9 year old lab with allergies - food help!

citymomof3July 19, 2008

Hello to all! I am posting out of sheer desperation! My poor dog is in need of some relief. We have had Piper (yellow lab) since she was three months old and she just turned nine this month. She is the best dog ever and we just love her so much.

She was diagnosed as hypothyroid several years ago and takes levoxyl for that currently 1 pill a day. But we've been having problems with her for the last couple of years that the vet was saying was because of her thyroid. Based on the research I've done online, it seems more like an allergy.

She itches constantly and her belly has turned blackish/brown when it was once a nice pink color. She has several "hot spots" on her sides which we are treating with histacalm cream, but only gives temporary relief. She has also over the past month, developed a HUGE cyst on her left side which they tested and told us was not cancer - thank God.

My question is this - is this all allergy related?? Has anyone else gone through this with their pet?? We've just started her on 'Taste of the Wild' grain free diet and we're actually giving her benedryl for her itching. I just want to give her some relief. She acts like she wants to crawl out of her skin and the vets don't have much to offer. Is grain free the way to go??? If it is, how soon can we expect to see improvement?? Thanks in advance for any help you can give!!!!

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Not that there's necessarily a correlation here, but my sister had been in remission for HYPERthyroidism (Graves Disease) for a number of years. She got pregnant, and was out of remission during her pregnancy, so they put her on medication that was ok to take while pregnant (a different med than she'd been on years before).

Well, my poor, pregnant sister broke out in hives--she was allergic to the thyroid med. They stopped the meds, though it did take a little while before they were out of her system and she was able to get relief from the itching.

I'd ask the vet if it would be possible to try a different thyroid med, and see if it makes a difference. I know we're talking about completely different situations (species!) here, but it's just food for thought...

    Bookmark   July 19, 2008 at 10:26PM
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I'm on my third dog with some sort of allergy. One no longer with us, was allergic to corn and had all sorts of skin related allergies, two of my three are allergic to wheat.

My experience with all of this over the past 18 years is this. You could be looking at a food allergy. The best and least expensive way to find out is to put your dog on a hypo allergic food, (Venison and Potato is best I believe, others may disagree). Feed this and absolutely nothing else for at least 6 weeks, if symptoms subside, you have found your problem. This amount of time will allow old food to completely leave your dogs system.

Aside from that, since you had a cyst looked at by your vet (I assume), and have had they thyroid issue diagnosed, your current vet is in on all of this and knows what is going on.

My experience (again just mine, I'm on my 7th or 8th vet in 18 years, lost count, love the one I currently have) is that MOST vets who have a regular practice, just don't recognize allergy issues, skin or otherwise. Since you have been researching, there is a very good chance that you know more than your vet. Especially since this has been going on, and things are not fixed.

What you and your vet are currently doing, is not working.

You need to take the upper hand with all of this, and tell your vet that what is going on is not acceptable, and you want it fixed. IF new medications are going to be tried, get a date when you should start to see results, also research what vet says the problem is and medications. It is very important to never leave an open ended date. If you cannot get a date, or positive results are not taking place by a date, your vet does not know what is going on and is just stabbing around trying to find what the problem is.

I would tell your vet you want something for immediate, temporary relief, while you gradually switch foods (ask vet how this should take place). This will put you on a completely different path than the one you are currently on. In addition, figure out if you vet knows what is going on. If you determine vet does not, start looking for another one, and consider a "qualified" veterinary dermatologist.

I discovered that dogs are just not built to digest most grains, and Labs and Shepards seem to have the worst reaction to these. All of my dogs have Lab, grain was a major issue. Allergies can take many forms, from the air, ground and other environment. Flea and tick bites can also cause severe reactions.

The whole thing dealing with allergies can be very frustrating. I almost lost my old girl twice due to mis-diagnosis. She suffered needlessly while I was spending all kinds of time, worry and money doing the absolute wrong things. One time out of extreme desperation, I consulted an army vet. The most important thing you can do is stay on top of what is going on, document progress or lack of it, and insist that things be fixed, and work towards that goal.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 7:45AM
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I had similar problems with my lab/shepard/retriever mix. She started with hot spots and itching. She would chew her backside raw when we weren't home. We used benedryl, which seemed to help the symptoms but her physical health got worse. Fur turned brittle, dry and skin was scaley. She even got an orange-ish tint to her fur at one time. Tests did reveal a "low" thyroid but not hypo. The vet put her on prednisone, she had horrible reactions. Just layed around so lethargic and urinating while she layed there. The kept dismissing what I was saying about the changes in her coat, saying that happens as a dog gets older (B.S.).

I finally changed vets out of desperation. He found, through blood work, that her protein levels were very low. Changed her diet to duck & potato and put her on liquid cortisone drops. However, I believe he had her on the cortisone too long because when we tried to take her off she went into an Addison's crisis and almost died. He too did not listen to the symptoms I had given him. The thyroid is closely linked to the adrenal glands so if I were you I'd also be watching for the following: lethargic or depressed behavior, excessive drinking, low appetite. Maggie was a loving dog so for her to go into her kennel and stay there all day was NOT normal. When she stopped eating he gave her meds for colitis. A simple ACTH stim test would have shown that her adrenal glands were shutting down and the crisis (and four days in hosp.$$$$$) could have been avoided. She lived on Percorten injections monthly for the 2 yrs. after that or she would die. But her health never really came back.

Last Aug. she was mis-diagnosed with an ACL tear which turned out to actually be cancer but out of desperation I took her to a holistic vet. He put her on a food called Petguard. I was so totally amazed at the transformation in this dog. Her eyes got clearer, her fur came in with an almost puppy like softness and shine and she looked just absolutely beautiful. No constant scratching.

I've heard good things about the food you mentioned but if it doesn't seem to help you should consider the Petguard. I would also agree with another poster who said maybe the thyroid meds are too much. But I would also encourage you to have the dogs' sodium/potassium levels checked and also do an ACTH stim test for Addisons if any of Maggie's symptoms sound familiar. Addison's is a sneaky disease and many times diagnosed in crisis (as with Maggie) and lots of dogs do not make it through. There is a yahoo Addisons Dogs group where you can find some good links to articles. It would be worth checking into and maybe chatting with those folks. They are extremely helpful.

I hope you find some good answers. Hugs to you and your furbaby.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 10:01AM
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The lump is most likely a lipoma, or fatty tumor, which is a side-effect of being a Lab. They are not related to thyroid issues. I can't think of a Lab over 8 years old that doesn't have at least one lipoma, hypothyroid or not.

I'm assuming (and know where that gets me) that the thyroid level is being appropriately monitored and thyroid medication dosage adjusted as needed. My old Rottie is also hypothyroid and I check her levels once every 6 months with the rest of her bloodwork (I recommend bloodwork every 6 months for dogs over 8, but at LEAST once yearly).

The skin change from pink to black is related to very chronic inflammation, from whatever cause. Hypothyroidism makes the skin more susceptible to other problems such as allergies, so if she has allergies (and I don't know many Labs who don't have allergies) uncontrolled hypothyroidism makes it worse. So it is very important to keep up with the regular monitoring for hypothyroidism. In your dog's case, it is most likely from the combination of allergies and hypothyroidism.

Hotspots are areas of superficial infection, and she may need antibiotics to get them cleared up. I am not familiar with what is in histacalm cream (there are thousands of derm creams out there and I simply will never know what is in all of them), but if it doesn't have a topical steroid then I doubt it is doing anything for her. Hotspots are incredibly itchy, and when the dog scratches it sets up a vicious cycle of itchiness--> skin damage--> more infection--> more itchiness--> more scratching. Antihistamines have never been proven to work in dogs, and many studies suggest they don't have any effect. I am not one to prescribe steroids except when absolutely necessary, but in cases of hotspots I do send dogs home with either a topical steroid spray or a short course of oral steroids, depending on how widespread the hotspots are.

SG has excellent advice on the food allergies. I agree that Venison and Potatoes is a great choice to start out with in a food trial, as long as your dog has never had potatoes and venison before.

To start a food trial, your dog cannot be on any allergy medications- antihistamines, steroids, oral or otherwise. It is impossible to evaluate whether or not the food is working if you are treating allergies medically. Most dogs with seasonal + food allergies are better off waiting to do the food trial in the winter, or whatever season they are least affected. Dogs with only food allergies can do a food trial whenever they are cleared of all infections and off all allergy medications. You can change foods while she is being treated for her current problems, but the actual trial does not start until the medications are done.

As SG mentioned, you have to give the single protein and carbohydrate source food ONLY for at least 6 weeks. That means that you will most likely have to use a different heartworm preventative during that time. All of the oral heartworm preventions have animal protein in them as flavoring, except unflavored Heartgard which most vets have to special order. Your other options during the food trial are to use Revolution topically, or to use oral ivermectin. Most vets forget about this aspect of a food trial, and the dogs don't respond because they are given something to which they are allergic during the trial. If you're going to go through the expense and effort of a food trial, do it correctly.

If your dog responds favorably to the food trial, you have to feed her the original diet, just for a week or so, and see if her symptoms return. This confirms that she was allergic to the original food, and that she is not allergic to the new food. If you don't do the final challenge, you may have just been lucky in that her symptoms were not as bad, and you never know for sure that food was the culprit, especially since most dogs with food allergies have environmental allergies as well. Once a food allergy is confirmed, feed her only the new diet. You can start adding other foods slowly and watching for a response, but only introduce new foods one at a time, no more than one food every other week, so you know what the culprit is if she responds.

I would also strongly recommend that your dog be on a good flea control product all year round. Even if you don't see fleas, allergic dogs are often allergic to them, and one bite can set them off into hotspot he!!. In my area, the fleas have been particularly horrible this year, and we are seeing some resistance to TopSpot, so I've been having to recommend Advantage (which now make Advantage Multi with topical heartworm prevention which is *perfect* for your dog). I can never stress enough the importance of excellent flea control for any pet with suspected allergies. It would be heartbreaking for you to spend so much money on other things when all she needs is a good flea control program.

There are many options now for dogs with environmental allergies. One is the traditional allergy testing and immunotherapy shots. My dog responded extremely well to this approach, along with good flea control and proper diet. However, testing is expensive, and you have to give your dog shots which are also expensive. Another approach is Atopica, or cyclosporin, which helps many dogs. This is also expensive in large breed dogs, but there are ways to reduce the cost (one is to give very inexpensive ketoconazole which increases the concentration of Atopica so you need less). Another approach is chronic steroid use, but this is my absolute least favorite option, although one that many vets use because it is cheap and easy, but the side effects are terrible and can set your dog up for a lifetime of other problems. I prefer other methods, such as diet, flea control, Atopica, and reserve the steroids for short-term crisis use only. Plus many older Labs are on or will at some point require an NSAID for arthritis, and giving steroids at the same time as an NSAID can lead to life-threatening GI ulcers. So I tend to avoid steroids as much as possible. Like I mentioned before, antihistamines such as Benadryl don't reduce the itching in dogs, although it may make her drowsy enough to not itch as much, which can be helpful at night. But otherwise, I wouldn't waste the money on them.

Many vets don't like derm problems- I don't know why, because they are very can be a great practice-builder if treated correctly. When I was taking the dermatology clinical rotation at school, we saw SO many derm problems that were treated very poorly by referring vets. They could have done things correctly and had 1) a happy client 2) a happy patient and 3) some financial rewards. But whatever- I'm always happy to jump in and see derm cases that others don't want. It is so rewarding for me to watch my patients get better- a difference you can actually see! Love that!

I would try to find a vet who is more pro-active in dermatology. Some dogs do require a referral to a dermatologist for specialized diagnostics or treatment, but for a simple allergic dog, any vet should be able to handle it if they want to. The trick is in finding one that wants to manage a case very long term. Allergies are for life, unfortunately.

Good luck with everything.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 11:05AM
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One thing I forgot to mention in my prior post. Addison's is the inability of the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. The thyroid gland can not function properly without enough cortisol. That was another reason I suggested to watch your dogs adrenal function because *sometimes* hypothyroid can actually be a symptom of or caused by low cortisol. The adrenals and the thyroid are so closely connected/interdependent on each other that it would probably be a good idea to have your dog on an adrenal support supplement. A good holistic vet can recommend one for you. I actually have a bottle, unopened, that Maggie never got to use because her end result was cancer. If your vet thinks it would be of help, or at least not detrimental, and you would like to have it, I'd be happy to send it to you.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 11:19AM
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I have a Yellow Lab. When she was a pup she had some ear problems with yeast. I changed her food to Wellness hypoallergenic dog food: White Fish and Sweet Potato. It did wonders for her skin and helped with the yeast issues. She also smelled so much better.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wellness White Fish and Sweet Potato

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 11:34AM
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I would feed something like Innova EVO, Ziwi peak or Orijen Or better yet a raw food diet, if you are not elderly, going to or have young children.

The things they put in most dog/cat food .... MAKE ME SICK!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 11:41AM
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OMG, I knew this was the place I should be posting! Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all of your helpful information. I appreciate it so much!

Piper IS very smelly. It is an odd smell, kind of musty. Her thyroid tested right in the normal range when we were there in Jan, but she's due for another appt next week to recheck and get shots. Is there anyone in the Chicago area who can recommend a vet knowledgable in allergies?? None of the vets we've seen have really offered much other than giving toopical creams.

I have a brother who has Addison's disease. We almost lost him four years ago due to misdiagnosis as it is very rare to see in men. He lost an extreme amount of weight and was vomiting and very ill. Turns out he also has celiac disease (as one auto immune leads to another) and cannot have wheat gluten either. Poor guy. So food issues run in the family! Even on the furry side! But Piper is a pretty healthy weight and hasn't thrown up in quite a long time, but maybe it's still worth it for them to test her while they're drawing her for the thyroid anyways??

I am no stranger to food allergies as two of my daughters also suffer from them. So funny how our pets take on our personalities, but also our medical problems!!!

I am very optimistic about this food!! I really hope it works! It is the bison, venison & sweet potato so I guess I made the right choice to start with that. She has never been grain free, so if that was the problem (as I suspect it is) we should hopefully see relief soon.

Again, thank you all for taking the time to post and I will be sure to update on her progress!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 11:51AM
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She's adorable! Here's our new guide dog puppy we are raising. I needed another Lab but wasn't ready to have a forever dog yet so this is a good interim choice for us. His name is Nick and he is just the sweetest little guy.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 1:25PM
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Finding the right Vet, makes sooo much difference, particularly when it comes to allergies.

Meghane's post, pretty much mimics what my vet has said. He gets lots of dogs with skin problems that haven't been properly treated. He wonders why more vets don't get a better grip on how to deal with them... its good for the dogs, the clients and business.

Good luck with your pup. And one thing about switching foods, its much safer than trying different meds. Putting your dog on a more premium food, isn't going to hurt anything, except your wallet.

The worst allergy dog I had was the old hound. He was allergic to corn and fleas... Even though we had him on Frontline, I could alwasy tell when he got exposed to some fleas, he would get a rash of tiny blisters where the felas bit him... poor guy...

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 1:31PM
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Your recent post indicating a musty smell rang a very loud bell with me.

My old girl had the same thing, along with a very very oily coat. She had this for a few months, but never really had any problems. Then one day, things started to deteriorated very quickly. The problem was mis diagnosed as "fox mites", and was one of the times I almost lost her.

It turned out to be "dog funculosis" (not sure of the spelling). Only because I found a dermatology vet the day I was going to put her out of her misery was she saved and with me for 4 more years.

Meghane. Since you mentioned dermatology, I would encourage you to look up "Barbara Kummell, Veterinary Dermatologist". She was known throughout the world for her expertise, published books and many articles. She saved my old girl for me. We were great friends, and I am very saddened that she is no longer with us. The veterinary dermatology field is without not only a wonderful person, but one who was without piers.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 1:55PM
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Meghane, please address the following.

"To start a food trial, your dog cannot be on any allergy medications- antihistamines, steroids, oral or otherwise. It is impossible to evaluate whether or not the food is working if you are treating allergies medically. Most dogs with seasonal + food allergies are better off waiting to do the food trial in the winter, or whatever season they are least affected. Dogs with only food allergies can do a food trial whenever they are cleared of all infections and off all allergy medications. You can change foods while she is being treated for her current problems, but the actual trial does not start until the medications are done."

I am probably wrong, but I just don't remember. As I recall, when my old girl went through the initial food switch to venison and potato, she was on necessary meds. This was because her situation was so desperate, and I had no way of taking her off of them. Switching food had positive results that started to show up after only a week or so.

I realize all of this is not the case, just wanted your input.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 2:26PM
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Dog is beautiful!


    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 5:17PM
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My suggestion is that you research the side effects of the drug your dog is on, ask the vet if there is a comparable medication to swtich to. Keep giving your dog benadryl to help with the itchiness if the vet is okay with it. If after a couple of months things dont clear up, I would suggest you look into the BARF diet. If you are sweemish about dealing with raw foods, Natural Balance puts out a complete line of Raw dog food. Good luck. My thoughts are with you. In my world I hate suffering and will do anything within my power to stop it as fast as possible.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2008 at 8:55PM
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Hi SG- thanks for the reference to Dr. Kummel. I will browse the vet library for her book.

About the food trial and not being on meds- The problem with trying to assess a response to the food trial while the patient is on meds is that you'd expect the patient to get better because of the meds, regardless of the effect on food. And then you don't know if they got better because of meds or because of diet change. Truth be told, if food allergies are suspected, it makes sense to change the diet ASAP, and that's usually what happens. But you just can't assess the effects of the diet until the secondary problems (ear infection, hotspot, etc.) and meds (especially steroids) are cleared.

When I was trying to get Aleksander's allergies under control, I switched his food while he was being treated for a hotspot and ear infection. He was on steroids at the time (he had food, environmental, and flea allergies- I have no idea which one set him off this particular time, but it was before he was allergy tested). His original diet was chicken and rice, and I knew beef didn't agree with him, so I switched him to lamb and rice. Because of the steroids, he wasn't itchy, and the antibiotics helped clear his ear infection and hot spot. But as soon as the meds were done, he blew up in a major way- worse he had ever been! Turns out, he was VERY allergic to lamb, and had been on it for a month while under treatment. But this time I switched him back to his original chicken and rice diet while he was under treatment for another hotspot/ear infection combo, and waited to start a novel diet after his treatments were done, and in the winter when his environmental allergies were not a factor. Turns out, he wasn't allergic to chicken or rice at all, and the first flare up was most likely due to environmental and/or flea allergies. I've seen similar things happen to other people too.

Now when I suspect a food allergy with environmental allergies, I tell people to not bother doing an official food trial until whatever season the environmental allergies are at their lowest. But it doesn't hurt to switch foods before that, with the understanding that major flare ups in environmental allergies may require medical intervention and make us unable to judge the effect of the food.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 9:01AM
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Taste of the wild is good since it is game and potato. I have a dog with skin problems I started her on Canine Cavier special needs it worked better for her than Taste of the wild.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 2:03PM
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I was thinking about this last night, especially the part about your dogs tummy changing color. You might have the vet get a skin scrpaing, mabe your dog is having a yeast infection....

    Bookmark   July 22, 2008 at 3:38PM
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