Updated Sept 23, 2020
Home remedies for dog allergies differ from conventional treatments in that they address the root of the problem in addition to relieving the symptoms.
Many conventional products treat the symptoms but do nothing to heal the core issue, resulting in symptoms that recur again and again
The first step you can take as a natural dog owner is to educate yourself on how allergies occur. This allows you to better understand how home remedies for dog allergies address the core issues causing your dog’s discomfort.
Dog Allergies: Natural Remedies Can Work
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close. I’m just sharing my own personal experience and information I have read. If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
Dog allergies can appear out of the blue. At first, you think your dog just has an itch. Then you notice they keep itching or licking the same spot.
Or maybe you notice a big red raw spot on your dog’s skin. All of these point to one dreaded word: allergies.
Allergies are an extremely tough issue to deal with, and most of what you read will be about “controlling” them, not getting rid of them.
As an owner of 2 dogs with allergies, I know how overwhelming dog allergies can be. There are many treatment options, and both conventional and home remedies for dog allergies involve considerable cost.
It can take many months before you know if a treatment you are trying is helping; in the meantime, how do you control your dog’s itching so they aren’t miserable?
Patience and perseverance are key. Read below to become more informed about your options so that you can formulate the approach you think is best for your dog.
Symptoms of Dog Allergies
Allergies can show up in a variety of ways:
- Incessant scratching, itching, and gnawing on the skin. Many times skin is red and inflamed.
- Chronic ear infections
- Eye discharge
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea after exposure to allergen
- Wheezing, coughing, nasal discharge
- Behavioral changes
When you notice one or more of the above, it may be an allergy, or it may be an illness. The best course of action is to have your dog examined by a vet. They will be able to see if your dog has a temperature and also determine what micro-organisms are present on your dog’s skin.
The presence of yeast or bacteria can be an indicator of yeast overgrowth or a staff infection on the skin. Skin infections are a secondary condition that can develop as a result of allergies.
Causes of Dog Allergies
Although allergic symptoms occur after exposure to a trigger, the underlying reason isn’t the trigger itself.
Allergies are the result of a malfunctioning immune system. When your dog is allergic to something, its immune system mistakenly believes that the substance (food or environmental) is harmful to your body and produces IgE antibodies (thinking it needs to “fight” the substance).
This then causes certain cells in the body to release specific chemicals such as histamine which triggers an inflammatory response, and cytokine, an inflammatory messenger.
These chemicals can cause the outward allergic symptoms we see in our pet’s eyes, nose, or skin, as well as internal issues in the brain, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract.
Now comes the tricky part: some of these allergic reactions occur quickly, within minutes or hours of contact with the trigger. Other allergies do not become evident for years, making pinpointing the offending trigger next to impossible.
Triggers of Dog Allergies
Figuring out the trigger(s) of your dog’s allergies can be tough. You need to be observant and put information together detailing the circumstances of each reaction.
When you notice allergy symptoms, take note of when they occur. Is it worse at certain times of day?
Look at the time and see if it is commonly after a meal or after a walk, daytime or nighttime – these types of details can help you hone in on what may be causing the reaction.
In the long term, noting what time of year they happen is also helpful. If you find your dog’s allergic symptoms appear at the same time each year, be sure to read about dog seasonal allergies & home remedies that can help your dog overcome the itchy skin, eyes, and skin infections that seasonal allergies cause.
If your pet’s symptoms are behavioral, you may be dealing with a food and/or environmental intolerance. There is not a lot of information out there yet on foods and environment causing behavior issues in dogs, but as the mom of a dog that becomes aggressive when he eats certain foods I can tell you with certainly that they exist!
Read more about this in the next section.
Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances
I want to quickly touch on this to help people distinguish which issue their dog is dealing with.
A food allergy will cause an immediate reaction that you will see within hours of eating the offending food.
A food intolerance, however, causes a delayed reaction called an IgG reaction that can take one to three days to occur.
Although “intolerance” sounds milder, that is not always the case.
As the owner of a dog who would morph from a sweet dog into a dog with major aggression directed at his fellow dog housemates, I struggled for years trying to figure out his behavior issues until a chance diet change helped me understand he had a food intolerance that was manifesting behaviorally.
At the recommendation of Tico’s veterinary acupuncturist, we added oatmeal to his diet. Within days, his behavior changed from normal to on alert and amped-up, to physically attacking one of our other dogs when the dog would enter the room.
This continued for days (getting progressively worse) until, out of desperation, I eliminated the oatmeal – doubting it would help, but it was the only change I could think of that had occurred before the behavior worsened.
Within days the aggression began to subside, and I realized that the behavioral issues we were dealing with were due to his body’s response to his diet, and possibly other environmental factors.
Down the road I will be devoting an entire article to behavioral issues caused by food and environmental intolerances.
There is not a lot of information out there about this issue; I’m hoping more will become available to help owners cope with and reduce the reactive behaviors that can occur.
If you suspect your dog has a food intolerance, read about Jean Dodd’s NutriScan test in #3 below.
How Can I Control My Dog’s Allergies?
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This is a huge question, with a wide variety of opinions, approaches, and suggestions.
You have to find the approach that resonates with you, your philosophy about health, and your approach to pet ownership, then give it a try.
To fully understand the different approaches, you need to differentiate between a dog allergy symptom and a dog allergy cause. Home remedies for dog allergies primarily focus on the cause. The goal is to heal the body so that the underlying cause ceases to exist.
There are also home remedies for dog allergies that focus on relieving symptoms. You will use a combination of remedies in order to relieve your dog’s symptoms while healing the core issue causing the allergies.
Conventional medications tend to do one of two things. Some, like Benedryl, block the production of histamine (which causes itching), so you will have to use them for life because they don’t address the core issue.
Others, like Apoquel, focus on suppressing the itching by inhibiting one part of the immune system. This reduces allergy symptoms, but also inhibits certain important functions in the dog’s immune system. A partially functioning immune system leaves your dog vulnerable to other diseases and illnesses.
Some people will try home remedies for dog allergies first, and only resort to conventional as a last resort.
Here is a brief outline of different things owners can do to help relieve their dog’s allergy symptoms.
1. Look for Contributing Factors That are Within Your Control
- Fleas & mites: These tiny critters can cause immense itching and misery for your dog, especially if your dog is allergic to flea bites.
Fleas are easier to spot; look in the armpits, groin area, and under the base of the tail. They are a tiny black bug (about the size of a fruit fly), extremely fast, and are hard to squish between your fingers.
Mites are harder to see, and usually a visit to the vet is needed to help identify which (if any) are present.
If fleas are present and you want to avoid using the conventional flea-killing chemicals on the market, Whole Dog Journal has a very thorough article called “Eliminate Fleas Without Poisons” to help you rid your house and pet of fleas.
- Eliminate stress in the dog’s environment: Dogs are no different than humans; stress can lower their immune system and make them more vulnerable to illnesses and allergies.
Notice what things stress your dog and reduce or eliminate any that you can. Regular exercise and human interaction will also help the dog handle any stressors that you can’t eliminate from their environment.
If you have a new dog, giving it time to adjust while following set routines can reduce stress as well.
- Eliminate unhealthy foods: If your dog is not on a high-quality food, is getting people food (treats) that aren’t good for him, or if you are aware of certain foods they have reacted to in the past, eliminate them.
2. Build Up Your Dog’s Immune System – Heal the Gut
When we heal the gut, we strengthen the immune system. A strong immune system will learn not to respond to foods or environmental conditions that previously produced an allergic reaction.
Once the immune system is balanced, many allergy symptoms will subside or disappear.
There are many ways to strengthen a dog’s immune system, ranging from the foods you feed your dog to beneficial supplements you can add to their diet. Learn how to naturally strengthen your dog’s immune system in my article discussing immune system boosters for dogs.
3. Feed a Healthy Food
Switching to a high-quality diet can have a significant effect on your dog’s overall health.
Raw or home-cooked diets are an excellent option. This homemade dog food pros and cons discussion describes a long list of benefits of making your dog’s food. If you are considering feeding raw, read this article explaining the raw food diet for dogs.
For raw and home-cooked diets, find a holistic veterinarian that can help you plan the food and supplements you need to include in your dog’s meals to ensure they are eating a balanced diet.
If home prepared food isn’t an option, buy the highest quality kibble you can find, being very cognizant of the ingredients and how your dog reacts after eating the food.
Common food allergies seen in dogs are corn, wheat, soy, or a specific meat source.
Jean Dodd’s NutriScan test: If you suspect that your dog has food intolerance(s), Dr. Jean Dodd has developed a test that looks for intolerance of the 24 most commonly ingested foods by dogs. It is a salivary test that you can do at home.
I have wanted to do the NutriScan test with my dog Tico for years.
I had seen changes in his behavior after eating certain foods: he would become reactive and on high alert, barking at everything on the planet and chasing our cats.
Foods that had caused the most extreme changes were:
Oatmeal (he suddenly began growling and attacking my senior golden retriever).
Turkey hot dogs and raw turkey (he became very amped-up, barked out windows, went nuts at dogs on walks).
Certain kibbles had caused behavior changes but I couldn’t tell which ingredient in the kibble was the culprit.
This spring I took the plunge and did the Nutriscan test; the results validated behavior changes I had noted, lending credibility to the test. The test report listed the foods that Tico reacted to and should avoid: turkey, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and white fish.
Turkey and oatmeal were foods I already knew set him off; it was so validating to have the test show those as foods he reacted to and realize my observations were correct.
White fish also made sense; one of the kibbles I had fed Tico before noticing some behavioral changes was a white fish variety. And sweet potatoes are in a large number of kibbles, it’s possible the level was higher in some of the kibbles that he did not do well on.
4. Supplement Your Dog’s Diet
Diet supplementation can involve products that build the immune system, heal the gut, reduce inflammation, and more.
DON’T go out and buy every supplement on the market; what you add will depend on the specific needs of your pet. Work with your holistic vet to determine which system needs strengthening (immune, gut, etc).
Here is a sampling of things used to help dogs with allergies:
- Omega-e fatty acids decrease inflammation throughout the body. Common sources are salmon, tuna, krill, anchovy, and other fish oils, as well as raw egg yolks.
Quercetin, Bromelain, and Papain: Quercetin has anti-inflammatory properties and suppresses histamine release. Bromelain and papain also suppress histamine production, and increase the absorption of quercetin.
This product contains both quercetin and bromelain,
and is formulated in dosages meant for dogs:
Probiotics are key to establishing good gastrointestinal health, which strengthens the immune system – a key to reducing and preventing allergies.
Vitamin C helps to stabilize mast cells so they are less likely to release histamine and other allergy related chemicals.
- Raw Honey can strengthen the immune system and promote digestive health (only raw honey, all benefits are lost when pasteurized).
- Stinging Nettles have been used for centuries, known for their ability to not only help with itching by reducing inflammation but also for helping desensitize the body to allergens.
- Coconut Oil can help decrease the production of yeast and moderate the immune response.
This has been a big one for my dog.
Whether your dog is itching from environmental or dietary factors, keeping their skin clean can help. Environmentally it’s obvious, baths will rinse the offending allergens off the skin.
You can use a natural oatmeal soap, or if you are bathing frequently, rinsing with just water sometimes (not using shampoo each time) can prevent your dog’s skin from drying out or becoming irritated.
Some owners rinse their dog’s feet each time they come back inside if itching is confined to the feet.
My dog’s itching also comes from yeast overgrowth, and giving him a bath every few days provides visible relief for him.
Need shampoo ideas? Here are a few.
4-Legger Certified Organic Dog Shampoo Varieties:
(Amazing list of all natural ingredients – click & read!)
Acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic
Each of these alternative medicine modalities can be used to treat your dog’s allergies.
They focus on the constitutional level of the problem and the whole health of the dog, restoring balance and whole-body health, which in turn can reduce or eliminate allergies.
Owners need to remember that these methods are longer-term approaches and rarely stop allergies overnight; allergies are tough conditions that can take months or longer to resolve.
This approach focuses more on the symptom of the allergies. The two heavy hitters are Apoquel and Cytopoint.
Apoquel focuses on inhibiting something in the body called a Janus kinase inhibitor, JAK for short. JAKs perform the following functions:
- Forming red and white blood cells
- Acting as sentinels in the body helping protect against tumor formation
- Ensuring that the “policing” T-cells and the antibody producing B cells are functioning well
- Controlling body growth and development
- Regulating the body’s inflammatory response
Apoquel is effective in treating your dog’s itching because it is preventing a part of it from working effectively. The good news is that it slows or stops the inflammatory cytokines that cause your dog’s itching and inflammation.
The bad news is that suppressing certain JAKs can lead to a decrease in white blood cells, elevated liver values, and increase your dog’s susceptibility to certain cancers, tumors, and infections.
Cytopoint is a protein that binds to the cytokine directly associated with chronic itching, so it basically blocks the itch signal in the nerves. It has fewer reported side effects when compared to Apoquel, the most common being lethargy in the first 24-48 hours post injection.
There have been some reports of diminished response with each additional injection, possibly indicating that the body developed antibodies to cytopoint.
It’s important to note that Apoquel and Cytopoint suppress the itch, but do not address the underlying cause.
On the one hand, these medications can reduce itching in dogs, giving them relief and quality of life.
On the flip side, you are only putting a band-aid on the problem by not dealing with the underlying cause. In the case of Apoquel, you are also diminishing the immune system’s ability to detect and fight off certain infections and cancers, and may detrimentally affect white and red blood cell levels.
Owners need to think seriously before choosing these drugs, but there is no perfect answer; each situation is different and shouldn’t be judged by others.
After a year of trying everything I could think of – raw diet, acupuncture, chiropractic, supplements, you name it, my dog was still miserable.
Moose was a rescue that came into our care at age 10, so had many years of sub-par nutrition and neglect which had worn down his immune system.
As he approached a level of misery where we had to consider euthanasia, I broke down and tried Apoquel.
It helped, relieved the itching that was so severe he would cry some days as he itched. He regained some quality of life for a year (still itchy but less severe), and then…he was diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma.
Do I think the Apoquel allowed this to happen? Absolutely. And it tears me apart.
But I also know that he was miserable, and I had spent literally thousands of dollars trying everything I could think of trying to avoid this drug. I try not to “what if” and live in guilt – but that’s easier said than done.
3. Conventional Allergy Testing
This consists of either serum testing (blood is tested for elevated levels of IgE antibodies of specific allergens) or allergy immunotherapy (dog is injected with small amounts of many allergens and skin watched for reactions).
Serum testing is less expensive but has more false positives than immunotherapy. Even immunotherapy, the gold standard, is far from perfect: only 50-80% of dogs undergoing treatment experience at least 50% improvement after 2-12 months. Cost may be a prohibitive factor.
Making Sense of it All
Learning how to treat dog allergies naturally takes time and patience.
My hope is that if you are reading this article, your dog’s allergies are somewhat “new” and that using natural remedies for your dog’s allergies will reward you and your pet with decreased itching and diminished allergies over time.
Even with some of my rescued dogs, whose allergies have had years and years to become firmly entrenched in their systems, I’ve had a number of them who improved more each year as their health and immune system grew stronger from a healthy diet and supplements.
When treating dog allergies, home remedies take time to be effective. Owners need to remember that there is no quick fix for allergies: it may take weeks, or even months, until you start to see positive results.
Holistic allergy treatment for dogs requires dedication, willingness, patience, and financial commitment to experiment with different therapies until you find a solution.
For those of you who want to read more and like having a good reference book in the house, this book will help you understand what is causing your dog’s itching and gives ideas for different diets as well:
If your dog is really suffering, combining traditional medications with holistic therapies may be necessary in the short term in order for your long-term holistic treatment to take hold and slowly eliminate the allergies by strengthening your dog’s immune system and overall constitution.
Through the trial and error of holistic treatment, and the slow and steady progress it will support, you can help your dog become healthier, and hopefully, allergy-free.
Now for the best part of all: tell me your stories.
- What kind of allergies or intolerances has your pet experienced?
- What things that you tried worked, and what didn’t?
- How long did you try each thing before seeing results?
Let’s share our knowledge with each other – it’s the best way to learn.
Looking forward to your comments!
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