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Holistic Treatment for Allergies

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2001 Newsletter of Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, Inc.

Monroe's Journey
by a longtime GRRMF volunteer

As I run my hands through Monroe's silky fur, I can't help but think how far he's come. His coat is a lovely honey-gold color and shiny as can be. His skin is cool and clean, and he smells sweet. He is resting comfortably in my arms, accepting my affection without protest. He even lets me kiss his muzzle.


This vision contrasts sharply with my introduction to Monroe, a senior golden, in December 1999. His skin was some of the worst we've seen in rescue. He was full of scabs and warts all over his body. He had sore, bloody elbows, and bloody scabs all over his tail. His belly was black from skin infections, and his skin was moist and hot to the touch. The worst thing was his smell. The odor was pervasive - in my car, in my house, on my hands after petting him. It was everywhere.

Monroe was turned in by a man who became ill and could no longer care for him. After adopting him from Orange City Animal Control in January 1999, the owner spent a considerable sum trying to help Monroe, but nothing seemed to work. Who knows what kind of prior life this poor dog had - probably an outside dog with chronic allergies, his condition allowed to degrade with no veterinary care.

I did the intake interview, and I remember thinking what a challenge Monroe would be with our limited resources and volunteers. But I knew one thing for sure: We had to help him. He won me over with his soft, pleading eyes. I took him home and decided to oversee his care.

And So It Begins
From his records, we learned that Monroe had been on steroids and a special veterinary diet for the past year. It was obvious the traditional approach wasn't working. I had heard about a holistic veterinarian who had opened a practice in Winter Park. I've been into holistic care for a while with my own dogs, so this was a natural path for me. Ultimately, the GRRMF Board decided to explore this option. We were hoping that through Monroe's experience, we'd learn something to help the increasing amount of dogs we're seeing in the program with allergies.

Dr. Constance DiNatale agreed to take a look at Monroe and, as many of our veterinarians do, she gave us a generous discount to boot. She is a regular veterinarian who has received additional training in Chinese medicine, acupuncture and chiropractic care for animals.

Dr. DiNatale performed a detailed examination on Monroe, including checking his pulse points on all the meridians of the body. In Chinese medicine, the meridians are long lines of energy that flow through the body. By examining the meridians, the doctor obtains an indication of how the organs of the body are functioning and what might need strengthening. She also checked the patterns on his tongue, ears, eyes, skin, nails and the pads on his feet. Dr. DiNatale performed acupuncture on Monroe. He looked like a pincushion! We also discovered that he had a bad leg, probably from being kicked or some other kind of injury. He was very weak in his hind end and had a hard time getting up off the floor.

She then conducted an in-depth interview with me. Did Monroe like hot or cold places? What was his emotional state as well as physical state? What types of foods seem to cause his skin to break out? And so on. I told her everything I knew - that he smelled terrible, even though I was bathing him every two days. That his constant scratching kept us up all night (can you imagine how miserable he was?). That he would take forever to urinate. He often would walk for 15 minutes in the morning before going to the bathroom.

Monroe's diagnosis was a difficult one. We did blood work and a more sophisticated thyroid test. His thyroid was normal. Dr. DiNatale felt his immune system was a wreck, making him very prone to allergies. The steroids were only making it worse. He needed supplements to boost his immune system and skin. Allergy testing had shown he wasn't allergic to anything in his environment. I refused to believe that - it just didn't feel right, because when I took him outside in the fenced yard, all he would do is sit down and scratch. I had to leash-walk him, otherwise he wouldn't get any exercise (and still have to).

The first path of treatment was vitamins, Chinese herbs and an elimination diet to see if we could determine what foods he was allergic to. Dr. DiNatale is a big believer in fatty acids for golden retrievers as well as the basic antioxidant vitamins. Monroe was put on a routine of supplements that included vitamin C, vitamin E, cod liver oil and fish oil caps. He was put on herbs to help his "damp heat" skin problem, kidneys and hips. He was also put on glucosomine chondroitin for arthritis and MSM for pain.

Now, about his diet. For a period of time, he ate mostly sweet potatoes while I stabilized him to get a good baseline to work from. Sweet potatoes are very nutritious, much more so than white potatoes. Then, I added foods to see if any allergic reactions resulted. When he was allergic, he would break out in hives. I finally determined he was allergic to rice, along with some other grains and proteins. I was determined to find a food regimen with high-quality, human-grade ingredients and no chemicals. I wanted to use dog food and supplement with veggies, yogurt and other healthy toppers. Most dog foods contain rice, which was a major obstacle.

As luck would have it, I attended a Pet Industry Trade Show and found a food that ultimately worked for Monroe - it's called Wellness Fish and Sweet Potato. It is a specialty food and not cheap, but it features high-quality ingredients and no chemicals, byproducts or animal digest.

The other therapeutic recommendation was to bathe him often with a special shampoo to eliminate infections in his skin. Since he didn't have dry skin, this wasn't a problem. You couldn't wash him enough to make his skin dry out! Even after a month, the water that came off his body was brown. I used antiseptic shampoo on his trouble areas, and then oatmeal everywhere else. A friend also recommended a cream rinse that was a lifesaver in helping his odor - Fresh 'n Clean Scented Crème Rinse by Lambert Kay. After a while, I could wait four days between baths instead of two!

On the Road to Improvement
Gradually the scratching in the middle of the night stopped. Monroe still had trouble spots on his skin, but I treated them topically with diluted hydrogen peroxide and a little Panalog cream.

As the months went by, the improvements became more dramatic. Monroe's tail grew long feathers, his skin on his belly was gray instead of black, the hair above his eyes filled in because he stopped scratching his face. His elbows healed and grew fur. He was gradually taking on the appearance of a true golden retriever - especially after I was able to stop shaving around his trouble spots so he no longer resembled a block of Swiss cheese! I recently realized he has no more warts. They are a virus, and I guess his immune system has recovered enough to make them go away.

One of the best outcomes is his demeanor. He holds his head up, and his eyes are bright and clear, He readily makes eye contact with me. His face is smooth and pretty, where it once was awash with wrinkles. Now that he is finally out of his allergy miseries, he can be a happy dog - another sign of his true "golden" heritage! His mobility has improved with the supplements for arthritis and pain. He also urinates more frequently, due to supplements along with some behavioral conditioning.

Monroe was evaluated periodically over the year he was treated, and his herbs changed as the doctor felt necessary. I think Monroe's success came by boosting his own immune system to at least have a fighting chance against the allergies.

When I take Monroe places today, no one can believe his story. He no longer "looks the part," so to speak. And he has a new career: as a spokesdog for GRRMF. Monroe appears at Borders Bookstore and other locations to meet the public and get the message of rescue out. It is so rewarding to have people run their hands through his fur and coo over him about how pretty he looks.

So, was it all worth it? I think you know the answer to that one. This brave golden boy served as our guinea pig and now is helping other goldens. We've started using the regimen on other dogs with great success. We see terrible coats and allergies, especially in yard dogs, and have totally turned them around with these therapies.

Through all this, Dr. DiNatale graciously makes herself available to answer any questions we have. Her role has been critical in "Monroe's journey," and we appreciate her support very much.

What You Can Do
Does your dog have allergies? We encourage you to discuss these options with your veterinarian, and if he or she isn't versed in holistic methods, consider consulting a holistic vet for help. Typically, they don't replace your regular vet, but provide complementary therapy to regular vet care. I'm fortunate that my regular vet, Dr. Ehlers (434 Animal Hospital in Longwood Florida) is open to holistic therapies.

Overall, this is the routine we are using in allergy laden dogs:
1. Quality food - If you buy dog food at a grocery or discount store, it's probably junk. I recently looked through all the foods available at my local Target and Albertsons, and there wasn't one I would feed my dog. Even foods found in veterinarian offices or pet stores aren't guaranteed to be good quality. Read the ingredients. Do they sound like something you would eat? Do you even understand what they are? Do they have byproducts, animal digest, ethoxiquin, BHA or BHT in them? Useless fillers like peanut hulls? There are foods available that are much better for your dog. I should know - I've researched most of them. At a minimum, you should feed a food like Nutro Natural Choice available at PetsMart. There are premium holistic brands of dog food available that use human-grade ingredients, such as Solid Gold, Innova, Wysong and Wellness among others that are great options for your dog. All can sometimes be found in small local pet shops - contact the companies to find out retailers near you. Don't listen to advertising - what does "breeder recommended" really mean, anyway? Read those labels, and if you have questions, please ask us! Please beware of brands commonly sold in veterinary offices. They are not necessarily good foods, and in fact, one "light" dog food from a national company that is typically sold in vet's offices is by their own admission on the indgredient listing 28.6% peanut hulls, which they list as a source of fiber. Honestly, you are paying top dollar for a food that is 28.6% garbage - would you eat peanut hulls? The lesson here is to read the bag, this is clearly listed on the bag ingredients on this "prescription" quality vet food.

2. Vitamin C - This is calcium ascorbate powder, and the recommended dosage is 22 mg per pound of body weight twice daily. Start slowly to reduce chances of diarrhea or stomach upset. Vitamin C boosts the immune system and acts as a natural antihistamine. Dog's weight Dosage (twice daily)
60 lbs. 1320 mg
65 lbs. 1430 mg
70 lbs. 1540 mg
75 lbs. 1650 mg
80 lbs. 1760 mg

A handy tool for dispensing small quantities of vitamin powders is available from Restoration Hardware on Park Avenue in Winter Park, or see their website at www.restorationhardware. com. They sell measuring spoons called "Pinch, Dash, Smidgen" in tiny sizes - 1/8, 1/16 and 1/32 of a teaspoon - for only $6. They are perfect for measuring out the vitamin C powder and other measured supplements.

3. Vitamin E (preferably with selenium) - one 400 IU capsule a day.

4. Cod liver oil (unflavored) - if skin/immune system is really bad, 1 teaspoon twice daily. For a maintenance dose - 1 teaspoon daily. Cod liver oil contains vitamin A. You can also give vitamin A capsules instead, but do not overdose since it is not a water soluble vitamin.

5. Fish oil - 200mg of Omega 3's per 10 lbs. of body weight twice daily.
Dog's weight Dosage (twice daily) 60 lbs. 1200 mg
65 lbs. 1300 mg
70 lbs. 1400 mg
75 lbs. 1500 mg
80 lbs. 1600 mg

Fish caps vary widely in the amount of Omega 3's they contain, so you have to check the back of each bottle. Missing Link supplement products and other flax seed oil-based supplements can also be used for Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation. Some dogs respond better to fish oils, some to flax oils. Primrose oil caps are a duplicate of the fish oil caps and may benefit dogs that don't respond to fish oil caps.

6. B-50 Complex - 1 capsule twice daily. B-50 complex is also very good for stressed animals. Stress can damage the immune system and cause allergies to flare up.

7. Garlic - one capsule a day, unless the dog is "hot" - has warm skin.

8. Digestive enzymes - We have had a lot of luck in using digestive enzymes in goldens, specifically Prozyme, available from KV Vet Supply (Item # 40036). This enzyme aids digestion and the absorption of nutrients. It is a powder you add to the food. We highly recommend the use of these enzymes, particularly for dogs with allergies.

9. Supplements for orthopedic problems - We suggest trying Glucosamine Chondroitin. You can purchase it at a local health food store or possibly from your vet. Another cheaper alternative is Glycoflex, which is usually carried by veterinarians and is also available from KV Vet (Item # 40956). Also, MSM powder (KV Vet # 41570) is very effective and inexpensive. Another herb that can relieve pain and help mobility is White Willow Bark, which is what aspirin is derived from.

Mixing Supplements With Food
A great way to get your dog to take supplements is to put about a 1/8 - 1/4 cup of "toppers" in with their food - plain low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, ground up carrots or green beans. Sweet potatoes or squash cooked and mashed also have a lot of nutrition. Dogs benefit from a variety of vegetables (don't feed onions or lots of spinach). Just make sure they are ground up or mashed. Raw is fine, or lightly cooked. If you used canned, use the low-salt variety. Please ask us if you have questions.

Other therapies
1. Baths - We are having good luck with DermaPet shampoos sold by KV Vet Supply. For infected skin, use Benzoyl Peroxide shampoo (Item # 79207). Also, Malacetic Shampoo (Item # 72394) and Conditioner (Item # 70208) are effective for yeast conditions. For dry coat and skin, try Dermapet Allay Oatmeal Shampoo (Item # 79220) and Spray on Oatmeal conditioner (Item # 79201). Use the conditioner as a topical treatment: mix 1 tablespoon in a cup of water, and after shampooing and rinsing, pour over your dog and work into coat and skin. Do not rinse. Your vet may recommend other specialty shampoos for infected skin such as Chlorhexiderm or oatmeal shampoos.

2. Topical treatments - Keep sores clean to guard against infection. If the dog scratches, give topical relief with a little bit of steroid cream such as Panalog or an anti-itch spray to break the cycle.

3. Behavioral - Combat habitual scratching with new activities and more exercise. Some of Monroe's scratching was purely habit from a life of allergies, and simply telling him to "stop" was enough.

Final Words of Wisdom
Remember, these treatments do not work overnight. If you want a magic pill, it doesn't exist. You will need to build up your dog's immune system over a period of months. Be patient, and be persistent! The rewards are great - no allergy drugs or steroids, just a dog with a healthy immune system. And, if you do decide to consult a holistic vet, remember, you will play an important role. They will rely on you to tell them everything about your dog's health and personality.

KV Vet Catalog 1-800-423-8211
Wysong Dog Foods 1-800-748-0188
Natura Pet Products, Inc. 1-800-532-7261
Solid Gold Dog Food 1800 364 4863  for Wellness Foods

Copyright 2001- 2008, Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, Inc.