Does Your Pet Have Allergies? – What You Need To Know and Do
by Kaye Davis of Moab BARKery
Does your pet sneeze and cough, have swollen paws or inflamed ears or gastrointestinal upset on a consistent basis? It could be that allergies are wreaking havoc on their system. Just like in people, your healthy pet’s immune system should react to bacteria and viruses by manufacturing antibodies that allow their body to mount an immune response against these unwanted pathogens.
Your pet’s immune system also encounters hundreds of particles everyday that are not harmful, rather are just a part of their natural environment. Under normal circumstances, these substances (ragweed, grasses, pollens, molds, foods) should be recognized by the body but not be considered foreign invaders. In the case of pet allergies, however, an over-active immune system processes and interprets common substances as a toxic assault and when your pet’s body mounts an immune response to common, normally harmless substances, or allergens, allergic symptoms appear.
There are two types of allergic responses that pets can experience: food and environmental. Your pet can be allergic to one type of tree or every outdoor allergen, allergic only to wheat or every starch. Some pets even inherit sensitivities to certain foods and environmental factors, and in these cases often demonstrate allergic symptoms early in life. For other pets, allergies are acquired over several years of continual exposure to the allergen.
What may your pet be allergic to?
The truth is that animals can react to anything in their environment. Collar and bedding material, cleaning products, household chemicals and dust mites are all relatively common household allergens that could cause your pet to have an allergic reaction – even water is a possibility if it is contaminated with impurities.
As you are trying to figure out what allergen is causing your pet a problem, keep in mind that some pets have both food and environmental allergies. If your pet itches during the spring, summer or fall, they are most likely reacting to something that they are exposed to at that time. If your pet continues to have allergic reactions after outdoor allergens have been buried under snow it indicates a non-seasonal or year-round source of allergy, such as food.
Talking to people about their pet’s potential food allergies I will often be told that their pet could not be allergic to their food as they have been feeding them the same food their entire life. This is the problem. Food allergies have been shown to occur far more often in pets that are fed only one food source for a prolonged period of time. Your pet’s immune system can be suppressed by the same allergens for so long that it begins to react negatively to the food source. The foods most commonly found to cause allergies in cats and dogs are corn, wheat, soy, chicken and beef. While this may seem surprising, it shouldn’t! Dogs and cats were never meant to ingest such high amounts of carbohydrates (the average commercial dog food contains over 50% grains), and were certainly designed to consume more than 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 causing the problems. Once your pet has developed an allergic reaction to a substance, those reactive antigens can circulate in their bloodstream for up to 6 weeks. What this means for you, as an owner of an allergic pet, is that an allergy elimination diet should last at least six weeks and sometimes longer.
During this time period your pet must not eat any foods or treats suspected of causing a reaction. A single bite of allergy causing food can cause a flare up that lasts several days, so complete elimination is essential for the process to be successful. After your pet has had adequate time to clear the allergen from their body, new foods can be slowly added back in, as you watch their response after each food is added.
Interestingly, many of the foods that were previously considered allergenic can often be incorporated into the diet once your pet’s body has had ample time to detoxify. It is thought that it’s not the actual food protein that causes the immune system to react but the chemicals and preservatives included in the foods that cause the allergic reaction, this would explain why, after making the correct dietary changes, many pets can the consume foods that they were previously allergic to.
It is important to understand that allergy symptoms are very diverse, and extend beyond the typical sneezing or itching. Typical allergy symptoms include itchy body, hot spots, red eyes, nasal discharge, eye discharge, oozy skin, coughing and sneezing, inflamed and/or yeasty smelling ears, swollen paws and gastrointestinal disease (vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness, chronic hairballs, anal gland issues). These symptoms are produced from the inside out and so ointments, shampoos, sprays and dips can only provide temporary relief and although they are beneficial in relief during a flare up, long-term treatment must focus on balancing your pet’s immune system.
Steroids (also known as prednisone, cortisone or generic “allergy shot”) are the least optimal treatment choice as they work by suppressing the immune system. Steroids actually turn off the immune system, which improves the symptoms fast but does not address the root issue of why your pet’s immune system is over-reacting in the first place. Not only can steroids have a negative effect on your pet’s liver, adrenal glands and kidneys (or in my case make my cat a raging creature from the depths) but suppressing their immune system also allows for opportunistic yeast and bacteria to grow on your pet’s skin, sometimes increasing the chance that antibiotics will have to be prescribed. Antibiotics increase the likelihood of yeast overgrowth which causes your pet to smell like a corn chip and become insanely itchy which sends you back to the vet for more steroids. And so continues the vicious cycle.
Improving your pet’s nutrition is the optimal solution. Feeding your pet healing, non-allergenic foods allow their system to rest but will not eliminate the allergens. Rebalancing your pet’s immune system by offering natural, biologically appropriate foods is necessary to eliminating allergies. Nutritional variety is not only the spice of life, it is critical for a balanced and healthy immune response and for keeping your pet allergy-free.