I want to tell Jax’s story and explain why this is a really big deal for us. But if you don’t want to read it all and just want to know what I’ve been using to control his allergies, then you can skip to the end where I’ve listed all ingredients and linked each product, except for the honey, to an Amazon product page. I’m no doctor, magician, or professional in natural remedies. I’m making these recommendations based solely on our experiences. Be very mindful of your dog’s reactions after you try adding things to their food and after trying the spray. It should also be noted that you should always do your own research before trying new things for your dog.
I adopted Jax in June 2014. He was a year old. A few weeks after I adopted him he was due for a dose of Revolution, the flea, tick, and heartworm topical medication. I refused to buy it for him. Some may call me irresponsible, but I grew up with dogs that were very healthy and lived to be much older than most dogs in the US do. They were 15, 17 and 18 year German Shepherd mixes. So I was reluctant to give my dog a medication that essentially made his skin/blood toxic. Seems like a necessary evil to some but you wouldn’t do that sort of thing to yourself so why would you do it to your dog? Shortly after he was due for his dose he picked up a flea or 2 and no amount of shampoo on him or the carpets and bedding could get rid of them. I was still new to having a dog on my own so I didn’t know dogs could have allergies like humans (human-like qualities in animals are not a thing you hear about in Jamaica) and I didn’t know how difficult it was to get rid of fleas once you have one. Our dogs never left the yard growing up, and we gave them a bath a few times a year. They never went to the vet after they got their puppy shots (outside of one incident where they all mysteriously got bad diarrhoea and refused to get in the car and then all proceeded to poop in the car out of fear. That was an ordeal but after a few days they were back to their normal selves) and they were fed our leftovers mixed into cooked cornmeal every night (they would starve before they ate dog food), including our bones. Shocking, I know but like I said they were very healthy. They weren’t overweight, had no known/apparent health issues, could run around as much as the day is long and were very happy.
So naturally after growing up with these low maintenance dogs I didn’t think anything outside of yearly shots was necessary for Jax. The shots made sense because I intended to travel with him and I didn’t want him picking up anything from a random dog. He’s also extremely prey-driven and rabies was a serious concern for me. I had already taken Jax to the vet for a check-up and a nail trim the day after I got him and he put up a serious fight. I didn’t want to take him back unless I absolutely had to. My sister visited us and she commented on his itching. That’s when I knew I had to suck it up and take him in. We got a 6 month supply of Revolution and were on our way. After a month his itching hadn’t stopped so we went back to the vet. The doctor recommended Benadryl and if that didn’t work, to come back in 2 weeks. For the next 2-4 months we were in and out of the vet’s office every 2 weeks while he was prescribed pill after spray after shampoo after pill that didn’t work. He even started getting ear infections if he wasn’t on a steroid. And the steroids made him throw up a few times a week, his stool was always loose, and he was just very unhappy in general. His doctor suggested it was time for allergy testing to figure out if we could target what was making Jax itch. We waited so that he would have his blood drawn for the test when he was due for his shots, stool sample and heartworm test. One extremely stressful vet visit and hopefully it would mean relief for him. Turns out he’s allergic to almost every tree and grass in Florida and horribly allergic to fleas. Great. We tried immunotherapy treatments for 2 months but the vet told us it would be many months before it started working if it was even going to work at all. BUT a new drug, Apoquel, was proving to be very effective for dogs that were only getting relief with steroids like Jax. So we tried it. I was apprehensive because there hadn’t been any long-term testing to see what side effects dogs may experience after being on the pill for years, but many vets and pet owners recommended it. I think many people were just tired of trying anything without results. Lo and behold, he finally stopped pulling out his fur and his skin was no longer a disgusting grey colour. The ear infections were less frequent and he seemed much better. He turned 2 years old that April. So for almost 2 years he had to take a pill a day and I had to make sure our apartment and his bedding were cleaned a few times a week and that Jax got a bath regularly to wash allergens off his fur. It felt like a lot. Like there must be an easier way for him to live his life and at the age of 2 it didn’t make sense for him to be on daily medication. He’s otherwise very healthy and I didn’t think it was fair to him. He hates baths and taking pills. And cleaning when there didn’t seem to be anything to clean felt silly. So for months I researched natural ways to get him relief and get him off of both his flea and tick medication as well as the Apoquel. I started adding things like probiotics, honey, and omega 3 & 6 fish oils to his food. Anything gave at least one dog some relief, I tried it. This meant giving him his pills every other day or every three days to see if he could come off the pills entirely when I found something that worked. Christmas of 2016 I found a recipe that attacked the problem inside and out. I had been doing A LOT of reading on essential oils and apple cider vinegar. Two seemingly magical cures for every ailment under the sun. So I added ACV to his food (less than half a cap full) along with honey and coconut oil and made a topical spray for his fur to be used whenever he left the house. I let his medication run out and didn’t get a refill. No itching. Just like that. I didn’t even notice. I had so much faith in this combination of food additives and spray that I didn’t think to be mindful that it might fail. Since then his check ups have all been great and while the vets he’s seen since are a bit skeptical of what I’m doing, they agree that if it works for him then there’s no reason he should be taking a pill every day. And they like that it’s natural. I’ve been very surprised to get that reaction from medical doctors who are so quick to prescribe pharmaceuticals as they’ve been trained to do but at the same time very grateful that they believe that there are alternatives. I’ve also been able to stop using flea and tick medication. Even in Florida, I have yet to see a flea or tick on him. Countless trails hiked and I’ve found ticks on my own socks and pants but never on him. So for the past year and 2 months he’s been off of all medication except Heartguard. In the warmer months I still give him Heartguard because I myself have used many different repellents and they still find a way to bite me so I can’t be too careful with him.
I add these to Jax’s food once a day. Whether it’s wet or dry doesn’t matter. I try to feed him wet food a few times a month because I’ve been told it’s good for his skin and fur. And just because he gets so excited for it.
Local honey – I recommend local honey because the bees would have gotten their pollen from local plants whose pollen is most likely circulating in the air in your area. The idea is that your dog ingests the product from those bees and builds up an immunity or is less reactive to local pollen. It sounds far fetched but immunotherapy drugs work in a similar way. Slowly building up a tolerance or immunity to something that adversely affects the body by stimulating an immune response.
Coconut Oil – Coconut oil is known to be great for human skin and hair so why couldn’t it also be good for dogs? It is! But you have to be sure that you are using virgin coconut oil. I use the unrefined medium heat organic virgin oil from Spectrum. There’s some debate about whether to use oil that is refined or unrefined, virgin or not. But it doesn’t make sense that coconut oil is solid in warm temperatures which has been my experience with oils that are not virgin and unrefined. I literally have no idea what either means to be honest but the more natural the better.
Apple Cider Vinegar – Known to help with digestive issues, bad skin or hair problems, I wondered why it took me so long to try it. ACV actually proved to be the best probiotic that we’ve ever tried. I blame all the medications he’s tried but there were times when Jax would wake me up in the middle of the night to go out and eat grass. I wouldn’t even have to leash him because he was in such discomfort that he was so focused on doing the only thing his instincts tell him would fix his tummy. Then after gorging himself on grass he would fast himself until the grass left his system. Sometimes for 36 hours. This happened so often that it became normal. I wanna get gross for a minute but ACV cleared out his digestive system wonderfully and for a while when I started giving it to him he had massive poops. Good solid poops that I had never seen from him. I was so happy in a way that only other dog owners can understand. A dog’s poop can say a lot about what’s going on inside their body. His skin and fur look amazing and vets are always pleased with it now. They say his coat is beautiful and his regular vet can’t believe he’s the same dog that was pulling his fur out and making himself bleed. Get raw unfiltered ACV with the “mother” and start slowly. Adding half a cap full every other day or less frequently before you start adding it daily. Be very mindful of how your dog is reacting to it so that you can adjust accordingly. Of course if you have a big dog you might need more than half a cap full but to be safe start small and build up to more.
This is a recipe I came up with myself based on all the reading I’d done on the benefits of each essential oils and ACV. ACV is said to make the blood unattractive to pests like fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. And the essential oils each have their own benefits that made them “essential” to the recipe. Heh heh. The great thing about essential oils is you need such a small amount that you very rarely have to buy more. And because dogs have a very sensitive sense of smell I don’t recommend adding more than 3-4 drops of each to a 4 fl oz bottle. The essential oils I used are also deemed safe for use by the majority of websites that cover essential oil use with pets. I won’t link any one site here because a simple google search for “essential oils dogs” will give you hundreds of results and they all say the same thing.
a dark spray bottle – Essential oils like darkness & cool areas. This is not the bottle I use, mine is aluminium, 4 oz, and completely opaque. But you’ll find many brands sell their oils in bottles similar to this one. Amber bottles are also a good alternative.
Peppermint oil – a pest repellent. Jax once ate a candy cane off of my christmas tree and when I looked it up online to see if I needed to rush him to the emergency room I found out that peppermint is non-toxic for dogs. Peppermint oil is not the same as a peppermint candy cane but I feel better knowing that if he decides to lick his paws after he’s been sprayed, he won’t keel over and die on me.
Lemon and Eucalyptus Oil – also thought to be a repellent for pests.
Citronella Oil – long been used as a natural mosquito repellent, it only made sense that I used it in this recipe.
Olive Oil – used as a carrier oil. Because essential oils need a medium to mix into. Most do not readily mix with each other or other liquids so a carrier oil must be used.
Apple Cider Vinegar – I added this with the hope that it would repel pests inside and out. I’ve read stories of people having great luck soaking their dogs in ACV and water after a bath but mine doesn’t like baths and I don’t think I’d want him smelling like ACV all the time.
Water – Used to dilute the mixture because without it the smell is very strong and I didn’t want to bombard Jax’s senses anymore than I already had to.
Fill the bottle with half water and half apple cider vinegar. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 2-3 drops of each essential oil. Shake the bottle vigorously. Spray away from face and ears. Use on legs, torso and tail only. Never spray the mixture or any essential oils near your dog’s nose or mouth. A few spritzes around the body should do the trick. You do not have to saturate your dog’s fur for this to be effective. Store the bottle in a dark, cool, dry area.
And that’s it. Next I’m going to try using lavender oil in a diffuser to help with his anxiety and overprotectiveness. I’m hoping he’ll be able to relax around visitors in our home without someone having to throw a treat at him every 2 minutes to realize that we’ve invited people into our home and they aren’t here to brutally murder us.
Let me know if this works for you or if you’ve had any luck with other natural remedies. And like I said before, always do your research before you try new things with your dog!