One of the most common problems presented to all veternarians is the itchy pet. Most often the source of itch is allergies. With conventional medicine, the treatment is often suppression and in difficult cases this can mean endless rounds of antibiotics and steroids. As clients and veterinarians become frustrated, they often begin to look for alternatives.
In the interest of full disclosure and responsibility, this is being written based only on my experience and I absolutely recommend that if your dog, or any other animal is experiencing any of the symptoms I mention, you need to go to a vet. Although I am writing this article about allergies in dogs, there are many, many illnesses whose symptoms mimic food allergies and you have to first go to vet to get certain illnesses ruled out. A blood panel can make sure your dogs organs are working properly and there are no underlying illnesses. A skin scraping can rule out mites and/or mange which can look like a food allergy, and is much more common than you think. So please, make sure you rule out any other more serious options before you consider a food allergy…
However, once you know your dog is basically healthy but is itchy, chewing herself, and getting hotspots… you need to immediately consider these things:
Am I giving my dog enough exercise or is she chewing because she is going crazy with boredom?
Am I feeding a high quality food in accordance with her natural diet?
Have I used Frontline or Advantage regularly and can I completely rule out a flea allergy? ( This is such a no brainer I won't address it again, but if there is the possibility that your dog is dealing with fleas and flea bites, please address this immediately with a regular flea treatment)
Do I have any plants that could be aggravating her skin? (There are several common plants that are considered more allergic than most for dogs. Check your yard and your walk path.)
Ok, so you rescued a dog who appears to have allergies. The range of severity is huge… my first “all mine, I am grown up” shepherd Halo had allergies that caused hot spots and minor chewing. She and I were growing up together. She came to college with me and I wish I knew then what I know now. I imagine the mac and cheese I fed her, and the beach romps after which neither of us bathed did not help her allergies. I believe I have mentioned that many times I ran into the local grocery store at midnight and bought a bag of dog food so she had breakfast. Now that I know what was in that food… the mac and cheese was probably a better choice.
My second shepherd with food allergies came to me almost bald, and so underweight we thought she was a coyote when we first saw her. This is when my lessons really began. (Sorry Halo) After making sure she was healthy inside, I went to work learning about what was making her bald, and skinny. I was lucky enough to learn from someone who was making one of the first accessible, limited and high quality ingredient dog foods on the local market. He taught me how different meats, different vegetable and different grains have different vitamins, different enzymes and different digestive qualities that actually work WITH a dogs system to keep them healthy. He taught me that the quality of meats and other “foods” in most dogs foods were sub par, and would never be approved for humans. He also taught me that a lot of dog foods out there have so many fillers that are just not natural to a dogs system that they can cause short term and long term issues. Corn is big ingredient in dog food, yet dogs have never eaten corn and as far back in the genetic chain of dogs did wolves even eat any animal who ate corn. It is just not in the digestive chain of dogs. Neither is wheat.
I learned through a process of trying the raw diet, cooking for my dogs, and finally settling on a mix of cooked meat and veggies and a high grade kibble that what you feed your dogs can affect their health. I also learned that if you have a dog with allergies… it is imperative that you absolutely commit to feeding a high quality, limited ingredient food for 60 days minimum with NO EXCEPTIONS.
Once you embark on the 60 days of only feeding a limited ingredient diet, which should include something like Dick Van Pattens Venison and Sweet Potato or Call of the Wild two ingredient food (check the label if you try something else) you have to absolutely commit to it. No treats that contain anything else, no slipping them table scraps that go against the diet, nothing. It is hard. You can still give treats, just make sure they are one of the limited ingredients you have decided are on the menu.
It takes at least 60 days of feeding your dog an isolated protein to see if there is an improvement in the symptoms. You can't expect a complete cure, but if you see an improvement you may be on the right track.
You may not see an improvement. This can be a long process of elimination. You cannot give up. Symptoms can range from minor itching and hot spots to huge wounds, major hair loss and major behavioral changes. (Can you imagine being itchy all the time?) I have met dogs who developed anxiety, aggression and neurotic behaviors that all cleared up once their allergies were addressed and they were not physically uncomfortable all the time.
If you haven't seen an improvement, it is possible that you chose the food that has the protein your dog is allergic to, so you have to switch from Venison to Fish or vice versa. You may know that someone in your home was cheating and giving your dog treats that are not on the approved list. It can be a long process. You may need to partner with your vet to get antibiotics if there are any wounds that are not healing…but stick with it. Be diligent. Hopefully you will be successful with the limited ingredient HIGH quality diet. Please please please include regular exercise for your dog…not running around in the backyard but a good solid leash walk to help alleviate the nervous itchy energy. By including regular leash walks you are insuring your dog is getting the mental stimulation she needs and isnt chewing herself like a neglected housewife chews her nails…
There are some basic, general guidelines to look for when dealing with allergies… There are often differences in the history or in the pattern of itch that is suggestive of one cause of disease or another. For example, inhalant allergies in dogs (allergies caused by pollens, trees, molds or grasses) tend to be seasonal and often include itchy feet and ear infections as part of the history. Flea allergies tend to concentrate around the tail base and stomach in dogs and often cats as well. Finally, with food allergies, you see year round problems which may show signs predominantly around the mouth, ears and anus.
Commit 100% to this. It is like having chicken pox for your dog… it is uncomfortable and can be life threatening. Take care of it.