In The Trenches

Report from a long war against allergies.


One of the reasons I feel so much for the readers who send us Case Histories about the trials and tribulations they have been through with their dogs is that I’ve also “gone through it” – and I’m still “going through it” – with my 10-year-old Border Collie, Rupert.

A typical overachieving, restless, slightly anxious representative of his breed, Rupe has on-and-off problems with itching and scratching his whole life. About three years ago, I thought we had the problem whipped. I found a food that agreed with him for the first time in his life! He liked it, and he stopped itching.

But about six months ago, Rupert started itching again. I got out the old flea comb and started looking for pests. He’s always been oversensitive to flea bites; if we have ONE flea in the house, I swear, he goes nuts. But I didn’t find a single flea.

I don’t know why it took me about three weeks to look at the label of the bag of food I was feeding him. When I looked, I saw that the ingredients listed on the bag had changed. Argh! Well, I had been talking about changing Rupe over to raw foods; this was a good excuse to give it a try. After all, I had to change his food anyway.

Rupert loved his new food, a combination of a commercial raw-frozen chicken diet and an oatmeal-based “just add meat” diet. His energy was good and his eyes were bright. Amazingly enough, the sebaceous cyst that had been on his side for a year or more went away. But my oh my, how his itching got worse!

I’d been told by virtually every “raw feeder” I know that, usually, the dog’s symptoms get worse before they get better, because the body needs to flush out all the stored toxic residue from years of eating grain-laden kibble. I’d heard people say that a dog switching to raw sometimes loses almost his entire coat – and that then it grows in much more lustrous and thicker than ever. So I didn’t panic – right away, that is.

I’m not going to bore you with all the details; I’ll save them for when, like some of our readers, we finally get all of Rupert’s problems solved for good. Right now, I’m still in a flailing stage. I’ve tried several different foods and supplements, chiropractic (more to address Rupe’s mild arthritis, brought on by years of crashes caused by overenthusiastic and unauthorized fetching), and special shampoos (I’ll be reviewing these soon – I think we have about a dozen in the shower as I write this).

Frustratingly, Rupert has good days and bad days. On some days I think we finally have a handle on his allergies. On other days I think it’s hopeless, he’s just going to scratch himself to death. But he looks kind of pathetic every day. He’s got bald patches around his ears and eyes where he’s rubbed his head on the carpet and on the lawn when no one was looking. His paws are cracked and dried and red where he has been chewing them. And his skin everywhere else is red and irritated. Not long ago, after a couple of especially itchy days, I actually begged the vet for some Prednisone. I just had to give Rupert something to make him stop scratching – for my sanity.

I understand that health is a process; it might take a while to get Rupert stable again. I’m trying to keep my senses alert, to key into whatever I can to get Rupe comfortable again.

The difference between my approach now and, say, five or six years ago, is that I have perfect faith that there is more to the problem than a “flea allergy” and more to the solution than just Prednisone. Knowing that there are a lot more tools available in the healing toolbox helps, and so do your success stories. Keep them coming, and I’ll keep you posted about Rupe’s progress.

-By Nancy Kerns