Allergies: Raven’s Story

Raven came into my life after my singleton puppy, Bran, was born back in 1999. She was bred by my friend Allyn Babitch of Sindar Scottish Deerhounds, who had bred my beloved Lillie. Raven actually shares some of Lillie’s traits, being a true “Princess of the Sindar Barn.” After Lillie went to the Bridge at age 12, Raven promptly moved onto my bed, informing me that all bed dogs in our home had to be Sindar barn princesses. It was common knowledge, she said. Who was I to argue?

Unlike Lillie, Raven has had a lifetime of chronic health problems, due to the worst case of allergies I’ve ever seen. By 17 weeks, when she came to live with me, she already had yeast infections in both her ears. I was philosophical, figuring that a few weeks on a wholesome natural diet and all would be well. It didn’t work out that way.

Despite all the supplements, clean, raw food, and care I gave her… all the herbal ear wash and skilled classical homeopathy and love and pain and worry…. she got worse and worse and worse. She had rampant secondary staph all over her body, huge overgrowths of yeast, and her ears were hairless, ripped, bleeding, raw, red, and painful. Her quality of life was zilch, she had no energy, and she was depressed. One night I watched her running around the house, shaking her head violently, spraying blood from her tattered ears all over the walls.

I cried myself to sleep and the next day I put her on steroids, antibiotics, and anti-fungal medication. I put her totally into the hands of the allopaths. And guess what? IT DIDN’T WORK EITHER! I was stunned. She was still depressed, still had no energy, her staph and yeast got WORSE, and while her most distressing and painful symptoms got better, overall the poor little thing was suffering terribly. My mother began to suggest I put her to sleep if we couldn’t do any better than this.

I had moved away from where I used to live, but at that point I drove the two hours and took her back to my old Chinese medical vet, Cheryl Schwartz, who was still practicing a few days a month in San Francisco. Cheryl, a truly gifted healer and author of Four Paws, Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs, finally got Raven some relief with an allergy elimination diet based on principles of Traditional Chinese medical food prescribing. She put her on a 90-day diet of nothing but cooked salmon. Miraculously, Raven’s symptoms finally eased up.

Cheryl had diagnosed Raven with weak kidney jing, which in TCM is an inherited condition of very weak chi/vital force/immune strength/whatever you want to call it. She said that in cases like this, where there was great inflammation but the animal was weak, it was very hard to treat, because anything that reduced the inflammation would further weaken the animal, and anything that strengthened the animal would make the inflammation worse.

Salmon, according to TCM, is one of the few animals that is both cold and strong, the exact combination Raven needed. Furthermore, it was a novel protein, the classic allopathic elimination diet: Feed one single novel protein for a fixed period of time, then add new things back in and see what the animal can tolerate.

I know some people are skeptical of the need for allergy elimination diets, and NORMALLY I don’t find this necessary. NORMALLY, when I see an itchy animal, I find that switching them to any kind of homemade diet… cooked, raw, grains, no grains, whatever… will clear it up. For those that don’t, I haven’t really noticed that randomly cutting out various ingredients, eliminating grains or carrots or “yeast-supportive” veggies like carrots, trying commercial “novel protein” diets such as IVD, or any supplements on earth do the trick.

But the 90-day allergy elimination diet, followed by a highly controlled re-introduction of foods to test for adverse reactions, can give your dog some relief from their symptoms and enable you to put together a diet that the dog can tolerate, and THEN you can work on restoring the dog to normal health (which is much easier to do when the symptoms are under control!).

Even dogs who are allergic to things in addition to food will usually find relief from this kind of diet, perhaps because reducing the total “critical mass” of allergens enables them to deal with the things you can’t eliminate, like pollens.

We added foods back into Raven’s diet based on TCM principles: First, we added chelated calcium, but then we went to kidney beans (which in TCM nourish the kidneys), pork (which she couldn’t handle), eggs (ditto), buckwheat, a yeast-free B vitamin, a few other supplements, and then later, we added more novel proteins, including rabbit and venison.

Once Raven got back to some semblance of good quality of life, I tried homeopathy again. This time it DID work, and we were able to resolve her depression and lack of energy. It’s heartbreaking to see a young dog dragging around like a senior citizen, especially when I had two other dogs her same age who were tearing around like wild things. Now, she is just as active and full of energy as they are, her staph and yeast infections are gone, and while she still has ear symptoms, they are intermittent and never anywhere near as severe as they used to be.

Allergies are one of the most difficult and frustrating health conditions that we have to deal with in our dogs. I think it’s very important that we approach them in a systematic way, and not by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the problem. If the dog gets better, it might be something we did, or it might be simply a change in environmental conditions over which we have little or no control. By doing an allergy elimination diet, you look at each element in isolation and can form more meaningul impressions of what helps, what hurts, and what makes no difference.


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