5 Ways to Manage Allergies in Dogs
As the weather cools down, many pet owners are hoping that their dogs will get a break from the summer allergies that have been especially bad this year. Allergy symptoms are abnormal, often intense itching, licking, chewing of skin and paws, shaking/scratching of the ears, and sometimes sores and skin infections that are the result of the scratching and chewing. These symptoms can be caused by many things including fleas, foods or environmental allergens. Unfortunately, fall can also be a bad time for allergies. And what started as a seasonal problem may have become a year-round condition.
When the cause can’t easily be determined and when other treatment options haven’t worked, veterinarians often prescribe steroids or Apoquel. While Apoquel is usually very effective, there are some significant side effects, including the fact that it has been linked to an increase in cancer. Since it works by suppressing the immune-system, the body has a harder time fighting off other invaders - including cancer cells. Perhaps a bigger concern is that the dog’s body becomes dependent on Apoquel. Because Apoquel doesn’t address the root cause of the allergy, once the medication is stopped, the problems return – often worse than before. Furthermore, the disruption of the immune system may make it more difficult for healing to occur. Although Apoquel is meant only for short-term use, the reality is that once a dog starts on it, they are often on it for a long time.
So what can you do to give your pup relief? Since there are many causes for allergies and many factors that affect the health of the immune system, the solution can be complicated. But following are 5 safe alternatives to Apoquel and/or steroids that are worth exploring.
1. Remove environmental allergens
Change HVAC filters frequently, consider an air purifier, don’t use pesticides, use non-toxic cleaning products, avoid air-fresheners, and soak your dog’s paws at the end of every day to remove environmental pollutants like fertilizer, pesticides, pollen, mold and dust mites. You can use a solution of 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1 gallon of warm water and soak paws for a minute or two.
2. Bathe Frequently
Bathing will help remove allergens and will NOT dry out your dog’s skin as long as you use a natural shampoo that does not include artificial colors, fragrances, parabens, sulfates, phthalates and phosphates. Earthbath and Skout’s Honor are two brands that we recommend.
3. Change Your Dog’s Diet
If your dog is on a less than optimal diet – meaning dry food with a large percentage of carbohydrates – switching to an anti-inflammatory diet, (no carbs or grains) and choosing “cooling” proteins (fish, duck or rabbit) may help. You may want to try an elimination diet to remove all possible food allergens, but this is a rather involved process.
4. Add Supplements
• Add omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, krill, and Sardine oil are good sources. A supplement, such as Glimmer from Herbsmith, can be very effective. Allow 6 weeks to see results, but these fatty acids are a healthy addition to any dog’s routine.
• Raw goat’s milk or kefir is packed with probiotics that can help fight allergies and promote a healthy gut.
• Colostrum may help build up the immune system
5. Try Topical Remedies
There are many topical solutions that can be effective for stopping the itch-scratch cycle. Coconut oil is a natural skin soother with antibacterial and healing properties. It can be applied directly to the skin and/or given as part of their diet. Baking soda can be made into a paste and applied directly to inflamed areas or mix 1 Tbsp of baking soda with 8 oz water and spray it on their skin. Commercial sprays can be helpful. We recommend Probiotic Itch Relief Spray from Skout’s Honor or Hot Spot and Itch Spritz from Earthbath.
To avoid a lifetime of painful, itchy skin and expensive, potentially dangerous medications, it’s important to work with your vet to figure out the root cause of why the allergy symptoms are occurring in the first place.