From a holistic perspective, allergies are not caused by allergens but rather result from an underlying imbalance in the immune system. The immune system must be compromised in some way for animals (including humans) to be susceptible.

This means that allergy symptoms can often be eradicated by balancing the immune system using proper nutrition, supplements, and healing modalities like homeopathy and acupuncture. Until this rebalancing is achieved, preventing contact with allergens is key in helping your dog feel better.

Allergies in dogs can present as skin itchiness and irritation, gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea, and/or upper respiratory symptoms such as watery eyes, sneezing, and/or ear infections. Many holistic practitioners believe that if symptoms are left untreated or are suppressed through the use of drugs, they can ultimately result in more serious chronic diseases such as arthritis, urinary tract infections, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Common allergens for dogs include fleas and environmental factors such as grasses and pollens. A bad reaction to food does not necessarily indicate an allergy but is more likely an intolerance or sensitivity to a protein the dog has ingested. A true food allergy is less common and generally develops over a long period of time and as a reaction to a food the dog eats frequently. The most common proteins, and therefore the most common food allergens, include corn, wheat, soy, beef, eggs, and milk. Whatever the source of a food allergy is determined to be, it must be avoided as much as possible in order for treatment to be effective.

Allergy testing can provide useful information on environmental allergies, but hasn’t been as reliable in testing for food sensitivities. Dr. Jean Dodds, world renowned animal immunologist, researcher, and creator of Hemopet Bloodbank for dogs, has introduced and patented a new test called ‘Nutriscan’ that analyzes a dog’s saliva for food intolerance and sensitivity to the most common allergens listed above. Talk to your local holistic veterinarian about obtaining this test.

Until definitive information is available on what your dog is allergic to, the following protocols can help ease the discomfort and provide some relief while improving the overall level of health:

  • Improve the quality of food; consider raw or home-cooked or buy premium quality kibble/canned.
  • Try a limited ingredient diet which includes a novel protein (one your dog hasn’t had before) and one carbohydrate. Since grains can be common allergens, they should be eliminated as well. Once your dog improves you can slowly begin to add other foods to help determine what he/she may be allergic or sensitive to.
  • Reduce the flea population on and around your dog or cat, using natural methods when possible. There are many such options; visit your local holistic pet care center for advice.
  • Enhance your dog’s immune system with nutritional supplements, such as anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids (fish oil) and enzymes/probiotics. Enzymes help the dog’s digestive system break down proteins more completely so they are less likely to trigger a response. Probiotics help maintain the proper levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which builds a strong immune system.
  • Minimize vaccinations and your dog’s exposure to other toxins to the best of your ability.
  • Minimize stress and avoid stressful environments.
  • Consider acupuncture and Chinese herbs (TCM) or homeopathy.
  • There are a number of natural remedies that can help your dog heal while alleviating symptoms. Here are some of the options:
    • Soothing, not suppressive, topicals such as calendula, lavender, aloe, and green tea for skin lesions and hot spots. Choose one with natural anti-bacterial properties to help soothe, calm, and heal.
    • Natural anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements like nettles, yucca, licorice; and natural antihistamines such as Quercetin, Vitamin C, and MSM.
    • Beta Thym – a plant derived steroid – that has cortisone-like effects without the side effects of synthetic drugs.
    • Antronex from Standard Process, a whole food/glandular supplement that supports the liver and the body’s natural antihistamine function.

If this approach does not help alleviate your dog’s allergy symptoms, ask your veterinarian to check for parasites, fungal and bacterial infections, and hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism, all of which can create allergy-like symptoms.

Many veterinarians, both mainstream and holistic, will recommend cortisone and/or antibiotics to quickly help stop itching and thereby avoid secondary bacterial infections that can result when skin is damaged. These drugs can provide temporary but much needed relief and break the cycle of itching, but the best allergy remedies are those that support, rather than suppress, the immune system and gradually optimize your dog’s overall health.