Itchy dogs have been top of the list of health problems for as long as we've been helping pets - and that's 38 years now.
Once fleas, ticks, lice and mites have been completely ruled out (not always as easy as it sounds), a sensitivity to various substances (allergens) in food and / or the environment is the next commonest cause.
And there are two reasons why this condition is so challenging to treat.
- The immune system in affected pets is genetically programmed to launch an inflammatory reaction whenever the allergens concerned appear. And these can be anything at all - meat proteins, fruits, vegetables, pollen, house dust, house dust mites, yeast, chemicals in the home or diet, and many more.
- Many of the allergens which trigger skin and bowel problems are difficult, if not impossible, to avoid completely, and so constantly trigger inflammation in the body. The exception to this is if a pet is only sensitive to a small number of certain foods, which if eliminated from the diet, results in a significant improvement in health. If someone with a sensitivity to peanuts for example, ensures their diet is nut free, the health problems associated with this allergy don't arise. Identifying which foods are safe for a particular pet to eat however, from those which trigger skin and bowel problems, is not always easy.
Given that an overreactive immune system is the underlying cause of recurrent itching in many dogs, there are only two ways to help such pets.
Conventional veterinary treatment largely relies on the use of drugs like Apoquel and steroids to suppress the immune system and any inflammation. Although this often (not always) provides relief, as we have seen, it also carries the risk of significant and potentially serious side-effects if continued long term.
Another problem, is that once drugs like these are used, attempting to withdraw them often results in an even more severe inflammation than before, as the body's pent up reaction is released (like steam escaping from the valve on a pressure cooker). And this is why it's so hard to wean pets off Apoquel, steroids and other similar pharmaceuticals.
An alternative approach, is to avoid known allergens, while at the same time working to support the development of a more balanced and less reactive immune system over time. This is no mean feat, as it involves changing the way the body is programmed to behave towards substances which trigger reactions. With the right combination of dietary changes, natural supplements and remedies however, plus perseverance, in our experience it is possible to stabilise the immune system in around 70% of pets, to the point that medication can be markedly reduced, replaced with kinder drugs or even withdrawn altogether.
Help with this to follow...