The First Step to Detecting Allergies in DogsThe first step to take is to rule out the causes one by one. In order to do so, extensive tests will need to be carried out by your vet. The particular procedure depends on the individual case. Furthermore, not every medicine used has the desired effect immediately which means the diagnosis, i.e. the search for the causes and the treatment is often a long and difficult road. However, in each case this path is usually the right one in the long term, even if it seems slow and tiresome.
Beware of Dubious Advice on Dog AllergiesUnfortunately allergies is a problem area in which there is a wealth of dubious ‘experts’ who are always too ready to give ‘good’ advice, leading those affected to believe that the solution is merely a change of food or some other ‘secret method’. Many owners are only too ready to take such advice, probably because allergies have been on the increase in recent years, both in pets and in humans, and in difficult cases the diagnosis and therapies can be very expensive and protracted. Such easy hints may certainly have worked in a few cases, but in particular with the more difficult cases, the numerous failed ‘wonder cures’ have also cost owners a lot of money over time and unnecessarily extended the discomfort and suffering of the dog. For this reason it is particularly important to know a few essential facts about ‘allergies.’
The Facts about Dog AllergiesAn allergy is an over-sensitivity of the body to certain substances. The 3 most common types of allergies include:
- Atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema, neurodermatitis) of which the causes are:
- House dust and house dust mites
- Food mites
- Pollen (e.g. grasses, trees, herbs, etc.)
- Moulds etc.
- Flea saliva allergy of which the cause is:
- Flea bites (flea saliva)
- Food Intolerances of which the causes are:
- Food components (beef, poultry, fish, dairy products, wheat, maize, soya, etc.)
- Food additives (colourings, preservatives, flavourings)
How Do Dogs Develop AllergiesIn order to develop an allergy the body must have had contact with the relevant substance for a certain period of time. For this reason, allergies generally manifest themselves in dogs from the age of 1-2 years. Even the slightest contact with the substance which causes the allergy can trigger massive symptoms. Thus the bite of a single flea (in the case of flea allergies) or even a single crumb of bread (in the case of a wheat allergy) can cause our four-legged friends to irritated itching misery! Determining an allergy or its causes involves absolute consistency! The vet’s instructions must be followed down to the finest detail!
How to Determine a Food Allergy in DogsThe only way of determining a food allergy beyond all doubt is by following what is known as an ‘exclusion diet’ with subsequent provocation with the previous food. The diagnosis is only confirmed if the symptoms then recur.
The Objectives on an Exclusion Diet in DogsThe objective of an exclusion diet is to provide the dog with food to which its body does not react, as it does not recognise it. Therefore, it should consist of a source of protein which the animal has not eaten before such a gluten-free potatoes and Ostrich meat, as used in Happy Dog Africa. These ingredients are rarely used in commercial foods. This exclusion diet must be given consistently and without any exceptions for a period of at least 6 – 12 weeks. This is as long as it can take for the allergy symptoms to subside. With dogs which tend to scavenge food scraps when out and about, it is wise to fit a suitable muzzle when walking the dog, in order to ensure he doesn’t eat anything except what he is allowed in the diet. This sounds worse than it is. Most dogs soon become accustomed to it. Another problem which frequently arises is the question of treats and snacks. Check what rewards you are giving your dog as they could well be causing the problem. Cut all treats and snacks out of the diet during the exclusion stage. If the dog is free from symptoms after 6 – 12 weeks, the ‘provocation diet’ is then started and the previous food is given. If it is responsible for the symptoms, these will recur after as little as 1 hour and up to 2 weeks. In order to find out which particular ingredient the animal is sensitive to, as a further step individual ingredients of the exclusion diet can be exchanged, i.e. the various protein sources (poultry, lamb etc.) are changed every 1-2 weeks. However, only one component should be replaced at a time, otherwise, if the itching returns the cause cannot be definitely determined. If the symptoms have not substantially improved after a period of 12 weeks on the ‘exclusion diet,’ then in all probability this is not a food allergy and different causes should be investigated.
Skin Allergies and Other Allergies in DogsOnce we have ruled out a food allergy, methods such as skin allergy tests are used. In favourable cases, after thorough diagnosis and optimum co-operation between the vet and the owner, specific allergen (i.e. a substance which causes the allergy), e.g. grass pollen (1. atopic dermatitis), flea saliva (2. flea saliva allergy) or a food ingredient (3. food intolerance) e.g. beef can be established. For particular allergens, contact can be avoided (flea allergy - consistent flea treatment, food intolerance of beef - food without beef). For other allergens (e.g. grass allergy or house dust allergy) contact with the substance cannot always be avoided, so medication is then necessary to alleviate the symptoms.
Hyposensitising Dogs with AllergiesOne possibility is to attempt to hyposensitise the dog to the allergens to which it reacts, i.e. to make it insensitive to them. For this, the dog is injected with a tiny quantity of the allergen in increasing concentrations, so the body can - so to speak - become familiar with it. The cases where this is advisable vary with the individual case. In some cases – for so-called seasonal symptoms – it is sufficient to give the dog medication for a certain period (e.g. during the grass flowering period in summer), in other cases the patient must be given permanent medication. Which medication your dog is given depends on the type of allergy, the symptoms, and ultimately the dog himself. Your vet will set up an individual course of treatment for your dog.
Top Tips on Coping with Dog AllergiesWith enough patience there are ways and means of giving even seriously afflicted dogs a good quality of life, even in the most severe cases! Therefore, to conclude:
- In the interest of the dog, co-operate fully with your vet
- Follow all instructions to the letter. Even slight failure to do so may set your four-legged friend back weeks!
- Don’t throw in the towel too soon. In difficult cases it may take weeks or even months to achieve successful treatment!
- Even in long drawn-out and frustrating cases, don’t be tempted by so-called ‘miracle cures.’ If you do you may negate any small successes achieved so far. Always consult your vet first!
- Lastly, don’t forget that your vet cannot conjure up any sudden cures. Diagnosis and treatment of this condition are very complicated!
Use of Happy Dog Products for Known Food Allergies Without colourings or flavourings: all Our Dog Food Products
We are grateful for the kind support of Dr. Karin Stechmann, med. vet., Certificate of Veterinary Dermatology (Version 11/2007) © C.C. Günther