My journey with natural alternatives for my pets began as many do, with an itchy, irritable dog. Astro is a Great Pyrenees cross and has one of the main “bad” qualities of the breed: she can be very stubborn. When she was young she would scratch her muzzle until she left scars. At the vet, they recommended a corticosteroid drug and an antibiotic. The corticosteroid was to suppress the reaction of the immune system, including the inflammation and itching. After these treatments, she started to get a build-up of dark gunk in her ears as well as a strong smell. This required weekly cleaning to keep it under control.
When nothing improved we also tried changing the type of animal protein she was eating. She no longer eats poultry of any sort as it seemed to make her itching worse. We settled on a salmon-based food. Astro’s ears improved but she was still itching like crazy. Our vet told us that this was likely a seasonal allergy though she experienced it year-round. We would just have to keep her on these medications to manage her symptoms.
Astro’s health started to deteriorate on this protocol. My usually adventurous and loving dog was lethargic and grumpy. Her coat was dull and her skin was still so dry and itchy. The vet had her on this regimen for 3 years without seeing any improvement. My mom had been talking to a coworker who breeds standard schnauzers. They had faced similar issues with their own dogs and had learned that they stopped itching on a blend of raw meats. We started buying our two dogs a raw meat blend from the same butcher. Astro’s itching improved immediately. She even had more energy and was actually finishing her meals. Her ears did not improve. I struggled to keep them clean and I could tell that they bothered her still. The skin on the inside of her ear flap was dark and scaly and she shook her head often.
At this time I started learning about proper nutrition and holistic health. This is the idea that every body is different and should be treated as a whole rather than as common symptoms. After observing Astro I began to see the signs of intestinal permeability or leaky gut. The vet had already explained that she had some moderate food allergies and this is why switching her to the salmon diet had been somewhat effective. Could these food intolerances have led to holes opening up in her gut, allowing food particles to pass into the body before they were fully digested? I was doing a lot of gut rebuilding of my own with herbs, supportive nutrients, and probiotics and seeing the drastic improvement in my own body. I purchased some herbs to heal the lining of the intestines and to repopulate her good gut bacteria after years of antibiotic use. I was surprised that my big stubborn dog who would pick out her medication from her food was scarfing her food down with the herbs on top. After a while I didn’t even have to mix it in, she would just eat it all off the top of her meal before even touching the meat. The first improvement was in her ears. First, the gunk stopped being such a problem. We were cleaning less often and I noticed that she had stopped shaking her head. Over the course of several months, I kept her on this blend of herbs, nutrients, and probiotics and she continued to improve. Her ears are pink and clean, she doesn’t itch or shake her head anymore.
It took adding a clean source of omega-3s to hydrate and brighten her coat. She still has a black scar across the white of her muzzle but she’s a happy and adventurous dog again. We get snuggles in the morning and when we get home from work where she used to hide away. She’s going on 10 years old now and she’s starting to get more white around her face. Every time she goes to the vet they marvel at how healthy she is for a dog her age and size. We now focus on the usual health issues that old dogs face, like arthritis and mobility instead of her uncontrollable itching.
With the help of herbs and nutrients, we have given Astro a long, happy and healthy life. This is why I continue to learn about the natural options available for my pets. No vet was able to make a recommendation for something that actually helped Astro when she was suffering. The products they gave us actually made her issues worse. Conventional veterinary medicine was able to help my other dog but I don’t believe that this is the only approach that vets should be looking into. Natural health is all but condemned in the veterinary world when it could be used supportively. All that pet owners can do now is to do their own research and learn as much as possible regarding holistic pet health. I found a vet that is more comfortable recommending natural alternatives that he knows will work on the root cause of a symptom rather than just the symptom itself. This vet has a much more open and honest conversation about treatment options. I still make sure to think critically about what he is telling me to ensure that I’m giving my dogs the best possible option for their health. Afterall, the standard 8 years just wasn’t enough time to spend with these lovely big dogs of mine.