Natural Antidotes to Spring Allergies
As the weather warms, so does the chance of a family dog, cat or other pet suffering from springtime allergies. While we can’t always prevent them, we can use several natural therapies to lessen a pet’s allergy discomfort and help them heal.
Simply stated, an allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a foreign protein (allergen). More pets suffer more from environmental allergies from sources as various as molds, house dust mites and pollen than from food allergies. Certain breeds of dogs tend to more susceptible to the problem, including retrievers, spaniels and terriers; West Highland white terriers are the number one breed for susceptibility to allergic skin disease.
While some animals sneeze and have runny eyes and noses, the classic symptom seen in an allergic pet is itching. Excessive grooming, licking, rubbing and scratching are all signs that an animal is probably suffering from environmental allergies. Because other diseases can have similar symptoms, it’s always best if a trusted holistic veterinarian is called on to properly diagnose a condition before beginning a treatment plan.
Conventional doctors have traditionally used several medications to help allergic pets. The most common medication by far is some type of corticosteroid, usually prednisone, a powerful drug that can quickly relieve itching. While it can be used safely as part of a natural therapy program, too often pets are treated with steroids for many months or even years, without benefit; possible side effects of any use of steroids include diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and adrenal and liver disease.
Antihistamines are another conventional medication to treat allergies. Unlike corticosteroids, long-term use is usually safe. The two big drawbacks to antihistamines are that they are not very effective in most pets and, when they are effective, they must be administered several times a day in order to reduce itching.
A better approach to helping pets heal from allergies involves the use of natural therapies, including nutritional supplements, herbs and homeopathic remedies. Each veterinarian has his or her favorite natural therapies and application of brand-name supplements. There are a few supplements that generally can be useful in countering pet allergies.
Fatty acids (specifically the omega-3s found in fish oil) actually change the biological nature of the body’s cells to allow long-term healing; they also have natural corticosteroid-like benefits. Note that these must be given at many times the labeled dose marked on most product labels in order to be effective as anti-itching supplements. Antioxidants, which are also helpful in relieving itching for allergic pets, counteract the chemicals released by cells damaged through exposure to allergens.
In my opinion, the most important aid for pets that suffer from allergies or any skin disease is to bathe them frequently with an organic shampoo. Those specifically designed to relieve itching when used on a frequent basis work well without harming the pet’s skin. I encourage owners to bathe their pets every 24 to 72 hours, depending on the severity of the itching.
Feeding a pet a natural diet that is free of potentially harmful chemicals, preservatives, flavoring agents and plant and animal byproducts is always recommended. Reducing the impact of unnecessary vaccinations by using annual blood antibody titer testing to monitor exposure to environmental allergens will also decrease cell damage and reduce itching in allergic pets. I try to avoid vaccinating pets aged 12 years and older.
Providing relief for pets with allergies using natural therapies does not always happen overnight, but with patience and the help of a holistic veterinarian, we can both improve a pet’s health and reduce its allergic symptoms without the need for chronic medication.
Shawn Messonier, a doctor of veterinary medicine practicing in Plano, TX, is the award-winning author of The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats; his latest book is Unexpected Miracles: Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets. He also hosts a weekly radio show on Sirius. His iPhone app is http://PawsForPeace.com/iphone. For more information, visit PetCareNaturally.com or DrShawnsOrganics.com.