It's no secret that I've been battling with itchy skin for close to three years.
Mama has tried almost everything during this time - steroids; antibiotics; antihistamines; medicated shampoo; non-medicated shampoo; anti-itch sprays; different diets (kibbles to home-cooked meals to home-prepared raw to commercial raw); vinegar, providone iodine and salt soaks; allergy tests; and a variety of supplements.
Did any of them help? To be honest, we can't be sure. All we know is, none of them came close to healing my itchy skin. It may be an issue with how we did it or for how long. I guess we will never know.
This post is a personal one. We have never really shared the pain, the struggles and the frustration of this whole journey. Each new treatment approach brought new hope, but as we grew to learn, hope is fragile and it's prone to running out.
We hope this post can lend support to dog owners who are experiencing what we experienced. We don't have a sure work solution and we don't pretend that we do. But sharing our story may help provide some learning points and optimism.
How the itchy skin started
My skin started itching shortly before I turned a year old. I began chewing lightly on my loin, causing it to bald slightly. It wasn't obvious, and mama didn't think much about it.
It went downhill suddenly
The itching only got significantly worse after mama sent me for a spa session. We don't know whether it's something at the spa that triggered it or it was just a coincidence. I started chewing at my skin a lot more and I had bigger and bigger bald spots.
Everything was okay and then it was not
The vet started by giving mama an atopic spray but it didn't help that much. Soon, I was licking and chewing on my paws as well. As with most skin issues, the vet prescribed me with steroids and medicated shampoo, which actually worked the first time. I was okay for awhile but my condition relapsed.
This time, steroids, antihistamines, antibiotics, and different medicated shampoos didn't work for me. Which was why mama decided to bring me for an allergy test. As it's not invasive, she opted for the bioresonance allergy test, which she later learnt to be controversial.
Maybe it's first-timer luck, after eliminating allergens based on the test, I stopped itching almost immediately. I was okay for about one to two months before it all came back. Mama sent me for two more tests but they didn't work anymore.
The last allergy test results showed that I was allergic to so many things it was hard to find food that I could actually eat. Hence, the clinic recommended mama to cook for me instead.
To be honest, even though switching kibbles for homemade meals improved my coat and digestion, we believe that what the vet recommended us to feed (minced beef, carrots, and peas) actually made my condition worse. It was also a recipe that was casually shared with us, with little care for my nutrition.
One size fits all treatment
During that period, mama also consulted different vets who only had the same three treatment options - steroids, allergy tests, and immunotherapy. No one really knew what else to do with me.
With a reputable vet's advice, I went back on a daily kitten dose of steroids but it didn't help. On my second visit, he recommended increasing the dose, which mama reluctantly agreed. It didn't do anything for me either.
Desperate and finding another way out
That was when mama decided that she couldn't let me go on with this treatment. There must be another way.
By this time, I was already itching out of control. I was chewing my paws until they bled and scratching non-stop. I was bleeding and raw at so many places from all the chewing, scratching and licking. Mama put me on the cone 24/7 and the moment she took it off, I went straight for my paws like I was born to chew them off.
Even though I had my cone on every night when I slept, I was often still scratching relentlessly in the middle of the night. My ears were also a mess. They were stuffed with yeast and wearing the cone, which squashed them down, made them worse. I would try to scratch my ears with my hind legs with the cone in between, causing so much clamour, the humans could hardly get any sleep.
It may be fated that just when mama was so desperate to find someone to help me that we met the kind people at Howlistic Life.
Their consultant, Terry said I was suffering from yeast overgrowth and helped make me better through holistic remedies. It was a slow and honestly tedious process.
Mama had to be strict with my food and treats, I wasn't allowed to go out until I got better (inviting us some judgemental looks and comments from people), and she had to follow the holistic treatments religiously. You see, yeast overgrowth is caused by suppressed immunity and an unhealthy gut.
Terry's treatment gave me the opportunity to get better and offered the humans some hope and space to breathe.
After eight months, my ears were cleared of yeast and I was on a steady road to recovery until the haze came and I stopped getting better. In fact, I was getting worse, fast. Mama and papa then decided that we needed to try something else.
At this point, I have to say that there are many people out there who do not believe in holistic treatments, and even mama had her doubts, However, we can't deny that it did help me at one point of my life and many other dogs to recover fully too. For that, we are eternally grateful to Howlistic Life and Terry.
The haze really almost killed me. I was itching worse than I ever had before.
Mama tried holistic remedies and various supplements that she read on healthypet.mercola.com but none of them did anything for me.
I was on the cone 24/7 again and mama had to wrap and bandage me up so I wouldn't be able to destroy myself. I was using my hind legs to scratch my front legs till they bled. Once, blood dripped from my skin thanks to my relentless scratching. I was red and swollen all over. My paws were red, raw and swelling like a balloon.
I even stopped playing. Nothing made me happy. I felt horrible. It was really the lowest point of my life. Mama felt like crying seeing me like this.
She even considered cancelling her family vacation so she could watch me like a hawk. She was desperate, helpless, and honestly, depressed.
Many times she asked herself whether she should just give me all the steroids I needed to let me have a normal life, even though it might damage me in another way.
She also questioned if she was a good mama and whether I would be a healthy dog if someone else got me instead. This made me very sad. I didn't want to make her upset, but every time the itch came, I just couldn't resist chewing and scratching myself.
Back to the vet
As the last straw of hope, she was going to book an appointment with a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) vet but instead, we got referred to Dr. Gino from The Animal Infirmary by a few other dog owners who faced a similar predicament as us. Apparently, he didn't prescribe steroids like the other vets did. There was a new medication out there, and it could potentially save me.
After some discussion, mama and papa decided to give him a try and off to Dr. Gino I went.
He diagnosed me with Atopic Dermatitis (chronic itching caused by environmental allergies). No surprise that I was tested for yeast and fungal too. He prescribed me with Apoquel (anti-inch), Fluconazole (antifungal), and Baytril (antibiotics).
Oh boy, did Apoquel save my life! Mama wasn't sure about it at first because it came with its own set of controversies online. But she really couldn't care much about them because I actually got better really quickly.
She went on her holiday knowing that I was going to be okay. For once since I started on this rollercoaster journey she could say that I was going to be okay.
[Update: Apoquel is an anti-itch medication. It switches off the body's allergic itch response and gives your dog some relief and time to heal from secondary skin infections while you try to fix the underlying root problems. It DOES NOT cure and may have side effects. There's also a relatively new anti-itch injection called Cytopoint. You can read more about it and its difference from Apoquel here and here.]
During my follow-up visit, Dr. Gino also gave me a liquid medication for demodectic mange (tiny mites burrowed under the skin), which he suspected I had because I was still specifically chewing on my thighs, forearms, and scratching my muzzle with my hind legs.
Mites live naturally in dogs but can cause problems if the dog has a compromised immune system.
Mange may be hard to detect through a skin scraping and microscopic examination, especially if they are localised (confined to small spots of the body), which is what it was in my case.
A normal and happy life
From Apoquel twice a day to Apoquel twice a week, I am off the cone, eating things I couldn't and going out on an adventure every day. I am a normal dog again.
I still itch a little and I do get hot spots but they are now super manageable. I don't know if I can ever be off medication but how I am right now is good enough for all of us. [Update: I was weaned off Apoquel after being on my current diet, BOM BOM for six months.]
What we've learned
We've learnt a lot through this journey of pain, struggle, and helplessness. But at the end of it all, we found hope, love, and happiness.
Here are some things that we picked up along the way.
1. There will be bad days and there will be good ones too
Some days you will feel like your dog will never get better, but some days she does get better and you have a renewed sense of hope again. Never lose that hope and never give up trying.
We have gone through so much for the past three years and we finally saw the some light at the end of the tunnel. Don't ever give up. You never know when you will finally meet someone who has the solution you need.
2. Unfortunately, we are the rule, not the exception
So many times we heard things like, "My dog used this shampoo/soak/supplement and he stopped itching in a few days." We would try each of them with new hope.
Unfortunately, those are the exception, and we are the rule.
None of those "quick fixes" worked for us. They only led to wasted time and money, and a whole lot of disappointment. If you don't find the root of the problem, you can never solve it.
3. Everyone has their point of view and some may even judge you. But what's important is that you have tried your best to make the best decisions
We met some people who were quick to fault mama for her decisions for me.
Everyone thinks they know better. Everyone thinks what they sell is your miracle. And everyone has their own version of "common sense".
What worked for other people's dogs may not work for yours. Don't ever let anyone have the power to put you down. At the end of the day, they didn't go through what you went through. You don't owe anyone an explanation or an apology.
Take the approach that makes the most sense to you and that you are the most comfortable with.
Also remember, just because you agree with one thing that someone said, doesn't mean you have to agree with everything else they say.
4. You are not alone but the battle is your own
There are many dogs who suffer from itchy skin problems. I am definitely not alone but sometimes it feels that way. Watching other dogs get better while you are still stuck in an itchy mess can be frustrating.
All I can say is take as much advice as you can from other dog owners, research well, and seek help from professionals. Once again, never give up!
When you come out of the battle winning, don't forget to lend a helping hand to others who are still fighting their own battles!
Update as of Aug 2019
Latte is off Apoquel after switching to her current customised raw diet, BOM BOM. She's also on supplements for immunity and gut health.