As I’m writing this article, allergy season is in full effect here in central Oklahoma.
Seasonal allergies are worse in the spring and the fall, but they can occur all year round.
They’re so common, that a significant percentage of my practice is devoted to treating them. I want to spend some time covering my strategies for natural allergy care with you today, and like with most great literature, it’s important to provide a table of contents to outline the story ahead -- so let’s dive in!
Here are some common symptoms to watch for, that will let you know if your pet is suffering from allergies:
• Chewing / licking of the feet
• Chronic head shaking / ear infections
• Impacted anal glands, which are indicated by the pet scooting its bum across the ground (preferably when company is present)
• Occasionally, pets will develop upper respiratory congestion, just like people do with allergies
There are 3 general categories that cause allergies:
• Seasonal / Atopic Allergies
1) Let's start with Food
About 80% of the body’s immune system is in the gut, so we must be very careful to ensure that there is always proper gut health by being mindful of common ingredients in commercial pet foods that tend to cause allergies.
If a pet has a food allergy, they will have symptoms every day, all year long.
There is never a break for these poor pets.
For that reason, I only recommend pet foods that DO NOT include the following ingredients:
• Fish that isn’t hydrolyzed (a process that makes it easier to digest)
Almost any ingredient can be a cause of allergies, but the above are the usual suspects that commonly cause allergies and other health problems.
Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to find out what these ingredients are, and how to avoid them.
Before so many specialty diets were available, we would have our clients do a very time-consuming elimination diet where we scaled down to just 1 - 2 ingredients in a home-cooked meal and then would slowly reintroduce things to see what was causing the trigger.
(We still have to do this occasionally, but on a much more limited basis.)
Food allergies would be MUCH easier to diagnose IF pets weren’t so prone to eating anything in sight and then after they vacuumed the floor for you, they would develop an upset stomach from eating whatever it was they were allergic to.
(Unfortunately, this is only the case about 30% of the time.) Before we go further, it’s necessary to understand that our pets’ immune systems are under constant assault by ALL KINDS of allergens.
Once a certain threshold is reached, the pet will then begin manifesting allergic reactions.
That’s why it’s so important to do all we can to decrease common allergic burdens from food below the threshold level where you start to notice symptoms.
2) Next up, we have Fleas
Flea allergies are a huge concern, especially here in Oklahoma.
Just 1 flea (numero uno!) can bite a pet up to 100 times in 24 hours. Talk about the quintessential definition of a parasite!
Their saliva is a foreign protein and when a flea bites, this protein is injected intradermally (into the skin).
Injecting foreign proteins intradermally is the most efficient way to induce an allergic reaction.
Therefore, flea control has to be a huge part of any proactive treatment regimen for pets.
Many times, fleas are never seen on your pet, but they are busy biting and possibly giving him or her tapeworms.
Thus, any pet having allergy problems must be put on a safe and effective flea preventative (which they already should be, as the key word here is preventative).
Technology has really progressed a great deal since I graduated from Iowa State Veterinary College in 1981.
These days, I much prefer to use an oral flea and tick preventative called Bravecto. (A chewable pill that lasts for 3 months.)
The flea does have to bite the pet one time, but after that, they’re toast!
Again, this way, we can lower the flea allergy to less than the allergic threshold by having a flea and tick preventative measure in place.
I'm an integrative veterinarian, which means I approach things holistically first and incorporate conventional treatments when necessary.
Given that, I can't justify putting toxic chemicals on a pet, which will then stay on the pet’s skin and potentially expose my clients and their families to those chemicals as well.
All topical flea and tick preventatives are fat-soluble (so they'll absorb into the skin of anyone who touches the pet).
A question I always ask of owners whose pet has a flea infestation is, “are there any diabetics in the home?”
The reason I ask this, is because I’ve actually had a diabetic client have his foot amputated as the direct result of a flea bite.
3) And finally, the ever so relatable Seasonal / Atopic Allergies
Seasonal / atopic allergies are generally worse in the spring and the fall.
We talk about “controlling” and not “curing” seasonal allergies.
Many clients put their pets on antihistamines before I ever see them. They're generally not very helpful though.
This is because the mediator for inflammation in pets is a chemical called "IL 31" -- which is not histamine.
I find Benadryl is helpful for a night, holiday, or weekend because it causes mild sedation and can provide relief for a short time.
However, it ceases to be helpful in the long-term.
Some pets (in very mild cases) can be helped with an injection of a long-acting steroid.
However, I try and limit this to only 2 injections per year (one in the spring and one in the fall) because too many of these injections can cause a lot of very serious health problems.
More frequent injections may have to be given, but extreme caution is necessary when considering this.
There's a great homeopathic allergy formula I turn to as an alternative to steroids that provides relief to a great deal of pets.
It's specifically formulated to help desensitize your pet's immune system to environmental triggers.
I carry it here in my clinic (in Mustang, Oklahoma) but if you aren't close by, here's a link where you can pick some up: Allergena Relief for Pets.
One other thing to keep in mind -- is that many people over-shampoo their pets at bath time.
This can actually make allergic itching worse, because soap-based shampoos dry out the skin and increase flaking / itching.
Dawn dish soap is often used as a flea shampoo and it is the worst offender! I tell my clients there are only 2 legitimate uses for it:
• If your pet was in an oil spill
• If your pet was sprayed by a skunk
This is why I only recommend non-detergent shampoos.
I carry some great shampoos here in my clinic, but again -- if you aren't nearby, here's a link where you can order online: Mercola Healthy Pets.
All in all, the take-home points I want you to remember are:
• Allergies do not indicate a severe steroid deficiency that needs to be treated immediately with steroid injections
• There are many things that can be done to get to the root cause with fewer side effects
Where to go from here?
To help you dive into this further, I've provided a signup form below where you can download a copy of my eBook, “Natural Allergy Care for Dogs and Cats”.
This eBook picks up where my article today leaves off and will give you a much deeper look at the natural allergy strategies I've developed over my 37+ years of practice.
I hope you find it helpful and please feel free to share this post with a friend, so they can sign up to receive a copy as well.
Thanks so much for reading!
Until next time,
Dr. Terry R. Wood