Pet Allergies Case Studies
Shelly brought her dog, a really sweet female boxer named Brittany (she called her "Brit,") to my office for a second opinion about her chronic allergies, a condition called atopic dermatitis. It is common in many breeds of dogs, including West Highland White Terriers (the #1 breed for this condition,) Labrador and golden retrievers, and spaniels (especially cocker spaniels.) While not commonly seen in boxers, Brit definitely was afflicted with allergies. Since she lived in Plano, Texas, one of the country's hotspots for poor air quality and many environmental allergens, the diagnosis was not too surprising. Skin conditions, especially atopic dermatitis, are among the most common medical problems I see in practice.
Many owners mistakenly believe that the source of their pets' allergies is food allergies. While food allergies can occur in pets, they are very rare. I've only seen 1 proven case of food allergy dermatitis in over 20 years of practice. Having said that, there is no question that eating poor quality food does contribute to a whole host of medical problems for people and their pets. This is one of the reasons I always try to correct the diet of any pet that is being treated with integrative medicine, and is the reason that feeding the proper diet is the #1 step in my holistic healing program regardless of the pet's current health status. Without feeding the pet a proper diet, devoid of potentially harmful animal and plant by-products and chemical preservatives and flavorings, my therapies won't achieve their maximum effectiveness. Feeding the proper diet is the foundation of every integrative therapy regardless of the disease afflicting the pet. While I always support owners who choose to prepare food for their pets at home, feeding it either cooked or is a raw diet, the reality is that most owners find it more convenient to feed a prepared food. While there are many different brands of prepared foods on the market, I believe that most are worthless. They contain way too many chemicals and animal and plant by-products which contribute to disease. Examples of some diets I currently recommend to my patients include Nature's Variety, Eagle Pack, Wysong, Innova, California Naturals, Natural Balance, Blue Buffalo, and Life's Abundance.
Instead, allergies in pets are usually due to environmental allergens. Most pets (and their allergic owners) have allergies to multiple allergens, including house dust mites, Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass, fleas, cat dander, ragweed, and various other trees and plants. Allergy testing, done by veterinary dermatologists who inject small amounts of allergens within the skin and observe the pet's reactions, are necessary to diagnose exactly which allergens affect the pet if the owner or doctor wants to treat the pet with frequent "allergy shots." Since most of my clients, including Shelly, do NOT want to give their pets shots for life, they seek my help in designing a natural protocol for their pets.
Regardless of whether using a conventional or integrative approach, I always start with a good history and physical examination. It's possible the history and physical exam will assist in making the diagnosis (in the case of pets with allergies, usually the diagnosis is made just from these 2 steps.) Often other problems related to the allergies, such as an ear or skin infection, will also be discovered. Additionally, many times when I examine a pet for a specific problem, I will find something totally unrelated such as heart disease or dental disease. Since the integrative approach focuses on the patient and not the disease, it's really important to identify other problems that may coexist with the owner's original complaint. Sometimes, these additional problems may be even more important or detrimental to the pet's health than the original complaint and must be addressed as well.
Fortunately, Brit had no other problems that I discovered or that Shelly mentioned during the initial visit.
During my examination, I noticed that Brit's skin looked pretty normal, except for a few areas of irritation. These irritated areas were reddened and bore scratch marks as a sign of her scratching her itchy skin. It's not unusual for itchy pets to have essentially normal skin. One of the ways that I determine that the cause of itching is due to allergies rather than something else is the appearance of "normal skin in an itchy dog." Occasionally, I'll actually see skin lesions on an allergic pet. These lesions, which can be pustules (pimples,) papules (tiny red bumps,) or scabs or crusts, represent a secondary infection with bacteria or yeasts. Since allergic skin is not normal, secondary infections occur more easily in allergic pets. I would estimate that about 50% of the allergic pets I see have a secondary infection. These infections by themselves can be very itchy, and they must be treated correctly in order to reduce the pet's level of itching. If the infections are not properly diagnosed and treated, the pet will never get better.
Conversely, a common cause of repeated and chronic skin infections is allergic dermatitis (food sensitivity and thyroid disease also predispose a pet to skin infections.) Unless the pet's underlying allergies or other problems are discovered, the pet will continue to suffer from chronic infections.
Since Brit didn't have any obvious skin infections at this first visit, this meant my only concern would be to address her allergies. Each patient is an individual and is to be treated as such. No 2 cases are exactly alike and there is often no one way to deal with a certain medical problem. This is why it's impossible for me to accurately answer a question owners often pose to me, "How would you treat my pet with (name of the disease)?" I have no idea how I would treat such a pet until I see the pet and thoroughly review the case!
The holistic approach, in my opinion, is often more art than science (although we have a lot of science to back up our chosen therapies.) This means that the holistic doctor must take time to properly evaluate each case. The pet owner is a partner in the diagnosis, treatment, and healing of the pet. Ultimately our goal is to heal the pet, rather than treat a disease (a very different approach than the one I had learned in my conventional medical career.) Healing is a lifelong process, whereas simply helping the pet feel better and treating a disease lasts only a short period of time.
I chose to treat Brit with several natural therapies that I have worked well for most of my patients. As is true with the goal of healing that all holistic doctors have for their patients, there is no one therapy that is best for each case. In fact, multiple therapies are usually chosen to heal the patient. Using multiple therapies has an additive effect that better and more quickly promotes healing. So in addition to her acupuncture treatments, I prescribed several other therapies to help Brit heal from her recent allergy attack.
First, regular bathing with an organic based shampoo helps relieve itching and inflammation, and removes surface bacteria and yeasts. Regular, even daily bathing is needed to allow healing and reduce the need for conventional medications like steroids. I prescribed Dr. Shawn's Itch Relief Shampoo to be used as often as needed.
Second, anti-inflammatory herbs can act as a natural steroid to help relieve itching and inflammation. I prescribed Xiao herbal drops to be given twice daily.
I also find that immune support is helpful for pets with allergies, so I prescribed twice daily dosing with Dr. Shawn's All Natural Olive Leaf Plus. This product also is useful as a drug replacement for my patients with bacterial and yeasts infections, especially of the skin and ears.
Oral fatty acids, particularly high doses of quality fish oil, are helpful to not only reduce itching but actually change cell structure to provide long term health benefits. Brit began taking high doses of EPA and DHA found in my fish oil supplement.
Finally, a natural antioxidant is useful for pets with skin diseases. I prescribed Total Anti-Inflam, a powerful combination antioxidant, to help Brit's skin disease.
Thankfully, this natural approach has worked well for Brit as it has for thousands of my patients. Using this approach allowed us to treat Brit without the need for medications. While some patients using this natural approach do require infrequent, very low doses of medications to quickly quelch their itching, Brit was able to heal without any medication!
This is an actual before and after photo of a young golden retriever who came into our animal hospital suffering from "allergies and infection" most of its life. The typical veterinary treatment of steroids and antibiotics failed to provide a long-lasting cure.
As I explained to the owner, we must ask the question...Why? Why does this dog have this problem (it's not because, as prior doctors had told her, that retrievers all have bad skin!) We tested the dog for several problems including thyroid and adrenal disease and immune dysfunction, as well as MRSA. Fortunately the testing did not show any major problems and I treated the dog with several of my herbal remedies. To date the dog is doing great and has not had anymore unnecessary antibiotics or steroids.
Click images to enlarge.