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 in the world eats like that). Fresh food feeding is based on the principal of eating a variety of ingredients on rotation to avoid under-doing or overdoing any one nutrient - just like how a healthy human eats. If you would like to learn more about fresh food feeding your dog, please join me at my Facebook fresh food feeding group.
There are also a number of commercial pre-packaged fresh food options for dogs at your local petshop that has a freezer such as Prime100, Proudi, Big Dog & Leading Raw, so you don't need to make it yourself. There are also balancing supplements that can provide you with a safety net when DIYing your dogs fresh food diet such as Wellbeing Essentials & Bestie Kitchen which are two wholefood balancing supplements. Unfortunately these supplements tend to be a bit expensive for large dog families. For these big dog families there are still options but they are the cheaper synthetic nutrients such as Predamax.
Large dog families may find using a base mix more affordable, this is where you take a product such as Vets All Natural Complete Mix or Inner Winner Bark Natural and simply add meat to it and then feed edible bones around 4 times per week (not marrow bones).
Fresh healthy food ideally would be the first stop for pet parents trying the manage skin reactivity because it just makes sense, right? We're not talking about a cure, we're talking above giving the dog's body all the available ammunition to fight these chronic disease.
Let us have a look at some foods that could be supportive to your dog with chronic skin disease:
Fatty fish. Such as salmon, sardine, mackerel, and herring.
Avocados. An awesome healthy fat and contrary to a long standing internet myth, Avocado flesh is perfectly safe for dogs as per a Proctor & Gamble study. Rich in vitamin C & E both great for the skin and histamine reduction.
Seeds. Such as Pumpkin, Hemp, Flax, Sunflower & Chia. These are awesome healthy fats. In dogs, you'll need to ground them or overnight soak and then smoosh. A little goes a long way. Flaxseed & Hempseed's also come in oil formats.
See our article on 6 healthy fats to feed your dog here.
Sweet Potato. Beta carotene that your dogs body will convert to vitamin A. Being a starchy veggie means it will need to be cooked first. Being high in carbs, don't over do it as a dogs natural diet is low in carbs.
Red or yellow Capsicum. Awesome amounts of vitamin C which is necessary for creating the protein collagen, which keeps skin firm and strong and is (histamine-lowering).
Broccoli. Containing a whole range of vitamins and minerals important for skin health, including zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Tomatoes. Containing good amounts of vitamin C and are rich in carotenoids.
Quercetin. Acts as a natural anti-histamine can be found in foods such as capsicum, cauliflower, plums (pitted) apples, berries & parsley. You can also purchase Quercetin supplements but you will need to research how much to give your dog.
Kiwi fruit, Mango, Kale & Strawberries. Rich in vitamin C.
Pineapple. Has an enzyme called bromelain which is said to reduce irritation in allergic diseases.
Kefir & Fermented Veggies. Kefir is a fermented milk product you can buy or make yourself, it contains beneficial bacteria and is great for the gut. Fermented veggies can also be purchased from the supermarket or made yourself. These gut loving foods can work alongside pro-biotics to balance your dogs microbiome. Now, there is a catch 22 with fermented foods, whilst they are beneficial they are high in histamines which can be problematic for some allergic dogs, you can learn more here.
Local Honey. You can find local honey from places like Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. Whilst the research is mixed, it is said that for those who suffer seasonal allergies, you can start taking small amounts of local honey early in the season to build tolerance to the pollen's that become problematic.
Bone Broth. Chicken broth supplies skin-repairing amino acid glycine. Whilst Bone Broth is beneficial, it is high in histamines which can be problematic for some allergic dogs, you can learn more here.
Bananas. High in potassium, they also contain histamine-lowering nutrients, magnesium and vitamin C.
Shiitake Mushrooms. Packed with vitamin D that can be helpful with allergies. You'll need to soak them if you get them in dried form overnight. All mushrooms need to be cooked to release all the good stuff!
Turmeric. Whilst you can obtain benefits from simply sprinkling on food, if you pair it with black pepper and coconut oil (or any healthy fat such as Olive oil) you can increase its bio-availability - a common recipe is called "Golden Paste" created by Australian, Vet Dr Doug English who runs a Facebook group.
The Turmeric and water do need to be cooked together on the stove (see the recipe), so if making your own Golden Paste doesn't appeal to you, you may like to purchase their dog treats that contains Golden Paste.
Biotin - supplementing your dog with Biotin may offer your dog some nice results as a study showed that 60% of dogs were cured from their skin condition, learn more here.
Spinach. A good source of vitamin E which is perfect for skin issues.
Collard Greens. Such as cabbage and broccoli. They are rich in catotenoids, which a 2010 study found could not only help prevent the development of food allergies, but also help combat seasonal allergy symptoms.
Garlic. Yes, garlic is safe for dogs. To feed a toxic level of garlic to your dog would require a huge amount of Garlic. Garlic decreases allergic reactions; it also helps prevent allergies in the first place!
Watermelon. High in lycopene which is a chemical compound that is linked to reducing allergies and their symptoms.
Complete & Balanced Recipe
I've put together this complete and balanced (fediaf) recipe for those who would like to have a go at making their own anti-allergy recipe.
500g Turkey mince
110g Whole tin of Sardines in spring water
50g Finely chopped Kale
1 Large pastured egg
30g Hulled hempseeds
20g Blueberries that you have smooshed to make them bio-available to the dog
20g Pineapple (canned)
10g Finely chopped Parsley
10g Pumpkin seeds - DIY grind, I use a $20 coffee grinder
7g Psyllium husks, these are available at your local supermarket or health food store.
1 Clove of garlic, finely chop.
5g Egg Shell powder -This is for the calcium component of the recipe.
1g Wheatgrass powder - you can easily find this online.
0.7g Himalayan crystal salt - this is for the chlorine component of the recipe
0.05g Now organic kelp powder - this is for the iodine component of the recipe
Get your hands in there and mix it really well, this batch will make you up around 800g of food.
Recipe Stats: Protein: 16.80% (AF) | 41.12% kcals Fat: 9.53% (AF) | 56.63% kcals
Fibre: 4.67% (DM)
Net Carbs: 2.25% omega- 6/omega-3: 4.5:1 Whilst this recipe is balanced, I do not recommend you feed it day in and day out for many of the reasons I mentioned earlier in this article.
How much to feed? If you're a fresh food feeder already, go ahead and feed whatever you normally feed. If you're new to fresh food feeding, ideally you will do a slow transition over 10 days, removing 10% of kibble each day and replace with 10% fresh food, also taking a pro-biotic is recommended during transition. Of course you can just do a straight transition but you may find that results in an upset tummy, this is because the pH in the tummy needs time to get used to a new food which has a different pH. Generally, you'll aim to feed a dog 2.5% of their body weight if you want your dog to maintain their weight, 2% if they need to lose weight and 3+% if they need to gain weight. These are just guides and you should feed your dog whatever amount it takes to keep your dog in a lean body condition. If math isn't your thing, you can use this online percentage calculator. This recipe contains 1,128 kcals (calories) and you can work out how many approx. calories your dog may need per day so you can figure out how much to feed them vs using the % of body weight calculation with this online calculator.
Medical assistance for your allergic dog
It is important that if you cannot get a handle on your dogs skin condition in a reasonable period that you seek medical assistance.
If your dog is itching, it is imperative to get this under control quickly otherwise your dog could end up with an infection and then have to have anti-biotics which can be detrimental to their gut health.
Many pet parents try and avoid medications for their dog and this is largely because they do not want to put these chemicals into their dog that have side effects. These medications are crucial for some dogs, without them, the dogs quality of life suffers. I recommend you speak to your Vet about all your options and decide on something that is going to work for you all but not medicating when needed is cruel and there's no reason why you can't work on different wellness strategies at the same time. Your local Vet may suggest blood allergen tests, these can cost anywhere between $200- $600 and are not considered accurate by Dermatologist's, so you may like to think twice before spending your money on such tests.
If your Vet is unable to get your dogs allergies under control then you will need to get a referral to a Dermatologist, a Dermatologist's job is to diagnose your dog and intra-dermal skin testing is one way to this to discover what environmental allergens your dog may have. This will set you back around $1,000, however, your Dermatologist is then able to formulate a desensitising program for your dog using injectables that is said to be around 70% successful.
Way to go for getting to the end of this article, I hope it has given you some things to think about :)