Why Is My Dog Itching? & What to Do, Part 3: Natural Solutions for Dog Allergies
with Allison Shalla of homeoPAWthic, Wellness Advocate
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If you're wondering whether your dog's allergic reaction to the many issues we've covered can be handled naturally - even prevented - the answer is YES.


Let's talk about how.

Starting with outlining how you can treat your dog's environmental allergies and food allergies/sensitivities with natural protocols.


First, the issue so many of you ask about when it comes to dog allergies:


Seasonal allergies


Why natural care for dog allergies matters

One of my dogs is a poster pup for the life-changing impact of natural remedies to manage allergies. She has suffered some of the worst allergic reactions from environmental allergens. At one point, she lost ALL the fur on her belly, had chewed her toes raw, and had hyperpigmentation.


Before I knew better, I accepted steroids from the vet to suppress her immune response to the allergens. I wasn't prepared with questions and an understanding of pet allergies at that time. Unfortunately, the steroids impacted her kidney function, a common side effect especially with prolonged use.


I set out to arm myself, building on my foundation as a certified canine nutritionist, with an arsenal of natural alternatives to fight pet allergies. Fast-forward five years, she has minimal and very manageable seasonal allergy symptoms that last a fraction of the time they used to and with no hair loss and chewing.


Here is my pet allergy regimen: pro tips for what to use & why for seasonal allergies:


(Always consult your vet before making any major changes to your dog's health & wellness protocols)


Tip 1: Honey 

Most important - RAW LOCAL honey from within a 30-mile radius is a must-use during allergy season. You're introducing very small, measured doses of local pollens to your pet’s system, helping to gradually build up immunity (a similar theory to the ‘allergy shots” many people get to manage dog allergies).


Tip 2: Rinses with apple cider vinegar & herbs

Since our dogs tend to absorb allergens via skin, fur, and paws (because they are much lower to the ground) not just through their noses, it's important to rinse them to remove environmental allergens from their fur and paws. Frequent bathing is important to manage allergies - at least once a week or right after being out in long grass.


Try this

I don't shampoo every time I rinse, I often just wet my dog down, and use a homemade rinse including: 1 part distilled water, 1 part apple cider vinegar and 1 part steeped Calendula infusion. To make the Calendula infusion, steep 1 tablespoon of dried Calendula flower in 1 cup just boiled water. Steep 20 minutes, let cool, and add to your water/ACV mix.


The apple cider vinegar is particularly good at getting rid of mold spores, pet dander, as well as yeast and allergens that can cause hay fever-like symptoms - a huge help in relieving itching for your dog.


Tip 3: Herbal products

There are many good herbal products available that have been formulated specifically for seasonal allergy-affected dogs. You can also consult a certified animal herbalist for a customized herbal protocol for your specific pet allergy.


Try this

A go-to natural remedy I recommend is quercetin. Often referred to as “nature’s antihistamine," quercetin is known for being a powerful antioxidant and having a number of anti-allergic properties: it stimulates the immune system (so your immune system protects your dog as it's meant to) while inhibiting histamine release, and decreasing inflammation.


Essentially, it turns off histamine production - one of the biggest players in allergic reactions, causing all those dog allergy symptoms from your dog's itchy skin and allergic dermatitis to inflammation around your pup's eyes.


Quercitin is often combined with Bromelain, a natural digestive enzyme found in pineapple. (Quercitin is found in foods such as kale, blueberries, and more.) The two ingredients work together well to make it more effective. The recommended dose is 5-8mg for every pound of your dog’s weight. It's best given on an empty stomach, in 2 separate daily doses.


Tip 4: Antihistamines (OTC) for pet allergy symptoms

Be sure to check with your vet before using any over-the-counter antihistamines for dog allergies. Your vet will take your pup's history into account to be sure it's safe. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is a commonly prescribed OTC antihistamine. Check with your vet for proper dosage.


Tip 5: Low-histamine foods

It helps to limit additional histamine to minimize your dog's symptoms by avoiding foods high in histamine.


Give me examples

Foods higher in histamines include: canned foods, processed meats, fermented or aged foods (sauerkraut, kefir, fermented microgreens, cheese, etc). Also, some foods can trigger histamine release: bananas, tomatoes, beans, and food additives. Food stored in the fridge increases in histamine over time, so fresh or frozen are better choices.


A word about oral medications & allergy shots

Some veterinary medications and injections such as Apoquel and Cytopoint have become popular with pet owners. Unfortunately, these can come with their own side effects. I urge pet parents to weigh the pros and cons of using these methods. Do their potential side effects and long-term effects outweigh the symptoms of environmental allergies? With anything, do your research and determine if the risks are worth it for your dog's condition.


Second, your other most-asked-about issue:

Food Allergies/ Sensitivities


The gold standard for finding a solution for an "allergic" reaction or sensitivity to foods is the Elimination Diet.


What is an elimination diet & how it works

Bring your dog's diet back to 0 add 1 ingredient at a time. Choose novel ingredients – 1 protein and 1 carbohydrate - that your dog has never had before, and then slowly build a diet by adding 1 ingredient at a time, determining a “safe list” of foods that your dog can digest without having an adverse reaction.


This is a process of trial-and-error; when an ingredient triggers an adverse reaction, you go back to the foods that were working and eliminate the problem food from your list.


Common triggers for most dogs - not necessarily yours

The “most common” food triggers tend to be beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, and wheat. While maybe true for many, it doesn't apply to every dog. Speaking from experience, I have a dog who is sensitive to turkey, whitefish, peas & pea protein, cow’s milk, soy, corn, oats, venison, bison/buffalo, and the list goes on. Even food preservatives/additives can cause a reaction. Approach it individually to know what works for YOUR dog. You are essentially creating a customized hypoallergenic diet for your dog.


This process is different for every dog, but here's an outline of basic steps to start...


Elimination Diet Protocol

Important note: an elimination diet is not a balanced, proper diet nutritionally. It is safe for short feeding trials in otherwise healthy adult dogs. If your dog has other health issues or is a puppy, consult a professional to guide you. Supplementation MAY be needed to avoid serious deficiencies. A professional canine nutritionist can help you determine if supplements are required. A calcium supplement is a MUST-HAVE! A canine nutritionist can formulate a precise amount for you.(I don't recommend using eggshell powder in case eggs are a trigger.)


Step 1: Choose 1 novel protein & 1 novel carbohydrate.


What does that actually mean?

Novel means something your dog hasn't eaten before, so these are usually more “uncommon” proteins (i.e. if your dog is used to beef & chicken, lamb might be one of the good, harmless proteins to choose. If your dog has eaten oats in the past, quinoa might be a good carbohydrate to start. Note: carbohydrates are important for the digestive system.) Continue using only these 2 ingredients (plus calcium) for a minimum of 4 weeks*


*if you see drastic improvement very quickly, this can be re-evaluated. You'll know you have been dealing with food sensitivities and you can move on to the next step sooner.


Step 2: If you're seeing a slight improvement on these ingredients, continue for 2 more weeks.

IF YOU ARE NOT SEEING IMPROVEMENT, you are either dealing with a sensitivity to the foods you have chosen OR you are dealing with another underlying issue, such as leaky gut or GI issues, or potentially another cause altogether as discussed in Part 2 of this series – when it’s not allergies.


Step 3: Once you see great improvement, add 1 additional ingredient at a time.

Be sure not to introduce more than 1 food at a time, and do not add too quickly, as this makes it hard to pinpoint the trigger.


Step 4:  If the new ingredient causes adverse reactions...

remove the new food ingredient, wait 2 weeks minimum, and try again with a different ingredient.


Two important notes throughout your food trial:

  1. During the elimination diet phase, NO OTHER FOODS can be fed. No food scraps, no treats (unless they are based solely on the same protein you're feeding with no other ingredients). Otherwise, your elimination food trial is compromised.
  2. Document foods as you go. Keep a calendar of which foods you introduced when so you can easily pinpoint which food is causing an adverse reaction. This also allows you to build a “safe to use” list to build a complete & balanced diet when you're ready.


Additional food allergy/sensitivity considerations:

  • Optimizing digestive system & gut health – an important contributing factor in food sensitivities. If your dog is suffering from “leaky gut” or improper gut function, he or she will not be able to properly break down histamine in food. They may need probiotics, digestive enzymes, or other gut restorative protocols.
  • Using Low-Histamine Foods: Higher histamine foods should be limited/avoided in dogs who are experiencing sensitivities AND in dogs with environmental allergies too. See list above.
  • Food Sensitivity Testing – this remains quite controversial. Hair and saliva tests are available that claim to be able to indicate food sensitives. While these may not give you a 100% accurate picture of your dog’s sensitivities, you can get a list of ingredients that could be useful as a starting point to avoid in your elimination process. They do NOT REPLACE the need for an elimination food trial diet.
  • Limited Ingredient Diet Commercial Foods – these can be an option for some dogs who have gone through the elimination diet and have a solid list of “safe foods”. The ingredient list on the bag will tell you if there are any trigger ingredients, and unfortunately, there often are. If you do find one that suits your dog’s needs, there a few considerations, such as avoiding foods with a high-legume content. You may want to choose a grain-inclusive if grains are NOT a trigger. Many grain-free, LID commercial foods, replace grains with legumes (peas, chickpeas, lentils...). Legumes are potentially a concern for interfering with Taurine-absorption and leading to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). *DCM causes are still undergoing research.


*Remember, not all grains contain wheat/gluten, so if wheat/gluten is an allergy, you don't have to avoid all grains/seeds. Some wheat/gluten-free grains/seeds: quinoa, buckwheat, and other good sources of carbs - sweet potato, squash, pumpkin


Step 5: Transitioning to a homemade fresh food diet

Once you complete your elimination diet and have your "safe list," if you plan to transition to a raw or cooked home-prepared diet for your dog with sensitivities, it's important to work with a certified professional who can put together a BALANCED diet using the ingredients your dog can tolerate well. Elimination diets aren't balanced and can't be used long-term since they have deficiencies that can have serious health consequences. A certified canine nutritionist will have a solid background in formulating diets to NRC, AAFCO or FEDIAF guidelines (that determine the level of nutrients required for a balanced diet), so you'll have a proper diet nutritionally, built on your dog's safe foods.


If you think your dog could have both environmental allergies AND food sensitivities, you'll want a strategic plan to ensure you are still able to work on the environmental allergies without compromising the elimination diet. A professional can guide you here as well.


We've covered a lot of ground... so if you have any questions about your dog and allergies, sensitivities, and solutions, just ask!


NEXT UP in the final (Part 4) of this series: solutions for your itchy dog for everything from flea allergy dermatitis to yeast to environmental toxins!


Information sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6273625/

https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/01/food-allergies/

https://www.merckvetmanual.com/integumentary-system/food-allergy/overview-of-food-allergy