A look at Seasonal Allergies
We’re hurtling towards spring, and here in the Southern hemisphere, the weather is heating up!
And for many of us, it means we’ll soon be looking for ways to help our dogs ease their seasonal allergies. Like us humans, dogs can develop allergies when their immune system overreacts to something in the environment—also known as environmental allergies.
Allergies in dogs are often diagnosed as Canine Atopic Dermatitis, which is comparable to the human skin condition, Eczema. Common environmental allergens are absorbed through the airways and skin, especially if the latter already has a dysfunctional barrier. And these seasonal allergens affect our dog’s largest organ, their skin most of all, and their coats too.
The most common areas affected include:
- Anal glands
- Eye area
And since dogs tend to lick, chew or scratch on itchy spots, they can develop secondary infections from yeast or bacteria coming in contact with their already irritated and compromised skin. Many environmental factors can spark an allergic reaction in dogs. Everything from cleaning products, mould spores, flea saliva, dust mites, trees, and grasses, to name just a few.
Dogs with environmental allergies can present with a myriad of symptoms of varying intensity, such as:
- Chronic Ear infections
- Excessive licking and biting of their paws
- Eye discharges
- Face rubbing habit
- Fur loss or bald patches
- Head shaking and scratching of their ears
- Visible hives
- Hot spots
- Itchy and flaky skin
- Respiratory problems
- Foul-smelling ears or general unpleasant body odour.
The Trifecta that’s a Breeding Ground for Allergies
Many aspects may lead to the development of allergies in your dog. And some of these are out of your control. But in this blog post, we’ll look into three that you, the dog owner, have much control over and offer you some solutions to ease those allergies.
And this trifecta is underpinned by functional nutrition.
1. Oxidative Stress
According to Dr. Jean Dodds, the author of the book Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimal Health, one of the most significant factors in allergies and the inflammation they cause is oxidative stress.
So what is oxidative stress?
For cells to function normally, they need to be in oxidative balance. And this is achieved when the antioxidants and the oxidants are in harmony. When oxidant levels exceed antioxidant levels, the cells of your dog’s body experience oxidative stress. Think of an apple cut in half and the flesh beginning to brown in a few minutes. That’s oxidative stress in action.
Of course, it’s impossible to prevent oxidative stress completely. And considering how toxic our everyday environment has become, it’s worth taking proactive steps to give your dog’s body the best chance at oxidative balance. This is where functional feeding with an ideal diet shines brightly.
And the ideal diet consists of three main aspects…
- Nutrient-dense ingredients.
- Whole foods that are minimally processed (if at all).
2. MAKE MICROBIAL FRIENDS
Science has been scrambling for the last few years to learn as much as possible about the microbiome. There’s still so much to learn, but one thing is for sure…
By now, we’re all aware that a leaky gut affects the whole body, including your dog’s skin and coat. And we also know that an unhealthy gut biome is the cause of a leaky gut.
But what exactly is a microbiome?
It’s the genetic material of all the microbes bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses that live on and inside your dog’s body. And according to the book Forever Dog by Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Becker:
“The microbiome is so crucial to mammalian health that it could be considered an organ unto itself.” [p 128]
The microbiome is a major player in your dog’s health and longevity. Since they depend on this microbiome to stay alive, it protects against germs, breaks down food to release energy, and produces vitamins. It also maintains the gut-brain and gut-lung axes and interacts with your dog’s immune system. And vitally important, this ecology of microbes helps regulate the body’s inflammatory pathways – another central cog in the allergy prevention machine.
Imagine hundreds of millions of organisms working together in a symbiotic relationship to keep your dog healthy from the inside out. And it’ll hit home how vital it is to keep these microbial friends happy, healthy, and thriving!
Here are 3 things you can do to give your dog the best chance of combating seasonal and environmental allergies from the inside out.
Restore and Build Your Dog’s Gut Microbiome
You’ve likely heard of probiotics before. It literally means For (Latin preposition “Pro”) and Life (Greek “Bios”) – for life. And you’ll find hundreds of probiotic supplements touted as the cure-all for your dog’s ailments. But instead of reaching for a supplement right away, consider adding onion-free, fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir to your dog’s diet at 1/4 teaspoon per 4.5 kg.
There is a caveat to adding fermented foods into an already itchy dog’s diet. Fermented foods don’t work in a positive way for all dogs. Since they are packed with histamines, some dogs may have an increased histamine response to fermented foods. And this is the opposite of what you want when you’re working to curb allergy responses while healing your dog’s gut. If you find this is the case with your dog and want to add probiotics to their diet, it might be worth reaching for a high-quality supplement appropriate for dogs.
Since we’re talking about feeding our dogs for health and longevity, it’s worth spending some time to consider what their microbial friends need to grow and increase. Enter Prebiotics, often overlooked and rarely discussed.
If probiotics are “for life” of the organism they inhabit, prebiotics is the “energy” for probiotics. The Latin word “Prae,” meaning before, refers to something that is not digestible but can be fermented to promote the growth of beneficial microbial organisms. And prebiotics is just that, indigestible fibers making them the preferred food of your dog’s (and your’s) gut bacteria.
4 Common and Easy-to-Access Prebiotic Foods
These “human food” are reasonably affordable and easy to access in supermarkets. And great for sharing with your dog.
Think broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. These vegetables do not only offer gut-friendly fiber, and they also come packed to the brim with all the good stuff!
- Anti-inflammatory properties to help ease allergy responses.
- Antioxidants to maintain oxidative balance.
- And sulforaphane which boosts glutathione – the body’s most potent antioxidant.
And if you’re into sprouting for microgreens, you’ll be happy to know that broccoli microgreens contain 30 to 50 times more protective compounds than fully grown plants.
The Chicory Family
Although related to lettuce, leaves from the Chicory family are more bitter and healthier than regular lettuce.They are loaded to the brim with indigestible fibres your dog’s gut friends love to feast on.
There are many options in the family of Chicory so keep an eye out for these varieties.
- Red and white California Endive.
- Curly Endive.
- Belgian Endive.
Love it or hate it, Asparagus is packed with glutathione, and as you’ve already seen, glutathione is the body’s most potent natural antioxidant.
Yes! Besides waiting for them to ripen, there’s another use for those green bananas mixed into the bunch. Your dog’s gut microbiota will love feeding on pieces of green banana! And these green gems also offer “anti-everything” properties – antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer.
Some dogs will also be more likely to accept them as food since they don’t have the potent scent of ripe bananas.
Connect to Nature
A Finnish study done in 2018 looked at patterns of allergies in dog and human pairs, and the results are insightful.
And if you and your dog are urbanites, you are both at a significant disadvantage compared to human and dog pairs living the rural lifestyle or those pairs who spend plenty of time in nature.
The researchers found that dogs and their people who live urban lifestyles disconnected from nature are at a much higher risk of developing allergies. Pointing to the protective effects of nature, her “dirt,” and the friendly community of microbes found in natural areas.
Of course, we can’t all pack up and go agrarian, but most if not all of our urban areas in South Africa are not more than a stone’s throw away from some lush bushveld. So consider incorporating day visits to bushveld areas at least twice a month (more if you can) to get muddy and dirty and build that microbiome for you and your dog.
3. HEAL AND RESTORE YOUR DOG’S SKIN BIOME
Some of the most brilliant folks in the world of canine health echo a similar message…
“Food speaks to cells.”
“Food speaks to the microbiome.”
put another way, “junk in, junk out.”
Whatever you prefer, it all boils down to the same truth, the food your dog eats will determine their health. A study published in 2020 where the “main interest was to analyze modifiable early risk factors of CAD, focusing on nutritional and environmental factors.”
Points to protective properties against Canine Atopic Dermatitis when feeding fresh, wholefood meat diets, especially in early life. While feeding highly processed carbohydrate-rich diets was shown to be a risk factor in the development of CAD. This is not to say that you should never feed your dog carbohydrates, but the amount seen in dry, processed dog food is cause for concern. The heart of the matter is fewer carbs and more protein!
Skin Deep Health
Your dog’s skin is their largest organ, with the skin, fur, and dermis making up 24% of a puppy’s body weight and 12% of an adult’s body weight.
Their skin also:
- Acts as a barrier to protect your dog from injury.
- Helps maintain normal body temperature.
- Acts as a nutrient reservoir.
- Helps with immunoregulation.
So it stands to reason that this important organ is maintained and kept healthy. Your dog’s skin and coat health is affected by several nutrients, and most importantly:
- Vitamin A.
- Vitamin E.
Protein and Skin health
Your dog’s coat comprises more than 90% protein and contains two vital amino acids, methionine, and cystine. And the turnover of skin cells and keratinization places a high demand for protein. Combined, your dog’s skin and coat account for up to 30% of their daily protein needs.
Protein and amino acids are the building blocks of every cell in your dog’s body. So quality is of paramount importance. Although protein deficiency is rare, it can be caused by prolonged feeding of an inadequate diet. Protein deficiency is highly unlikely when dogs are fed a complete and balanced diet.
This means choosing foods or creating meals for your dog that contain high-quality whole proteins is essential. And source your proteins from a reputable company with strict quality controls and traceability.
More expensive, I hear you say. And it’s true, but wouldn’t you rather know you’re getting what you pay for? And when you consider the vital protein and high demand your dog’s body has for it, good quality muscle meats are a must.
Vitamin A and Skin Health
Vitamin A is another nutrient necessary for normal skin cell growth and maintenance. And alongside the protein we just discussed, Vitamin A is also required for keratinization.
Deficiencies in Vitamin A are much rarer than excess. And excess levels of Vitamin A are caused by feeding too much liver (so watch out for those “pet’s mince mixes” from butchers and supermarkets! Excess levels of Vitamin A are also caused by over-supplementing with Cod Liver oil.
Both excess and deficiency of this vitamin cause skin lesions in dogs. As well as poor coat condition, hair loss, scaley skin, and increased secondary bacterial infections. To be safe, use the “paw principle” recommended by Dr. Karen Becker and Rodney Habib when feeding Vitamin A-rich foods such as liver…
- The width and length of one of your dog’s paws.
- With a depth of where the pad turns to hair.
Vitamin E and Skin Health
Vitamin E is a general term used to describe a group of compounds called Tocopherols, which act as powerful antioxidants.
Inside your dog’s body, Vitamin E:
- Acts as a scavenger of free radicals.
- Protects cell membranes and tissue from oxidative stress.
And your dog’s dietary requirement for Vitamin E is directly related to their dietary intake of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs).
Dogs consuming a balanced and complete diet are rarely prone to Vitamin E deficiency. However, it is a nutrient often lacking in homemade diets, whether cooked or raw. And it’s not found in appreciable amounts in the ingredients regularly used in these diets. And so it’s worth considering a supplement.
Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically available form of Vitamin E. When hunting for a supplement, read the label and avoid the synthetic version starting with the letter “dl.”
Zinc and Skin Health
Zinc is an essential mineral with many functions connected to healthy skin and coat.
In your dog’s body Zinc:
- Regulates cellular metabolism.
- Regulates cell division.
- Helps to synthesize fatty acids.
- Is essential for immune system health.
- Is vital for normal inflammatory responses.
In both adult dogs and puppies, zinc deficiency will manifest in skin and coat health changes. Additionally, these changes will present in puppies alongside a lack of appetite and impaired growth.
Other signs of Zinc deficiency are:
- Heart problems.
- Vision issues.
- Gastrointestinal issues.
Certain breeds, such as snow dogs like Malamutes and Huskies, as well as their mixes, can suffer from Zinc malabsorption in their small intestine. And some Bull Terriers may be genetically predisposed to lethal acrodermatitis and unable to absorb Zinc. Zinc malabsorption and lethal acrodermatitis should be diagnosed by your dog’s vet and treated accordingly.
Here are some common easy-to-source foods rich in Zinc:
- Oysters (unsmoked)
- Clams (unsmoked)
EFAs and Skin Health
In dogs, several essential fatty acids are crucial to maintaining optimal epithelial health (skin and coat health). We’ll stick to the basics for now and focus on Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Since Essential Fatty Acids is a fun rabbit hole, we’ll keep it for another time.
The Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The Long-Chain Omega 3 Fatty Acids you’ll want to get just right for your dog with allergies are EPA and DHA.
These two fatty acids are responsible for:
- Supporting normal fluidity in cell membranes.
- Providing anti-inflammatory properties.
- Offer immune-stimulating functions.
And because of your dog’s rapid skin cell turnover, their skin is particularly vulnerable to these essential fatty acid deficiencies. Deficiencies will become evident in as little as 2 to 3 months with symptoms such as:
- Dry and dull coat.
- Hair loss.
- Skin lesions.
- Greasy skin.
And since the skin’s permeability is altered, your dog’s normal skin biome will suffer, allowing for secondary bacterial infections and chronic ear infections.
Foods high in Omega 3 FAs
If you opt to incorporate the whole food cold water fish options, it’s vital to source these from a reputable supplier who maintains strict quality controls and traceability.
These fats are highly susceptible to oxidation, so if you reach for a supplement instead of whole foods, it’s preferable to purchase a high-quality product in small quantities.
Final Thoughts on Keeping Allergies at Bay
Keep your dog trim and fit with a good body condition score. This is achievable by feeding a fresh, whole food diet with minimal carbohydrates. And by providing for their regular age-appropriate exercise needs.
Further Reducing Environmental Toxin Exposure
Consider the drinking water your dog has access to and the heavy metal exposure. It may be worth investing in a gravity-fed water filter like a Berkey, which also enables you to add on heavy metal filters.
A word of caution if you are considering Reverse Osmosis (RO) water. This water is devoid of trace minerals removed during the RO process. You must remineralize the water before offering it to your dog or drinking it yourself, as there are risks associated with consuming pure demineralized water. You can opt for mineral drops such as BIO77, or a more cost-effective way to remineralize RO water is by adding a natural salt such as Himalayan Rock salt or Coarse Sea salt.
Next, consider the cleaning products you are using inside your home. Many of these are filled with toxic chemicals. And unlike humans who bathe or shower daily to remove these chemicals from our skin, our dogs are continually exposed to these toxins without the opportunity for a daily soak. Opt for plant-based cleaning products that are biodegradable and safe for humans and animals.