If asked about food allergies and intolerance, many of us would have a friend or relative who is unable to digest wheat or dairy or other food. In fact, it is so common that restaurants and retailers now cater for a wide range of intolerances and allergies, so why are we yet to consider our pets and their intolerances?
Like all allergic reactions, dog allergies are the result of an immune system reaction to a harmless substance. An allergen provokes the dog’s immune system to overreact in the form of a number of different symptoms, most notably a skin irritation. Signs of an allergy can vary from one animal to another and if you suspect your dog may have an allergy you should speak with your veterinarian.
Unlike humans, the first sign of discomfort usually shown by an allergic dog is itchy, irritated skin but allergy symptoms can also be runny nose or eyes, sneezing or even vomiting and diarrhoea.
Uncovering the source of the allergy can be quite frustrating for owners and veterinarians alike.
The main types of allergies dog suffer from include:
1. Food allergies
Some dogs are allergic to components in their diet.
We differentiate between food allergies, which cause reactions from the immune system to a given allergen, such as a protein, and intolerance to food when a sensitivity causes something other than an immune reaction. The symptoms of food sensitivity include digestive tract symptoms and reactions affecting the skin and fur.
Another factor is the age of the animal. The younger the body, the more vulnerable it is. Breeds can also cause predispositions to allergies. Irish setters, for example, are genetically predisposed to this disease. Foremost among the symptoms of a sensitivity are itching, scratching, redness of the skin over the entire body, chronic ear inflammation, and pulmonary symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, diarrhoea, vomiting and flatulence.
‘Keep as Fit as a Butcher’s Dog’
Common food intolerances:
Glutens are complex proteins from the glutenin, gliaden, and prelamin plant families. They are found in grains of wheat, barley, oats, rye and triticale. As a protein, it constitutes a factor that causes allergic reactions of an autoimmune nature. Contact with the intestinal wall results in the destruction of the villi (finger like projections that increase the surface area of the intestine aiding water and nutrient absorption), which leads to symptoms such as loose stools, constipation, foul-smelling excrement, stomach pain, flatulence, weight loss, lethargy, and a reluctance to move and play.
This illness begins with gradual weight loss, slow muscle growth and failure to absorb minerals resulting in anaemia as a result of the dog not being able to absorb nutrients from the diet that are needed to function day to day. These symptoms are not specific, and can be suspected to be caused by internal parasites, infectious diseases, improper food selection or problems with organ function.
Gluten intolerance also can manifest itself as changes in the skin and in the appearance of the coat, or problems with the respiratory tract such as difficulty breathing, coughing or a runny nose. Gluten intolerance is becoming more and more common in dogs. This condition is known as celiac disease. One breed that is genetically predisposed to this disease is the Irish Red Setter. Sensitivity to gluten affects both genders equally and it may affect dogs at every stage of life.
The illness becomes manifest when a genetic predisposition is present as well as a factor that initiated the allergic reaction. This factor may be feeding the dog a food containing a high wheat or barley content, stress, viral illness, surgery or pregnancy. The dog cannot be fed fatty ground meat, sausage, pate, wieners, sandwich meats, dairy products, bread or sweets. A ready-made wet pet food that is intended for dogs containing no glutens whatsoever, such as Butcher’s tinned food, should be used, with easily digested animal proteins and no grain fillers.
2. Skin allergies (i.e. Atopy and Bacteria)
The skin is the largest organ and carries out a number of vital roles in the proper functioning of the body. It constitutes a barrier to the environment; has a sensory role because it contains the components that are able to sense touch, heat, cold and pain; controls the flow of blood and thermoregulation of the body; has secretory and excretory properties; is the site of synthesis of vitamin D and operates as a part of the local immune system.
The occurrence of skin and fur disorders is frequent among dogs. Most frequently, the cause is allergic in nature when it results from allergies to food, contact allergies, atopic allergies or the presence of skin parasites – fleas. Of the causes that are not related to the immune system, notable are bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Among many ill animals, we frequently see sensitivity related to flea bites. Much like with food allergies, you may first notice signs through your dog’s skin. They may become more itchy and start chewing in certain areas, such as around the tail, rear end, thighs and back. The main cause of irritation from fleas themselves come from the saliva that irritate the skin.
The symptoms can be caused by a large number of fleas, or only one flea causing an allergic reaction. In every case, the best prevention is flea protection in the form of dripping of flea repellent on the skin or flea collars.
Nutritional experts from Butcher’s Pet Care also advice that to maintain a healthy skin and coat, a dog needs nutrients such as zinc and also the fatty acids Omega 3, an anti-inflammatory which helps to prevent skin irritation, and Omega 6, a key ingredient for a shiny and glossy coat. Salmon oil is rich in Omega 3 and has some Omega 6 content. Tripe is a known as a superfood for dogs as it is full of essential nutrients needed for good health, including the optimum balance of Omega 3 and 6.
The next frequently occurring disorder manifesting itself in the skin is atopica. This is based on a reaction by the immune system to environmental allergens that enter the body through the respiratory system or through the skin itself. This disease affects dogs of every age and is typically seasonal with pollen, but there are instances of household dust also causing similar illnesses.
Atopica Allergies caused by pollen
Some allergies may be seasonal and may bring other side effects with them, such as weight gain when prescribed a course of steroids to treat.
Oscar, a 4 year old German Shepherd is an active family dog. During the summer of 2012 he suffered from an allergic reaction to pollen and was prescribed steroids. During the course of medication, as a direct side effect, he gained weight.
Oscar, pictured before trialing Butcher’s Lean & Tasty
Once he completed the course of medication he maintained the heavier weight, prompting his owners to find a solution. After being assessed by Mike Mullan, Crufts judge and canine behaviourist working with Butcher’s Pet Care, he began a trial of Butcher’s Lean & Tasty.
Over a 16 week period Oscar lost just over 5kg weight and appeared to have lots more energy. He subsequently had to go back on steroids this summer due to his allergies, but continuing his diet of Lean & Tasty, his weight was better maintained and he kept his energy!
Oscar, pictured after trialing Butcher’s Lean & Tasty
If you are worried your dog suffers from allergies, keep a diary of the signs and symptoms and speak with your veterinary surgeon.
Your dog’s symptoms can be managed if you are able to identify the problem, and then, in the cases of dogs like Oscar, help them to live as happy and healthy a life as possible.
Butcher’s Lean & Tasty meaty complete meals with 30% less fat is a more natural dog food, as are all of the Butcher’s products, because they contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
Visit the Butcher’s Pet Care website and use the tool to find the right food for your dog – butcherspetcare.co.uk