Does your pet have inflamed ears, itchy feet, or smelly skin? Do they sneeze and cough or have gastrointestinal problems? These can all be symptoms of allergies wreaking havoc on their system. Allergies are caused by an over-active immune system which interprets common, normally-harmless substances, such as food or pollen as foreign invaders.
There are two types of things which cause pets to have an allergic reaction: food and environmental allergens. They may be allergic to numerous pollens, grass, wheat, starch, or certain meats. They may be born with these sensitivities or develop them over several years due to constant exposure to the allergen. Environmental allergens can be anything from the water they drink (if contaminated with impurities), dust mites, bedding material, cleaning supplies, yard chemicals, pollen, and much more.
Why do pets have so many problems with allergies? Some of it is due to genetics. Some of it is caused by over stimulating the immune system with too many vaccines. Feeding the same diet for a prolonged period of time can cause the immune system to over react because it has been bombarded with the same allergens for so long. Feeding large amounts of carbohydrates (the average commercial dry dog food contains over 50% grains) can trigger an immune response because animals were not intended to consume that much grain.
Many pets are allergic both to foods and environmental allergens. In areas which have a hard freeze in the winter, it is easier to distinguish food and environmental allergies. Pets with environmental allergies often improve during the winter but those with food allergies continue to have issues year around. Unfortunately, in Florida, the pets here may have environmental allergies year around because they are constantly exposed.
How can you know which type of allergy your pet has? There are blood tests available which can determine what allergens your pet is over reacting to. These are pretty accurate for pollen and grass but not very accurate for diagnosing food allergies. At my practice, we use the Bicom 2000 to test foods and treats to determine—very accurately—what is appropriate for the pet to eat.
Treating allergies can be very frustrating. While it is possible to control the food our pets eat, it is impossible to control all of the environmental toxins which they are exposed to. Therefore, I recommend changing the diet to a hypoallergenic food even when inhalant allergens are also a problem. This lowers the quantity of allergens the pet is exposed to and usually helps reduce the symptoms.
There are several ways to determine the best food for your pet. The most common method is an elimination diet. This is a diet which does not contain any of the foods suspected of causing an allergic reaction. This diet should last at least 6 weeks and up to 3 months. This is because the body produces reactive antigens when exposed to the allergenic substances which circulate in the bloodstream for months. These antigens are the cause of the allergic symptoms. Even a bite of an offending substance can cause a flare up which can last for days.
As you can imagine, the food elimination trials can be difficult because it takes up to 3 months to know if they are successful. While blood tests can help narrow down the possibilities, they are still somewhat limited. This is because any commercial food will have many ingredients which the blood test does not cover. In my practice, we have eliminated this problem through testing the complete food with the Bicom 2000. This is an extremely sensitive method of testing which eliminates the guesswork associated with typical elimination trials.
When the allergic symptoms are primarily caused by inhalant or contact allergens, the food change will not completely resolve the problem. Because the symptoms are caused by an over active immune system, conventional therapy is often geared towards suppressing the immune system. The most common treatment is corticosteroids. These are often referred to as “allergy shots” by veterinarians. Oral prednisone is also a common treatment. While this does temporarily cause the symptoms to resolve, it is not curing the problem and my lead to further health problems if over used. Chronic steroid use can lead to major organ degeneration as well as other problems. When we suppress the immune system with steroids, we allow the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria.