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I Cured My Dog’s Itchy Skin by Sending His Saliva to an “Alternative” Lab

After months of frustration over GhostBuster's skin issues, I went holistic. And it worked!

Heather Marcoux  |  May 28th 2015


With the precision of a dentist, my husband stuck cotton swabs into our dog’s mouth, gathering saliva samples for a mail-away kit promising an “alternative sensitivity assessment.”

As I watched him collect dog spit, I reflected on how love can make people do things that are pretty out of character. You see, my husband is very skeptical of all things alternative. This is a guy who doubts chiropractors and scoffs at hypnotherapy. I never imagined he would willingly pay more than a hundred bucks to send our dog’s drool and hair to some holistic wellness place, but there he was, heading to the post office after four and half months of frustration over our dog’s skin.

Our boy GhostBuster kind of wanted to chomp on the Q-tips.

I have to go back to the beginning here, because the first time I met my dog, GhostBuster, I knew there was something wrong with his skin. Back then he was two years old, living at a satellite shelter inside a big pet store, just waiting for someone to fall in love with him.

“Why’s his elbow so red?” my husband asked me as we shook paws with our soon-to-be adorable Lab mix in the visitation room.

“I dunno. Maybe he has hotspots,” I said. “His tummy is splotchy, too.”

My husband stayed in the visitation room with GhostBuster while I went to go chat with the staff. I explained what we would like to come back the next day to adopt GhostBuster, but that we were concerned about the hot spot on his elbow and the rash on his belly.

Our first meeting at the adoption center. It was love at first sight.

“We’ll switch him to a hypoallergenic food tonight,” a staff member promised me, and when I returned to the shelter the following morning, my rashy dog was waiting for me, along with a nearly full bag of hypoallergenic kibble. Later that afternoon, I watched as my husband fed GhostBuster several bits of barbecued sausage. I scolded him, but to be honest, we kind of thought our new buddy’s skin problems were due to stress and low-quality shelter kibble, not allergies. I was like, “What are the chances that it’s actually an allergy?”

It turns out, the chances are pretty darn good, especially in Labs like GhostBuster. Before long, we had to accept that a loving home wasn’t going to be the cure for our boy’s skin conditions. He was totally in love with us and was enjoying life (when he wasn’t itching). Stress obviously wasn’t the trigger — so what was?

We just didn’t know, and neither did our vet, so GhostBuster’s first summer with us was an unfortunately itchy one, full of yeast treatments, hot spots, eczema, food switches, more pills, beef-flavored aloe vera, special soap for his male parts, antifungal shampoos, and plenty of arguments between my husband and I over what GhostBuster should and shouldn’t be eating. We switched from the fish-based stuff to a grain-free, limited-ingredient lamb kibble (with one disastrous experiment with beefy wet food in between). The lamb was definitely better than the fish, but it still wasn’t a cure. GhostBuster’s rashes, hotspots, and weird tummy pimples would flare up and then get better, only to erupt again despite his restricted diet.

When fall arrived, the decaying leaves seemed to make it even worse. Our poor dog even spent time in a cone and socks to stop his itching, and it made him very sad and fearful.

At one point we even made him wear panties so that he couldn't lick his ointments off. Poor dude.

At one point we even made him wear panties so that he couldn’t lick his ointments off. Poor dude.

“Do you think this is why his other family didn’t want him back?” my husband asked one day, referring to how GhostBuster’s original owners told animal services to keep him when they were notified he’d been picked up.

“No. I think it was because he wasn’t neutered and can jump fences and probably ran away to find girl dogs every day,” I said, not wanting to consider that maybe my husband was right. I knew we would never give up on GhostBuster the way his first family did, but I felt like a really bad pet parent. Everything we did would work for a little while, but then the rash would come back. It was so frustrating.

Luckily for GhostBuster, the cold comes early here in Canada, and the introduction of winter weather seemed to help his skin tremendously. My husband and I were still concerned, though, and when we saw a mail-away “alternative sensitivity test” at the store where we were buying his lamb kibble, we went for it, despite being pretty skeptical of the whole process.

The kit cost around $110 (and we paid 10 bucks extra to expedite our test). It was a little plastic bag with some instructions, an envelope, and some cotton swabs for those saliva samples. The kit also required a little bit of hair for testing, so we ran a comb through GhostBuster’s mane before sealing the envelope.

GhostBuster's didn't mind giving up a little bit of hair (although we could have just emptied the Roomba).

GhostBuster’s didn’t mind giving up a little bit of hair (although we could have just emptied the Roomba).

A few days later, we got GhostBuster’s results via email, and while some of it shocked me, some of it made total sense. For example, looking at the protein column, the first item highlighted in red was beef — a total no-brainer because a beef-based wet food once gave GhostBuster a particularly nasty rash. I was surprised to see lamb was also highlighted in red, as GhostBuster had actually improved when we switched from fish to lamb. But we took the hint and switched him to a duck-based food anyway — and within days he was totally rash free!

The test also highlighted some environmental sensitivities, including wool, so we moved a wool rug out of our living room. Televisions and computers were listed in red as “noxious energy,” but I’m not going to lie, we kept those.

Electronic energy aside, either the test is accurate or we got lucky. These days, the only meats GhostBuster gets are pork, duck, and turkey — and unless he gets into something he shouldn’t, his belly stays white, and he stays happy.

It may seem crazy to invest money in a mail-away kit like this, but it worked for our dog, and my non-alternative husband has turned over a new (holistic) leaf.

What about you? Have you had luck with alternative or holistic treatments when conventional medicine failed? Tell us your story in the comments!

Read more about life with Ghostbuster by Heather Marcoux:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.