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A Comprehensive Guide to Managing Allergies and Skin Conditions in Dogs: Understanding the Mechanisms of Conventional and Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches

Allergies and skin conditions are common issues affecting dogs, causing itchiness, inflammation, and discomfort. And while the recent rains were a blessing for our dry city, it has brought out more wildflowers and pollen than in years past. In this comprehensive guide, I will explore the mechanisms behind various conventional treatments, including oral medications, topical solutions, and injectables, as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approaches to manage these environmental and seasonal issues. By understanding how these treatments work within your dog’s body, you can make informed decisions for your pet’s health and well-being.

Mechanisms of Conventional Treatments for Allergies and Skin Conditions in Dogs

1.1 Oral Medications: Benadryl and Zyrtec: Oral antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) work by blocking histamine receptors in the body, reducing the inflammatory response and providing relief from itching. Histamine is released during an allergic reaction and is responsible for many allergy symptoms. Benadryl is known to cause drowsiness, while Zyrtec is less sedating.

1.2 Natural Supplements: Nettle and Quercetin: Nettle and quercetin are natural supplements that can help alleviate allergy symptoms in dogs by affecting the body’s immune response. Nettle possesses anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties, reducing histamine release and inflammation. Quercetin, a flavonoid found in various plants, can stabilize mast cells and reduce histamine release. Quercetin supplements are usually synthesized in laboratories but are based on the naturally occurring compound.

1.3 Topical Solutions – Green Tea, Calendula, and Spilanthes: Topical solutions like green tea, calendula, and Spilanthes can provide relief for dogs experiencing skin irritations, rashes, or redness caused by allergies or inflammation.

  • Green tea’s polyphenols exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea has a nourishing effect on Yin, providing moisture and soothing relief to dry, itchy, or irritated skin.
  • Calendula’s active compounds promote wound healing and reduce redness, itching, and inflammation associated with allergic reactions. In TCM, calendula has cooling and drying properties, which help reduce heat and inflammation associated with skin irritations, rashes, and redness. Its drying property can address skin conditions resulting from excessive dampness, such as weeping eczema or oozing sores.
  • Spilanthes’ alkylamides, flavonoids, and phenolics contribute to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. Spilanthes is a cooling herb in TCM, making it useful for addressing skin issues associated with heat and inflammation. Spilanthes can promote the healing of wounds and skin tissue by improving blood circulation to the affected area.

1.4 Prescription Medications: Apoquel and Cytopoint Apoquel (Oclacitinib) works by inhibiting Janus kinase (JAK) enzymes, which play a critical role in the signaling pathways of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-31 (IL-31). By inhibiting JAK enzymes, Apoquel reduces the itch signal and provides relief from itching and inflammation. Cytopoint (Lokivetmab) is a monoclonal antibody that targets and neutralizes canine interleukin-31 (IL-31), preventing it from interacting with its receptors and interrupting the itch signal, providing relief from itching and inflammation.

What Not To Use:

1.5 Arnica, derived from the Arnica montana plant, is a popular herbal remedy known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. It is commonly used to treat bruises, sprains, muscle soreness, and swelling. However, arnica’s effectiveness in addressing itchiness due to allergies or skin irritations in dogs is not well-established.

While arnica may help reduce inflammation and promote healing in cases of skin trauma, it is not specifically known for its ability to alleviate itchiness.

1.6 Colloidal silver, a suspension of silver particles in a liquid base, has been touted for its antimicrobial properties. However, its use as a topical solution for skin irritations in dogs is not recommended due to:

  • Non-selective Antimicrobial Action: Colloidal silver’s antimicrobial action is non-selective, meaning it can target both harmful and beneficial cells. This indiscriminate action can disrupt the natural balance of the skin’s microbiome, potentially causing more harm than good.

Mechanisms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Approaches to Allergies and Skin Conditions in Dogs

2.1 Herbal Remedies TCM practitioners prescribe herbal formulas to address the specific imbalances within a dog’s body. The mechanisms behind these herbs often involve their anti-inflammatory, immune-regulating, and detoxifying properties. For example, Rehmannia nourishes Yin and alleviates inflammation, Scutellaria clears heat and dampness from the body, and Astragalus supports the immune system. Herbal formulas typically have multiple ingredients in them and it’s important to work with a TCVM vet who can guide on which formula will help.

2.2 Dietary Adjustments In TCM, certain foods can help restore balance within a dog’s body by influencing the internal environment. Dark, bitter, leafy greens clear heat and support detoxification, while cooling foods counteract the heat associated with inflammation and skin conditions. Avoiding starchy root vegetables and focusing on alternatives like parsnips and rutabagas can help reduce dampness in the body, further improving overall well-being.

2.3 Lifestyle Changes In TCM, maintaining a stress-free environment and ensuring adequate exercise are essential components of a dog’s overall health. Stress can contribute to immune system imbalances, making it more challenging for the body to cope with allergens and inflammation. Exercise helps promote circulation, supports the immune system, and aids in maintaining a healthy weight, all of which can positively impact a dog’s skin health.

Case Study on Environmental Allergies with Raw Fed Dog

A young dog fed a raw fed diet and living an active lifestyle is presenting with allergy/itch symptoms in the spring. The symptoms are paw licking, head shaking and scratching her chin and jowls. The dog has a lot of vibrant energy. Skin presents to be dry/normal and there is light dander. Blood panel results show white blood cells are in the normal range and the rest of the numbers look good. Based on this it can be surmised that this is an exterior pattern and indeed an environmental seasonal allergy. Dog does not present with any fleas/parasites.

My at-home remedy recommendations for this dog include:

  • Switching the above-ground greens rich in chlorophyll which promotes the growth of beneficial intestinal flora to kale, collard greens, dandelion greens, cabbage, parsley,, and wheatgrass (most grocery stores carry them and you can add it as a garnish).
  • Pausing all starchy root vegetables like sweet potato and yam to rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, and carrots.
  • Cooling snacks: pears, cucumbers, watermelon.
  • Adding 1/4 teaspoon of Nettle Tea (dried form) to meals for every 20lb your dog weighs to their food. You can find Nettle Tea in grocery stores or you can buy Nettle from Mountain Rose Herbs. I found the quality in the latter seems to be more effective and interestingly enough the dogs seem to be drawn to their bowls when nettle is added. You can also brew a tea, and once it’s cooled rinse their paws with it.
  • Applying Spilanthes Tea (cooled) to the skin. This is the toothache herb. It provides immediate relief to rashy skin and reduces itch symptoms. Because of it’s “numbing” mechanisms this seems to work the fastest. Again you can buy this from Mountain Rose Herbs. This can also be applied to the itchy parts of the chin and jowls. Always spot test prior to using any topical remedies. On a side note, this tea works wonders for young children to adults. I’ve used it myself when I was bit by mosquitoes.
  • Adding probiotics to meals. I like to alternate between those that have the genus Lactobacillus or Saccharomyces boulardii. You can use a human brand and adjust the dosage. Consider the human brand is designed to be for a 120lb human and adjust according to your dog’s weight.
  • Consider lightly searing the meat lightly before it’s fed. Think of a very rare steak for humans where the outside is kissed with heat. You can do the same for raw dog food. The reason for this is to reduce the histamine load on the body.


Understanding the mechanisms behind both conventional treatments and Traditional Chinese Medicine approaches can help you make informed decisions when managing environmental and seasonal allergies and skin conditions in dogs.

In my own house, I’ve used all of the remedies above and learned which to use when. Gladly happy to share we no longer have to give our dogs Cytopoint or Apoquel and it’s an honor to share what I know so that you can in decide which is best for your own dog.

By considering both the physiological effects of treatments like oral medications, topical solutions, and injectables, as well as the holistic approach of TCM, you can develop a well-rounded strategy to ensure your dog’s health and well-being.

It goes without saying but I hope you are close enough to those that help you professionally, and consult with a veterinarian or a TCVM practitioner specializing in veterinary medicine to develop the most appropriate treatment plan for your dog.

As always, thank you for stopping by and I wish you and your dogs good Health!

Author Biography

Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.

She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.

She is available for one on one consultations. Additionally, you can find her sharing free content on Instagram.

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