Allergies and Dogs
I’m prompted to write something on this because I’m seeing and hearing so much more these days, of dogs suffering yeast infections (mostly ears but a few skin infections particularly groin and armpits as well), urinary tract infections (some are yeast-related as well), gastrointestinal issues and all too common skin issues — dermatitis of one sort or another. Recently I had been approached by a few dog owners (not of my breeding) and asked for advice on how to deal with allergies and help their four-legged family members. Unfortunately, and it breaks up my heart, one of the dogs had to be euthanized due to the severity of an allergic reaction that lead to skin liaisons that lead to infection and sepsis and extreme suffering as medical treatment was not working. And one diagnosed with intestinal lymphangiectasia (IL) or protein-losing enteropathy (a rare condition that becomes more and more common in dogs these days) as a result of prolonged irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that leads to malnutrition and as a result short life span expectancy.
‼️👉OFF NOTE In this post, I will share my personal experience and knowledge as a nurse, a mother to three children and a dog breeder. But please always consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis. Don't use google remedies and human medicine without proper research and vet consultation.
So I really feel the need to cover the topic of WHAT IS AN ALLERGY and how to deal with it. Before I continue I want to remind all that WE ARE WHAT WE EAT and healthy gut bacteria and microflora is essential to wellbeing. With dogs being natural carnivores the tendency of feeding a high carbohydrate diet (which is unnatural to the species) with a vast variety of dry kibble food available on the market causes our furry family members health issues. Think of eating highly processed foods every day for your entire life and what it will do to you?! It's like eating Mcdonald's day after day after day with their SUPER SIZE portions.
So let's get to the point - allergy is the name we give to an autoimmune disease. It's not really a disease at all, it's a dog’s immune system that produces an inappropriate response against its own cells, tissues and/or organs causing inflammation and damage (just like in us humans). It’s an immune system that has been compromised, weakened, or made ineffective. To focus on the allergy itself is not helpful, instead, we need to focus on REPAIRING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM.
In dogs as well as in humans, the immune system is totally reliant on a healthy gut. The two are inextricably linked. In ways, we are still yet to fully understand. More than this, gut flora (sometimes described as gut microbiota or gastrointestinal microbiota in scientific words) — a complex community of microorganisms that live in the gut and intestinal digestive tracts of humans, dogs and other animals — is both the first defence against external bacterial and other pathogens (such as those ingested), providing a delicate barrier between the walls of the gut and the bloodstream; and governs the stability of the immune system. We don’t really fully understand how this happens. But we do know that this is how the gut and intestinal digestive systems work. And why they are central to a strong and stable immune system. If the gut flora is out of whack, the immune system will be the first to suffer. And classically, some of the first and enduring signs of an imbalance and unhealthy immune system are extreme (allergic) responses to otherwise harmless elements, turning something (food, mites, dust, you name it) into harmful allergens.
There are many examples of autoimmune diseases in humans, where an irregular immune system, one that is out of balance, causes autoimmune disorders. Asthma is one such common disorder that is growing in the human population (my older son had been diagnosed with it along with severe eczema from a very early age and trust me I have been through 9 circles of hell for his first 4 years of life). In dogs, disorders include dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), yeast infections (usually of the ear canal and the urinary tract) and inflammatory bowel syndrome, a diagnosis that masks things such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In simple terms, to fix these disorders and many others, we need to look to the gut and the complexity of the flora immediately in the gut and the intestinal tracts.
WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL MEDICAL TREATMENTS FOR ALLERGIES available for dogs. So you think your dog has allergies and the first thing you do you call your vet (trust me I would do the same BUT there is a big BUT!). And invariably, maybe after a few vet consults but very often in just one sitting, almost all conventional vets will prescribe some form of a pill. Usually a steroid. But increasingly and especially in severe cases, a non-steroid, very toxic alternative. So before you jump into this resolution and advice from your vet READ THIS 👇 I hope that once you would have the full scope of information you would start with dietary changes rather than jumping straight into meds. Yes, changing diet is a hard and labouring process and yes it takes time. But if you really want to give your dog a chance to live a healthy long life you should consider all options.
THE DRUGS 💊 — The first-hand go-to meds for treating allergies are steroids followed by Atopica and Apoquel.
So let's look at the most commonly prescribed steroid med prednisolone. Prednisone and other steroids (synthetic corticosteroids), of which work by suppressing the functioning of the immune system. In fact, they impact every cell in the body. Side effects include stomach ulcers, poor healing in internal and external wounds, thyroid suppression, inability to fight infection, very high blood sugar leading to diabetes, and swollen liver/liver failure. Dogs will drink and urinate more (polydipsia and polyuria). Most pets will have an increased appetite, fluid retention (edema) and weight gain. With longer-term use, bones will weaken significantly (osteoporosis), the skin will thin and hair fall out (alopecia). If given to pregnant dogs, fetuses are likely to be malformed or miscarried.
Steroids will also affect psychological well-being, some dogs will exhibit happiness others will become more irritable and withdrawn.
Given the problems associated with steroid use, vets are now likely to turn to Atopica (cyclosporine is the drug name) to treat allergies. Cyclosporine was initially developed to prevent organ transplant rejections in humans and works to the same effect as steroids, suppressing the immune system. Atopica is now known to have a devastating effect on the immune system. This is what the drug company says about its own product 👇
“Cyclosporine (Atopica) may cause some side effects. The most common side effects of Cyclosporine involve the digestive, including vomiting and diarrhea. Other possible side effects of Cyclosporine: Persistent Otitis Externa (swimmer’s ear), Urinary Tract Infection, Pruritis, Anorexia, Lethargy, Gingival Hyperplasia (overgrowth of gums), Lymphadenopathy (swelling of lymph nodes). Cyclosporine is contraindicated (in other words not advised) for use in dogs with a history of neoplasia (tumours). Cyclosporine (Atopica) is a potent systemic IMMUNOSUPPRESSANT that may cause susceptibility to infection and the development of neoplasia (cancer). Gastrointestinal problems and gingival hyperplasia may occur at the initial recommended dose. Cyclosporine should not be administered to dogs less than 6 months of age or less than 4lbs of body weight. It should also not be used in breeding dogs, pregnant or lactating female dogs. The effect of Cyclosporine use on dogs with compromised renal functions has not been studied so Cyclosporine should be used with caution in dogs with renal insufficiency. Atopica is not for human use. Keep this drug and all drugs out of reach of children. For use in dogs only.”
In simple terms, Atopica is deadly and especially so in the longer term of use. Again, reported side effects in dogs as listed by the FDA. It’s PRURITIS — ITCHING. ‼️ Ironically exactly the condition the drug is so often prescribed to stop.
In addition to Atopica, vets will now also dish out a relatively new drug, Apoquel (Oclacitinib Maleate) to suppress a dog’s immune system. But this time suppression works somewhat differently. A vet may well describe Apoquel as an exciting new drug that carries none of the side effects of steroids. THE TRUTH COULDN’T BE ANY MORE DIFFERENT. ‼️😡
Apoquel affects the body’s kinases. Kinases are important compounds or enzymes which are used by the body’s cells use to communicate with each other. In the 1980s, an Australian chemist discovered new ones, labelled JAK1, JAK2, JAK3 and TKY2. JAK initially stood for ‘Just Another Kinase’ but was later renamed Janus Kinase. These kinases govern a dog’s immune system in the production of antibody cells (B and T cells), the regulation of inflammatory responses, helping prevent tumours, maintaining healthy counts of white and red cells and controlling aspects of the body’s growth and development. IN SIMPLE TERMS, THE IMMUNE SYSTEM‼️
By preventing JAKs from working, Apoquel seriously undermines a dog’s immune system. And in another word, the impact of continued use of Apoquel significantly heightens the risk of cancer — the dog becomes predisposed to developing benign and malignant tumours. The drug lowers red and white cells, inhibiting the body’s ability to fight bacterial infection and other insidious diseases and it stunts growth. IT’S A KILLER ‼️ But the thing is, it does work in reducing itching — at least for a while and in some dogs. Again somewhat ironically, in other dogs, a direct side effect is parasitic skin infections (and itching).
So where does this leave dogs and their owners desperately wanting a fix to their dog’s ills? Clearly, the drugs so liberally prescribed by vets for allergies are not worth the risk. Or at least I don’t think they are. Instead of dealing with symptoms, we need to reconsider the root cause of an allergy (any allergy).
Whether a dog has an environmental (inside the home or outside) allergy, food intolerance or allergy; or even an allergic response to flea saliva (flea dermatitis), we need to look to the dog’s immune system and in turn, to their gut to resolve its health issues. ⚠️FIX YOUR DOG’S DIET, it is often that simple.
So now let’s talk about the most common diet, the all-mighty dry kibble. Yes, I know you heard it from me already that species-specific aka raw diet is the way to go but let me give you a bit more facts. Bare with me here and continue reading. You made it this far already 🤗
The majority of the world’s pet dogs are now fed dry food aka kibble. Kibble is a convenience food, manufactured first in the USA only as recently as in the 1940s and 50s. Before that time dogs were fed or scavenged human food or raw food. There are huge numbers of different brands of kibble and contrary to most opinions, all kibble (and I mean, all) is manufactured in the same way. It is produced by a means of extrusion or in other words, heated to extreme temperatures (up to 350C) and forced under extreme pressure into very small ‘biscuits’ or kibble ‘pieces’. What goes into the kibble to start — the source items — bears no resemblance to what comes out at the other end of the manufacturing process. Source foods and additives don’t survive the extreme temperatures and pressures under which they are placed, leaving manufacturers to add an array of minerals and vitamins after extrusion (plus artificial flavours to make the kibble appealing to dogs), to provide the end product with a semblance of nutrition. Without these post-extrusion additions, the biscuit would be nutritionally unsound and completely unappealing. For the most part, it makes little difference between expensive and cheap brands, they are all produced in the same way.
But the real culprit in kibble is not that it is highly processed, or that it is the nutritional equivalent of a heavily processed McDonald’s burger, nor that dogs were never intended to eat kibbles their whole lives (can you imagine how tedious and unappetizing this is?). The real culprit in kibble is that it is made with a large number of carbohydrates. Between 40–70% across the board. The heavy carb content is required in kibble to ‘stick it’ together, it’s the starch that binds the source elements when put under high temps and high pressure. Without the starchy stuff, kibble would simply disintegrate in production. And perhaps a little more cynically — but nonetheless factual — carbohydrates are far cheaper to source than meat; and they have a much longer shelf life. Which when you are a global manufacturer of pet food, sort of matters.
🐶Dogs have evolved over tens of thousands of years (I’m not talking wolves here, just good ol’ Canis familiaris, the domestic dog) to eat meat, bone and organ. It's not that they can’t eat vegetables or carbohydrates it’s just that their systems, from mouth and jaw to intestinal digestion, have evolved to deal with meat 🍖🍗and organs ♥️ and bones 🦴.
How do we know this? Well, in a number of ways.
👆First is the inability of a dog to chew (to masticate if you want to get science-specific here). Their jaws only have a one-plane (up-down) movement, they can’t move their jaws laterally — like a cow or a human can. In other words, dogs tear and swallow their food, they can’t chew to start the digestive process.
✌️Second, a dog’s teeth are similarly shaped for biting and tearing, not chewing — they are sharp, not flat.
👉Third, dogs naturally have a very high acidic value to their digestive systems, typically a gut pH of 1–2 as well as in their intestinal tracts (although the pH here can vary). Compare this to a human’s more alkaline stomach pH of 4–5, which evolved for metabolizing cooked and carbohydrate-based foods. If dogs didn’t have such a highly acidic gut, they simply wouldn’t be able to eat bones; nor would they be able to deal with the bacteria and parasites found in raw meats.
☝️Fourth, dogs have very short intestinal tracts, about 15% the length of the human equivalent, so food passes very quickly from stomach to anus (although staying in the stomach for a lot longer than it does in humans). In humans, we digest much of our non-protein food in our intestines, vegetable matter, grains and carbohydrates. Dogs can’t do this. So raw vegetables, grains and carbs are often visible in their poo — feed your dog a raw carrot (they love them) and see what I mean.😜
Also, humans possess an enzyme, amylase, a requirement for the processing of carbohydrates. We possess it in our saliva (dogs do not) and we make it in our pancreas — in fact, we as humans start our digestion in our mouth, upon chewing. While dogs are able to, and do, make amylase in their pancreas, the fact that their saliva lacks any of it suggests their bodies are evolved for processing meat.
Lastly, on food digestion, all living cells carry within them the means for their destruction in the form of lysozymes. These packets of enzymes break open upon cell death and help break down the contents of the cell, either for recycling (in a living body–as in digestion) or in decomposition. Cooking meat destroys lysozymes. This phenomenon is a reason, in part at least, why a dog will often secrete and bury raw meat and bones only to dig them up weeks later — it’s to take advantage of the lysosomal process in the decomposing meat.
AND THE RESULT OF ALL THAT IS that dogs do not expect to gain nutrients from carbohydrates; nor are they able to efficiently metabolize carbohydrates (having no salivary amylase and a digestive tract that is too short for the complete digestion of carbohydrates), a high carbohydrate diet results in a reduction in the nutrient value of all food ingested, diluting the number of nutrients ingested, the protein, fats and minerals — the ‘good stuff — so much so, the dog can be left malnourished. It also leads to increased size in their stools as more food is wasted through improper digestion; a poor quality of stool; an increase in hunger for more nutrients; and a reduction of the overall health of the dog due to a lack of appropriate nutrition.
⚠️But perhaps most worrying is the impact of a high carbohydrate diet on the pancreas. Given dogs can only create amylase in their pancreas, and given carbohydrate-rich foods need amylase to break it down, the pancreas goes into overdrive. In other words, pancreatitis in dogs is in fact, not caused by rich and fatty foods. Rather it is more likely to be caused by an overworked pancreas trying to keep up with digesting highly processed, high carbohydrate foods like kibble.
🧐You don't believe me? Here is what Jean Hofve DVM has to say about it: “Research in animals has shown that the production of digestive enzymes is independent of diet. That is, animals are biologically programmed to produce specific types and amounts of digestive enzymes in response to food ingestion, regardless of what food they actually eat. Only major evolutionary shifts, such as changing from omnivorous to insectivorous lifestyles, affect these systems. Our carnivorous pets have not, and cannot, adapt their digestive functions to processed [carbohydrate rich] diets, which, after all, have only been widely used for a few decades”. (Digestive Enzymes, Integrative Veterinary Care, Feb 20, 2013).
Several things occur as a result of a high carbohydrate diet in dogs.
👆First, dogs cannot digest much of the carbohydrates in the digestive tract, leading to voluminous poos and poor nutritional health.
✌️Second, the sole source of the enzyme required to break down the carbohydrates into glucose is the pancreas, leading to an enlarged and overworked pancreas.
👉Third, dogs experience an excess of glucose in the bloodstream triggering a larger insulin response to help control it — failure to control excessive glucose in the bloodstream leads to diabetes.
☝️Fourth, Insulin (a hormone), also produced in the pancreas, stimulates the uptake of excess digested glucose into fat tissue.
👊Lastly, an excess of carbohydrates appears to decrease mineral absorption. Not only this but the carbohydrate problem is compounded further when there is increased bacterial fermentation in the gut caused by the malabsorption (i.e. partial absorption) of carbohydrates, leading to gas, discomfort and often diarrhea.
😡So all in all, carbohydrates are not good news for dogs. It doesn’t much matter whether your dog has allergies to environmental factors or to certain foods. It doesn’t make much difference if the allergy manifests as an ear problem (excessive yeast), skin sensitivities or dermatitis; or as vomiting and/or diarrhea The key is in fixing the gut — every time. The gut is a delicate balance of microbiota (flora) and needs support through feeding the ‘right’ foods and the use of supplements where necessary, particularly pre-and pro-biotics.
Of course, you can try to provide some immediate relief by controlling exposure to those things causing the allergy. But you still have to resolve the core problem if you want your dog to fully recover.
In simple terms that means feeding your dog a raw diet, rich in protein, some fats and organ meats and bone. Plus a little vegetable.
Specifically, it means:
Take your dog off kibble and canned foods. It doesn’t much matter the cost or supposed quality of the kibble, all kibble is produced in the same way and all kibble contains an over-supply of carbohydrates, usually between 40–70%.
Feed a raw protein (about 75% of each meal) that is unlikely to provoke an allergic response. Lean muscle meat is ideal — avoid non-organic chicken (”standard” chicken is processed with a chemical rinse and often ‘grown’ with antibiotics). Add organ and ground bone (bout 10-15%). And 10% of pureed or partially cooked green vegetables.
Feed fresh sardines (preferably) or canned (no salt, in spring water) as a natural source of 3, 6 and 9 omega oils. Also supplement with a blend of oils (cod liver, vitamin e, flaxseed, sunflower, olive). It's important to have a balance of omega EFAs (essential fatty acids), 3, 6 and 9 — many pet food brands tend to overdo the 6 because it is more stable when mixed in with kibble. This causes an imbalance and sometimes a reaction in dogs.
Add a tablespoon of a fermented vegetable (sauerkraut) to the meal, you can buy this from most health shops. It’s full of both pre-and pro-biotics. If your dog is not a fan of cabbage add the sauerkraut juice to the food it has all the good bacteria too.
Add kefir or yogurt to each meal, a tablespoon, for the same reasons as above (don’t use cow milk kefir or yogurt — too much lactose or sugar go for goat).
Add turmeric paste (often called ‘golden paste’) — a mix of raw turmeric powder, ground black pepper and coconut oil). Plus a teaspoon of raw coconut oil every second day.
While the raw eating diet change will lead to significant improvements in the gut flora and associated digestion, sometimes a dog will still exhibit signs of less than optimum digestive health. In such an unlikely case, it is best to test for intolerances and allergies to specific foods. I’d suggest Dr. Jean Dodds’ NutriScan, food sensitivity and intolerance diagnostic test for dogs. It’s a USA-based clinic but they do service international clients. It is very highly respected. And pretty fast. Or you can get a similar test from our Canadian company CA Pet Food Intolerance. And of course, you can ask your vet to run a bloodwork test to pinpoint the cause of the reaction.
Ok, you made it through! So let me sum it all up for you: feed raw, avoid highly processed, carbohydrate-rich foods like kibble — any kibble. If you need convenience from time to time (when travelling or in a hurry) use air or freeze-dried ‘raw’ food (there are plenty of choices in the pet stores and even supermarket aisles). And it won’t undo the time and effort you’ve spent in feeding your dog a raw diet.
Perhaps I should add by way of clarity, that it's almost impossible to avoid all carbohydrates — nor that you should — as they are the sugars, starches and fibres found in almost everything, fruits, grains, vegetables and even in dairy (in lactose). But the key is to avoid unnaturally high concentrations of carbohydrates. And where you do include carbohydrates in your dog’s diet (as in the 10% of pureed vegetable matter per meal), use non-refined low GI (glycemic index) carbs like carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, and all sorts of ‘complex’ carbs (quick note here, grains do not equal carbs — they are not interchangeable terms, so zero grain food isn’t zero carbohydrate food). Low GI means your dog’s metabolizing of them takes longer and the resulting sugars enter the bloodstream more slowly. Requires a lower insulin response. Altogether much healthier.
The subject of carbohydrates in a dog’s diet — and in that of a human’s for that matter — is an evolving one. And of course, no two dogs are the same. You’ll find dogs that exist pretty well on a high carb (kibble) diet, or at least they do for a while, whilst they are relatively young. But increasingly, dogs are finding respite to their health ills — allergies and intolerances and disease — by turning to raw foods, away from refined carbohydrates; and a diet that is 70% raw meat and/or fish. It's also worth bearing in mind that while you might not see signs of health problems in all dogs, once they reach 8+, signs of arthritis, respiratory problems, skin issues and tumours, often start to appear — they shouldn’t but they do. There is no reason dogs shouldn’t easily live to 15+, even 20+. Some do. But the majority don’t—2014 figures from research done in the UK, suggest the mean age for pure breed dogs is not more than 10. We don’t know the precise reasons for this but for my money, I believe it has a lot to do with diet.