Dog Allergies: Myths, Mistakes and Cures
We keep hearing about more frequent allergy issues in dogs and the purported causes and cures. I thought it was about time to blog about what we have learned through dealing with it first hand. We worked with our veterinarian and a nutritionist - almost pitting them against each other at times in order to get the most out of each of them in terms of research and ideas. What we found out is amazing.
The first question we must ask is 'what has caused this major increase'? Some will tell you that it is all about the food you are using and start talking in terms of 'primal' feeding habits as the only way to go, while others will say 'quality' kibble is the benchmark of health and allergen freedom.
The truth is that food allergies make up a large portion of the problems we see in dogs. Throw in a host of environmental allergens such as ragweed and grass and the problem of diagnosing and devising a plan to treat your furry friends gets a little confusing. One thing most dogs with allergies have in common whether from food or the environment is the presentation of symptoms. While humans sniffle and sneeze... dogs itch! Some get diarrhea, but most lose hair, get smelly, the skin flakes and they itch. The itching is the toughest part for us to watch. We know it hurts, we know it is just driving them crazy.
I know you want to get right into the food part of this, but since environmental allergies cannot be eliminated in most cases, you have to start with a basic approach to treating the symptoms. You cannot change everything at once - how will you know what the dog is allergic to if you do? You will be left with making serious assumptions (that may cause you to get on a FB Community and start spouting off how you found the solution for every itchy dog question that is posted). How horrible would that be? Let's just assume we need 30 days to plug into this thing. Humans have allergies that take a long time to uncover with the help of testing and dialogue with the doctor. Remember that your dog cannot exactly tell you what is going on so give things a little time to work.
A simple dose of diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratidine (Claritin) may be the solution to environmental allergies and many veterinarians would recommend either of them or possibly another similar product to treat your dog. It is a good start and can show its effectiveness in as little as just a few hours. Benadryl may look like it is working quite quickly because it has a calming ability for many dogs just as it does with many humans. Don't mistake this as THE CURE. Just because your dog has relief from the sensation to itch doesn't mean the allergies are just environmental at this point. It may have just calmed the dog enough to take a break. The drugs can fool even the best veterinarian and dog lover alike - since your dog cannot talk you have to be vigilant in observation. Is hair growing back? Are the pink or red spots going away? Is your dog getting back to normal? A little better than 2 weeks on the meds and you should have some solid answers.
If you are still experiencing symptoms, but to a lesser degree you have at least given some relief to your dog so do not feel bad. Now it is time to manage diet to see what might be going on. The hard facts on food allergies is that they start at the absorption point - the intestines. Good intestinal health is the key to sorting out food allergies. While the bandwagon is rolling hard and fast to get dogs off of grains and back to basics as a way of life, the real issue may just be a bad gut. We will get back to that.
Think about this for just a minute... Hill's Science Diet (a Colgate/Palmolive company) has millions of dollars invested in research for the health of dogs - they still use grains in many of their diets. I have used their product for dogs with serious illness and they thrived on it - one had a food allergy to red meat. The truth about food allergies is that most are related to the protein not the grain. Is grain necessary? No. Is it an inexpensive filler? Yes. Should it be eliminated? That is really up to your dog. How does your dog thrive with a little bulk fiber or filler in their diet? That is the question you must answer and you need to do so honestly. Are there grains that are better or worse for your dog? You betcha! Grains like oats, barley and the like are considered far better than others. They still are not required in the diet, unless your dog needs the bulking to thrive. Since a dog doesn't process carbohydrates like humans do, forget the idea of 'carb-loading' your dog for a tough day of work. Dogs get energy from... fats. Yep, you read that right.
Back to grains and issues. Soy is not a good grain in any food. It can cause infertility, poor protein absorption in the intestine, has been linked to seizures, gas and bloat. Soy from US sources contain more pesticides than any other source of soy including China and Japan. Stay away from soy. Corn, well corn was a staple for a long time - I think we have evolved beyond using corn especially since it is widely known as a GMO (genetically modified organism) and the repercussions are still being evaluated. Most reports will show GMOs are going to pose major issues down the road. Corn has been targeted as an allergen, but truthfully it is most likely just an intolerance - there is a difference. This may be where the diarrhea shows itself. We raised many puppies on Purina Puppy Chow when I was a kid. Beautiful, hard working puppies on a corn based food. Cheap and easy to store, corn is still on the labels of many top commercial brands. Purnia Pro Plan has recently introduced several versions of its corn infused diets. We now steer clear of corn, but I cannot say it is the worst thing in some commercial dog foods; I wish it was.
So, what about all of those new protein sources we have available? Does a dog do better with kangaroo than with traditional beef diets? Ask your dog... what does it look like, act like? Before going off the deep end with changing a diet, why not work on your dog from the inside first. What I mean is that MOST food allergies stem from a problem in the gut. It may be under-developed or compromised intestines causing the problem and if it is, then why not fix that instead of further compromising your dog? Yes, you can do harm to the dog if it doesn't get exposure to common foods in the world it lives in. What if Fido gets a little beef when it is clearly 'allergic' to beef? He poops all over or itches like crazy for a few days. What if, unbeknownst to you, the nice neighbor is tossing him chicken scraps because he just loves him like crazy and Fido seems to enjoy them? Do I really have to write it again? Poop. Itchy. Poop. Itchy.
If there were a way to settle the gut, concentrate on things at a cellular level would you listen? My vet finally did. Yep, my vet whom I trust with the care of my 6 dogs (2 GSDs, 2 Dutch Shepherds, 1 Maltese, 1 Tiny Toy Poodle), a cat and various puppies we breed. We battled a food 'allergy' for years with our beloved Athena. She passed away a couple of years ago, but before her passing filled us up with enough knowledge of what to do wrong and enormous vet bills to go with it. We loved her dearly and wanted her to be well - afterall, she was our pet of 10 years so we spared no expense. We prepared her food, we took her to one of the finest veterinary hospitals for thousands of dollars worth of tests and 'treatment'. We left with a bad of food that would change everything. It was a food with one protein source. A food with grains. A food she thrived on. We learned a lesson that we would draw upon today. We have a male GSD with food 'allergies'.
Sure, we tested him and have tried everything you could imagine to make him better. I had an epiphany one day - go back to what he was eating when he placed number 7 in the country, for his age, at the heralded North American Sieger Show and 1st with high marks and excellent remarks from the imported German judge at the regional show for WUSV National Qualifiers. Boom! What was I thinking before? What was I feeding him? What supplements was he getting? What and why did it change? I thought I would feed him a 'better' food instead of what was working. I had him on a supplement that contained ingredients for his gut function. I took him off, because I thought the 'better' food would have it covered; the bag said it did.
What I have learned since is mind boggling and will make some of your ears perk up, while others will just shake their heads and call me crazy. The research we did on a few simple things in the supplement has changed everything. First, we put Zeus back on DOGZYMES Probiotic Max. Without a probiotic additive, there is no good way for your dog to get the amount they need to improve the gut. We use a quality food that sprays them on at the end of the processing - the nutritionist says there has to be more added. A stable, micro-encapsulated probiotic is what we use. Probiotics promote a healthy gut in humans. You may have seen the commercials with Jamie Lee Curtis pushing the yogurt famous for fixing your tummy... based on probiotic research.
The second product we started using is DOGZYMES MSM - Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) impacts your health by reducing inflammation and improving your body's ability to make its own antioxidants. While MSM is a natural component of almost all fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat, food-processing methods reduce sulfur levels, making supplementation more important than ever. The swelling, the irritation of the bowels is much improved with the things nature intended to be in our food, in our food. There is another benefit of MSM... skin and coat health. These are both affected by allergies or foods your dog is intolerant of.
The final product we looked at was spirulina, blue-green algae. We use DOGZYMES Greenalina for our dogs. Spirulina is linked in many studies to the overall health and well being of humans and animals. A very small amount each day can provide energy, detoxification, relief from itchy skin, and a boost to the immune system. When the body is worn down from the effects of the allergens like the scratching and the racing mind your dog is susceptible to other illness. Spirulina is a high protein food, with over 60% all digestible vegetable protein, containing three times the protein value of beef, but without the saturated fat and cholesterols; as much vitamin E as wheat germ and 100 times more beta carotene than carrots. It also contains the highest concentration of vitamin B12, iron and trace minerals, together with the essential fatty acid GLA (gamma-linolenic acid).
Our dogs eat quality lamb and fish based kibble - dogfoodadvisor.com gives it 4.5 stars. I opt for a grain free version that has some vegetables in it, although they do get some corn grain food once in a while - it has chicken and corn as the two main ingredients. I do so to keep them exposed. I liken it to the cat my daughter suckered me into getting. I was once highly allergic to cats; today I can handle most cats with little or no issues at all. My ENT doctor says the cat is the cause of my allergies subsiding.
The additives we use have made life a lot easier for me and the dogs. I can trust they will be able to eat just about anything without major flare ups. All 6 of them have proven this to be effective for what ailed one of them. I wish I had known this years ago. I believe it would've lengthened the life of our Athena and we would have 7 today. She was only 10 1/2 years old when she passed. It was far too early to lose such an amazing dog. I hope some of this information will cause you to study a bit and make good decisions for the health of your dog!