How I Manage Dolly’s Allergies

When my husband and I adopted Dolly a year ago, one of the things noted on her adoption profile was that she had allergies and needed to be on medication to manage those them. It never stated what she was allergic to.

People have asked me “well, how do you know she has allergies?”. It was quite apparent as she had red marks on her neck (including a couple of scabs from her scratching so hard that skin would bleed), she constantly chewed and licked her paws (they were pink and raw from her chewing them), licking her belly and constantly scratching her ears as she had developed a number of ear infections.

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Dolly’s poor neck looked like this for a long time



The medication she was given was Apoquel, which is an allergy medication for dogs which relieves itching without the use of steroids. It provides onset relief within 4 hours and works up to 24 hours. The great thing about it is that I have noticed little to no side effects with Dolly on it. But, it still did not solve her skin issues.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been to the vet with Dolly in 2017. I’ve actually lost count. When we adopted her, we decided to feed her the same food as Max and Freckles which was a chicken based food. The other two did quite well on it so I figured it would be easier to have them all on the same food. Every once in a while, I would also feed them some cooked ground chicken. Her skin didn’t get better, it seemed to get worse. I honestly could not figure out why. I thought maybe it was something in the environment as she she had gone from the hot and humid climate of Thailand to the cold and dry climate of Canada.

It was so bad that at one point, she was on Apoquel, a steroid called Vanectyl-P (because her allergies were out of control and she was itch all day and all night), and had yeast in her paws and her ears, a medicated cream to put on the spot on her neck and had to have medicated baths twice a week. As you can imagine, she was not feeling so great and I felt awful. Also, this was quite a costly time between the vet visits and all of the medication.

So why was this happening? What could possibly cause so many issues for her? The answer: chicken. The vet asked me what food I was feeding her and I told them. That’s when they told me to switch her food and cut out everything with chicken in it for her.  After talking with the vet, I was told that it’s quite common to see dogs who have allergies to common-found protein sources such as chicken and beef. We were told to try her on an elimination diet and see if that was the culprit before doing a full blown allergy test (as they are quite expensive to do and by this time we had already easily spent close to $1500 trying to get her allergies under control).

So, I switched her to a fish based diet and decided to switch Max and Freckles over to it as well. We continued to feed Dolly an all fish diet for a number of months. While her allergies improved, they still were not as good as they could have been. She would still get skin flare ups and was still on Apoquel to help her manage her itchiness.

I also discovered she can’t have anything with wheat in it.  I was feeding her treats that had wheat flour in it and she would itch and lick every time afterwards. My parents, who love eating toast for breakfast, would feed her some when they would stay with us and I started to notice red spots on her neck again. Sadly, she can no longer share toast with them.

When I took her to the vet to once again get her skin checked out and a refill of her Apoquel, the vet asked me if I ever thought of feeding her a kangaroo based food. I’d never even heard of such a thing. The reason it’s recommended (that and venison) is because it’s a novel protein here in North America. Dogs who eat these type of meats do very well on them because they have no developed an intolerance or allergy to them. Kangaroo is also high in protein but low in fat.

After spending a year trying to get Dolly’s allergies under control and finding nothing that would work long term, I decided it was worth a shot. I was able to find a brand called Zignature that made a kangaroo based food. What I liked about this food is that it was highly rated by other people who’s dogs were dealing with the same issues as Dolly. I also really liked the ingredients that were in it. There’s no chicken, eggs, wheat, potatoes, grain, glutens, tapioca, corn or soy.  It’s a single protein (which is what is recommended if you have a dog with food allergies).

Side note: I retweeted an article an article a couple of weeks ago about how dogs are carnivores and need protein so vegan diets for dogs don’t make sense (unless your dog really is allergic to pretty much everything and it’s your last resort). I also mentioned that I feed Dolly kangaroo as she’s allergic to everything else and got attacked by vegans (who think I’m awful for feeding my dog meat) and by someone who thinks I’m evil for feeding kangaroo as it’s filled with parasites and I’m “killing my dog”. It was quite hilarious. 

I slowly switched Dolly over to it and I can honestly say for the first time ever, her skin is clear, she’s not constantly itching and licking and she’s lost weight. We have gradually decreased her Apoquel dosage to the point where she does’t need it. Even her fur is starting to grow back in areas where she was bald and her coat is incredibly soft and shiny. She’s the healthiest she’s ever been.

Sadly, we do believe she has seasonal allergies and is allergic to grass. Every time she walks on grass, she will lick and chew hers paws for hours so we have to wipe them down every time she comes in from being on grass. It’s not quite as severe as a friend of mine who has a dog who has Lupus and is allergic to the sun and grass. The poor guy has a rough time during the summer months.

I’ve known people who refuse to use any sort of medication as they want to go a natural route to dealing with their dogs allergies. That’s fine but, I will say that without Apoquel, Vanectyl-P, and the anti yeast medication, Dolly would have continued to itch uncontrollably and suffered. Medication is NOT a bad thing (when it’s needed). I’m fortunate to have a great vet that believes that medication helps but is not a long term solution and we have worked together to find the right solution that is best for Dolly’s health.

Let me be clear in saying this is what works for Dolly. What works for her might not work for another dog. I’m certainly in no ways an expert or capable of giving out medical advice. There’s enough judgement out there and people are smart enough to make their own decisions. When in doubt, talk to your vet.

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Our happy and healthy girl now

Do you have a dog with allergies?  What did you find that works?  Leave me a comment as I love talking with other dog owners who have gone through the same thing.