than any other health problem. In fact, some vets have gone so far as to call it an allergy epidemic.
Anyone who has had a dog or cat who suffers from skin allergies can attest to the extreme frustration experienced by both pet and pet owner. Dogs often scratch, bite and chew themselves to the point of bleeding. And pinning down the exact cause of the allergy, while ideal, is often difficult to impossible.
What is causing this problem? Possible reasons include poor breeding practices, processed diets and over-vaccinating.
There are four main types of skin allergies:
- Flea allergy
- Inhalent allergy
- Food allergy
- Contact allergy
Flea allergies are extremely common. The itchiness is most often around the base of the tail and tends to get worse in warmer weather.
Inhalent allergies, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, occur when the pet is allergic to something that he breathes in or absorbs through his skin, like pollen or grass.
Food allergies are less common and might also be quite easily fixed by swapping to a new brand of dog food. But other times, pinpointing the exact ingredient that the pet is allergic to can be extremely difficult.
Contact allergies or Contact Dermatitis is where the dog or cat immediately comes up in red bumps after having direct contact with the allergen. Carpet cleaners or shampoos are often the problem in this case.
Vets tend to prescribe treatment that they know works – usually Corticosteroids, Antihistamines or immunosuppressants such as Cyclosporine. But long term use of these treatments can cause serious health problems. Cortisone can compromise the immune system and trigger Diabetes. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness. And Cyclosporine can cause kidney and liver problems and even lymphoma.
There has to be a better solution. This is where natural remedies and a bit of lateral thinking comes in. To try to cure a problem caused by chemicals and unnatural feeding using more chemicals goes against every instinct of the natural medicine practitioner.
Externally, I suggest applying a soothing cream – creams containing Rooibos or Chamomile are fantastic for soothing red, itchy skin. If the allergy is flea related, treat for fleas immediately, then apply the cream.
Internally, there are a number of natural remedies which work very well for allergies:
- A 2012 study showed that, supplementing with a probiotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) in the first six months of a dog’s life significantly reduced the risk of allergies.
- Omega oils, such as Flax Seed oil have also been shown to control allergic symptoms in dogs.
- Very new evidence is pointing the effectiveness of natural mast cell stabilisers in allergic conditions. (This is what we use in our Allergy formula.) An allergy is often the result of an overactive immune response, causing mast cells to release chemicals like Histamine which cause itching and redness in the skin. Natural mast cell stabilisers (found in many plants), stabilise the mast cells so that these chemicals are not released and the itchy reaction never happens.
- Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that feeding a raw diet can eliminate allergic symptoms as well.
With these options available to us, there is no reason to resort to harmful drugs to treat our pets. Sometimes, there is no option, when the natural alternative does not help. Sometimes one of the drugs available is the ONLY option to give a dog relief. But, my feeling is that we should try to cure allergies using the natural route first.
Effect of an omega-3/omega-6 fatty acid-containing commercial lamb and rice diet on pruritus in atopic dogs: results of a single-blinded study. D W Scott, W H Miller, Jr, G A Reinhart, H O Mohammed, M S Bagladi. Can J Vet Res. 1997 Apr; 61(2): 145–153.
Mueller, R. S., Fieseler, K. V., Fettman, M. J., Zabel, S., Rosychuk, R. A. W., Ogilvie, G. K. and Greenwalt, T. L. (2004), Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on canine atopic dermatitis. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 45: 293–297. doi:10.1111/j.1748-5827.2004.tb00238.
Marsella, Rosanna, Domenico Santoro, and Kim Ahrens. “Early exposure to probiotics in a canine model of atopic dermatitis has long-term clinical and immunological effects.” Veterinary immunology and immunopathology 146.2 (2012): 185-189.