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Archive for September, 2014

Allergies – The Whole Story

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

As some of you may have noticed, I’m on a bit of a sabbatical from training and nutrition as I deal with a temporary but long term illness. This has resulted in some serious doggy withdrawal, so I’m helping out friends and family with free advice where I can. Many people have been asking me about allergies, so I thought “Hey, why not just put it all out there for everyone to learn!”. This blog will give you all the information you need to deal with allergies, without the cost of a consult! One key component to my allergy services is following the dog for one year – it’s crucial to remember that food changes need time to work, and that holistic remedies are gentle on the body, so they won’t cause symptom reduction overnight. But if you stick to the plan, I promise you’ll see results! When I adopted Toby, he add nearly 50 allergens that caused a response in him – 6 years later, he has only 7. This kind of allergy protocol will not only help eliminate the symptoms, but it will also help to heal the immune system, and teach their body not to react to the things they previously did.

Dogs can suffer from both food and environmental allergies, typically characterized by chronic ear infections, itchy and stained paws, hot spots, red staining on the face or belly, an itchy body and gastric upset. First and foremost, it’s important that your vet confirms that your dog’s chronic issues do stem from allergies, and not another, potentially more threatening health issue. When everything else is ruled out, managing allergies can be challenging, but not impossible. While environmental allergies can be difficult to avoid, food allergies can be dealt with easily by eliminating the food that the dog is having a reaction to. Pervasive allergic responses can also result in your dog developing allergies to other things; an allergy prompts an immune response, and when the immune system is constantly reacting to something, it can sometimes start to react to things it never did in the past, so food allergies can lead to environmental allergies, and vice versa.

Food Allergies
Addressing a food allergy is best done through an elimination diet. Until recently, allergy testing was unreliable and costly, often resulting in frustration for the owner when results were inconclusive. Dr. Jean Dodds, the world’s leading researcher on thyroid function, nutrigenomics, and now allergies, has developed a wonderfully easy and comprehensive testing system that will provide you with a lengthy list of foods that your dog may or may not be allergic to. By visiting her site, nutriscan.org, you can complete the online application, pay the fee ($285), and they’ll send you a simple kit to collect saliva from your dog which you’ll send back, followed by the test results within a few short weeks. So far, next to elimination diets, this has been the most reliable test for food allergies, and can reduce the time of figuring out what the food allergies are by, in some cases, years. For many, though, the cost can be prohibitive. An elimination diet is more economical as the only associated costs are the foods you choose to use, and for many, it is still the only real way to know what your dog can tolerate. We begin this process by simplifying the diet as much as possible, usually with only one protein and one carb (i.e. Fish and Sweet Potato), and then build the diet from there (for kibble feeders, the best kibble for this is the series of Limited Ingredient diets from Natural Balance, or for commercial raw feeders, a new veterinary line of whole food, lightly processed food called Rayne is also available). The most common mistake we make in elimination diets is time – an allergy can stay in the body for up to 12 weeks, and when we’re making changes after just a couple of days or weeks, we may not be seeing the true results of the food test. For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken, and you switch to a salmon based diet, you’ll need to stay on the salmon diet (unless of course the condition worsens) for 12 weeks before you’ll know if your dog is reacting to something in the new diet. Once you’ve passed the 12 week point, and your dog is showing improvements, begin adding one new ingredient (even if in the form of a topper or a treat) every two weeks, provided there are no additional allergic reactions. Remember though, if you add a food that causes a reaction, you’ll be back into that 12 week cycle. The idea being that eventually, you’ll have built a list of foods that your dog tolerates well, and be able to expand their diet options. Be sure that everyone who has access to your dog understands his strict diet limitations – one little tidbit fed from a friend can result in 12 weeks of waiting! Also be cautious of treats (staying within your approved ingredient list) and access to other dogs’ food in multi-dog households.
TIP: most dogs will react to a food that they’ve had in abundance throughout their life, and for many that begins with grains and chicken. A good starting point for those new to elimination diets is to cut out grain (not just gluten-free) and chicken first, and see how your dog improves.

Environmental (Outdoor) Allergies
Environmental allergies are typically things like pollen, grasses, trees, and other outdoor stimulants. If you believe your dog has both forms of allergy, keep in mind that an elimination diet can be very challenging to conduct when your dog may also be reacting to pollens. For those of us with dogs who have both types, elimination diets are really only reliable when done during the colder months so that you can easily differentiate between the food causing the response versus the outdoors causing the response. For many, medications like Benadryl or steroids seem to be the only option to stave off symptoms of outdoor allergies, and sometimes, they are necessary. While I’m a big fan of using as many holistic options as I can, medications have their place. If despite all your efforts, your dog’s allergy symptoms are causing secondary health issues like chronic loose stool, gastric upset, chewing of their paws or skin to the point of bleeding, or even aural hematomas from chronic ear infections, you may need to medicate your dog. Risk of skin infections, pain from self-harm, and even repeated surgery to deal with hematomas are all detrimental to your dog’s health, and often a compromise must be made to weigh the damage from medications versus the damage from these health issues. However, options are available to not only protect your dog’s body from medications, but also to reduce or eliminate the need for them. (More details available on the following supplements in the Supplements section of this article) Milk Thistle is a wonderful supplement to protect the liver, as is Turmeric, which can also help to balance the immune system. Fish oil acts to not only promote a healthy coat, but also contains anti-inflammatory properties to help manage allergy response. Probiotics are probably the most important addition to a dog’s diet when dealing with the yeast that develops in an allergy dog – and it should be provided in the form of either powder or tablet – yogurt just doesn’t have enough probiotic in it to provide the relief you’re looking for without feeding so much dairy it upsets your dog’s stomach. Raw, local honey is also a gentle way to desensitize your dog to pollens, and if used long term, can have considerable effects. Lastly, topical treatments like Apple Cider Vinegar, Colloidal Silver, Coconut Oil, and Oil of Oregano are all great products for destroying yeast build up, conditioning the skin and relieving itch.

Supplements
Supplements are under less strict guidelines than pharmaceutical drugs, so the quality of the supplement can vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer. Always purchase supplements from a reliable source, such as an independent and integrity driven pet store, human health food store, or online from manufacturers such as the ones outlined below. Purchasing supplements in most big box stores, pharmacies, grocery stores (non-organic sections) etc. will often result in a supplement that, when tested, does not meet the levels that the label may say it does, and they, for the most part, contain entirely synthetic ingredients. This results in an ineffective supplement that can even go as far as increasing your dog’s toxin load. Supplements can be an incredible source of relief and immune support for your dog, and spending a few extra dollars on them can actually save you money in veterinary costs in the long run. If you’re concerned about dosage, function or interaction, check out www.healthypets.mercola.com, where Dr. Karen Becker has an answer to almost every popular supplement given to our animals.
Note: I will indicate below when a supplement should be purchased in the ‘human supplement’ form. Many supplements marketed to dogs are simply waste product from the supplements made for humans. If the product for humans isn’t high in quality, the waste product for our dog certainly won’t be. In many cases, there simply isn’t a company who can make both human and pet products and maintain the quality needed, with the exception of Canadian based Omega Alpha, and a handful of other very small manufacturers. I’ll indicate below for each supplement whether you should be looking for a human product or a dog product.

Milk Thistle (human): Milk Thistle is an herb with the primary function of protecting and rebuilding the liver. It should contain at least 80% Sylmarin, and my favourite brands are Omega Alpha or Naka. It’s a daily supplement that should always be given to dogs who are on pharmaceutical drugs that degrade the liver, but has a function with dogs who don’t take medication as well. In the Tips section below, I describe some of the things that can contribute to a dog’s ‘Toxic Load’, and since the liver is responsible for removing toxin from the body, keeping it healthy and functioning well is crucial for all dogs.

Turmeric (human): If you’re interested in feeding turmeric, I’d first recommend a Facebook Group known as TUG (Turmeric User Group) – it’s full of wonderful stories about the human and animal lives it has changed, cancers it has removed, and the incredible improvements it’s made in very sick individuals. It is moderated in part by one of the world’s leading veterinary researchers of turmeric, so the advice given in the Files section has considerable scientific backing. Turmeric is fat soluble, and should always be fed with some form of fat, and it’s absorption is increased by 2000% if fresh (not pre-ground) black pepper is added in a small amount. Turmeric supplements/capsules for dogs are not recommended – they contain too much of the active ingredient ‘curcumin’ which can deplete kidney function when fed in such concentrated amounts. The spice contains nature’s ideal balance of curcumin, which has huge benefits for liver function, inflammation, gastro issues, and even cardiovascular health. It improves energy, sleep function, and helps to cleanse the system. It’s another supplement that even dogs without health issues can reap the benefit of.

Probiotics (human or dog): Probiotics are groups of healthy, helpful bacteria that live in the gut. For most dogs, those probiotics have been stripped, and we need to supplements them. There are multiple strains of probiotic bacteria (such as acidophilus) and the more strains a probiotic supplement contains, the more beneficial it will be. They can also be supplemented with Digestive Enzymes, which are the enzymes responsible for breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, fats and sugars. A healthy gut is the starting point of a healthy immune system, and healthy bacteria is very helpful in fighting bad bacteria such as yeast overgrowth so common in allergy dogs. My favourite brand is Omega Alpha’s Probiotic 8 Plus, or Kazooticals. My favourite human brands to be used on dog’s are Renew Life’s Flora Smart, or Natural Factors Multi-Probiotic.

Raw/Unpasteurized Honey:
The key component to honey’s benefits is to buy local honey, from within approx. 200 kms from your home. The idea behind raw honey is that the pollens haven’t been destroyed by pasteurization, and that those pollens are the same pollens that your dog is exposed to at home. Feeding honey year round helps to desensitize your dog to very small amounts of the allergy, allowing your dog’s immune system to recognize that pollen but not react to it. Therefore, when pollen begins outside, your dog’s body has learned to tolerate it. Honey also has wonderful benefits for skin health, and immune balancing.

Topical Treatments:
As I mentioned earlier, holistic treatments take time to work, so when you first begin you may still see things like itchy ears, itchy paws and hot spots. The topical treatments I mentioned will help to address those issues. Apple Cider Vinegar is a product you can include both in your dog’s food or water, as well as topically provided there are no scratches or lesions (it can sting). It should always be purchased as an organic product ‘with mother’ (it will say on the bottle), such as Bragg’s brand, which is available in most grocery stores. Products that don’t say organic and ‘with mother’ will not be effective. Colloidal Silver is another product that can be applied topically or in food, though if given internally it will interfere with probiotic function as it acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal solution. I’ll often treat itchy ears or paws with Colloidal Silver followed by Coconut Oil, both internally and topically (always organic and cold pressed), as Coconut Oil can actually destroy the nucleus of yeast. Finally, a few other tinctures I love are Oil of Oregano for ear health, Vet’s Best two-part ear cleaner, and Espree Natural Spray bandage on sore and itchy paws.

Gastric Support:
If your dog experiences gastric issues, my all time favourite supplement to use is from Prescribed Animal Wellness, called Gastro Herbal Blend. It contains herbs like Slippery Elm, Burdock Root and Marshmallow Root to protect and heal the colon and bowel, and help to firm up stool and make for a healthier gastric system. It is available from www.animalwellness.weebly.com.

Tips:

- Because allergies are the result of the immune system’s over reaction, limiting your dog’s exposure to toxins is a great way of preventing or reducing allergies. If the immune system is always being challenged by toxin, it never has a chance to ‘relax’ and function normally. Consider eliminating scent diffusers and plug-ins in your home, avoid fabric sprays that your dog will walk/lie on and then consume through licking themselves, and switch to natural cleaning products.
- The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has recently changed it’s vaccination protocols for core vaccines to once every three years. Do some research on the science available about vaccines, and speak to your vet (and perhaps get a second opinion from a holistic vet) about minimal vaccine protocols. The science available to us about canine immunology and vaccinations is far different from that which is available about humans and children, and well worth the investigation on your part
- Keep a journal of what your dog eats, what changes you make, the season, and how your dog is seeming to feel. Working with allergies is a long-term commitment, and we can easily forget what works and what doesn’t. Tracking your progress (or lack thereof) can make life much easier, and avoid duplication of trial and error

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