Published On: Thu, Aug 22nd, 2013

Helping the Itchy Pet

dog with ItchyHelping the Itchy Pet

-by Shawn Messonnier, DVM

Allergies are commons problems in dogs and cats.The following article will review pet allergies and then provide suggestions for natural control of pet allergies.

What are allergies?

Simply put, an allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a foreign protein (allergen). Most pets suffer from environmental allergies (from allergens such as various molds, house dust mites, pollen, etc.), rather than food allergies. While any pet can develop allergies, certain breeds are more likely to suffer from allergies, including retrievers, spaniels, and terriers (especially West Highland White Terriers which are the number one breed for allergic skin disease).

How do I know if my pet is allergic?

While some pets sneeze and have runny eyes and runny noses, the classic symptom seen in an allergic pet is itchiness. Excessive grooming, licking, rubbing, and scratching, are all signs that your pet is probably suffering from environmental allergies. Because other diseases can have similar symptoms, it’s always best if your veterinarian properly diagnoses your pet before beginning a treatment plan.

Conventional therapies for allergies

Conventional doctors use several medications to help allergic pets. By far the most commonly used medication is some sort of corticosteroid, usually prednisone. This powerful drug quickly relieves itching. While it can be used safely as part of a natural therapy program, all too often pets are treated with steroids for many months or years without benefit, which can cause side effects including diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and adrenal and liver disease.

Antihistamines are another conventional medication that can help pets with allergies. Unlike corticosteroids, long-term use is usually safe. The two biggest drawbacks to using antihistamines is that they are not very effective in most pets, and when effective, must be given several times a day in order to reduce itching.

Another drug, Atopica (cyclosporine,) is a powerful medicine that suppresses the immune system. While it does help some pets with allergies, it is expensive and in my opinion has side effects that can be severe. Therefore, I would only prescribe this medication if nothing else helped reduce itching and the pet owner was aware of the potential for serious side effects.

Natural therapies for Allergies

The best approach at helping pets heal from allergies involve the use of natural therapies including nutritional supplements, herbs, and homeopathics. It is beyond the scope of this brief article to mention every possible natural therapy that could help the pet suffering from allergies, and each doctor has his favorite natural therapies and brand-name supplements. In general though, the following supplements can be used as part of a natural approach to helping every pet who suffers from allergies.

Fatty acids (specifically the omega-3’s found in fish oil) actually change the biological nature of the cells to allow long-term healing as well as have natural corticosteroid-like effects. They must be given at many times the labeled dose found on most products in order to be effective as anti-itching supplements. Antioxidants, also helpful in relieving itching to allergic pets, counteract chemicals released by cells damaged upon exposure to allergens. One of my own products, Dr. Shawn’s Olive Leaf Plus, does help support the immune system and is one of my favorite products for allergic pets, especially if the pet has a skin or ear infection.

Finally, it’s important to mention bathing. In my opinion, THE most important thing you can do for a pet who suffers from allergies or any skin disease is to date the pet frequently within organic shampoo. Shampoos specifically designed to relieve itching when used on a frequent basis (such as Dr. Shawn’s Herbal Itch Relief shampoo at www.petcarenaturally.com ) work very well without harming the pet skin. In general, I try to encourage pet owners today their pets every 24 to 72 hours depending upon the severity of their pets’ itching.

Helping pets with allergies by using natural therapies does not always happen overnight, but with patience and by working with a holistic veterinarian, you can improve your pet’s health and reduce its allergic symptoms without the need for chronic medications.

 Basic steps to help improve your pet’s health which should be started immediately:

1.Diet-Feeding the proper diet is the foundation upon which any integrative pet care program begins. Minimizing harmful byproducts and chemicals is essential in preventing further inflammation and itching. Natural diets are the best to feed. Some that I like include Nature’s Variety,Eagle Pack,California Naturals, Innova, Wysong, Old Mother Hubbard, Halo.

2.Minimize vaccines-I recommend an annual blood antibody test called a titer test to determine if and when your pet might need vaccinations. If the titer is low, your pet might need a vaccine; if the titer is normal, no vaccine is needed. Rabies vaccination is a different case and vaccination schedules are based upon state law in consideration of your pet’s health. I don’t vaccinate most pets 12 years of age and older.

3.Minimize toxins-While oral monthly heartworm preventive medication is important (I have not found any proven natural preventives) most pets do NOT need annual chemical flea and tick control (Frontline, Advantage, Advantix, Revolution, Program, etc.)

4.Basic Health Maintenance Formula-Maintaining health and minimizing additional problems is important in reducing inflammation and skin damage in pets with allergies. The BEST product I have found is Vim & Vigor Formula made by Pet Togethers (www.pettogethers.net/healthypet ) All patients with allergies are placed on this supplement. In addition to vitamins and minerals, it contains colostrum (to support the immune system,) coenzyme Q-10 (a potent antioxidant that also supports the immune system and supports healthy teeth and gums, the heart, and is one of many supplements useful in treating cancer,) enzymes such as amylase/protease/cellulase that improve your pet’s digestion and absorption of nutrients from the diet, glucosamine (necessary to support normal joint function,) Siberian ginseng (which helps your pet adapt to various stressors,) and L-tryptophan (an amino acid included in the PM formula which helps ensure restful sleep and less itching at night.)

5.Frequent Bathing-Pets with skin diseases do based when they are bathed frequently with a natural herbal shampoo that will not dry out their skin. I recommend a shampoo I created called Dr. Shawn’s Herbal Itch Relief Shampoo, followed by cleaning the ears with Dr. Shawn’s Herbal Ear Wash. In general, I try to encourage pet owners to bathe their pets every 24 to 72 hours depending upon the severity of their pets’ itching. Since I designed my shampoo to be used on pets with sensitive skin, even frequent bathing with it will not harm your pet’s skin.

Note:Both products can be purchased at www.petcarenaturally.com at the Dr. Shawn’s Natural Store link. Nutricula/Petological readers can save 15% by entering the code NUTRICULA.

6.For more helpful tips, check out my book The Allergy Solution for Dogs, at www.petcarenaturally.com/book.php

Shawn Messonnier DVM
Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians
Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and 
Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!
Listen to Dr. Shawn’s radio show, CAT CHAT® & DOG TALK®, that he cohosts with Tracie Hotchner every Tuesday at 8 PM EST, 7 PM CST, and 5 PM Pacific time. It’s FREE and you can listen by going to http://www.traciehotchner.com/cc/listen.php

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