Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tonya's Visit with Dr. Ruth Dalto

Last Friday, Tonya (my 6.5 yr old Black Lab) and I met with Dr. Ruth Dalto at her Yarmouth office for help with Tonya's allergy issues. Dr. Dalto is a holistic vet who offers some alternative approaches to canine health such as chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and energy work. With Tonya's long history of itchy skin, rashes, hot spots, ear infections and other allergy-induced ailments, I felt it was time to try something other than traditional veterinary medicine.
In 2007, we spent several hundred dollars to have Tonya screened for food and environmental allergies. It had been quite a while since I'd reviewed the test results. I thought I'd put Tonya on a food that was "safe" for her. Just before leaving for our appointment, I printed out the ingredients list from her current food from the maker's website. When reviewing that list later with Dr. Ruth, I was horrified to see that peas were in her food. She is highly allergic to peas. Did you know that food manufacturers often add new ingredients and subtract others at their own discretion? Sometimes, it can take months before those changes even show up on the label. I suspect this is what happened with Tonya's food. When I first chose it, peas weren't on the ingredients list. Lesson #1: review your dog's food label often for any changes, and check the maker's website for any recipe changes that may be listed there. Sigh.
Dr. Ruth made another comment that really struck me. I've had Tonya on an ocean fish-based food because she's not allergic to fish. Dr. Ruth said, "We don't know that she's not allergic to fish. They didn't test for fish." Oh my! This seemed too simple to be true, but it was. Often, vets suggest diets with fish as the protein source and potato as the starch for dogs who are allergy prone. But....the most common allergy screening panel doesn't even test for fish allergies. Duh. Seems like a no brainer. Lesson #2: feed your allergic dog ONLY those items that she's tested NEGATIVE to on the screening. In Tonya's case, she tested negative to three protein sources - pork, venison and lamb. Beef, chicken, turkey, duck are all proteins that she IS allergic to, so those are out. Also out are any products that may contain some derivative of those proteins, such as bone meal (a major calcium source for dogs on raw or homemade diets), and marrow bones and rawhides for gnawing.
So, based on our discussion, my dry, bagged food choices for Tonya were extremely limited. In fact, I only found one or two that I could buy locally that are free of anything she's allergic to (all of those proteins, plus rice and wheat and peas and soy and a few other things). She is now on Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet, Venison & Sweet Potato Formula. There is a dry kibble and a wet canned food. For gnawing and chewing, she can have pig's ears (gross...) and a dried sweet potato chew carried at most local pet suppliers.
Had I not found this bagged and canned diet for Tonya, I would've pursued home-cooked or a raw diet for Tonya, mixing raw ground pork, lamb and/or venison (with bones) with vegetables (carrots, kale, etc) in juiced form (so her digestive system could make use of the nutrients), a calcium source (other than bone meal), an oil with Omega-3's, etc. If the dry/canned diet doesn't "work" for Tonya, I plan to go in this other, more expensive, time-consuming method. Of course, she's totally worth it.
In reviewing the allergy test results, we also noted that she's allergic to three grasses and three major trees. These allergies are affecting her currently, as all of these trees and grasses are coming into season. Dr. Dalto added a Chinese herbal formula, in pill form, in hopes of giving Tonya some relief of her incessant itching. We've noted some small improvement after several days. Two weeks' worth of pills cost about $25.00.
We dealt with Tonya's allergy issues first, and spent a lot of time figuring out what more I could do to improve her health and well-being via food and supplements. Then, we spent a whole lot of time on Tonya's emotional issues. Emotional issues? Huh? In actuality, I have always known Tonya is a fearful dog. She is not the typical exuberant Lab who runs up to every human with love and drool to share. She lowers her head and stands still when meeting people. She'd prefer not to be acknowledged or attended to by strangers. In fact, her "fear issues" along with her allergies caused her to be dismissed from the service dog program she was in as a pup. Fearful, hesitant dogs don't make great service animals, understandably.
Dr. Ruth is somewhat of an animal intuitive and she does a lot of hands-on energy work with patients. Our first session found the two of us seated on the floor beside Tonya, each with a hand on Tonya. Dr. Ruth ran through a battery of questions concerning all aspects of Tonya's health, including mental, spiritual, emotional and physical issues. I was told to share any "messages" Tonya might send to me energetically. At first, I was hesitant but within just a few moments, I kept getting messages I couldn't ignore. As we went along, I felt freer and more confident in sharing what Tonya seemed to be "saying" to me. One strong message was that Casco, our older Lab, doesn't like her. Another was that she missed her Mom. Later, though I really didn't want to "hear" it, it seemed that Tonya was "telling me" that she wanted a little boy dog/friend. Good grief!
Trust me, I'm a grounded person. But, I'm also a spiritual being and am open to alternative forms of "knowing." I did not expect this revelatory spiritual energy healing session, but here we were. And Tonya was hurting in many ways, apparently. Dr. Ruth goes through a process of removing those negative thoughts/emotions/energies at the end of the session. Wow.
At a minimum, this energy healing part of our session really put me in touch with who my dog is, on an emotional, personality level. I have been much more sensitive to her needs this past week and to attending to her signals that I had been overlooking or even ignoring on a daily basis. We will return to Dr. Ruth in about 10 days for a follow up to see how Tonya is doing. More on that later....

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dealing with The Allergic Dog

One of my Labs can eat anything, roll in anything, swim in anything and no bad things happen. No itching, no barfing, no runny eyes, no ear goop. My OTHER Lab however.... This blog is about THAT Lab.
Her name is Tonya and she's a 7-y-o Black Lab with a sweet disposition. She's one of those Labs who, if no one was around and the opportunity presented itself, would happily eat an entire 30-lb bag of dog food, or a half-dozen donuts, or a whole pan of brownies. She simply LOVES food. Unfortunately, food does NOT love Miss Tonya. Her food allergies are multiple and strange. Because she had a puppyhood filled with ear infections, hot spots, paw licking, fur scratching and Prednisone, we took the plunge years ago and had her allergy-tested, to the tune of about $400.00. You'd think life since then would have been somewhat simpler: avoid the foods she's allergic to and all will be well. Not so.
In addition to her food allergies, Tonya also has some allergies to environmental stuff like grasses, flowers, trees, etc. We'll get to that later. Her list of food allergies is curious and surprising. For instance, she's allergic to turkey and duck, but not chicken. She can't have most grains. She must avoid peas. Peas?! We must check and re-check the ingredients list when we give her ANYTHING at all to eat. Food companies are always being bought and sold and their recipes evolve and change over time, without the consumer being notified. One day, no peas. The next day, peas in the same food!
And then there are treats. Everywhere you go these days, well-meaning folks want to give your dog a biscuit or treat. At the bank, pet supply store, hardware store and the vet's office (mine offers Milkbones, of ALL things!), Tonya is offered a treat. The look on people's faces when I lunge for their hand as they reach for Tonya's mouth with a biscuit in their clutch is sometimes horrifying. They look at me like I'm a psycho-dog-mother. In a way, I am. That biscuit could keep my dog up all night itching or set off an ear infection that will require a vet visit and antibiotics. And...Tonya will eat ANYTHING. This does not make my job any easier.
This spring, Tonya has been really, REALLY itchy -- to the point where she's itched her fur off in several locations. Her eyes are runny and swollen. She's got scabs all over her body where she's drawn blood from her itching. The vet put her on a prescription anti-histamine. We were advised that sometimes, after being on a certain food for a while, a dog with allergies can develop new allergies to their current food. We were reminded that raw beef bones are bad, as is rawhide, for a dog with allergies. So...what's she supposed to chew on, a frozen carrot? Poor baby!
If your dog is showing signs of food allergies and you're not yet at the point where you're ready to invest in allergy testing, the smart thing to do would be to eliminate the most common allergens, starting your dog on a food that has NONE of them. Chicken and beef (due in large part due to the hormones and antibiotics in cheap meat), corn, wheat, soy and dairy are often the foods dogs are allergic to. Lesser-bought protein sources like fish, venison, buffalo, etc. are generally "safer" proteins for allergic dogs. Removing ALL grains from the diet is also advisable. Treats, bones, rawhides and other chews should also be removed from the diet. Ingredients in some supplements and vitamin tablets can also set off an allergic dog. Once your dog's allergic reactions have subsided, you can always test an item by reintroducing it to see whether your dog has issues with it. Keeping a food diary is also a good idea. This way, you'll have a record of food brands, treats and whole foods that your dog has had bad reactions to and what those reactions were.
As I mentioned, Tonya also has some allergies to plants, grasses, etc. So, the vet suggested that it might not be food at all that is bothering her currently. It could be spring allergies. That made a lot of sense to us, as she'd been pretty comfortable through the winter on her grain-free, salmon-based food. Of course, Tonya likes nothing better than to rub her itchy face and body in the fresh grass. She literally grinds and drags her chin and cheeks through it any chance she gets. Dogs with allergies shouldn't be bathed often, as this strips their skin of essential oils which are actually helpful. We were advised to take her to the ocean for a swim weekly and to rinse her with the hose or let her air dry. The salt water helps her skin lesions and scabs to heal and is soothes the itch a bit. We also brush her daily with a few different brushes to keep her skin cells shedding and rejuvinating and her tendency to scratch her fur off to a minimum. This seems to help a bit.
Tonya has been uncomfortable and itchy for several weeks now, and has been on a daily regimen of both OTC and prescription antihistamines which provide only slight relief. On the up-side, she's lost 8 pounds this year and looks healthy and fit, other than having a patchy looking coat. If you have a dog with allergies, know that the path is crooked, uphill and strewn with boulders, but help IS available in many forms. For us, next steps include considering home-cooked meals and seeking the advice of a holistic vet.