Thousands of dogs scratch incessantly, chew their paws and engage in other destructive behaviors in order to attempt to ease skin discomfort caused by allergies. Conventional wisdom tells us to offer our furry friends antihistamines, medicated shampoos and steroids to ease their discomfort.
However, approaching this issue from the outside doesn't do as much good as we would like. We treat the symptoms and never address the root of the problem.
Cause and Effect
Itchy skin is symptomatic of the body's attempt to rid itself of disease and toxins. Our bodies and the bodies of our dogs attempt to 'store' disease or illness in the organs which aren't essential for life functions - and the skin is an ideal place for symptoms to fester, because the condition of the skin can deteriorate and become seriously damaged without too much danger to the major life support systems. Skin is the largest eliminative organ, and as such our dog's bodies attempt to utilize this organ to expunge most of the toxins our pets are exposed to.
And consider that our pets live on our floors, which are cleaned using dangerous chemicals (many of which have warning labels about skin exposure on the container!) and on our carpets many of which are made using chemicals, plastics and emit toxins. Many of our pets are fed processed diets and exposed to routine application of chemical pesticides. Our dogs are at snout level with the fumes emitted by cars, so urban dogs are constantly being directly exposed to car emissions. To top it all off, our dogs have become generationally more susceptible to allergens and toxins because we have exposed them to these toxins consistently through their lineage! No wonder itchy dogs are so prevalent!
tangential note about multi-generational toxic exposure: Some pets are born with
sensitivities because of how their parents and parent's parents were raised. For
those pets, normal may never be perfect - but there is much to be done to reduce
the symptoms for these pets. For animals in this situation, it is vital to
reduce their overall toxic load.
It is important to understand that almost ALL skin issues are external manifestations of internal chronic disease (barring insect stings, contact with poisons, etc).
I'd also like to propose shifting the way most of us conceive of allergies.
Allergies are NOT caused by an allergen, rather, when the immune system has become over reactive for one reason or another (see above!) and then is exposed to a substance, the otherwise harmless substance can cause the immune systems to react (or overreact) as if invaded by a toxin. You might have heard someone say they 'used' to be allergic to pollen/ nuts/ cats, etc. The body is capable of re-balancing itself when properly supported and the immune system can stop being hyper-reactive to a former allergen! It is sometimes possible to reverse the progression of the immune system's reaction to a substance, or at least, strengthen the immune system to minimize the affect that substance has on a pet's system.
Vaccines, poor diet, emotional stress and exposure to chemicals, poor air and other toxins are the major stimulus for causing the immune system to become overactive (especially vaccines!). Emotional stress also should not be overlooked and ensuring that your dog has clean water, plenty of exercise, love and affection can be very helpful.
How to reverse or halt the progression of itchiness?
Diet is the foundation of health - but this is so much more crucial for dogs with skin symptoms.
Many of us feed out pets whatever is convenient and packaged and so long as they eat it, we continue to feed it. Unfortunately, the majority of dog foods contain grains, potatoes, corn and meat byproducts...(See the article Kibble Kills for a more in depth look at what packaged pet foods contain)...and our dogs are scavenger carnivores! So, while a scavenger will eat this so called 'food,' this is not the path to optimum health. Their systems are simply not designed to handle the digestion of grains, fruits and vegetables. A dog's digestive tract is primed to digest a raw meaty bone and offal based diet - and feeding against their nature destabilizes their sugar levels, instigating chronic inflammation, the over-production of internal yeast and other subtle processes not immediately visible to the pet's guardian. Over time, the destabilized sugar levels can cause a chronic systemic yeast infection, destabilizing and suppressing the immune system.
Unless a dog goes on a raw, unprocessed diet, carnivore specific diet - he will never be able to be fully relieved of his itching. A grain free diet may be able to provide some relief or slow down the progression of whatever imbalance exists, but sadly, feeding a dog with a sensitized immune system products other then that which he was designed to eat will not allow the system to re-balance itself.
There are some mild remedies that may sooth the dog as he transitions from a processed diet to a natural one. I recommend a consult with a veterinary naturopath to help determine some essential oils to use along with cool water rinses. Consulting with a traditional homeopath might help aid in finding some remedies to quell the itching...but skin itching is really only going to be healed through a raw diet, limiting toxic exposure in the household and the stopping of all use of cortisone and other symptom suppressants which merely serve to drive the illness deeper into the animal's system.
Resources: Veterinary Naturopaths