Introduction To Dog Allergies

Whether in human or companion animals, recent research (Rastall, 2004) has shown that allergies are the result of both genetics and environment.  Genetics (DeBoer, 2004) predisposes a human or pet to suffer from allergies, but the deal is clinched if they are raised in a modern Westernized home.  What does modernization have to do with allergies?  We will see that the cleanliness (comparatively speaking) and energy-efficiency of the home has a direct influence on the development of allergies in both humans and pets.

Pet allergies

Although most of the published research in companion animal atopy, or allergy, has been done in dogs, it can occur in cats, albeit, less often.  Research with dogs generally correlates to that done in humans (Rastall, 2004).

The development of the immune response in prenatal humans and dogs:

A newborn baby or puppy is basically a clean slate, immunologic ally speaking, everything is new and friends and foes have not been established yet.  The immune system builds a vocabulary, if you will, of ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ as it is bombarded with microorganisms and large protein molecules from food.  Eventually, the body learns to identify what organisms in its body and environment are non-threatening, and screens these out.  In other words, those non-threatening microorganisms and proteins do not set the innate alarm bells clanging.  Further modifications become necessary as the baby or pet is weaned and begins to eat solid food.

Enter Westernization and increasingly energy-efficient homes.

Research (Leynaert et al., 2001; Douwes and Pierce, 2002; von Mutius, 2001) has shown that humans or pets raised on farms, especially those that produce livestock, have a lower incidence of asthma, which is also caused by allergies.  Why?  Livestock farms are teeming with all kinds of microbial life, children and pets continually come in contact with these microorganisms, and as they do, their immune systems learn to see them as non-threatening.

Pet allergies symptoms
Compare this scenario to the modern middle-class home in America.  Although some homemakers are more obsessed than others regarding cleanliness, the average home is cleaner than a livestock barn.  Many children raised in cities or suburbs never even get close to a cow or pig or any part of one, unless it is in the kitchen or on the grill.  Any potentially beneficial or pathogenic bacteria have (theoretically) been left at the plant.

With increasing energy costs, many have tried to either improve the current efficiency of their homes, or moved to newer, more air-tight housing.  This means that even those microorganisms that may be in the neighborhood are kept at bay.  Add to this the habitual use of household cleaners, and you have a home that is close to sterile in some cases.

Sum it all up and you have young children and puppies who only encounter a limited number of microorganisms and proteins.  In other words, their immune system’s ‘vocabulary’ is limited, and anything off this short list sets immunological alarms blaring.

Food allergies (DeBoer, 2004) are provoked by large proteins, such as those in meat, dairy products, fish, and some cereal grains.  Generally, humans and dogs are only allergic to one, or sometimes two, proteins or groups of proteins.

Allergic reactions often mimic those of an insect infestation.  Food allergies in dogs manifest on the skin.  Chronic itchiness leads to constant scratching and biting, which destroys the skin’s natural defenses.  Hair loss, scaly skin, and yeast infections often begin as a simple food allergy.  Sometimes skin scrapings reveal the presence of  parasitic insects such as mites, and treatment mis-prescribed based on these finding, even though allergies came first.  Unless they are identified and the offending proteins eliminated, any veterinary prescribed treatment will fail to cure the problem.

Short and long term solutions

Allergens, both environmental and food, can be identified and avoided, if possible.  Environmental allergens are more difficult to avoid, but are usually seasonal.  These types of allergies may require regular steroids to control the symptoms.  Since protein is the culprit in food allergies, limit your dog’s diet to one protein source (beef, pork, chicken, etc.) at a time and watch how they react.  The most common allergens are beef and dairy proteins, followed by pork, chicken, fish, eggs, and cereal grains.  You and your pet will be much more comfortable once the offending protein(s) have been identified and eliminated from the diet.

In the case of infants and puppies, research (Benyacoub et al., 2003;   Bracken et al., 2002; Nowak-Wegrzyn, 2003; Warner, 2004;  Wood, 2006) indicates that oral treatment with hypoallergenic probiotics can help teach the nascent immune system to be less over-sensitive to ‘strange’ proteins.  In effect, daily dosing with probiotics from birth can emulate the variety of organisms and proteins that might bombard a child or pet on a farm, but in the comparatively sterile urban/suburban environment.  There are other immune benefits from feeding benign microorganisms such as Lactobacillus acidophilus (DeBoer, 2004; Duggan et al., 2002).

If one or both parents of an infant or puppy have allergies, there is a good chance that the offspring will be predisposed to them as well.  In these cases, preventative use of oral probiotics can mitigate the expression of that predisposition.  This must start within the first few weeks of life, when the nascent immune system is still identifying friend and foe.

Other research (Ou Lim, et al. 1997) suggests that pectin may alleviate allergy symptoms. Pectin traps molecules such as starch, fat, cholesterol, and the immunoglobulin that triggers allergy symptoms (IgE).  Initial animal trials by Natur’s Way, Inc. (Horton, KS) show that most dogs have reduced allergy symptoms if fed a pectin-based probiotic daily.

Allergies are serious business, they can open the flood gates of disease in an otherwise healthy human or pet.  They cause stress from chronic discomfort, cause physical damage from scratching and/or biting, and occupy the immune system when it needs to be looking out for more serious problems.  Diagnosis is often confused by secondary infestation, and may postpone treatment for the initial problem.  If the condition is caused by a food allergy, the owner or parent can do the sleuthing themselves and discover which item(s) provoke reactions.  Both you and your pet will appreciate the relief from all that scratching and digging.

References cited

DeBoer, D. J.  2004.  Canine Atopic Dermatitis: New Targets, New Therapies.  J. Nutr., 134: 2056S – 2061S

Douwes, and Pierce.  2002.  Asthma and the westernization ‘package’.  Douwes and Pierce.  Int. J. of Epidemiology  31:1098-1102.

Duggan, C., Gannon, J., and Walker, W. A.  2002.  Protective nutrients and functional foods for the gastrointestinal tract

Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, 75: 789 – 808.

Benyacoub, J., Czarnecki-Maulden, G. L., Christoph Cavadini, C., Sauthier, T.,  Anderson, R. E.  Schiffrin, E. J., and von der Weid, T.  2003.  Supplementation of Food withEnterococcus faecium (SF68) Stimulates Immune Functions in Young Dogs.  J. Nutr., 133: 1158 – 1162.

Bracken, M. B.,  Belanger, K. B., Cookson, W. O., Triche, E., Christiani, D. C., and  P. Leaderer, B. P.  2002.  Genetic and Perinatal Risk Factors for Asthma Onset and Severity: A Review and Theoretical Analysis.  Epidemiol. Rev., 24: 176 – 189.

Leynaert, B., , Neukirch, C., Jarvis, D., Chinn, S., Burney, P., and Neukirch, F.  2001.  Does Living on a Farm during Childhood Protect against Asthma, Allergic Rhinitis, and Atopy in Adulthood? Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med., 164: 1829 – 1834.

Beong Ou LimKoji YamadaMichiko NonakaYuichiro KuramotoPham Hungand Michihiro Sugano. 1997. Dietary Fibers Modulate Indices of Intestinal Immune Function in Rats. J. Nutrition  663-667

Rastall.  J.  2004.  Bacteria in the gut: Friend or foe and how to alter the balance.  Nutr. 134:2022S-2026S.

Nowak-Wegrzyn, A.  2003.  Future Approaches to Food Allergy

Pediatrics, 111: 1672 – 1680.

von Mutius, E.  2001.  Infection: friend or foe in the development of atopy and asthma? The epidemiological evidence.  Eur. Respir. J., 18: 872 – 881.

Warner, J. O.  2004.  The early life origins of asthma and related allergic disorders.  Arch. Dis. Child., 89: 97 – 102.

Weiss, S. T.  2002.  Eat Dirt — The Hygiene Hypothesis and Allergic Diseases.  N. Engl. J. Med., 347: 930 – 931.

Wood, R. A.  2006.  Prospects for the Prevention of Allergy: A Losing Battle or a Battle Still Worth Fighting?  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 160: 552 – 554.

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