Dog food for allergies might seem a strange concept to many, but as a canine nutritionist, it’s one of the things I do. Show pet parents how to cure their dog’s allergies and skin problems by improving its diet.
About Canine Atopic Dermatitis
Canine atopic dermatitis (atopy) is a common, genetically predisposed, inflammatory canine skin disorder broadly similar to atopic dermatitis in humans. Atopy is triggered by an allergic reaction to what would normally be considered harmless substances. Things like tree or grass pollen, mould spores or dust mites, household detergents or other cleaning products. It can also be triggered by fleas or food.
Atopic dermatitis is the body’s attempt to rid itself of these allergens by way of an inflammatory skin reaction. It’s one of the most common canine complaints. It results in more veterinary consultations that more or less any another other canine health problem.
Appearing to affect female dogs more than males, atopic dermatitis affects some 10% of dogs. It typically shows itself between the ages of 6 months and 3 years of age. Although your dog will have been born with this condition, it is only following repeated exposure to certain allergens that clinical signs of the disease are physically displayed. That is why it can take three or even five years before first appearing.
Symptoms commonly include persistent itching and scratching. Itchy skin, skin rashes, face rubbing on floors and furniture. They can also include scratching of head and ears and chewing of feet and forelegs. Symptoms can also include eye discharge and skin sores.
The itchy skin is often worse around the ears, the paws, the tummy and the groin area. You’ll generally notice your dog scratching before ever you see any physical signs of the problem. When you do these can include redness, a rash or open sores.
Causes of atopic dermatitis
The causes of atopic dermatitis are many and various. But amongst them are:
Some dog breeds appear to be more predisposed towards developing atopic dermatitis than others. These include German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers, Boxers, English Springer Spaniels, Sharpeis, Dachshunds, Lhasa Apsos, Pugs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bullterriers, French Bulldogs, Miniature Schnauzers and American Cocker Spaniels.
While we’re on the subject of causes of atopic dermatitis, vaccinations are of great concern to many of us. There are many today who consider our dogs are being over vaccinated to the detriment of their overall health.
Studies have proven that once a dog has been vaccinated as a puppy, it is more or less protected for life. Even manufacturers of vaccines advise against annual inoculation. And yet still the practice continues unabated!
In short, annual vaccinations are expensive, unnecessary and potentially life-threatening to your best friend.
When your dog is vaccinated, its immune system is suppressed for a period of two or three weeks afterwards.
Aside from this, having your dog vaccinated unnecessarily increases the risk of vaccinosis. Negative reactions and side effects to vaccinations. These can include everything from nausea and vomiting to stiff joints and even neurological disorders.
Because of their weakened immune system, dogs who suffer from environmental canine atopic dermatitis as described above are also more likely to develop:
- Flea allergy dermatitis (a reaction to flea saliva injected when a flea feeds on a dog)
- Food allergy dermatitis (an allergy or intolerance to certain foods)
The resultant self-inflicted cuts and skin abrasions from whichever form of atopic dermatitis can also lead to yeast and bacterial infections. The can also lead to a continuing cycle of pain and discomfort for your dog.
If your dog’s atopy is seasonal in nature – the result of pollen spores for example – the symptoms can become worse and the duration longer with each passing year.
Types of Atopic Dermatitis
There are four main types of atopic dermatitis. The clinical signs are more or less exactly the same for each. This makes it difficult to determine exactly the cause of your dog’s atopy.
Environmental (inhalant and contact) allergies
Environmental (inhalant or contact) canine atopic dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction to airborne allergens such as tree or grass pollen, mould spores or dust mites.
These allergies are likely to be seasonal if pollens are the trigger and more likely to be caused by mould spores or dust mites if they appear all year round. Even your pet’s own bed can be a source of dust mites if it isn’t washed regularly. As of course can carpets and difficult-to-clean areas such as underneath beds, sofas and household furniture.
Dogs can also be susceptible to household allergens. If you suspect your dog’s allergy might be related to the home environment, think about anything you may have recently introduced into your home. A new carpet, new bedding or air fresheners. Household cleaners that you haven’t used before such as washing detergents and carpet sprays are all common canine allergy triggers.
If your dog’s allergies have coincided with the introduction of something new in the house, you might just have discovered the answer to your dog’s problem!
Flea allergies (Flea Allergy Atopic Dermatitis) (FAD)
Flea allergy atopic dermatitis is caused by the proteins in the flea’s saliva. It’s more likely to negatively affect a dog rarely subjected to fleas rather than a dog that might be considered flea-ridden.
Just one flea bite is sufficient to cause flea allergy dermatitis in a particularly hypersensitive dog. This is more likely to affect the back half of the dog. The irritation from a flea bite can be so bad that the scratching can even result in hair loss and scabs on the skin around the affected area.
Dogs which tend to suffer from inhalant and contact allergies are considerably more susceptible to flea allergy dermatitis than normal healthy dogs without any allergy problems.
Food allergies (Food Allergy Atopic Dermatitis)
While there is a clear distinction between a food allergy and a food intolerance (also known as a food sensitivity), the symptoms can be exactly the same. For that reason, I tend to treat them as one.
In actual fact, a food allergy is a relatively immediate autoimmune response to an offending dietary ingredient. In the case of a dog, this is more likely to simply result in sickness or diarrhoea.
A food intolerance or sensitivity on the other hand is not immune system related and is a long-term or chronic reaction to a food protein that develops over time. While this too can result in sickness and or diarrhoea, it is more than likely to mainly be manifested by the itchiness and other symptoms we traditionally associate with a canine food allergy.
This is what most dog parents refer to when they speak of their dog having a food allergy. In actual fact, it’s a food intolerance!
All that having been said, food allergies/sensitivities in dogs are actually relatively rare. It’s believed that they account for less than 10% of cases of canine atopic dermatitis. Some experts consider they account for fewer still.
What is beyond dispute however is the fact that poor nutrition compromises your dog’s immune system. A fresh, whole food diet on the other hand will make your dog’s immune system far more robust and far better able to protect your dog from disease in general.
So whether your dog is suffering from food allergy atopic dermatitis (be it a true allergy or an intolerance) or an environmental allergy, boosting the immune system by feeding good nutrition (dog food for allergies) will enormously benefit your dog.
It will help to cure the disease or at the very least help strengthen your dog’s immune system and make it less susceptible to this and other diseases. Remember, your dog’s immune system is its first line of defence in fighting off illness. The stronger you can make it the better.
While cheap fillers traditionally associated with poor quality commercial dog food are frequently blamed for triggering food allergy dermatitis, any dog can develop atopy if continuously fed exactly the same thing over a protracted length of time. After repeated exposure to the same food item without variation, your dog’s immune system can misidentify a protein from a food as an invader rather than a nutrient. This encourages an immune response in the form of itchy skin.
Humans can also be affected in much the same way so this is not something specific to dogs. So the fact that your pup has been fed on, say, chicken and rice kibble for it’s entire life without issue, does not rule out his or her food as the source of the problem. It could simply be that it’s taken a long time for the symptoms to start to appear.
Chronic ear infections are a typical sign of a food allergy and can be cured with dog food for allergies!
Bacteria or staphylococcus is the fourth in our list of main types of atopic dermatitis. Bacterial hypersensitivity occurs when your dog’s immune system overacts to normal bacteria on its own skin. This is more likely to occur if your dog is also suffering from an environmental or flea allergy.
If your dog’s itchy skin coincides with he or she also having diarrhoea, this may well indicate food allergy atopic dermatitis.
Diagnosis of Atopic Dermatitis
In order to ascertain the cause of your dog’s atopy, your vet is likely to recommend intradermal allergy testing (patch testing). This will require your dog to be chemically restrained either by sedation or anaesthesia while its hair is clipped and then suspected antigens injected into the skin to check for a reaction.
Blood testing can also be used but these results are less reliable and frequently liable to false positive readings. These tests and others are what conventional veterinarians like to call a ‘diagnostic work-up’.
And one more thing. Hair and saliva tests are even more unreliable than blood testing when it comes to determining the cause of canine allergies. Please, please don’t waste your money!
Management of Atopic Dermatitis
It is more than likely that your vet will recommend (or will have recommended) initial steroid treatment to treat both the symptoms of your dog’s scratching, and to treat any secondary infection caused by the scratching. This will not treat the ‘cause’ of your dog’s problem it should be noted. It will only deal with the symptoms and any effect is likely to be temporary at best.
The long-term use of steroids also comes with some pretty frightening side-effects as well. So please give serious consideration to your dog’s long-term health before embarking on a course of steroids for your best friend.
You will also likely be told that your dog’s atopy will require treatment for life, which is of course not true at all. I would suggest you treat this with the same degree of scepticism as hair and saliva testing which you can read more about below.
Your dog’s immune system is a true miracle of nature. At the first sign of danger, it leaps to its defence. So while your dog’s rash might not necessarily be a good thing, it’s not wholly a bad thing either. Because that rash is your dog’s immune system telling you there’s a problem. It’s actually a big red flag telling you your dog’s body is under siege from a foreign invader.
So now you have two choices. You can reach for the phone and make an appointment with your vet, or you can take responsibility for your best friend and deal with the problem yourself in a natural and more holistic way. You can feed it dog food for allergies.
Don’t switch off your dog’s immune system
Your vet of course is going to go straight for the big guns. He or she is going to hit your dog’s body with one of a number of immunosuppressant drugs which will effectively switch off your dog’s immune system.
In effect, your vet will sweep the problem under the carpet. Deal with the symptoms and pretend the cause doesn’t exist. Yes, the itch, the rash may go away, but your dog’s immune system is there for good reason. Switch it off and how are you going to know what’s really going on inside your dog’s body?
It’s like having a brake warning light come on in your car and pulling the fuse so you’re not distracted by the warning light any more. The problem, which could potentially be life-threatening, will still exist of course, but what the heck!
In the case of immunosuppressant drugs, not only do they switch off your dog’s early warning system, they come with a whole slew of potential side-effects as well.
Severe infections, diarrhoea, nausea, lethargy and vomiting for starters. And they’re the good guys. They also leave the door wide open to the likes of kidney failure, pneumonia and cancer. They’re the bad guys!
Improve your dog’s diet
There are however a number of things you should try before ever taking the immunosuppressant drugs route. The obvious one is to change your dog’s diet. Try feeding proper dog food for allergies!
The cornerstone to having a healthy dog is good nutrition. You cannot expect your dog to enjoy good health unless you feed he or she a proper healthy diet.
Commercial dog food is a relatively modern invention. It was devised little more than 150 years ago and has been mainstream for less than half of that. With it have come shorter life spans for dogs, commonplace illnesses that were once rare, and a general acceptance that regular trips to the vets are a fact of life.
People rarely ask themselves one particularly question. If a fresh food diet is considered the healthiest way to feed myself and my family, why should it not also be the healthiest way to feed my pup?
Your dog has a digestive system not so dissimilar to yours and mine. Yes, there are differences. But as with you and I, your dog’s digestive system is designed to benefit from a wide range of ingredients. Just think about how your dog would feed itself if it was living in the wild.
Logic dictates that your dog’s digestive system was not designed to eat nothing more than highly processed, nutritionally compromised dry dog biscuit for the entirety of its life. As a canine nutritionist, I can suggest ways to provide your dog food for allergies so they never happen again.