More dogs visit the vet for skin allergies than for 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 or 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
- Atopic dermatitis
- 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.
Atopic dermatitis occurs when the pet is allergic to something inhaled or where the pet has a genetic mutation which allows allergens to penetrate the skin and cause rashes and itchiness. This condition can be passed down to subsequent generations.
Food allergies are less common and might also be quite easily fixed by swapping to a new brand of dog food. But at other times, pinpointing the exact ingredient that the pet is allergic to can be extremely difficult.
Contact allergy, 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.
POTENTIAL RISKS OF CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT
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 by 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.¹
- Omega oils, such as flaxseed oil, have also been shown to control allergic symptoms in dogs.2,3
- Very new evidence is pointing to the effectiveness of natural mast cell stabilisers in allergic conditions. 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 occurs.
- 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 is not effective. Sometimes the use of a drug is the ONLY option offering relief, but my feeling is that we should try to cure allergies using the natural route first.
- Marsella R, Santoro D, et al. Early exposure to probiotics in a canine model of atopic dermatitis has long-term clinical and immunological effects. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology. 2012;146(2):185-89.
- Scott DW, Miller WH, et al. 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. Can J Vet Res. 1997 Apr;61(2):145-53.
- Mueller RS, Fieseler KV, et al. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on canine atopic dermatitis. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2004;45:293-97.