Allergy Season is Upon Us … Again

By Teresa Garden, DVM


Yes, it’s that wonderful time of the year again when  birds are chirping,  flowers and trees are in full bloom, and people and pets are miserable with symptoms of allergies.  It is the first time ever that all of our staff at Animal Health & Healing were sick with allergies for several weeks. Of course, many of our clients and patients are suffering too.  Most of us are only too familiar with the allergy symptoms that afflict people. What about our furry family members?  Dogs and cats will often itch and scratch, have rashes or lesions on their skin, lick their feet, have red ears, flanks, and armpits.    Any or all of these symptoms are consistent with allergies.  The allergens may be from food, outdoor environment (trees, weeds, grasses) or indoor environment (molds, house dust mites, insects, cat and human skin dander, smoke).  Treating pets with allergies can be frustrating and challenging for both pet owner and veterinarian.  Goals of treatment are to relieve itching, manage secondary bacterial and yeast infections, and remove offending allergens if possible.  From a holistic viewpoint, we want to achieve optimal health in order to better balance the immune system.



Our first goal at Animal Health & Healing is to improve the pet’s diet.  When the quality of the diet improves, the health of the pet will follow.  Why or how does this happen?  Higher quality diets usually contain a reduction in the number of food allergens.  A good natural diet may have only 1-2 meat, dairy, or grain ingredients as opposed to lower quality commercial diets.  Typical commercial foods will have “meat by-products”, “poultry by-products”, and multiple grains.  The grains may be of low quality such as brewers’ rice instead of whole ground rice or oat groats instead of whole oats. Higher quality natural diets are of fixed formulation, whereas lower quality diets may contain ever-changing ingredients.  Lower quality commercial foods may contain artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives-all of which can act as allergens.  Natural diets will not contain artificial ingredients.  Higher quality natural diets are more digestible and bio-available which in turn will support the immune system and provide for better skin health.  Many excellent natural and raw diets can be found at small local pet stores in the St. Louis region.  Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s book, Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, is a wonderful resource for homemade diets.

The following are simple guidelines to upgrade your pet’s diet based on what your pet is currently eating: if on commercial food, switch slowly to a natural or homemade diet; if on a natural diet, switch to a grain-free natural diet; if on grain-free, switch to a limited grain-free diet; and lastly (and often the best) upgrade to a raw diet.

Several nutritional supplements can be beneficial in the fight against allergies. One of the best is Omega-3 fatty acids.  DHA and EPA are the essential fatty acids that can decrease immune-mediated inflammation throughout the body and decrease itching as well.  Grizzly’s Salmon Oil is a liquid formulation that most dogs and cats enjoy taking.  Fish oil gel caps are readily available at reputable health food stores. The dose of gel caps are: 500mg (DHA and EPA combined)  for  small dogs or cats daily, 1000mg for medium dogs daily, 2000mg for large dogs, and 3000mg for giant breeds daily.  Adding Vitamin C (in the form of sodium ascorbate powder) to your pets diet can help lower blood histamine levels and will act as a powerful anti-oxidant to combat chronic diseases such as allergies.


A dose of Vitamin C to try is 5-10 mg per pound of body weight 3 times daily with food.  Digestive enzymes (amylase, lipase, cellulase,  and protease) can enhance digestibility of food and increase absorption of nutrients to help immune systems. These supplements are available in powdered formulas from your veterinarian and health food stores. Prozyme Powder and Viokase are a couple of very good sources.  Digestive enzymes have been clinically proven to be effective in treating people with Leaky Gut Syndrome that is often associated with allergies.  The same mechanism of action is thought to be similar for our pets.  Probiotics are also recommended for allergy patients.  These are beneficial bacteria that can help to re-establish normal gut flora and balance the immune system.  Kefir, found at local health food stores, is a good source of probiotics and most dogs and cats enjoy its taste. Give 1 tsp twice daily for cats and small dogs and 1 TB twice daily for medium and large dogs.

Allergy testing is available through your veterinarian in the form of intradermal skin testing or a blood test.  VARL (Veterinary Allergy Reference Laboratory) is the blood test we use at Animal Health & Healing to check for food and environmental allergies. Recent research conducted by veterinary dermatologists have confirmed this blood test is just as accurate as  intradermal skin testing. It certainly is easier on the pet.  The data gleaned from these tests can alert us to which foods to avoid and may help us to reduce or eliminate allergens in the pet’s environment.  Once outdoor and indoor allergens have been identified, then hyposensitization injections may be considered as a viable treatment option.  Physically avoiding grasses and weeds that are known allergens is to be commended and washing your pets feet with water after being outside can help lower the allergen load.  Frequent vacuuming, instilling air purifiers, and getting rid of carpet can lower indoor allergens such as house dust mites,  molds, and dander.

Conventional western medicine will reach for steroids to relieve the intense itching associated with allergies. Immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisone and cyclosporine can have adverse effects such as increased drinking,  urination, and appetite, obesity,  and increased liver enzymes.  At Animal Health & Healing we try to avoid using these drugs (if at all possible) due to their adverse effects on the health of our patients.   Over the counter antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheneramine are safe, inexpensive, and may  help reduce itching.  An appropriate and effective dose of  Benadryl is  1-2 mg per pound of body weight  given 2-3 times daily.  Chlorpheneramine is given twice daily at a dose of 2mg for small dogs, 4mg for medium dogs and 8mg for large dogs.  Herbs in the form of oral tinctures or topical rinses and shampoos are sometimes employed to decrease pruritus.

Lastly, but very importantly, over-vaccination should be avoided in allergy patients.  Vaccines can sometimes cause underlying diseases, such as allergies, to flare up or worsen.  I encourage yearly antibody titer testing dogs for distemper and parvo viruses instead of giving the actual vaccines.  Research has shown the vaccines  last for many years in the body at protective levels.  A 3 year rabies vaccine will be easier on the pet’s immune system over the course of the pet’s life rather than receiving the  vaccine annually.  At Animal Health & Healing we give pets a homeopathic remedy when we administer a vaccine in order to prevent vaccinosis or adverse reactions to vaccines.  This can be helpful in avoiding flare ups in our allergy patients.


Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewod/Richmond Heights area.  AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.