Allergies in dogs can be one of the biggest frustrations for owners and dogs alike. Even the most seasoned veterinarian can have difficulty determining what a dog is allergic to. This can often be the time of year when your pup begins scratching, chewing at her paws, shaking his head or strangely jamming his face into the carpet for a full length run. Even behaviour changes can indicate an allergy. Most dogs present with simpler symptoms like rashes, bright red paws and ears, loose stool/diarrhea, and spotty hairloss. But what exactly is causing all of this is usually a mystery.
An avid reader of my blogs will be familiar with my Boxer (from Boxer Rescue Ontario) Toby, who is practically allergic to his own skin. We often refer to him as my second college education – relating to both the costs of maintaining him as well as the challenges he presents to me and his health care providers (yes, he has more than one!). Toby’s allergies include beef, lamb, wheat, soy, rice, asparagus, parsley, stainless steel, bees, grass, ragweed, most flowers and deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves). Thanks to Toby, flowers from my partner Shawn have to be either kept outside or made of plastic, which we discovered last November when a dozen roses that were lovely in the evening became a nightmare in the morning when Toby woke up with his face almost swollen shut. A quick visit to the vet soon fixed that, and a little creativity on Shawn’s part means I still get the pleasure of getting flowers without the panic of a balloon faced Toby.
As Toby is a rescue, it’s hard to say where his allergies truly began, but they were definitely apparent when he arrived at my home with what appeared to be chicken pox all over his body. The first thing I did was switch him to ceramic bowls, as stainless steel is a common allergen that is very easily resolved. His rash on his lips cleared up within days. The second thing I did was start an elimination diet. This was fairly easy as the family who surrendered him had only fed him one type of food in the 3 years that they had him, and he received limited treats and no table scraps. The fairly limited diet history was a bonus – meaning that I knew I had a lot of proteins and carbohydrates left to work with. When feeding a dog with food allergies, it’s extremely important to ‘save’ proteins so that as his life goes on, and allergies develop, there are still available proteins that he has not had before. The basis of this is in the fact that a dog is extremely unlikely to have an allergy to a protein he has never had before. Essentially, he was brought down to a diet that contained one protein and one carbohydrate, and we gauged his responses. We were quickly able to determine what foods he was tolerant of, and what he was in fact allergic to. He now receives only one protein (Salmon) and one carbohydrate, along with a healthy mix of fresh fruits and veggies.
The second component to determining his allergies was ensuring that he was otherwise healthy. Gut health is primary to resolving issues resulting from allergic reactions, and providing the dog the ability to better cope with allergies that don’t go away, such as environmental allergies. This can be done by way of a healthy diet, pro-biotics, and a regular source of fiber. Healthy blood flow and a stable immune function can also help, and can be remedied by the right mix of vegetables, herbal treatments and clean sources of food. Over vaccination is also known to contribute to an over active immune system, and the relevance of this to your dog should be reviewed with your veterinarian. Dr. Jean Dodds has done extensive research on the subject, and you may find the information found on her website very helpful. Remember that it is an over-active immune system that can be the real cause of an allergy, and the body’s intolerance of certain foods and plants causing an overreaction presenting in the form of an allergy.
If you feed a kibble diet, keep in mind that an allergy can take about 6 weeks to leave the system. A properly rationed change to a new kibble should still be done, and you may go through a bag or two before you really know if the dog is allergic. Try to choose a kibble containing a protein that the dog has never had before, and as much as possible work with the fewest ingredients possible so that you can better identify the allergy. Treating should be kept to the same protein, and most kibble companies manufacture complimenting treats. If your dog seems to only exhibit allergy in the spring and fall, you may consider that this is an environmental allergy, and consult your vet for treatment. A chronically allergic dog can develop secondary issues as a result of being itchy, such as aural hematomas of the ear, which require surgery, or even irritable bowel syndrome or clogged anal glands due to chronic loose stool.
Allergies should not be ignored, and with time and dedication, they can be managed. The key factor is patience, and the right guidance is available from professionals such as The Dog’s Assistant.