On 28th July 2009, I got what I had always dreamed of… my very own German Shepherd. I grew up with dogs in the family but this was different… Alfie was mine and I was his… We were inseparable. Adopted through UK-GSR (German Shepherd Rescue) at 4 years old, I wasn’t told much about Alfie, and what I was told was heart breaking. Alfie came with an awful lot of emotional baggage due to his previous trauma, and I knew that I couldn’t give up on him. He deserved so much better from the human race, it was never an option. From this day my life changed forever. High heels were swapped for muddy wellies and night clubs were replaced with dog-friendly cafes. On 29th July 2009, I officially became a dog-mum.
When I first got Alfie, we were in and out of the vets… a lot. He would get ‘hotspots’ at least twice a month, and his ear infections were just as regular. Every time, the vets would prescribe antibiotics/ cream for the hotspots, and ear wash/ ear drops for his ears. Not only were the costs spiralling, but Alfie was constantly itching his skin and ears. He looked so uncomfortable, and I felt helpless as all that we seemed to be doing was treating the problems when they became infections, but not addressing the underlying cause. Looking back, I was very naïve then. I didn’t know half of what I have learnt over the years having an allergy dog, and I didn’t feel like the vets really knew how to address allergies successfully.
I researched dermatological specialists and found a vet called Judith, who worked at the Cramlington Hospital, at the time, called Croft. I asked to be referred here and Alfie underwent an intradermal skin procedure in which he had a general anaesthetic, a section of his skin was shaved off and marker pen dots were made in a regular box pattern. A small amount of different environmental allergens under the skin at each marker dot, and observed where the reactions occurred to establish which environmental allergens Alfie was allergic to. The results came back that Alfie was allergic to many things including pollen and dust. It was official… Alfie was allergic to life in gereral.
After the intradermal tests, Alfie was started on a monthly injection called Artuvetrin. A solution was made up for him in the Netherlands which was a little bit of everything that he is allergic to. I would inject him with a small amount of this solution every month, with the idea that it would prompt his own immune system to build up resistance to these allergies. I wasn’t convinced of the success, however sheer desperation resulted in me paying hundreds if not thousands of pounds continuing to use this as I wasn’t aware of any other options. (I had discounted steroids and apoquel due to my concerns of long term health implications). At this point, I hadn’t given much though to food allergies, as I had always been told that there was no reliable, conclusive test for these.
Through networking with other dog owners, I became aware that some people ‘raw fed’ their dogs. The idea intrigued me hugely, however I was scared to take the plunge to begin with. Opinions are divided on the topic of raw feeding, and there are a lot of passionate people arguing for/ against it. I did a lot of research into raw feeding and looked at both sides of the argument. As a teacher of science, I was able to read research papers critically, and assess the merit of each study. I joined Facebook groups in which people shared success stories of their switch to a raw food diet, and in the end, I decided that Alfies constant discomfort was so bad, I had little to loose in trying a new diet.
I became obsessed with holistic treatment of pets and started to read many of Holistic Vet Dr Karen Becker and Canine Nutritionist Rodney Habib’s articles on Facebook. The more I read, the more I realised that I had unintentionally been fuelling Alfie’s allergies by following advice from conventional vets. I used a recommended American company to test for food allergies, and Alfie’s results were astonishing however not surprising. He was allergic to every food that it is possible to test for. Every. Single. Thing.
I stopped listening to conventional vets advice what to feed Alfie after finding out that they have very limited training on nutrition and the training that they do get is sponsored by the big kibble companies such as Hills, Purina and Royal Cannin (no prizes for guessing what I was recommended). I made an appointment with a Canine Nutritionist and we came up with a plan specifically tailored to Alfie’s needs, which involved feeding a balanced, raw food diet. The difference that I saw was unbelievable. Alfie’s itching has ceased completely. He is never at the vets for allergy related issues any more. I can’t remember the last time he had an ear infection, and he just looks so much healthier in himself; his teeth are cleaner and his coat has a lovely shine to it. He loves his food now… compared to the days of him eating dry, processed kibble, he acts like it’s Christmas every meal time. I do think back and think about how I wish I had arrived at this conclusion sooner, and how Alfie could have suffered less discomfort if I had, but I know that I can’t change the past.
What I can do is change the future. And it is my mission to help as many pet owners see the benefits of feeding a natural diet to their pets, and in turn help dogs to thrive, not only survive.