It sometimes seems like my whole professional life as a vet has been over-run with itchy dogs. Dogs who chew their feet, dogs who lick their tummies, dogs who rub their eyes, dogs who have chronic ear infections, dogs with recurring hotspots, Dogs who suddenly start chewing holes in themselves at the same time every year, dogs who go red and itch frantically at random intervals all year round, dogs who scratch and thump and chew all night long, keeping their owners awake, dogs with bald backsides from flea allergies, dogs who are crusty and smelly all the time, more and more and more itchy dogs!
It is the most common reason for dogs to see the vet, and the hardest to treat, too. If your dog licks and chews, it is NOT a habit, as so, so, so many clients have informed me. Dogs only chew and lick at themselves for a reason. Reason number one is THEY ARE ITCHY! Reason number two can be pain or pins and needles from back issues, which needs to be assessed too. (Please be aware that many vets don’t have the skills to assess back pain properly, or to do the body release work your dog will need to resolve such problems.) I spent years and years throwing cortisone tablets at itchy dogs, because I had nothing else to help them. I do have alternative treatments now, and I’ll explain them in a bit.
I have found that very often, the first time dogs have allergy problems happens within a month or two of vaccination, OR it gets worse in the months following re-vaccination (Please note: almost always an unnecessary re-vaccination. The term “booster” is not accurate. The vaccines we use today give a long lasting duration of immunity, at least 5-7 years. You should NEVER vaccinate any pet who has any active illness going on, and this definitely includes allergies. If your dog is itchy, they should not have a vaccine, full stop.) Vaccination can trigger allergies, or make them worse.
The standard veterinary model attacks allergies in several ways. (I use the word “attack”, for a reason – can you think of why?) Number one is by using drugs – immune modulating drugs, like cortisone, or newer, more expensive ones. These drugs all repress symptoms, they do not address the underlying problems. These drugs also have side effects, and can really knock your pet’s health around with long term use. Number two is to refer to a specialist who will skin test your pet (to find out which allergens are the hot trigger for their itch), and then to make a special vaccine with very low levels of the allergens in it. You then inject your pet with this regularly, and then with slightly stronger solutions sequentially over several years. It has about a 60% success rate, and even in this group, the results vary from a mild improvement to a very good improvement. It’s expensive – $3-5000 over 3 years or so.
Over the last 10 years, I have used more and more holistic approaches. Instead of attacking the symptoms, I use treatments that strengthen your pets whole being, and help them move towards greater health. I’m seeing good success in treating itchy without using any drugs (though there are still some pets who I simply have to treat with chronic cortisone (at the lowest possible doses), for quality of life – it is a last resort, but thank god it’s there for those few who nothing else helps!).
What do I do? I change their diet to a raw, BARF diet, without any processed or packet food at all. I treat them with homeopathic remedies to unwind any vaccine related damage to their immune systems. I give them a series of four (or more, sometimes, if a bad case) Acupressure sessions spread out in such a way that your budget can cope with the cost. And sometimes they need a little bit of pharmaceutical assistance along the way, while their body is healing. If so, I usually prescribe a topical cortisone spray- much better than pills, as less is absorbed into the body, and the side effects are much reduced as a result.
I’ve seen a lot of dogs who have itched badly for years and years improve out of sight with this approach. If you have an itchy dog, give me a yell. I’d love to help them feel better!