Allergies are common in dogs, but why does it occur and what can you do to alleviate your dog's allergies?
Allergies and skin problems are very common in dogs (20% of all dogs suffer from allergies), and it is often a life-long disorder, where you must constantly make sure to keep the symptoms at bay, as the allergy itself often cannot be cured.
It is important to point out that there is no specific test that detects allergies in dogs. Allergy is diagnosed using empirical studies and the exclusion method.
Allergy can cause skin problems, but skin problems can also be a symptom of other diseases. Skin problems include itching, fur loss, redness, rashes, pigment changes and tumors. These can be painful and incredibly annoying for the dog, as well as for the dog owners, of course.
Some skin problems and allergies can be hereditary, while others develop throughout life.
Skin problems as a result of allergies occur as a defensive reaction from the body to substances that should be harmless, but which, due to an overreaction from the immune system, are attacked with antibodies.
When the body is then again exposed to the same substance, the body reacts again by calling this substance harmful, and the body sets in motion a defense where, among other things, histamine is secreted, which can cause the above symptoms in the skin.
What can you do?
The first thing to do if you suspect allergies is to rule out other causes of the same symptoms. Itching and redness, among other things, can be symptoms of many different disorders, such as infections, parasites, autoimmune diseases and skin keratinization.
Some of these can be ruled out by the vet, who can carry out parasite tests, blood tests, tissue samples and generally examine lesions on the skin.
If none of the tests can prove, for example, infection, parasites or other diseases, allergy is a possibility.
The allergic circumstances
There are different types of allergy: food allergy (FIAD), atopic diseases (CAD) and a combination of these (CAD + FIAD).
Food allergies can also be caused by several different things, namely immunological reactions (hypersensitivity), food intolerance (e.g. gluten allergy) and poisoning.
Both dogs and humans suffer from both atopic skin diseases and allergies, up to 40% in fact! In addition, it is normal for dogs to have multiple allergies, 40% of allergic dogs react to one item, 40% to two items and 20% to three or more items in the diet.
Some of the most common allergies are to beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, soy, eggs, corn, wheat, fish and rice. But dogs can also have allergies to flavourings, additives in treats or additives in pills and other medicines.
Allergies in dogs can occur at any age, but the allergy most often appears in puppies and dogs under 3 years of age.
Detective work continues
If symptoms and exclusion tests at the vet indicate an allergic reaction in the dog, it is time to find out which allergy it is.
An elimination diet is used for this. Here, ingredients that the dog has previously consumed are excluded, one or the other, until it can be proven which has triggered the symptoms. An elimination diet must run for at least 8 weeks and be followed very strictly so that you can be sure to find the right allergy.
Many often fail by giving "just a little bit" of something that is not included in the diet, or by dog food or treats containing ingredients that you are not aware of.
Many dog foods may contain protein sources that are not stated on the label! This may be due to contamination or poor quality in food production and suppliers.
What about atopic eczema?
Atopic eczema (CAD) is allergic reactions to the environment around one, such as house mites, pollen, grass or wood. This is also a diagnosis that is only made when everything else has been ruled out.
Atopic eczema most often affects specific breeds such as terriers, pugs, golden retrievers, bulldogs, German shepherds, etc. Atopic eczema affects 10-15% of all dogs, but up to 30% in some of the above breeds.
Unlike food allergies, atopic eczema is often seasonal at first, like for example pollen allergies, but can eventually become permanent. Many dogs suffering from food allergies also suffer from atopic eczema, as the skin's immune barriers are damaged. Once you have one allergy, you are more prone to developing additional allergies!
Symptoms of atopic eczema are many of the same as other allergies and skin diseases: itching, red patches, the dog rubs itself against things and tries to scratch itself, often bites its paws, etc.
Allergy and environment
Both food allergies and atopic eczema are often triggered by the environment the dog is in. Studies have shown that both dog owners and dogs suffer from allergies more often when they live and are in urban environments rather than in the countryside.
This may be due to a lack of exposure to various bacteria and microorganisms.
The dog's intestinal flora (microbiome) also plays a role here. Studies have shown that the intestinal flora of both humans and dogs, indeed all mammals, has a lot to say when it comes to diseases and thus also allergies.
The gastrointestinal tract contains a complex environment of microbiome; this ecosystem affects the body in many ways, both in relation to the absorption and combustion of nutrients, as well as general nutrition and maintenance of the body's functions. Any disturbance of this ecosystem can lead to the development of diseases such as diarrhoea, allergies, obesity and stress.
Allergies and other immune-related diseases have increased in dogs in recent decades, probably because the dogs are no longer exposed to the microbiota that provide a good environment for the development and maturation of the immune system. The same applies to humans, where exposure in the first year of life to important micro-bacteria has lifelong consequences for the body.
The gut is the way
So how can your dog's gut flora be changed, either to alleviate allergies or to protect against the development of allergies and skin diseases?
Trials have been carried out with both probiotics and faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), both of which have proven beneficial for the dog's immune system.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that can modulate the ecosystem in the gut and thus treat or prevent the development of immune diseases, such as allergies.
Studies have shown that faecal microbiota transplantation has successfully cured atopic eczema in dogs after only 4 weeks, with treatment twice daily in the form of oral pills.
So there is hope ahead for our furry friends with allergies – and for us humans! However, the best cure for allergies is never to develop the disease – and the way to that is an increased understanding of allergies and how the dog is exposed to bacteria in its natural habitat.
It's worth keeping in mind the next time you stop your dog from jumping in the muddy lake, eating soil or climbing into bushes (within reason, of course).
In recent times, everyone agrees that vegetables are healthy in the human diet. But there are also certain vegetables that our four-legged friends benefit from eating.
At ESSENTIAL FOODS, we use a variety of greens in our meals, carefully selected for properties that improve the dog's overall well-being.