Friday, April 4, 2014

Managing Your Dog's Allergies Naturally

There seem to be a shocking number of dogs out there who, like their human buddies, are struggling with allergies. Our dog was on antibiotics when we got him from the pound and we very quickly learned why. Grass, food, animals...he is allergic to just about everything. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if that is how he ended up in the pound, because his allergies are BAD, and without almost constant attention they take over his body.

Dogs, like all of us animals, have a very complex bacterial environment living in their bodies and on their coats. Just like a cow's ruminant systems, bacteria on one part of the body does its job wonderfully, but once it is introduced to another part of the body where it doesn't belong, it can wreak havoc. Such is the case with dogs and allergies. Our dog, like many has allergic dermatitis which just means his skin breaks out in reaction to an allergen. However, when his skin becomes red and inflamed it becomes easy for skin and fur bacteria to enter the body and the skin becomes infected. This is pyoderma*. So when managing dog allergies you are really looking at two problems: allergy and bacteria management.

*Not, I will be discussing chronic superficial pyoderma. Serious acute or chronic pyoderma is best treated with antibiotics.

This is typical spring and summer belly skin for him

As with any other allergy, it is a good idea to try to get a sense of what is causing the problem. It may simply be food (almost all commercial dog foods contain generous amounts of wheat and corn, both of which often cause allergies), or outdoor triggers, or even another animal in the house. For us, it is all the above.


  • Make homemade dog food. There are so many great recipes out there for dog food, but we stick to ones that contain few grains but many immune boosting vegetables. I essentially make a stew, starting with meat boiled in water, and adding in mushed vegetables, and finally brown rice to soak up all the liquid. DO NOT  THROW AWAY THE BONES. Despite what you have no doubt heard, dogs CAN and SHOULD eat bones. As long as they are raw or boiled, not baked, bones are perfectly safe for dogs. They only become brittle and sharp when baked, but they are a good and necessary part of a dog's diet, providing useful nutrients, and nothing is better than a real bone for keeping a dogs teeth clean and dental disease away (The only real exceptions to this are elderly dogs, very small dogs, and brachycephalic breeds.) If you still feel concerned about it you can always freeze raw bones to be chewed so that the dog it literally forced to chew, rather than swallow it. Bones should always be given at the END of a meal, not as a treat. You should also include organ meat in the food. A basic dog food recipe should look something like this:
  • 30% Meat
  • 20% Organ Meats
  • 10% vegetables
  • 35% Filler, like bread or rice
  • 5% Bones or cartillage (bone meal or shark cartillage are good bone substitutes)
  • You may also want to consider a vitamin or herbal supplement. We give our dog mullein and echinacea "tea," as well as omega-3 supplements.
  • A couple times a week you should give your dog some diary in the form of yogurt (unsweetetned), or milk. Frozen yogurt drops make a great treat. Raw or boiled eggs are also a good occasional snack.

Keep Their Skin Clean

  • Studies have shown that daily baths are just as effective against superficial pyoderma as antibiotics (which is good since it's good for no one for your dog to always be on an antibiotic treatment.) Unfortunately, I am not dedicated enough to give our fairly big dog a bath every day, so I focus on baths after he has been outside, particularly when he goes swimming in the creek or has been laying in the grass all day. You can really use any antibacterial soap but I recommend a chlorhexidine shampoo. We've had good luck with it. 

  • When flare ups occur oatmeal or peppermint baths can be soothing, and eucalyptus oil added to bath water will reduce inflamation.
  • Topical lotions for eczema or sensitive skin such as Aveeno Oatmeal Lotion work well in reducing the itching and inflamation. This is particularly important because any skin lesions from rashes or scratching can lead to infection.

  • A polic of mint, echinacea, and eucalyptus also works well, if you can get your dog to hold still
  • And most importantly, your dog must be kept free of pests such as fleas. Again, any kind of open wound, even as small as a flea bite, can become a problem in sensitive dogs.
  • When the skin dog become infected cleaning it with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol between baths helps to reduce bacteria.

Reduce Exposure to Allergens

  • This can be done in two ways: By literally preventing them from being near the problem, or by allergy medication.
  • Normally, our dog receives two benedryl pills in the morning and one in the evening. You can use this, or another medicine prescribed by your vet. Although I prefer using more natural remedies, when it is for prevention of a much bigger problem (pyoderma and most likely another round of antibiotics), I am willing to make an exception. 
  • We have had to actively discourage our dog from eating grass, or even lying in it. I always try to make sure he has a soft surface to lie on (which he will eagerly choose over the grass since he is obsessed with anything soft and fluffy), and in the summer it is very important to give them access to cool, clean water, since heat can cause a flare up. 
  • We (unfortunately) have to avoid putting a collar on our dog since anything touching his skin can be a problem (I now write our phone number on the inside of his ear lol.) For the same reason I try to clean his ears, armpits, and toes regularly. These are the kinds of places bacteria loves to breed. 
You can still see a tiny bald spot on his neck. Last summer it was completely bald and swollen and just looked terrible. So, no more collars.
I see you in there bacteria! You can't hide from me mua-hahahaha
  • We also have to limit his contact with other animals. Being around them isn't a problem, but when our cat licks him, or another dog even playfully bites him, his skin will almost instantly become red and irritated.
  • The easiest thing to do is simply think about how a human allergy sufferer will adjust their life, and do the same with your dog. Even if he loves the outdoor, getting into an air conditioned environment for "breaks" throughout the day will go far in easing his symptoms.

When dealing with chronic problems it is necessary to try dealing without many medical interventions but it is equally important to know when you're beat and throw in the towel. Always have some antibiotics on hand.


  1. Thanks for sharing your post at the HomeAcre Hop!
    For the homemade dog food do you have a guideline with how much to feed?

    1. My medium sized dog gets 2 cups a day but it varies a lot by energy level, age, and size. Generally speaking, about half of how much dry food they get.

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