The last couple of months I have disappeared down the rabbit hole of figuring out dog allergies. It got to a point where we couldn't ignore it anymore, dog was too busy scratching to sleep, and finally he stopped eating. So the rest of my life went on hold while we did trial and error. I have learned a few things with this, and can probably shave some time and grief for you if you're in the same boat.
We went from the aforementioned scratching all the time, not sleeping, giving up on food and scabby sores all over to nice fur, clear eyes (didn't know we could not have boogers) and very occasional scratching. We did a combination of diet change, supplements, flower essences and energy work. All in, except for drugs. Did you know your dog can be allergic to Benadryl? Axel is.
There are affiliate links in this post. All of it is things we have tried and found helpful. It's important to talk to your vet before trying any of these things.
Emotional Roots of Allergies
In people, a common root is fear. Fear was certainly in Axel's history. We got him from a prison program where inmates work with dogs to hopefully make them more adoptable. At the end of Axel's term there, he still wasn't all that adoptable, and there was some concern for what would happen to him. We are a stable, quiet, cat-free, kid-free home so we decided we could take him. I resigned myself to adopting a dog that didn't like people and that I wouldn't even be able to pet for awhile. (None of that turned out to be true by the way.)
He started on anti-anxiety essences immediately, and we stuck with them for a long time while I worked to push his comfort zone for a little while everyday, ending each session with something fun. He's no longer afraid, and much more confident and even fairly sociable. But since we got him, allergies flared up despite the progress on the usual emotional root.
So far we've been speaking fairly broadly and throwing the "allergy" word around when it's not quite correct. An allergy is an immune system reaction, and is typically pretty sudden and violent. What's more common is a food sensitivity. Food sensitivities are linked to leaky gut. Leaky gut can indicate general stress, or it can be a boundary issue. Axel likes to meet new people on his terms. He can touch them but they can't touch him, at least right away. In my efforts to get his social skills going, he walks up to a lot of strangers who want to put hands on him. While he's much more social now, this may have backfired on me in terms of him feeling boundary violations on the daily. Emotional issues can trickle down from pet owners, so if I watch my own boundaries, as well as stand up for his, that might help him feel more secure.
He does have flare ups when something is going on that is stressful for him, or me. Whatever you're going through, your pets tend to go through it with you, and they have less ability to reason and cope than you do. So Axel is on Yarrow Shield, both for not picking up our stuff, and for it's protection regarding environmental allergies. We do other essences on an "as needed" basis depending on what's going on.
What is Your Dog Allergic To?
Dogs can be allergic to a myriad of things. Both food and environmental allergies are common. They can have a hard time with pollen just like we can. And a good many of them have a hard time with certain proteins or grains.
Pollen? Why Would There Be Pollen Here?
They differ from us however, in the way that allergic reactions show up. You'd think you'd be able to sort food allergies, er, sensitivities from environmental ones by the way the symptoms manifest. For environmental, you might expect redness on the skin for a contact allergen or a drippy nose or breathing problems for pollen, and food allergies would be the more typical itching right? It's not that easy.
Here are the symptoms of allergies in dogs that can be either food or environmental:
- Skin problems and itching
- Foot chewing
- Rubbing face on carpet or furniture
- Ear infections
- Hair loss
- Scabs, raw areas, crusty stuff
- Red irritated skin
A clue for environmental is if you notice your dog being worse during the same time each year, which might point to pollen, mold or dust. And while it's hard to detect a food sensitivity, a true food allergy is rather obvious with sudden and often violent reactions right after ingesting the offending food, whereas a sensitivity develops a few hours to two days after eating the wrong thing.
It's also very common for your dog to be sensitive to multiple things, so if you're not seeing a pattern yet, don't worry. You can still get to the bottom of it with some form of testing.
Allergy Testing: Professional and DIY
It's important to preface this section by saying that no test is iron clad. Be it blood or skin test from your vet, or a mail order analysis, or you using kinesiology at home. The gold standard for food sensitivities is the elimination diet which does not require expensive vet visits. The downside of the elimination diet is that it only works on food, and can be a long overwhelming process where your dog doesn't have much variety, therefore incomplete nutrition. Additionally, when you introduce a new food and your dog reacts, how do you know an environmental trigger didn't come on at the same time? The wind can change direction the same time that an overgrown lawn goes to flower and wham, grass pollen problems and you log the food of the day as an allergen. I started with an elimination diet and quickly realized I couldn't even find my dog a protein for a safety meal to get us some reprieve, and that I could be at this for months.
The value I see in tests, imperfect though they may be, is they give you a starting point for an elimination diet. It's my understanding that false positives are more of an issue than false negatives, so if your dog tests negative for a substance, that's probably a safe food for him or her. You just need a foothold, a meal that you can return to where you know all their symptoms will settle down after trying a new food and experiencing a flare up. From your safety meal, you can then go after those false positives and prove or disprove. You have a sure way to get your dog some relief. You also have a list of environmental allergies so you can determine that there was indeed a high pollen day or that he was exposed to this or that, and now is not the time to try a new food.
So let's look at the types of tests, and their pros and cons.
Allergy Testing Through Your Vet
Your vet will want to rule out parasites, infection and other causes of inflammation first.
Intradermal or Skin Testing
This process involves injecting small amounts of potential allergens into your dogs skin and watching for a response. This is considered to be the most reliable test, but requires sedation or anethesia, and does not work for food sensitivities, only allergies. Additionally, testing cannot be done on females who are pregnant or in heat, or have had injectable steroids in the last 90 days, oral steroids in the last 30 days, topical steroids in the last 7 days, antihistamines in the last 7 days or essential fatty acids in the last 7 days. It may also mean that you have to travel to get it done, as your regular vet may not be able to do it.
This is much more convenient and is a simple blood draw which is sent to a lab for testing. The draw backs are again, it's for true allergies, not food sensitivities and it tends to have false positives. If you need a convenient environmental allergy test, this could be a good option.
At Home Tests
If you already know how to do muscle testing using a surrogate, you're off to the races. If not, here's a tutorial. Here's how to do it with a dog. You'll need some small glass containers (glass transmits better than plastic or other materials) and samples of things to test, plus another person with a high tolerance for "woo." I'm not a fan of self-testing. You'll want to find the purest form of each thing so you have some accuracy, and even different forms of an item, raw vs cooked for example. Dogs need the largest proportion of their diet to be meat so start there.
Muscle testing has quite a margin of error, but can slash your trial and error time for an elimination diet. The goal in these early stages is simply to find some safe foods. Once you have symptoms under control, you can reintroduce one thing at a time and see how it goes.
My plan was to get together with a friend to help me muscle test Axel, but then I discovered Bioresonance testing and I knew we weren't going to test all the things they test for.
You pull a few hairs from the back of your dog's neck and mail it in. The company I used, 5 Strands, analyzes for 255 food sensitivities and 100 environmental allergies. This is not an IGE test and it cannot detect true allergies like the tests from your vet can. However, it can pick up on the sensitivities that those tests can't deliver results from. You get a report of what your dog tested positive as sensitive to, and if you download the app, you'll also have a list of safe foods. From the safe food list, you'll be able to build them some meals or source some pre-made dog food. If you go this route, I've worked out a 10% discount for Freedom Flowers readers using coupon code
What I appreciated about the 5 Strands test was the differentiation between different forms of meat. I knew my dog reacted to beef, which showed up on his level 3 list (the worst of the worst) yet he could have beef broth and liver which surprised me. That gave me some options for healing leaky gut (bone broth) and for getting some nutrients down him on a limited diet. (Organ meats are like a dog's multivitamin.) Many of Axel's sensitivities were to vitamin and mineral synthetic additives that companies use to get their food up to regulation. It became apparent that commercial dog food was not going to work for us for the time being. Since I had always entertained the idea of a raw diet, that's what we did.
This is the easiest thing to wield control over. It's easier to stop feeding your dog certain things than it is to put them in a pollen-free, dust-free, mold-free, chemical-free bubble. Many people have found that their dog's allergies cleared up just by switching to a raw diet. Cooking changes the composition of the proteins, especially the high heat for making kibble. What might be a problem in commercial dog food could be fine raw or even lightly cooked. There are also people who have found that their dog is fine on grass fed but not grain fed meat. We were not one of those lucky families who merely had to switch to raw and everything became wonderful. We have stuck with it for it's numerous other health benefits and because avoiding allergens means making his meals from scratch. Cooking them would just be one more thing I'm having to do.
If you opt to go raw, I would recommend getting an education from Raw Fed and Nerdy. They have a pay what you want class, meaning you can even pay $0. They have an awesome spreadsheet that helps you develop recipes with ingredients your dog can have and make sure they are nutritionally complete meals according to updated scientific standards regarding levels of bioavailability in each ingredient. Deficiency problems are not something that happens overnight though, so if you just need to feed your dog a hunk of ground beef for a couple days while you get all this sorted, it will be fine.
If you don't have to go to this extreme and can find a suitable dog food, you've got it made!
This is where I got overwhelmed. It was awhile before I felt like I could take on Axel's environmental allergy list. Pollen, grass and dust mites are unavoidable facts of life. And a dog has to be a dog.
Axel is allergic to Nylon. Most collars and leashes are made out of nylon. The ones that aren't are made of leather, which he's also allergic to. Then there's wool. All our area rugs are wool. They are dog wrestling mats, picnic blankets, chewing stations, and sunbeam nap locales. We removed the rugs for a week to do an allergy elimination exercise which I'll get to later. They were sorely missed.
The general advice for environmental allergens that can't be avoided is to wipe your dog down with a wet cloth when they come in from outside. Frequent baths also. I did not do this.
This was evidently where my line was. Taking canine nutrition classes and making dog food, not too much. Wiping dog down with a towel? A completely unreasonable ask. Whatever way you feel is doable in reducing your dogs allergy load is all progress and all helpful. I will also add that I didn't overhaul everything at once. What's in this post was a three month process and we're still continuing to do our tapping. (I'll get to that later.)
While you're working out all the above, supplements can definitely help. They range from being a bandaid to helping with real healing. It's often the easiest thing to implement as well.
This is the first thing I want to mention because it has the potential for the best lasting results. When you have a bunch of food sensitivities, you can pretty much assume leaky gut, and nothing does better for leaky gut than bone broth, or "dog jello" as we call it. It's bones that have been boiled with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice to extract all the gut healing nutrients and gelatin. Here's how. A caveat is that traditionally made bone broth is boiled at minimum 24 hrs, and maybe 2 days. That makes it high in histamine. Bone broth made in an Instant Pot is a good compromise for having lower histamine levels but still healing. I do not have an Instant Pot and forged ahead with my crockpot full of bones. There is a history of using histamines to treat severe allergic reactions in dogs. Part of the reason for that is that in severe reactions, low plasma histamine levels are present. Thus, foods containing histamine can bring balance to a stressed system. Axel gets a little bone broth before meals with his supplements mixed in that need to go down 20 minutes before a meal. Plan on being in the bone broth production business for at least 3 months, though it really is a good nourishing thing to make a regular part of life.
This is another gut healer if you don't want to do bone broth or you need a back up for times when you did not make the bone broth. The powder mixes into raw food easily, or you can figure out a little yogurt or something to hide it in. Glutamine is widely available in food sources, especially if you are feeding raw, so it may not be a necessity. Given the choice between broth and glutamine, I'd pick bone broth every time. That said, if there is pancreatitis, IBS or major digestive disturbances going on, glutamine might be a good idea. Cancer causes glutamine deficiency, so if that's a factor, you might consider supplementing. You might want to skip it if your dog takes medication for seizures. (Jury is still out, but it may undermine the meds.)
This is yet another dimension of healing leaky gut. Probiotics do not address environmental allergies or true food allergies. This one is the best bang for the buck that I've found. No fillers. I'll typically mix probiotics into a small amount of cold bone broth as my dogs appetizer.
If your dog doesn't have a dairy allergy, this can be very helpful for food and environmental allergies and sensitivities. It's also another one that heals leaky gut. Dosage is 1/8 tsp per 25 lbs of body weight twice daily. Rather than write a book about it, I'll link you to this page. Colostrum needs to be fed before meals, so the powder gets mixed in (you guessed it) bone broth! I buy a liposomal Colostrum powder. This is not a forever supplement. The most common recommendation is to use it for a month, then on an as needed basis.
Aka "Nature's Benadryl." Quercetin also needs to go down on an empty stomach, so in the bone broth with that one too. It's best in combination with some Bromelain, so this is a rare time when I will say a combo product is the way to go. I open one of these capsules and dump in. (Check the filler ingredients.) Quercetin taken long term depletes iron, so I'd recommend you use it initially to get a handle on things, seasonally if environmental factors flare up, and on those days where you pushed the envelop on the elimination diet causing a reaction.
Nettles are anti-inflammatory and block histamine receptors as well as stop immune cells from releasing chemicals that trigger allergy symptoms. Additionally they are a superfood high in lots of vitamins and minerals. Gathering your own can be risky business, but you can buy nettle leaf powder to mix into food, (1/2 tsp per pound of food) or that magical bone broth. More on nettle benefits here.
I already knew of MSM as an anti-inflammatory for joint pain, and for improved skin and hair, but I was wowed by the allergy potential. It works by binding to the musosa and becoming a blocking interface between your dog and allergens. We noticed a huge turning point in Axel's allergies when we added MSM, but to be fair, we added a new elemental essence I developed at the same time. (I'll get to this later.) MSM is one of the safest supplements to add, and you can use it forever if needed. It has lots of benefits. Dosage is 50-100 mg per 10 lbs of dogs weight.
Raw Local Honey
Local honey has long been used for pollen allergies. It contains small amounts of pollen which over time help your dog to desensitize to the spores and develop immunity over time. Ideally, you start a honey regime well in advance of pollen season so that they are not already overloaded when you are giving them honey. You don't want to overdo the honey simply because it's very sweet and dogs have a digestive system built for meat, not sweets. It's generally recommended that little dogs get a teaspoon weekly, and big dogs, a tablespoon every week. I break this down to half teaspoons more often, batch mixed into food, but that's up to you.
Allergena and Bioallers make homepathic drops based on regional pollens, mold, dander, dust mites etc. Liquid forms of homeopathy are very easy to give a dog and Axel licks the dose off a spoon. The principle of homeopathy is "like cures like" not "same cures same" though, so these are best for short term, get-you-out-of-a-jam moments and ideally you work with a homeopath on a constitutional remedy instead.
Turmeric has a ton of benefits beyond just being an anti-inflamatory allergy fighter. But turmeric on it's own is not very bioavailable until it's heated and combined with a little black pepper. Turmeric showed up on Axel's safe list, so this was one of our first additions since I felt pretty confident we could add it without problems. Now the humans in the house are drinking Golden Milk with Axel's paste in it and we are fans too. This is the recipe I use since it uses limited ingredients. This is a great article explaining the benefits and has more recipes and dosage information.
We started out this post with the emotional healing section, and all of that holds, but for environmental allergies, Yarrow Shield may be helpful. Another thing I've been playing around with over the last year but keeping quiet about are Elemental Essences.
I made a Carbon Essence and felt directed to use that for Axel's allergies. We really turned a corner on healing when we added that in, but as I noted earlier, we added MSM at the same time. In doing a little investigating, people are using C60 (a molecule made up of 60 carbon atoms) for allergies. Mine is the frequency of Carbon, not the actual thing, and we have 1 compromised data point, Axel. Nonetheless, if you would like to try it, I'll put it up as a research essence which you can get for a reduced price, and then some store credit for your more definitive feedback on it.
Allergy Elimination Techniques
My friend is a NAET practitioner, so I asked her about doing allergy elimination for dogs. She is not local to me, nor is any other NAET practitioner, but she told me a few things I could do. Then I read a book by Dr Khalsa, a holistic vet who has modified different allergy elimination schools of training to be adaptable for home use. I've been doing a hybrid of the two on Axel. Basically what I do is put the allergen in a small glass container, (I use flower essence bottles) and rubber band it to the inside of a hemp (hypoallergenic) collar.
I put that on Axel when he's mellow, and tap down both sides of his spine simultaneously. (Video below) He likes it. Then we keep the bottle and collar on for a period afterward. We try for 25 mins per NAET directions, but some other info says 3-8 mins, so whatever we get we get. Following this, you try to avoid exposure to that allergen for 25 hours afterward. In NAET, you would then test to see if the allergy cleared, and if you muscle test you can do that. We don't, we just repeat the process so that we are tapping 3 days in a row and assuming all is good after the final 25 hour wait time. Then we move on to the next thing. This is how we got area rugs back in the house and beef back in the diet.
You can book phone consultations with Dr Khalsa, and she sells vials for you to do this procedure with. You can make your own, as I did, but the reason you may want to purchase hers is that she has them for things that are not so easy to get samples of such as dog vaccines. It does cost a bit, but when you compare to doing other things, or the expense of multiple NAET appointments, it's a big savings and great for her to have put this solution out there.
If your dog's allergies are tolerable and not full blown, then it's simpler. If you do nothing, they will probably get worse, but without pulling out all the stops and upsetting your life and finances, you can add a few supplements, and use the tapping to go through the most common allergens, on a whether they need it or not basis. Over time you should see an improvement rather than a worsening.
So that's a wrap! This is where my last three months have gone. When you're taking on a problem like this, I do think it's good to go all in and hit it from multiple different angles. I'm sure I messed up here and there and did some unnecessary things, but all in all my dog is at peace and healthier all the way around.