Skin issues, my dog is itching and/or has a rash, my vet suggests food allergy….
First, I am going to be honest, your dog is probably not allergic to food, actual symptom resulting food allergies are estimated at about 1 percent in all dogs, and in this mix of breeds it is lower than the average. Food allergy is a catch-all for, we don’t know but let’s guess and start here. Itchy skin, chewing feet, and/or a spot rash can be many things and most likely not an actual allergy to food.
What is it?
The culprit is often one or a combination of a bad diet, environmental factors, stress, medical treatments, or heredity. I will go through each of these and my suggestion is to cover all of them and then after a month reassess the condition. Please, IF the dog get worst during the month or does not get better, please go back to your vet.
Bad Diet (2 things)
I am not in any way suggesting food allergies (actually sensitivities). I am telling you if you feed your human child potato chips and ice cream for a year they will not be healthy and it will show in their behavior as well as physically. This does not mean they are allergic to these things, it means if crap goes in, crap results, and fighting off other crap is difficult. So, unless you want to feed a raw food diet (which is a whole different article) the first thing to do is switch to a grain free, quality protein food. Low quality protein requires the kidneys to remove more wastes. which makes the kidneys work harder. Egg and actual meat contain higher quality protein; cereal grain protein is a low quality protein. Protein is used by the body to repair cells and tissues that are continually regenerating. By feeding a low quantity, but high quality protein diet that contains an appropriate amount of fats and carbs, the pet’s body can use the protein for replacing the cells and tissues and use the fat and carbohydrates for energy. Dogs should rarely eat grain and this includes treats, however just feeding them meat is not good either, it is a balance. Dogs need a full balance of nutritional based protein, vitamins and minerals. We feed Wellness Core Grain Free Chicken or Salmon and grain free treats, I would consult the Whole Dog Journal for a good choice. We also feed freeze dried raw, specifically Stella and Chewy’s Freeze Dried Chicken and Turkey. If you are already feeding grain free and think your dogs has sensitivities to chicken or beef, I suggest you switch to a fish based variety, not because I am suggesting they are sensitive to chicken, because fish oil will aid in healthy skin. Yes, good food is a more expensive food, but I will tell you over their life time, a good food is the cheapest life. Vets costs are high, and can be overwhelming, feeding a poor or fair food is the best way to increase your vet costs over the life time of your dog. This is one place not to cut costs. Second, I would add coconut oil daily. This is purchased as a solid oil (human grade) at the grocery. Feed them daily a small amount, just a quarter teaspoon a day then over the month gradually increase to at the MOST a teaspoon per 10 lbs. of dog. Do NOT over feed coconut oil, just this amount is optimal, too much can cause digestion problems. This is a natural antibacterial agent. They will like it and eat it like a treat. I just have a small spoon next to the oil and scoop out what I need daily.
Dogs get contact dermatitis just like humans and I must say this is a common issue. This could be from anything including the laundry detergent you use to clean their bed, floor cleaners, weed spray, and even some dog shampoo (or using human shampoo for your dog). You need to look at all you use and convert to allergy friendly items. I find Tide brand detergent is an issue, and harsh cleaners, most have allergy friendly alternatives. In addition, other environmental issues like fleas, yeast, dust mites, pollens, and molds can all lead to skin reactions. For fleas, a topical flea medication is fine monthly (Revolution, Activyl, the new frontline formula among others), NEVER use an internal flea or tick medication (this is a pill or chew for fleas and/or ticks). I will go over this in the medication section as well. However, if you are using anything like Triflexis, Comfortis, Nexgard, Bravecto, Combogard, STOP immediately. Check to see if anyone has sprayed the yard for weeds or treated anything the dog has come into contact. Any of these items could be factors. Most often I see dogs with a small local skin rash and once switched to the vet prescribed food get better, my guess is whatever they touched is gone, so this is why the rash is gone, not because of accommodating a food allergy.
Believe it or not you don’t bite your nails because you are allergic to food. You probably bite your nails because you are stressed, anxious or just plain bored. If you dog is chewing their feet or found a spot they just won’t leave alone they might just be bored. Get them some items to play with, really play with, when you are gone. Chew toys and puzzles are good choices. On the flip side are you stressed? Because, your dog will follow your lead and if you are stressed and anxious they pick that up and symptoms result. Relax. Make sure you are the leader. Having to be in control is stressful for a dog, very stressful. They need to know you are the pack leader and they just need to relax and follow your lead. There is doggie relaxation music available. We suggest, relaxmydog.com but there are others.
Look back on what you have given your dog lately. Any medication or vaccine can be an issue. Some dogs need to take Benadryl before vaccines due to allergies to the binding agents in these treatments. Never over vaccinate your dog, use titer testing instead. I have done titers testing on my dogs and I have to say never had to give more than one rabies vaccine to each. After 15 years the first dog I started doing titers on still shows 100% coverage for rabies. NEVER use an internal pesticide (pill or chew for fleas and/or ticks). These include but are not limited to Triflexis, Nexgard, Bravecto, Comfortis, Combogard and many more names. Also avoid Seresto collars (prone to cause seizures). They are in general a pesticide in pill form you give your dog monthly to stop fleas or ticks. I am sorry to say, in my opinion, this will kill your dog. Australian Labradoodles (among other breeds) are highly sensitive to these toxins. In this breed these will cause, in my opinion, vomiting, lethargy, canine renal failure, oral melanoma, canine heart failure, canine liver failure, canine acute kidney disease, canine elevated ALT liver enzymes, canine chronic kidney disease and other various issues and cancers. It may be a day, month or years but this will cause skin irritations, skin tumors, and destroy their kidneys, liver, and heart. Please if you ignore all else I suggest, stop using these immediately. Something for heartworms is fine, for example Heartguard or Interceptor or Revolution in the summer. As for fleas and ticks, if needed, I suggest only Revolution monthly in the summer (you don’t need heartworm medications while using Revolution) and then just heartworm (Heartguard or Interceptor) medications in the winter, if in southern areas where heartworm is a concern). Revolution is topical and is put on the back of their neck during flea and tick season. This is a safe, effective and less costly protocol.
I would never breed a dog with persistent skin issues or known problems. Some breeds are prone to various skin issues. I would talk to your breeder or study the breed to see if there is some common factor that may be the cause and suggested holistic treatments. In general, if the breeder follows careful screening in selecting the parents of your dog this is not an issue.
If after going down this check list considering diet, environmental factors, stress, medical treatments, and heredity after a month you still see the issue go back to your vet. I am telling you 99 times out of 100 this will cover the problem. IF you need to go back at your vet, ask for a full senior blood screening, including thyroid. This is the cheapest full panel (typically for senior dogs but really who cares) and should identify an issue. IF you do decide to do allergy testing please note that the cheaper tests are not at all reliable. Go for the gold standard or don’t waste your money.
Please note, I am not a vet. I am a dog owner and Australian Labradoodle breeder (17 years) and a professor of architecture. I added the professor part only to note that I am someone who studies and does research (on everything). Please research for yourself.
A reliable canine allergy/ sensitivity test to date is NutriScan.org. If you would like to try natural alternatives I find this helpful https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/10-steps-to-manage-dog-skin-conditions/?mpweb=1153-585-105555