Updated: Feb 13
Let me first start by saying that this article is not going to tell you that putting your dog on a fresh food diet (non-kibble) will be a cure to your dogs skin issue, this false promise brings pet parents a lot of stress and guilt that they're doing something wrong. Skin allergies are a very complex disorder, often a mix of genetic and environmental factors.
I currently live with 2 dogs affected by allergies and how they express these allergies are different...because they are different dogs. In the past I have also had a highly allergic Great Dane (shown in the photo), it was such a horrible case and his quality of life was greatly affected, when he died at 5 after his 2nd blockage surgery from eating non-food items because he had to live on steroids that made him super hungry, he had mange and a number of abscesses, he looked horrible and he felt it too - so please know, I feel your pain.
What I learned with this dog was truly, what works for one dog does not necessarily work for another dog because the reason for their allergies are completely individual to them. So, before you go and buy that non-medicated shampoo that works for thousands of other dogs, understand that it probably won't work for your dog but hey, if it's in your budget and it is safe for your dog, give it a whirl, but you're probably about to get on a merry-go round that you won't get off because you will live in hope that the next one will work.
It is important to understand different skin conditions and how they can impact your dog.
Contact irritants are completely different to allergies, these are things that only cause your dog to be reactive when they come in contact with them such as wandering dew, carpet deodorizers, air fresheners, fly sprays, lawn fertilizer, weed killer etc.
In order to stop your dogs reaction to these, you need to remove them from your environment. This can be tricky if they're not actually on your property and you only come across them when you take your dog off your property. Pet parents often never figure out what causes their dog to have these occasional flare ups, the best you can do is keep rinsing the area with water and see your Vet if you can't get it under control. Your dogs diet isn't going to stop your dog from reacting to these irritants.
The most common form of true allergies is said to be environmental. Environmental allergies are typically pollen's. Pollen's can affect dogs in all seasons, for example, my Great Dane starts his seasonal allergies in Autumn and returns to normal in August. The wet grass makes the situation worse because it acts as a carrier that gets these pollen's onto his body and red feet and pasterns result, he will also lose the hair off toes and his pasterns.
Environmental allergies are thought to be genetic because these dogs have faulty skin barriers that let in the offending pollen's that the dogs immune system then over reacts to. For this reason, it is important to not breed with dogs who have environmental allergies. From a whole litter, only 1 dog might be affected or the majority could be affected - science does not yet understand the genetics of this condition. What is recognised is that manly white dogs seem to be affected more commonly.
Your dogs diet will not cure environmental allergies, however a species appropriate healthy diet will help support your dog through this and you may be able to get to a manageable level where medication is not required.
Supplements such as Antinol Rapid have been attributed to the management of many dogs who suffer from environmental allergies due to the highly bioavailable full spectrum omega-3 content that helps the skin barrier and fights inflammation, there's nothing on the market that can compare. My own dog has completed his 2nd season on Antinol without medication. The first season was touch and go but this last season has been fab...but will it work for your dog? Who knows, you would have to commit to a couple of allergy seasons on it and that is a bit of a financial commitment to a lot of people at around $60 a bottle which might only be a months treatment for larger dogs. If you would like an online supplier with free shipping, shoot me a message.
Another type of reactivity is food intolerance's and food allergies. A food intolerance will generally cause a dog to have digestive distress such a super stinky farts, loose stools, cramps and the likes. A food allergy will cause a dog to have an allergic reaction and this can appear the same as an environmental allergy which can make it tricky to diagnose. Interestingly enough factory farmed animals can cause dogs to have allergic responses over pastured animals, a good example of this is Chicken - it is said that it is not the chicken the dog is allergic to but what we do to the chickens i.e. antibiotics, living conditions etc. We commonly see dogs be perfectly fine when they eat pastured chicken and eggs vs factory farmed chickens....food for thought. In addition, if a dog gets lack of variety in their diet and they for example constantly get fed chicken then they are potentially consuming a high omega-6 diet which is pro-inflammatory. Lack of variety also puts a dog at a higher risk of developing intolerance's and allergies. If your dog has allergies and they rub their face after food then this might be an indicator that something you just fed them could be problematic.
The budget of many pet parents does not extend to pastured raised and kept animals so it makes it a tricky situation.
Food allergies can get a little more complex due to cross-reactivity. Those with allergies to grasses may have a reaction to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons (cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew) and oranges. Those with reactions to ragweed might have symptoms when eating foods such as banana, cucumber, melon, and zucchini.
Food allergies are also believed to have a genetic component so taking care to avoid breeding such dogs would be a reasonable exclusion.
An elimination diet is usually the first course of action a Vet will take in diagnosing allergies, this is where the dog is put on a novel protein diet. A novel protein is a protein the dog has never had before and this can be tricky! For dogs who have been exposed to many proteins, there are 100% non-meat diets that can be used short term through the elimination process.
Prime100 have a number of different single protein ranges including a non-meat product for this very purpose and I would recommend these over the "prescription" kibble diets some vets recommend as they are so species inappropriate and in the end, they haven't diagnosed the dog, they have simply band-aided the dog by feeding it a "food" with commonly such a low amount of meat that has also been hydrolyzed so a dog can't react to it - in my opinion, it is not appropriate or fair on a dog to keep them on such diets long term. Doesn't it makes more sense to actually find out what they're reacting to and eliminate it from their diet?
Gut health is incredibly important for medically compromised dogs especially dogs with allergies.
Simply addressing gut health can play a big part in balancing an out of whack immune system that is over reacting to allergens.
Sadly, the majority of dogs are fed kibble based diets and these dogs compared to their raw fed friends suffer from a lack of diversity in their gut flora.
My recommendation to all pet parents is to have their dogs on a pro-biotic, I made Gut Dust, a 9 strain kick ass pro-biotic that has specially selected strains to help dogs with allergies, digestive distress and behavioural challenges that stem from anxiety.
Diet matters - when a human is suffering from chronic disease, their Dr does not suggest to them to eat a highly processed diet with synthetic nutrients, so why do our Vets? Our Vets receive a portion of their nutritional education from kibble companies, these companies such as Royal Canin and Hills Science Diet pay University sponsorship fees in order to have access to their students. If a Vets education is solely about how to nutritionally manage disease with prescription diets, we can't expect them to know any different. Some Vets seek post graduate education in nutrition that hasn't originated from a kibble company, these Vets are often called integrative or holistic vets. If you have a dog with a medical issue such as allergies, I recommend you make contact with one, I often recommend Dr Kelly Halls from Bentons Road Vets as Dr Kelly and her colleagues conduct distance consults and are responsibly priced.
Feeding fresh food isn't just about popping some bones and veggies out for a dog, this isn't balanced and this can often be the reason why some Vets are anti-fresh food diets. We follow a ratio template to deliver our dogs a balanced diet which is referred to as balancing over time vs balancing in every bowl which his what kibble does (no animal