I was sitting in a dermatology class in vet school my first year at Ohio State and the  professor asked the class “Which disease would you rather your pet have? Allergies or  cancer?”. Obviously all 135 of us replied “Allergies”! That seems a way better disease than cancer. He looked at all of us and said in general that is true, but that we would soon come across these severe allergic cases and we would see the difficulty in managing them. From the large financial burden that comes with management to the never ending vet visits. The parents will be very frustrated by the constant licking and scratching, the dogs and cats will be miserable and develop a poor quality of life from their red itchy skin, and worst of all it is a lifelong battle. 

While I’m not talking about the mild allergic cases that just need a Zyrtec once a day or need chicken eliminated from their diet, I am talking about our pets who have significant disease  and have been to countless vet appointments trying to get it under control.

Modern medicine has greatly helped bring relief to these pets. Nothing is better than steroids  to control bright red, pruritic skin, but we also need to find a way to manage them long term  and steroids are not always the answer. A few other immune modulating drugs have come to  market and can work well but after long term use, these may cause cancer in dogs. A new(ish)  monoclonal antibody injection has a great safety margin but stops working over time in many  dogs and is a huge monthly expense for large breeds. We use these drugs at Whole Pet when  needed but try to focus on the underlying cause (often in a Chinese medicine outlook) by treating them with herbs and nutrition.

Let’s first discuss nutrition. Many pets can be sensitive to chicken so that is an easy first step, get rid of chicken. But the processing of food can also cause issues. Our immunity and ability to not react to antigens begins in the gut. Even if your pet has no obvious gastrointestinal signs,  skin disease is often a sign of poor gut health. So we will cut out all heavily processed foods,  think dry kibble and dry treats in your pantry, and focus on raw, home cooked, or freeze dried  and canned foods. An elimination diet is warranted in many, meaning we find a novel protein  they have never eaten in the past and try a diet that revolves strictly around that protein for 1-2 months to see if it helps with allergies. 

If food does not fix our patients, we move to Chinese herbs. Most of our patients in North  Carolina are excessively hot and moist. We use an herb called Damp Heat or Coptis Purge to  rid the body of underlying heat and dampness. This pertains to the dogs who get hotspots and  ear infections. There are also a group of dogs that are mostly dry and develop hair loss on their limbs and feet or have really dry skin with white flakes. These dogs are placed on a Chinese herb called Si Wu Tang for dry, itchy coats. If your pet has developed a darkening of their skin on their belly, we may choose to give a chemical detox to your dog since the chemicals they are exposed to in their environment can cause pruritus and allergy signs. Of course there are other herbs we use including herbs to balance the liver or even anti-anxiety herbs that help with itchiness. We always look at the individual patient to see what will work best for them. 

As an important side note to allergic skin, I want to discuss infections. Bacterial and yeast  infections are always secondary to the itch but very important to properly treat to see if our  food changes and Chinese herbs are working. I see many second opinions for allergies and  the pet has large numbers of bacteria on their skin. They may have been placed on many  rounds of antibiotics to no avail. These dogs may not need anything more than a good skin  culture to see exactly what type of bacteria is present so we can then choose the exact antibiotic appropriate for eliminating that specific type of bacteria. Sometimes that’s all that is needed to clear the resistant staph infection your pet has been battling.

There is no one size fits all approach to allergies. We may change diet, have you bathe your pet twice weekly in medicated shampoo, start Chinese herbs, use an antibiotic or antifungal for weeks, start fatty acid supplements, detox your dog, treat leaky gut, and even use steroids for relief. Our goal is to get to the root cause so this will always take a multi-modal approach. It  can be very frustrating though, even for an integrative practice! And after many years of practicing  medicine, I can understand why my dermatology professor made that bold statement. Saying that, Whole Pet makes a huge difference in so many pets and parents lives with our extensive knowledge of alternative treatments and digging deep to find the root of the problem. We have been able to provide our patients the relief they so greatly need and allow parents to sleep soundly at night. Is there a worse sound than your dog licking all night long?! There are so many ways in which we can help our patients that struggle with allergies, give our office a call so that we can get started in creating a plan specific to your pet and their allergy journey.