My go-to treatments.
One of the easiest ways to treat allergies is to avoid the allergens. This is especially easy if your dog has a food allergy- just don’t feed him that food! This will mean that you will read labels like a hawk- on everything. One of Maisy’s allergies is to eggs, and let me tell you, they are everywhere. Nothing goes in her mouth unless I’ve read the label or made it myself. Treats at the pet store or drive through are turned down, much to Maisy’s disappointment.
But other things are harder to avoid. You can’t exactly keep your dog in a bubble, but for a dog allergic to grass and trees, you might be tempted to do just that. However, you can help reduce your dog’s exposure to environmental allergies simply by keeping clean. Dust regularly, wash your pup’s bedding more than usual, and if he’s especially sensitive, invest in some HEPA filters.
Don’t forget to keep your dog clean, either- wiping down his feet and belly after he’s been outside can help cut down on his itchiness. During peak allergy season, Maisy gets a weekly bath to catch the rest. If you do this, be sure to use a gentle shampoo (I like Cloud Star’s Buddy Wash, although I could do without the scent).
Treat the Symptoms
No matter how hard you try, though, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to prevent all exposure. Maisy is allergic to human dander, and I just don’t know a way to protect her from me. As a result, she receives a daily antihistamine. Medications like Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec are generally considered safe for dogs, but you should talk to your vet to get the correct dosage and make sure the medicine is right for your dog. This is especially important if your dog takes another medication (like Maisy does); sometimes there are weird interactions to be aware of.
Corticosteroids can be helpful for dogs with more serious allergies, or during an especially bad allergy season. According to the April 2011 issue of the Whole Dog Journal, corticosteroids tend to be the most effective. That said, there are also some dangers associated with them; in the article, Nancy Kerns points out that they can leave dogs vulnerable to infections and metabolic imbalances, and long-term use can result in more serious problems like liver disease, diabetes, and adrenal suppression. Personally, I prefer to avoid steroid use; I’ve taken them for my asthma, and boy did they make me cranky. Maisy, with her reactivity, does not need that.
Allergy shots- also known as immunotherapy- can go a long way to helping reduce your dog’s allergies. Nancy Kerns’ article Itching to Be Well confirmed that most dogs who receive this therapy improve. Some even recover completely. Immunotherapy does need to be customized to your dog’s specific allergies, though, which requires that you do the skin tests instead of the cheaper and easier blood tests. It also requires you to give your dog a small shot once or twice a week for months, and possibly longer. This can be costly, and it’s definitely more invasive than either avoidance or symptomatic treatment.
The least controversial holistic option is to supplement your dog’s diet with fatty acid supplements, like fish oil. In Itching to be Well, Nancy Kerns quotes a veterinarian who shares that the fatty acids will go into the skin layers, which helps improve the barrier and decrease inflammatory cells. These tend to work best for mildly allergic dogs, or in conjunction with other treatment. Other options include the use of probiotics, acupuncture, homeopathy, and glandular supplements, all of which I know very little about.
Personally, I manage Maisy’s allergies through avoidance to the foods she’s allergic to, regular baths in the summer, wiping off her feet, legs, and belly when some comes inside, and a daily antihistamine (Claritin). Maisy also gets fish oil daily. This has been very successful so far, although this year looks like it will be a doozy of an allergy season, so we may be changing things up soon...
What about you? What do you do to treat your dog’s allergies? I know there are a lot of holistic treatments, although I haven’t used any myself. I’d love to hear from others about their experiences!