From acupressure to aloe vera, these holistic therapies help take the itch out of your dog’s allergies.
Skin allergies afflict large numbers of dogs, and can be challenging to treat. Mainstream medicine tends to only mask the symptoms without getting to the root of the problem. A holistic approach offers a wider range of options and takes into consideration the whole dog, and not just his skin. Let’s look at five effective natural solutions to your dog’s allergies.
Greg Tilford, herbalist, animal expert and author of Herbs For Pets: An Herbal Repertory for Animals, tells us that allergies occur when “antigenic substances or allergens enter the body and trigger a disproportionately aggressive immune response”. As most dog parents with allergic canines know, the conventional way to treat allergies is with antihistamines and corticosteroid drugs like prednisone, which has a number of unpleasant side effects. Steroids suppress the immune system so the dog’s allergy symptoms (itching, licking and biting) no longer occur.
Based on experience with my own dog, and as a certified veterinary technician, I’ve seen many cases of canine allergies, and while steroids will alleviate the symptoms for a while, they leave the actual underlying cause unaddressed. And typically, only short-term doses of steroids are recommended.
A holistic or integrative vet will determine how to best treat a dog’s allergies by trying to determine the substance causing the over-reactive immune response, and what can be done to help correct this response. Allergies typically fall into five categories: contact, flea, food, bacterial, and inhalant. With the help of your vet, it’s important to identify the root of your dog’s allergies.
5 holistic options for allergic dogs
If you’re looking for alternative allergy treatments for your dog, there are many to choose from. Our top favorites are featured here. Note that they should all be used under the supervision of a holistic or integrative veterinarian as they can interfere with other medications being taken by your dog. Licorice, for example, has many contraindications.
Licorice, as an effective anti-inflammatory agent, is a less obstructive alternative to steroids. In fact, holistic vets often use licorice as a substitute for anti-inflammatory drugs (like NSAIDs) or to reduce an animal’s need for corticosteroids.
Many holistic vets refer to licorice as nature’s cortisone, which is why this is number one on our list! Recent research has demonstrated this herb has detoxification properties similar to silymarin, thanks to its glycyrrhizin content. Licorice is anti-allergenic and when used topically is effective for many skin infections.
Many holistic vets refer to licorice as nature’s cortisone.
2. Body “detox” soaks
Body “detox” soaks (and paw soaks) should also be considered. Veterinarian Dr. Jodie Gruenstern recommends adding in essential oils to help with the detox for allergic dogs. “I provide immediate relief to my allergy patients with ‘detox soaks’,” she says. “Dogs can be soaked safely and effectively with the right combination of healthy soap, and diluted medicinal essential oils, to increase circulation and support the detoxifying liver pathways and the immune system. Utilizing oils like lavender or chamomile can mechanically soothe irritated skin and calm the frazzled nerves of both dog and dog parent.”
Nettle is an herb that can be made into an excellent tonic for seasonal allergies and are also helpful for repelling fleas. A herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the Urticaceae family, nettle offers mild antihistamine relief and is a strong diuretic.
Many holistic vets find nettle helpful when used topically as a skin and coat rinse as it provides relief for itchy skin and flea bites. “Nettles help animals who have seasonal allergies; they may benefit from consuming a tincture or tea of nettle leaf,” says veterinarian Dr. Keith Weingardt. “It can help lessen symptoms if taken on a regular basis. If your animal has a known allergy to plants, however, be cautious when starting nettle and use a very small amount to monitor for an adverse reaction.”
“Nettles help animals who have seasonal allergies; they may benefit from consuming a tincture or tea of nettle leaf.”
Acupressure is a safe non-invasive modality developed thousands of years ago as an important aspect of Chinese medicine. It can be effective for allergies. Acupressure uses precise finger/thumb placement and pressure over specific points along the dog’s body. “Four acupressure points are known to stimulate and strengthen the immune system,” explain Amy Snow and Nancy Zidonis of the Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute:
- “Large Intestine 11 (LI 11), Pond in the Curve – Enhances the immune system, reduces itching (pruritus), and benefits skin disorders.
- Large Intestine 4 (LI 4), Adjoining Valley – Used for allergic dermatological issues and benefits the immune system.
- Lung 7 (Lu 7), Broken Sequence – Benefits skin issues, especially abdominal itching, and strengthens the immune system.
- Stomach 36 (St 36), Leg Three Mile – Helps prevent allergies. Additionally, this point is used to enhance the movement of energy and blood throughout the dog’s body to support good health.”
5. Aloe vera
Aloe vera is a popular remedy for both dogs and people. For dogs with itchy skin, aloe is the best topical treatment available to pet parents. Aloe vera is not only used for the treatment of itchy skin, but also for many skin problems such as allergies, hot spots and rashes. The plant contains an enzyme that reduces the development of inflammatory proteins in the skin cells. Aloe stimulates the immune system. It’s easy to grow as a houseplant, and using it home is as easy as cutting a mature leaf from the lower part of the plant and squeezing out the juice.
Again, consult your holistic or integrative vet before adding anything new to your dog’s treatment routine.
Even when your four-legged best friend feels much better and is less itchy, you still need to find the underlying cause of the problem so it can be addressed and help prevent a recurrence of the allergies. In the meantime, however, the solutions highlighted in this article will result in a happier, calmer and more comfortable dog.