My journey to learn more about allergies in dogs began over 15 years ago with my Puli. I found that most vets were perplexed as to how to manage and control allergies without using steroids. The common treatment then was a shot of Prednisone that lasted a few weeks. Back then I tried working with a strict homeopathic doctor and did the round of desensitizing nosodes being warned to never ever let this dog have another immunization shot. Quite unrealistic since the Rabies shot is mandatory and MUST be given to all dogs. Even if there is a vet who will write that your dog due to immune reasons or illness can never have another vaccination, if your dog is bitten by a wild animal or bites someone, the dog can be taken from you and put to sleep if there is no record of a current Rabies vaccination.
After loosing my special Puli, Marley, to an aggressive form of lymphoma at age 5, I started reading about natural healing, immune system problems, why and how dogs get sick. I found an amazing book (still my favorite) by Dr. Martin Goldstein, D.V.M from Smith Ridge Veterinary Center in New York called The Nature of Animal Healing. Much of what I will share in this writing began with reading and learning about all the research Dr. Goldstein did on why pets get sick and how to prevent illness.
In Dr. Goldstein’s introduction he writes,
“If conventional medicine is suppose to keep us well, why do so many animals get so seriously sick? Why, is there so much cancer? Why are so many dying before their time.? Why do we see so many more skin problems especially allergies than we saw a decade ago?”
To understand the journey I have taken with Kaffee and its success, the underlying concept from holistic medicine and Dr. Goldstein is “ the best way to cure an ill patient is to help him cure himself… When health has been restored, it can be maintained—if the immune system is sustained.”
The key word here is “immune system.” Today many of our dogs have compromised immune systems due to poor food, toxins in their environment, environmental pollution, chemicals in their environment, pesticides, and stress. Dr. Goldstein’s very successful work with helping dogs improve their immune system and quickly expel toxins that have made them ill is based on a good diet, nutritional supplements, homeopathic remedies, herbs, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments-- the broad umbrella of holistic complementary or alternative therapy.
Allergies have been thought to be caused by a strong reaction of the immune system to some foreign protein: pollen, molds, grasses, trees and foods. Dr. Goldstein believes that it is the symptom itself, which flares up when a body’s immune system has become sensitized to an allergen. This is usually secondary to buildup over time of toxicity that has affected the immune system. Genetics may be involved from an acquired weakness. The goal is to get the body detoxified and the immune system healthy again and NOT to just treat the symptoms, as conventional medicine seems to do with the widespread use of steroids.
This is where we begin Kaffee’s journey….
Kaffee’s allergies started when he was one year old after he was neutered. He started itching, biting and scratching. The first thing we did was blood work to see what foods he was allergic to. Several of the really high reactives were alfalfa, venison and potatoes. Blood tests are considered to be controversial due to their inaccurate results. Dermatologists feel the only reliable way to diagnose allergies is through the intradermal allergy test where dogs are sedated and have over 66 injections made to determine sensitivity to allergens. Based on these results allergy vaccines are selected. I chose not to do go this route but to try to improve Kaffee’s immune system.
After reading and absorbing Dr. Goldstein’s fascinating book, I found that I could consult with one of his knowledgeable veterinarians in New York. I selected Dr. Alexandra Barrientos (Dr. Alex) from Smith Ridge Veterinary Center to work with. After a phone consultation Dr. Alex suggested we do a super chemistry blood workup and have their Blood Nutritional Analysis (BNA) done using this blood work to look for Kaffee’s imbalances. The results help to identify why one organ is out of balance; if other organs are implicated; why is this organ out of balance; and how can we fine tune the metabolic balance so that the body is wholly healthy and can take care of itself.
Based on the results of his BNA, Kaffee was started on supplements that included the very important glandulars: concentrates of raw animal organs that are nutrients holistic veterinarians believe wild animals get from eating the glands and organs of their kills believed to strengthen them against disease. While the use of glandulars have been controversial, Dr. Goldstein and others have over time seen their benefit in remedying minor organ imbalances.
The other important imbalance that was addressed was adrenal imbalance. The adrenal’s basic functions are to handle stress and inflammation. BNA results frequently disclose adrenal imbalance suggesting stress and inflammation so supplements are given to address these imbalances.
Other supplements such as Maitake-DMG liquid by Vetri Science is a highly recommended immune system and support formula.
And, the very helpful remedy that I have gotten dramatic results from when Kaffee has an allergic flare up is natural hydrocortisone made from soy that has the same anti-inflammatory effect as synthetic cortisone but without the side effects. This natural hydrocortisone requires a prescription and is compounded by Pet Health Pharmacy in Young, Arizona.
Additionally I have always maintained the very highest quality food for my dogs. Kaffee has always been on raw food supplemented by organic veggies that I grind up to add. His treats and training foods are homemade dehydrated chicken and beef.
We have worked with Dr. Alex for over 8 years now. Kaffee has annual blood work done for Dr. Alex to review. His blood work improved dramatically during his first year on the new supplements. The supplements have remained the same until recently when we changed to some similar ones since he had been on the same ones for so long. Dr. Alex now has her own practice at Earth Angels in Wappingers Falls, NY. http://www.earthangelsvet.com/
Kaffee has done very very well with his allergies but does have flare ups during allergy season primarily April and May. He also is highly allergic to grasses. To help address this we have worked with a very the excellent local holistic vet, Dr. Todd Metcalf in Prescott, Arizona. Dr. Metcalf’s focus is in holistic medicine using veterinary acupuncture and herbs and gentle osteopathic/chiropractic manipulations. He also seems to have specialized in allergies after seeing so many dogs with unmanageable allergies from conventional medicine. Dr. Metcalf has worked closely with Kaffee to select the two Chinese herbs found to help better balance his metabolic system and restore his immune system to optimal levels. It was remarkable to see Kaffee going from biting and scratching to no symptoms at all after a week on a combination of 2 amazing Chinese herbs.
UNFORTUNATELY I am very disappointed to report that Dr. Metcalf sold his practice and is not allowed to see any of his old clients. This is very hard for me since Dr. Metcalf has now moved his practice to a location that is only 5 minutes from my home.
Two other important things that I have found to be very helpful to keep Kaffee from getting an allergic reaction or to help if he has been exposed to grasses or other pollens is to wash off the pollens after contact. This can be done by wiping down his legs, feet and body but when I can I just wash him off in his dog tub. Dr. Alex also recommended an excellent shampoo DOUXO Calm shampoo that gently removes allergens from the skin. Their DOUXO Calm Micro-emulsion spray has been an excellent way to sooth itchy skin especially on his feet and legs. http://www.duoxo.com/
And Finally... vaccinations. Kaffee has had titer tests done since he was very young to assure his immunity to parvo and distempter. He has not had any vaccinations other than rabies since he was very young. However, he does have his rabies shot every 3 years as required by the state. We do give him Vaccinosis Nosode drops before, during and several weeks after the rabies vaccination to aid in support of immune stimulation in case of adverse effects of vaccination. He does not use protection for heartworm but gets this checked every 6 months nor does he wear flea and tick collars. We do not vaccinate against two local problems: snake bite or leptospirosis, a water born disease that is usually fatal to dogs.. We are just careful.
So yes, there is no cure for allergies. As I mentioned earlier the genetic component of a weakened system tendency will always be there. The best that I can do for Kaffee is be aware of how his immune system is weakened, and how I can strengthen it with his food, supplements, herbs, washing off pollens when exposed, regular shampoos, and stress reduction. The natural hydrosome has saved us when Kaffee’s romp in high grasses has caused an allergic flare up. Usually a few doses of this amazing natural remedy stops the allergic reaction. The most important thing to do during this exposure is to stop the allergic reaction as soon as possible and the natural hydrocortisone has been totally effective so we have not ever had to resort to steroids.
Dogs' allergies tend to worsen as they age. I am happy to report that Kaffee is stable and his allergies are very well managed. He has very few times when he is itching, scratching and biting… and usually those only result after a fun run or walk where he has gotten into deep grasses. As you can see from the picture above, our careful management allows Kaffee to enjoy hiking everywhere with occasional romps in the grass and wildflowers. I have to say this was not possible before we found the dramatic effects from the 2 complimentary Chinese herbs given to us by Dr. Metcalf. Kaffee would have itching to grass during his obedience sits and downs which had to be managed. Today, I am not seeing any of this.
DISCLAIMER: This story is about the journey to help one dog with allergy management and was never intended to be a medical recommendation for any reader but only information that might help others better understand the complexity of the underlying causes of allergies, why treatment is so difficult and complex, and perhaps to do their own research into some of the practices that have worked so well for Kaffee.
UPDATE: Yesterday I decided to be proactive in managing Kaffee's reaction to the tall summer grasses on our upcoming hike and I am so happy he had no reaction. We have very tall grass now in many places we hike in northern AZ which have in the past made his legs, between his legs and feet just red and itchy and would take up to a week to get him over this reaction. He is now on that amazing Chinese herb that I mentioned above that has been most helpful in managing environmental allergies this year but I have also put him on the Stinging Nettle herb twice a day. I took 2 wet wash clothes in plastic bags with me to wash off the pollens and tried to decrease the times he was in the grass and mostly on the trails.