The Royal Treatment Veterinary Center
Q: It seems my kids aren’t the only ones sneezing and wheezing as the school year starts. Our Pug, Buddy, is scratching and sneezing more often at this time of year. Could he be suffering from seasonal allergies, and if so, how do we treat them?
A: We all know about having allergies to dogs, but dogs having allergies, well, that’s a different matter. The main signs of allergies in a dog are skin related. They can start by just chewing at their feet, or having localized irritated hot spots on the skin. The first thing to rule out is fleas or mites. They can really cause itching, even if there are just a few.
While an itchy dog is not a medical emergency, it is often a mental emergency. It’s hard to live with an itchy, scratching dog. Not only is it just plain hard to sleep if a pet is scratching all night, it must be so distressing for the pet.
Dogs can be allergic to many things―pollens, molds, fleas, mites, grains, dust, and even cats! Signs of allergies can appear seasonally. But that doesn’t mean that there’s only one seasonal allergen affecting your Pug, Buddy. There are usually many culprits when an animal has allergic itching. Sometimes the skin is so bothered, red, or raw from self-trauma that other infections come in and confuse the matter. If we can keep exposure to allergens to a minimum and improve the body’s immune system, we may avoid allergic reactions. But if there are many allergens present at the same time, and the body is primed to react, then you have an itchy doggie.
I have found the number one thing I can do to help allergies is improve the diet. Feeding an anti-inflammatory diet can make all the difference. This means avoiding processed grains like wheat flour or corn glutens, peanuts or peanut butter, and processed sugars, which often exacerbate allergic reactions. This goes for treats, too.
I rarely recommend changing meat sources in the food. It never makes a whole lot of sense to me that a carnivore would be allergic to a certain meat. It is like that fish in the movie Finding Nemo who’s allergic to water. A funny joke, but very unlikely. At least for most cases I think it may be the food, but typically it’s not the meat.
The grains and other additives stress the immune system. Improving the quality and freshness of the diet goes a long way to getting rid of allergies. I often find that dogs with allergies do the best on commercial raw food diets or even home-cooked raw if the owner can do it (remembering to change over slowly, and use a good probiotic during the change).
We can’t always do anything to avoid environmental allergens, like grasses, trees, molds, etc., but we can try to avoid what we can. Things to avoid that may cause allergies include plastic feeding bowls, wool blankets and carpets, and dust mites (keep things extra clean).
Allergies can be treated in a number of ways, but I find that if I focus on diet, while aggressively treating the signs, I have the most effective and long-lasting successes. Treating the signs may include medicated/soothing shampoos, herbal or nutritional supplements (aloe vera juice, Chinese herbals, Western herbs, omega 3 FA, etc.), as well as antibiotics for any secondary infections, and sometimes even short courses of antihistamines or steroids are necessary to stop the itching if it is severe. Once everyone can get a good night’s rest, then we can all focus on the best long-term plan for the pet’s allergies.
ABOUT the Vet
Barbara Royal, DVM, founder and owner of The Royal Treatment Veterinary Center, is an internationally renowned pioneer in complementary medicine and physical rehabilitation. A passionate advocate of commonsense and cutting-edge approaches to optimal animal health, Dr. Royal provides a bridge between Western and Eastern medicine. Dr. Royal has extensive experience in veterinary care, including zoo, marine, and wildlife animals, emergency medicine, pathology, conventional practices, nutrition, herbal remedies, physical rehabilitation techniques, and alternative treatments. She is also an acupuncture expert for pets and exotic zoo creatures. She is the go-to veterinarian for Oprah Winfrey. Dr. Royal lives in Wilmette, Illinois with her husband, two children, her cat, Flag, and her dog, Henry. Her first book will be published by Simon & Schuster in Spring 2012.