A common complaint and frequent source of frustration for many dog owners is when their dogs experience symptoms of itching, scratching, face rubbing and ear shaking with a discharge. They often try bathing their dogs with special shampoos, they change their food, they check for fleas, and finally make an appointment to visit their veterinarian. If the symptoms continue, pet owners then tend to head off to a Veterinarian who specializes in Dermatology. This vet visit typically starts with a variety of allergy tests and results in treatments using antibiotics, anti-histamines and steroids. Unfortunately, this cycle can continue for years. Test results often point to various foods such as beef or chicken, corn, carrots or wheat, and might pinpoint dust mites, grasses, ragweed, or other oddities that are either not in your neighborhood or to things too prevalent to get rid of. So, now what do you do?
First, it is important to note that food allergies are rare in dogs. It takes prolonged exposure (feeding) to particular foods to develop food allergies. This can happen when your dog is on a ‘fixed’ diet where it has eaten the same food – maybe the same protein daily – for an extensive period of time. This most commonly occurs when fed a commercial dry dog food diet or a cooked or raw diet that has been restricted to just one or two proteins day after day for a long time. Food allergies are not found in puppies and generally not seen in dogs until after two years of age.
So are allergy tests worth it? Can they detect just exactly what allergies your dog might have? Research shows they do not. When dogs were tested and found to be high in IgE levels, often they didn’t itch, but dogs with lower IgE levels did.
This research found results from allergy tests in dogs was MARGINAL:
Click this link to read Dr. Ron Hines full article on allergies and allergy testing, and why he finds them not useful.
Tufts University says, “As it turns out, food allergies are not as common as many pet food companies and websites may like for you to think. And while food allergies are one possible cause for your dog’s itchy skin and ear infections or your cat’s diarrhea, there are many more likely causes which may have nothing to do with the food”. They go on to say “while allergies are often identified as the culprit for itching or gastrointestinal problems, it is most often caused by something else.”
They state the most common cause of itching is fleas, followed next by environmental allergies. They mention pollen, dust mites and grasses. Unfortunately, these are found everywhere.
The article goes on to say, “One of the most frustrating things about food allergies is that there really isn’t an easy test. While many tests – using blood, saliva, and even hair – that can be performed by a veterinarian or purchased by a pet owner online (and even sometimes shockingly, through a Groupon!) advertise that they can diagnose food allergies or “sensitivities”, there is no proof that they work.”
Further, this article states, “In fact, multiple studies, (including this one just published – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090023317300230) have shown that these kinds of tests are not very helpful in diagnosing food allergies, despite their widespread use for this purpose. Research results presented at a veterinary dermatology (skin) conference even showed that some tests ‘diagnosed’ plain water and stuffed animal ‘fur’ as having food allergies.”
And I will say unequivocally, that SALIVA and HAIR tests DO NOT WORK. Neither of these can detect nor diagnose allergies. Some of these will say they detect ‘food intolerances”, but that is untrue. Food intolerances are specific to too much fat or fiber in the diet and can be easily resolved by taking a closer look at the diet and adjusting it.
Why do some dogs get food allergies – or more commonly environmental allergies – at all, while others do not? It is because some dog’s bodies incorrectly respond to something normal in the environment. The body perceives it as harmful and therefore responds by attacking it. While the symptoms of this response tend to show up in hives, itching, itchy feet and ears, and weepy eyes, food allergies are far less likely to be the cause. It has everything to do with the state of that particular dog’s immune system. Some dogs are born with a poor immune system that could be the result of a variety of factors. It could be that the puppy came from a puppy mill or a puppy’s mom was not fed properly during pregnancy. Maybe the puppy was fed a poor diet when it was young or didn’t get enough good socialization or exercise. It could also be the result of health issues that required early surgery and anesthesia. All of these could lead to a compromised immune system.
The first step in trying to find out what might be causing your dog’s itching is to do a skin culture and sensitivity test at your veterinarian’s office. This is when your veterinarian takes a skin scraping from the affected areas and sends it to a laboratory to culture. This test determines if bacteria or yeast is present on the skin and it is the most accurate way to see WHAT bacteria is present (or yeast) so the CORRECT antibiotic can be given, ifs needed. Please be aware that antibiotic use can cause yeast to grow, so it is very important to give probiotics in-between antibiotic doses, two to three times daily.
If your dog has diarrhea, check to see if your dog has too much fat or too much fiber it its diet. It is also important to determine if your dog just doesn’t do well on a dry commercial food diet. These diets are very high in carbohydrates and fiber and can be irritating to many dogs.
While most of the articles talk about a food elimination diet, I think it is more effective to improve your dog’s current diet. This in turn will also help support your dog’s immune system more effectively.
Some ways to improve your dog’s diet would be to add some fresh food to a current kibble diet:
Taking it one step further, you could change your dog’s diet to a home-cooked diet. Changing to this diet offers fresh foods which provide more nutrients and allows you to have control over ALL the ingredients you feed. This way you know exactly what your dog is eating.
Lastly, if you don’t have the time or the energy to cook, you can also offer your dog a raw diet which offers the highest level of nutrients. You can either purchase pre-made raw diets or you can make your own.
Whether you choose to add fresh foods to a commercial kibble diet, home-cook your dog’s meals or feed a raw diet to your dog, you can find great detailed information and recipes on all these variations of diets in my book ‘Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs’. My book also includes the history of feeding dogs, the history of dog food, and the anatomy and digestive needs of canines.
I also have videos available with complete instructions on making both homemade and raw diets. These videos give you the information and education you need to proceed with confidence. You can find these here:
To enhance and improve your dog’s diet, I recommend adding Fish oil capsules at one 1000 mg capsule per 10-20 pounds of body weight. The Omega 3 found in fish oil is wonderful for the coat and skin, it helps support the immune system, protects the heart and kidneys and fights inflammation.
Another supplement I suggest is adding the Berte’s Immune Blend to your dog’s diet. This supplement contains vitamins A, B complex, C, D3 and vitamin E, all of which help support a good immune system. It also contains probiotics, which help fight yeast overgrowth.
In cases of severe inflammation and itching, the Yucca Intensive can help. It contains saponins, which can help fight inflammation and some intestinal problems. Be sure to give one drop per 10 pounds of body weight WITH FOOD. And NEVER mix with steroids or other NSAIDs.
Bathe your dog weekly with a mild shampoo. Rinse with a solution of 1/4 WHITE vinegar and 3/4 water. This solution will help kill yeast on the skin. Use Thayers Witch Hazel with Aloe on affected areas during the week. The witch hazel kills the bacteria and yeast and the aloe helps cool and heal the affected areas. For feet
, you can use a human athlete’s foot spray once or twice a day. All of these contain yeast controlling ingredients that are safe to use on your dog’s feet.
I hope you found this article helpful. Always see a veterinarian to pursue the right diagnosis for your dog’s itching and coat problems. The RIGHT diagnosis will bring the right treatment to help your dog heal and return to normal. Improving your dog’s diet will enhance recovery and help support your dog’s immune system.
Don’t forget! Exercise such as walking, throwing a ball, obedience or rally classes, as well as barn hurt or nose work classes all help to stimulate your dog’s brain. This in turn, helps the immune system. Keep your dog’s coat and skin clean and don’t forget to wash the bedding and anywhere else your dog sleeps or hangs out! All of these things will make for a happier and healthier dog!