Perhaps nothing makes a dog owner feel more helpless than a companion animal with skin allergies. Itchy. Smelly. Greasy. Hot spots. Patchy hair loss. Flaming red or blackened with oozing sores. The full range of allergy symptoms drive both beast and human half mad.
Cures are elusive.
As author, C. J. Puotinen, says in "Canine Allergies and Your Dog's Health, "Ask a dozen health experts about allergies and you’ll get at least that many theories about what they are, why they happen, and how to fix them."
Conventional veterinary treatment of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs often prove both expensive and harmful - especially when ear and skin issues can be attributed to an overgrowth of yeast in the digestive tract.
When this is so, help is on the way.
To heal the digestive tract, Reinhardt recommends an improved diet with higher-quality protein and the elimination of soy, corn, wheat, and chicken fat. “Soy, corn, and wheat are at the top of the list of foods that irritate canine digestion,” she says, “and I like to stay away from chicken fat because it contains residues of whatever the chicken was exposed to in the way of drugs and toxins. Fat from organically raised, pastured chickens is fine, but that’s not what you’ll find in commercial dog food.”
Reinhardt then recommends three supplements that she considers crucial for rapid healing and recovery: Seacure, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.
Malaseezia pachydermatis is another suspect in ear and skin issues.
[It is] a yeast commonly found in the ears and on the skin of dogs. Held in check by the immune systems of healthy dogs, it can multiply until it becomes pathogenic in susceptible dogs, resulting in itchy, oily, or scaly skin, hair loss, redness or blackening of the skin, thickening of the skin, and an offensive greasy odor.
A search of holistic treatments for Malassezia produced recommendations identical to holistic treatments for candidiasis.
“You’ve discovered exactly the point,” says Dr. Wynn. “And if you look further, you will discover that the treatment is very much like what we recommend for any chronic allergic or immune-mediated disease, many of them centering on abnormal gut permeability.Herbs can also effect a cure, especially for hot spots.
“To wit, we have diseases that respond to diet changes, probiotics, and various herbal tonics or specifics, and we can only document the presence of fungi in some cases, so we look for a different cause. This is why so many veterinary practitioners look at chronic yeast infections as a problem that pops up in immunocompromised animals and not as the primary disease. Holistic treatments like improved diet and probiotics work, but they work directly on the immune system, strengthening the body so that it resists yeast, rather than by killing the yeast directly.”
Dogs are well known for finding their own treatments when given the opportunity. Renee Votta, an herbalist in New Braunfels, Texas, adopted a mixed-breed dog she found. “We had just had a huge flood, and many animals were homeless due to houses being destroyed and animals being caught in the river. I looked for her owners but no one claimed her.”
Votta named the dog Bonnie and took her to a veterinary clinic for spaying and to have the open sores on her legs treated. “She licked at them all the time,” says Votta. “Most were an inch wide and an inch long, some smaller and a few larger. The vet said they were caused by contact dermatitis having something to do with the grass, weeds, and green things that grow here all year. The vet said we would have to live with them because it’s the kind of problem that keeps coming back.”
That winter, Votta experimented with topical treatments. A mix of aloe vera, vitamin E, and olive oil worked best, but even though the sores got smaller, they never went away and new sores often developed.
One day, Votta realized that Bonnie, standing in a weed patch, was carefully harvesting cleavers (Galium aparine). “I couldn’t get over it,” she says. “Bonnie was ignoring all the other weeds. At that moment I realized that her condition had nothing to do with external factors. Her problems were inside her.”
Votta encouraged Bonnie to eat all the cleavers she wanted from the yard, plus she made cleavers tea to add to the dog’s water. She also added minced cleavers and raw garlic to Bonnie’s dry food.
Within a month, all of the sores on Bonnie’s legs cleared up and in the eight years since, she has never had another open sore. She continues to graze on cleavers, especially when the plants first emerge in the spring. “Eating a few strands of them every so often is enough to keep her healthy and her blood clean,” says Votta.
Read Canine Allergies and Your Dog's Health at Whole Dog Journal.