Has Your Dog’s Itching and Licking Been Mis-Diagnosed as Allergies?

Allergies are becoming increasingly common in dogs.  It seems that every other person you speak to will profess their dog either has food allergies or allergic reactions to the environment, such as grass or dust. The excessive licking and nibbling is stressful for both dog and owners, leaving owners feeling helpless to offer relief. Unfortunately veterinary medicine is often only able to treat the symptoms without actually addressing the core issue.

As an Animal Kinesiologist I began receiving an increasing amount of referrals from vets who had simply drawn a blank with regards to treatments for allergies. In all cases the dogs were not responding to medication for the symptoms and were presenting frequently with secondary issues such as infections caused by the excessive licking. It had become a vicious cycle.

In as much as 90% of cases referred to me from vets, the spleen and thymus gland (immune system) appeared to be functioning normally and not ‘unbalanced’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms.  The problem therefore had to originate somewhere else in the body. My investigations found one common factor across all of the cases, namely tension, inflammation or spasming muscles along the spine. The muscles groups running the length of the spine all had points of irritation causing a pinching effect on the spinal nerves which extend laterally from the spinal chord.

Spinal Musclesspinal muscles.pngSpinal Nerves DDD_dog_nervous_system.gif

Irritation of the spinal nerves due to muscle tension results in abnormal sensations being felt down the legs and feet.  These sensation changes may be experienced as numbness, pins and needles, or a sharp burning pain.  Dogs who licked or chewed their front feet all had irritation points in the neck and shoulder area. Similarly, dogs who licked their back feet had tension and irritation in the lumbar and sacral area (lower back and hips).


The dog may experience a variety of sensation changes in the limbs from tingling through to searing pain. If we, as humans, were to experience this, we would be rubbing our legs or scratching in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort.

Spinal Tension or Allergies?

Dogs deal with the sensation changes by licking or chewing the affected limbs. This excessive licking quickly leads to red and irritated skin, which can resemble an allergic skin reaction, hence the frequent misdiagnosis.

It must be an allergy as the symptoms increase after my dog has been walking on grass – right?

Not so. Again this is something I hear frequently. Symptoms can indeed get worse when the dog has been exercised in a grassed area, but this is because the exercise itself is aggravating the spinal muscle tension.  As with any muscle strain, exercise initially makes it feel better, but boy do you pay the price afterwards! It is during the rest period immediately after the walk that the spinal muscles begin to spasm, causing the sensation changes – thus the licking or nibbling begins. Too often we assume it is related to the grass or another allergen in the environment.

How Can I Tell the Difference?

One simple way to check the condition of the spinal muscles is to use your thumb and forefinger, one each side of the spinal vertebrae.  Starting from the above the shoulder blades, begin running your fingers down each side of the spine with a medium to firm pressure. As your fingers slide down, note any tension or inflammation.  You will often notice the muscles flinch or jump if you get to an area of pain.  Your dog may also sit or move to avoid pressure in a painful area.  All of these reactions will indicate muscle tension and may well be the root cause of the problem.

What Are The Treatment Options?

I treat the tension with Bowen Therapy which is a fascia release modality.  I then use the Emmett Technique to rebalance the muscles. This releases tension which improves blood flow, lymph drainage and reduces inflammation.  I then use Kinesiology to balance any emotional issues related to the tension.  The dogs show significant relief from the symptoms almost immediately. In chronic cases an optimum of three sessions is required to rebalance the muscles and eliminate the symptoms.

Causes of Tension

Tension in spinal muscles is very common, especially in the field of dog sports due to the exertion required.  Agility dogs jump and turn in a split second, not to mention impact shock absorbed from landing heavily. Poor conformation and referred pain from joint problems can also contribute. Improving fitness and using conditioning exercises can help prevent injuries.

Dogs presenting with ‘allergies’ now represent a large portion of visits to my clinic. Using a combination of Animal Kinesiology, Bowen Therapy and the Emmett Technique, I have fine tuned my approach to get fast, effective and lasting results. I always advocate using a holistic approach to wellness, bringing the body back to natural balance. Masking the symptoms of imbalance with medication may cause further problems further down the line.

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