Does your pet chew or lick incessantly? Scratch until there are oozing sores? Have chronic ear infections, diarrhea, or vomiting? If only you could find relief for your pet and, let’s face it, for your guilt and frustration. Too often these illnesses aren’t the problem—they are symptoms indicating that your pet has become hypersensitive or allergic to something in its environment.
Allergies are the body’s immune system or natural defense mechanism working overtime against usually harmless substances. These substances, or allergens, can be natural or artificial, organic or inorganic. They occur in food, in the home, and in the environment. They can be ingested, inhaled, transmitted by contact, or absorbed. Allergic reactions manifest in many different forms—as itchy skin and eruptions, often near the base of the tail; excessive licking or chewing of the paws; runny eyes and nose or sinusitis; inflamed or infected ears; behavioral changes; hyperactivity; and digestive upsets such as vomiting, gas, or diarrhea. More life-threatening reactions include urinary tract inflammations, kidney and liver disease, and cancer. And, yet the symptoms are often treated as the cause, and the allergy often goes undetected.
In her book The Natural Dog, veterinarian Mary L. Brennan acknowledges that “Allergies have become more common in the recent years and are one of the most challenging aspects of veterinary medicine.” Although allergies cannot be cured, there are ways to control them. Conventional veterinary treatments include a hypoallergenic diet, fatty acid supplements, hypoallergenic shampoos, antihistamines, steroids, and immunotherapy (allergy shots). Holistic veterinary care focuses on increasing the health of your pet so fewer conventional drugs, if any, may be needed.
If you suspect your pet’s food may be contributing to allergic sensitivity, gradually switch to a quality natural diet. Has your pet been on the same food for years? Animals often become sensitive to the foods they most often eat. Ask your veterinarian about a homemade recipe or a hypoallergenic commercial diet, such as lamb and rice—without chemical preservatives. Try to keep the diet as high quality as possible to avoid stress on organs and to help support the immune system. Remember this includes doggie biscuits and kitty treats.
In addition to a premium diet, nutritional supplements may prove helpful in building a healthier system. A full spectrum vitamin-mineral supplement is a must. Make sure it includes zinc, silica, and sulfur—three minerals found to help skin problems. Fatty acid supplements rich in Omega 3s and 6s are necessary for healthy coat and skin, and can be found in evening primrose, sunflower, safflower, flax, and borage oils, as well as fish oil. Vitamin C helps provide immunity to disease and in high doses may have an antihistamine effect. Antioxidants vitamin A, B, E, and selenium can also be helpful. Supplementing needed digestive enzymes may help improve allergies by replacing naturally occurring enzymes that are destroyed in cooking. Other supplements may include alfalfa for its enzymes and vitamin content, seaweed for its trace minerals, and Co-Q 10 for allergy relief at the cellular level.
Immune System Deficiencies
Genetics play an ever-increasing role in pet allergies. Overbreeding is creating animals that are prone to immune system deficiencies, from auto-immune disease, where the body attacks itself, to hypersensitivity.
Shar Peis, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, terriers, Scotties, and Akitas are some of the breeds that suffer from immune deficiencies, which manifest themselves as skin problems. When tested, these breeds show hypothyroidism (low thyroid). Often, though, these dogs do not respond to thyroid therapy because their low thyroid is often a symptom of poor adrenal gland function. Conventional veterinary care often turns to cortisone, an anti-inflammatory agent and synthetic version of the corticosteroids naturally released by adrenal glands, to suppress autoimmune functions and manage reactions to allergens.
Holistic veterinarians may consider the herb, licorice, as an alternative to cortisone. Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, a compound similar to these corticosteroids. Glycyrrhizin effectively stimulates the adrenal glands and introduces its own anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, immune-supporting corticosteroid-like actions on the body. As a result, licorice offers relief from the itching and inflammation without completely bypassing the body’s own anti-inflammatory functions and without seriously compromising the autoimmune system.
Recent controversies about vaccines and over-vaccination also bring to light immune system complications. In trying to protect our pets from deadly diseases, vaccines also have the potential to induce chronic to life-threatening health problems. Veterinarian Dee Blanco, a holistic practitioner in Santa Fe, New Mexico, describes it as an indirect link by which weakened, compromised systems—overloaded by multiple vaccines—give way and become symptomatic. In the preliminary results of a recent Canine Health Census survey of Dog World magazine readers and CHC members, 55 percent of the respondents said their pets showed signs of illness within three months after receiving vaccines.
In no way should you construe that vaccines should be forsaken. Some vaccines are required by law and others are appropriate to given geographical regions. However, you should be an informed pet owner. Read up on the subject, know the laws, discuss the issues with your veterinarian—even talk with other veterinarians. Remember to discuss your pet’s individual health and needs.
Grasses, mold, dust, and pollens are well-known allergens. But what about the wool or synthetic carpet your pet lies on every day; water impurities they drink or are bathed in; lawn fertilizers and pesticides they walk through and then ingest through licking; detergents you use on their bedding; or the flea repellents, from the cedar chips in bedding to the chemical shampoos you use to free them of these parasites?
Elimination usually is the best tool in managing allergies. Air filters help remove inhalant allergens, such as pollen or dust. Removal of carpeting or its regular cleaning (be aware of what the cleaning agents are) helps eliminate or minimize bacteria and mold, as will the use of hypoallergenic bedding. Rinsing your pet’s paws or wiping him down after walks reduces exposure to pesticides. And natural herbal repellents offer alternatives to toxic chemicals.
Conventional veterinary specialists often prescribe antihistamines to control the effects of the allergens and immunotherapy, or allergy shots, to desensitize the pet to the allergen. Holistic practitioners may turn to homeopathy and nosodes, herbal treatments, or several other available options. Homeopathy is used to treat the underlying tendency to have allergies, while nosodes, readily available or specially developed for your pet’s allergens, desensitize the body’s immune system. Herbal therapies—Western, such as dandelion and milk thistle, and Chinese—help to cleanse, nurture, and strengthen the system. Select topical herbal treatments, such as calendula, also may be helpful to relieve skin eruptions. Other methods may include acupuncture to boost the adrenal glands and help restore the body’s energy flow and glandular therapy to help strengthen the affected organ.
Allergic reactions are often the result of a build up of years of insults triggered by an isolated incident. Managing allergies takes more than curing the symptom of itching skin. It requires your observation, diligence, and communication with your veterinarian to help prevent your pet’s discomfort. You must recognize the warning signs, such as paw licking or ear rubbing, that if heeded may help prevent more serious problems.
Remember, health care is an ongoing process and a healthy body is the best guard against environmental stresses. Work with your veterinarian to develop a preventive protocol with the appropriate dosages and therapies. Keep in mind that alternative therapies can often complement traditional veterinary care and may eliminate or allow you to use fewer conventional drugs.
Used with permission from PetView Magazine, Summer 1997 Issue
Holistic veterinary care focuses on increasing the health of your pet so fewer conventional drugs, if any, may be needed.