Natural approaches to allergies

In canines, seasonal allergies usually manifest as skin problems and scratching. Here’s how to ease the discomfort.

It’s spring – the start of another allergy season! Seasonal allergies in people usually show up as sniffling, sneezing and coughing. But canine allergies usually take the form of allergic dermatitis — irritation and/or inflammation of the skin. Follow these steps to take control of his allergies.

1. Find out if he has leaky gut syndrome

The first thing I recommend for a dog with allergies is to address his diet and the possibility of leaky gut syndrome. In my experience, dysbiosis (leaky gut) is often the underlying cause of seasonal allergies that get progressively worse from one year to the next. There isn’t only one leaky gut protocol for all dogs, so work with a holistic or integrative vet to put together a treatment plan for your canine. If you suspect food allergies, your vet can identify what proteins you should avoid feeding your dog with a Nutriscan saliva test.

2. Transition to an anti-inflammatory diet

  • Diets that create or worsen inflammation are high in carbohydrates. Your allergic dog’s diet should be free of grains and potatoes, since carbs feed inflammation and yeast, a common secondary issue to allergies.
  • If you adhere to Chinese food principles, you will want to avoid “energetically warm” or “hot” foods during periods of inflammation. This means avoiding chicken and beef and opting for more “cooling” proteins such as bison or rabbit.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can decrease inflammation throughout the body. The best sources are krill, salmon, tuna, anchovy and sardine oil as well as other marine oils (e.g. squid). Cod liver oil does not provide enough EFAs for dogs; it’s a good source of vitamins A and D, but not essential fatty acids. Plant sources of EFAs (flax, primrose, hemp, borage oils) can’t be efficiently converted to utilizable DHA, and additional sources of Omega-6 fatty acids (safflower, sunflower, canola, corn oil) should not be given to dogs struggling with skin inflammation.
  • Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which helps decrease the body’s production of yeast. Using fish oil with coconut oil can help moderate or even suppress the inflammatory response.

3. Assess his immune system

Seasonal allergies are an immune system response, and one of the best ways to keep your dog’s immune function optimal is by avoiding unnecessary vaccines and drugs. Vaccines stimulate the immune system, which is the last thing an allergic dog needs. Talk to your veterinarian about titers to measure his immunity to core diseases as an alternative to automatically vaccinating. If your dog must receive the rabies vaccine, I recommend you have it done during the winter, or when his allergic symptoms are minimal.

signs of allergies

4. Control allergens

Your dog’s paws and hair collect literally millions of allergens each time she goes outdoors.

  • Frequent baths wash away allergens and provide relief from itching and irritation. Use a grain-free shampoo. My recommendation is an organic coconut oil-based shampoo with added essential oils (such as peppermint or tea tree, which are naturally antibacterial) that has specifically been created for animals.
  • Soothing dips are under-utilized, all-natural solutions that can dramatically reduce skin irritation during allergy season. My two favorite dips are homemade vinegar and lemon rinses. See the sidebar on page xx for my recipes.
  • Foot soaks reduce the allergens your dog tracks into the house. Feet are a common area of focus for allergic dogs because they sweat from their pads, creating a moist, sticky surface for allergens. If your dog is prone to licking and chewing her feet, this is a great way to reduce the potential for infected nail beds, interdigital cysts, and inflamed, swollen pads.

Set up the foot soak outside your door and walking your dog through it every time she comes indoors. This incredibly simple trick has kept many of my seasonal allergy patients off medications the entire summer. You can use my rinse recipes as foot soak solutions, or buy Povidone Iodine (Betadine) and dilute it to an iced tea color. This is especially beneficial for dogs that chew to the point of creating infections.

  • Eye rinses specifically for dogs can provide relief for itchy eyes. It’s very important that you never use a human medicated eye drop without your veterinarian’s consent! Basic saline contact solution (no added ingredients) can really help reduce itchy eyes during peak allergy season.

Keep your home interior as allergen-free as possible. Vacuum and clean floors as well as dog bedding. Use non-toxic cleaning agents rather than chemical-based household cleaners. Consider investing in an air purifier to remove indoor allergens. Covering your dog’s bed with dust mite covers that can be frequently washed also reduces allergen contamination.

Supplements for allergic dogs

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. I call it “nature’s Benadryl” because it’s very effective at suppressing histamine release.

Vitamin C can also function as a natural antihistamine; dogs can tolerate higher doses of the non-acidic form, calcium ascorbate.

Bromelain and papain are proteolytic enzymes that increase absorption of quercetin, making it more effective. I like to combine quercetin, bromelain and papain because they have a great synergistic effect. They also suppress prostaglandin release, which in turn decreases the pain and inflammation of irritated mucus membranes.

allergies rinse

Stinging nettle and butterbur are two herbs that may also be beneficial.

Homeopathics of various types are useful (they are based on your dog’s individual symptoms). I frequently recommend HistoPlex-AB by Biotics Research, a blend of standardized herbal extracts with immune-modulating effects. I also use Moducare by Thorne Research to help modulate overactive immune systems.

 Diffused essential oils such as eucalyptus oil can be healing to mucus membranes while lemon oil can provide airborne antioxidants that reduce your dog’s internal and external inflammation. Peppermint oil is naturally astringing and lavender oil naturally soothing.

Local honey contains small amounts of pollen from the local area that can help desensitize the body to local allergens. The best place to pick up local honey is from a farmers’ market in your area.

The more your dog is exposed to allergens he is sensitive to, the more intense and long-lasting his allergic response will become. Address potential root causes at the first sign of any type of allergic response, which usually occurs around six to 12 months of age. When symptoms are identified and addressed immediately, you reduce the risk of an escalating allergic response from one year to the next.