Allergies In Pets
Article by: Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, NMD
You don’t have to be Dr. Dolittle to understand when your pet is telling you he doesn’t feel well. The signs and symptoms speak louder than words!
Pets can have the same symptoms as humans when they aren’t feeling well; sneezing and coughing are the first signs that there might be something abnormal happening in your pet’s health. Other tell-tell signs are licking or chewing on their feet, swollen paws, inflamed ears and of course, the least favorite, irregular bowels.
These symptoms could all very well be signs of pet allergies. Just like in people, the immune system of a healthy pet will react to bacteria, spores and viruses by launching an attack against these irritants.
Most pets are indoor/outdoor pets, which subjects their immune systems to a myriad of particles. Unlike the bacteria and spores, most of these particles won’t harm your pet.
If your pet has allergies, his over-active immune system treats common irritants as an assault on his system. Just like in humans, when your pet’s body engages an immune response, and allergic symptoms appear.
Just What is Your Pet Allergic To?
Your pet can be allergic to one type of tree or every outdoor allergen, allergic to only wheat or every starch. I wish it was that simple to provide a list, but the fact is, animals can react to just about anything in their environment, even water if it’s contaminated with impurities. Your pet’s collar can collect and continuously administer allergens to his body. Bedding materials, cleaning supplies, household chemicals and dust mites are all common household allergens that could be causing your pet to have an allergic reaction.
If your pet seems to be suffering with allergy symptoms, keep in mind it could be more than one element that is causing them. It could be environmental, or it could be food allergies, or it could be both. To complicate the process of elimination, it could also be seasonal allergies.
It’s a common mistake to think that your pet can’t be allergic to food because you’ve been feeding them the same brand or type of food since day one.
If your pet has allergy symptoms and you have been feeding him the same food since he came to live with you, you may be overlooking the fact that his immune system has been overloaded with allergens for a long period of time and his body is fighting back.
Here is a list of foods that dogs and cats can be the most allergic to:
Given that the most popular brands of pet food contain these food items, does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. Dogs and cats were never meant to ingest foods containing such high amounts of carbohydrates (the average commercial dog food contains over 50% grains), and were certainly designed to consume more than one protein source over a lifetime!
If you suspect that your pet has a food allergy, a food trial, or allergy elimination diet, can help you figure out which foods are preying on your animal’s immune system.
Allergy Elimination Diet
Once your companion has developed an allergic reaction to a substance, those reactive antigens can circulate in his bloodstream for up to 6 weeks, causing inflammation and irritation. This is the reason I recommend a full three-month food trial.
During this three-month period, you absolutely cannot feed your pet any foods or treats that contain the suspicious ingredient. A single bite of a problematic food can cause a flare up that lasts several days; so complete elimination is the only way for the process to be successful.
After the three month trial is up, new foods can be added slowly back in. Track your pet’s reaction after each food is added, and if your pet has an adverse reaction, you know to eliminate it. You may find that many of the foods that were previously considered allergenic can slowly be incorporated back into the diet.
Ever-Changing Allergy Symptoms
It is so important for pet owners to recognize that allergy symptoms are very diverse, and expand beyond the typical itching or sneezing. Here are the symptoms that you should look out for:
* Itchy body
* Red eyes
* Nasal discharge
* Oozy skin
* Coughing and sneezing
* Inflamed ears
* Swollen paws
* Gastrointestinal disease (vomiting, diarrhea, gas, chronic hairball issues, anal gland problems)
A Word About Allergy Testing
Allergy panels can yield very different results when conducted over several months, demonstrating that the immune system can over-react to many different substances at varying times of the year. If you decide on allergy testing your pet, just realize that one test won’t provide the answers that you need to help your pet feel good again.
What is the Best Treatment?
Symptoms of inflammation are produced from the inside out, therefore ointments, shampoos, sprays and dips can only provide temporary topical relief. They are beneficial to use to make your pet comfortable during a flare-up, however long-term treatment must focus on balancing your pet’s immune system.
Just as in humans, steroids (prednisone, cortisone, or allergy shots) are used in pets as well, but they are the least optimal treatment choice; steroids work by suppressing your pet’s immune system and actually turn the immune system off, which improves the symptoms remarkably fast but doesn’t address the root issue of why your pet’s immune system is over-reacting in the first place.
Steroids can have a negative effect on your pet. In addition to suppressing the immune system, steroids can damage your pet’s liver, adrenal glands and kidneys. Before considering steroids, keep in mind that suppressing your pet’s immune system also allows for opportunistic yeast and bacteria to grow on your pet’s skin, sometimes increasing the chances that antibiotics may have to be prescribed.
Again, just as in humans, antibiotics increase the likelihood of yeast overgrowth, and cause your pet to smell like a corn chip! Even worse, they can become insanely itchy, which sends you back to the vet for more steroids. This is a vicious cycle, which is best to avoid.
I have to mention that healthy pets do not smell bad. Yeast overgrowth emits a musty smell, and if your pet smells this way, there’s no doubt that he may have a problem with yeast overgrowth. Many people assume their pets smell musty because they are dirty, which clearly is not the case. You should only bathe your pet because they are dirty, not because they’re smelly!
In the end, the foods you feed your pet will eventually heal or harm them. Feeding pets healing, non-allergenic foods will allow their immune systems to rest. Rebalancing your pet’s immune system by offering natural, biologically appropriate wholesome foods is necessary to begin the road to recovery. Also remember that the more variety you include in your pet’s diet, the less likely your pet will be to react to the same monotonous foods. Nutritional variety is not only the spice of life, it’s critical for a balanced and healthy immune response — and for keeping your pet allergy-free.