Itch, scratch, nibble, chew, lick, and bite
An itch is a terrible thing. It drives dogs (and cats, though less commonly) mad. They can’t sleep. They are always attacking themselves, but unfortunately that usually only makes things worse. If I had $10 for every time I’ve seen an itchy dog as a vet, I reckon I could buy a house (though maybe not in Melbourne!).
Itchy dogs are hard to treat. The very best response rate you will get from any treatment is 60%. At best! Not a good strike rate. And a lot of the drugs that are used to treat itchy/allergic dogs these days are probably worse for the dog than the itch. More about that in a bit.
How to prevent allergies as much as you can
Never give an unnecessary vaccination.
I see a lot of dogs become itchy for the first time anything from days to weeks or even months after vaccination. This is one of the reasons why I keep telling you
“Never re-vaccinate without titer testing”
“There is no such thing as a ‘booster’ vaccination”
“Vaccines are a biological medicine with well documented adverse reactions, including triggering autoimmune disease and allergies, and in some cases will kill”
As far as vaccines go – even the puppy ones can be one too many – AND there is a risk fo your pup dying from parvo if you don’t give them. Rock. Hard place. No easy answers. Vaccines save lives, and they can break your dog’s immune system for life in some cases.
My advice is simple. Talk to a holistic vet so you can understand the risks and benefits (especially with puppy vax) and in any dog older than 16 weeks of age that has been vaccinated, NEVER revaccinate without titer testing first to see if a re-vaccination is necessary. And even then discuss the risks and benefits for the area where you live with a holistic vet before deciding, so you can make a truly informed choice.
Not all allergy problems are triggered by vaccination, but many are- I have seen a lot of dogs get worse in the weeks and months after totally unnecessary re-vaccination (the C3 vaccine lasts at least 5-7 years!).
Choose healthy genetics- avoid breeds with a high Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI)
Any dog with fragile genetics will be much more prone to vaccination injury and immune system problems. Some are born with it, as atopy (chronic allergy) is quite heritable. Itchy dogs make itchy puppies. Vaccines tend to make them even more itchy. Some of the worst breeds are bull terriers, bulldogs, and ‘rare colours’ in any breed- e.g. blue staffies.
Look for true crossbreds (not designer dogs! they often are bringing together two sets of fragile genetics). And if you must have a breed with a high COI- be very careful with vaccinating.
Feed a healthy fresh whole foods diet life long
This is the most important thing you can do to have a vital, healthy dog. No processed foods, low in carbs, high in preferably grass-fed proteins.
But my dog is already itchy! How can I help?
The standard veterinary approach depends mostly on giving drugs to suppress the immune system. Cortisone (steroids) is the old standby. This is not a great drug, it’s hard on the body BUT if nothing else works with a holistic approach, I will use it at the lowest effective dose, purely from a welfare point of view (if the dog can tolerate it, some have much worse side effects).
There are a few new drugs out – Apoquel and Cytopoint. I avoid these like the plague. I believe they do more harm than good, especially over the long term. I would have my own dogs on cortisone rather than give these ones!
Vets often will recommend ‘prescription’ diets to allergic dogs. These are generally bloody awful, poor quality ingredients, packed full of carbs. Avoid them. Fresh whole foods, raw or home-cooked are much better.
This is one veterinary approach that I think is well worth a try if you can afford it. First you either do a blood test or as skin test where a veterinary dermatologist injects very small amounts of allergens into the skin to see if there is an inflammatory response (this is more accurate than the blood test). Then a special preparation is made up with a very low concentration of the allergens that are hot triggers for your dog’s immune system, and this is injected under the dog’s skin like a vaccine (though it is not a vaccine). Over time, the preparations are changed to have a higher and higher concentration of the allergens, and in many cases, the dogs improve a lot.
I prefer a Holistic Approach. You will often need to use many different treatments to get an improvement and most dogs will need ongoing treatment to maintain the benefits.
Homeopathy and flower essences
I have seen many itchy dogs improve a lot with homoeopathy – this can be used to unwind vaccine damage, and also to move the whole system to greater health. Flower essences can also be very helpful
Getting itchy dogs off all processed foods and onto a fresh whole foods diet (preferably raw, but home-cooked is fine too) low in carbs without any grains can stop some dogs from itching altogether! This is one of the most important things you can do. Also feed neutral and cooling foods (see link below for a chart). Elimination diest may be necessary to rule out food allergies/intolerances (my little dog itches for a week after a mouthful of chicken).
This is another holistic approach that can be a very helpful treatment to move the whole body system to greater health. Many holistic vets offer this.
Supplements + herbs
Again, these can be a big help – CBD often helps itchy dogs. And Daisy oil (see link below) is a safe herbal medicine that can be used topically and internally. Please work with a holistic vet if you want to use herbs. Some of them can be not so good if not used at the right doses.
Local raw honey
This works a bit like the desensitisation process. It will only work if the hot trigger for your dog is local pollens. You just give a finger dab 4-5 times daily.
Helps some dogs, makes others worse an oat wash sometimes can help a lot – soak a cup of organic oats in a bucket of water for several hours then sponge bath with the water- allow to dry on.
Stress can be a factor consider learning the WEBB Somatic Relaxation technique as this will help a LOT.
It’s a difficult problem to treat. Sometimes you may need to use cortisone to control flare-ups or you may need to use infant t-shirts or even an Elizabethan collar (the cone of death) to stop your dogs causing harm to themselves. All you can do is keep trying everything possible and avoiding triggers if you can.