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Dogs with Allergies & Sensitivities

Possibly one of the most common ailments that we find in the dog world – some dogs just seem to react to everything!

Is this possible?  Or is there something else going on?  Let’s take a look and consider some top nutritional tips to support your dog’s health. 

What is an allergy?

An allergy is an unnecessary immune response to an innocuous substance.  True allergies are often fatal.  

More often than not we are faced with sensitivities – which are still an immune response.  

What is the immune system?

The purpose of the immune system is to defend itself and keep microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi out of the body and then destroy any if they happen to get in.

It has three lines of defence.  

The innate immune system provides the first line of defence; broadly divided into physical/chemical barriers.  

The physical barriers include the skin and the lining of the digestive and respiratory tract.  You can think of the body like a sausage; the skin, keeps everything in, but also things out.  

Chemical barriers include tears and saliva along with gastric acid.  But also, the microbiome – which is the community of microbes found in the mouth, lungs, gut and on the skin.  

We then have the innate immune system – which is for want of a better phrase a row of white blood cells (and other participants) that engulf and destroy invaders.  

The third defence is acquired or adaptive immunity – this is the memory bank.  The cells involved in this response help the body remember antigens that it has encountered before – so it can mount a quicker response before the harmful pathogen causes any damage.  

The immune system is trained to recognise its own cells as self and leave them to do their jobs.  It is trained to recognise anything that isn’t self and attack it.  

When it works, it works brilliantly and, well, us and our dogs survive.

But, it can get a little too enthusiastic and start responding to things it doesn’t really need to.  There are a number of reasons for this.  

Generally, allergies and sensitivities are associated with poor barrier function; so there may be damaged or broken skin, a poor microbiome, or damage to the integrity of the gut.

Think of it like an army.  If you have a row of soldiers who are standing shoulder to shoulder, you stand a good chance against the enemy.  Once soldiers start falling, opportunities arise for the enemy to get through.  

When skin is damaged, antigens spot their opportunity and sneak in through the gaps.  The same occurs in the gut.  Cells sit tightly together, but when cell integrity fails, under digested food particles and pathogens see their opportunity and sneak out into circulation. 

The immune system spots these particles – realises they shouldn’t be there, so mounts a response.  Inflammation is a key part of this response.  

The issue is when the barrier remains compromised, more particles sneak through and so you end up in a chronic state of inflammation.  

Barrier dysfunction can occur for a number of reasons:

  • Genes
  • Microbiome dysbiosis
  • Long-term use of medication 
  • Toxins
  • Environmental exposure

But the more inflammatory compounds you have, the more anti-inflammatory compounds you will need.  You will also have a heightened need for compounds that break down inflammatory molecules like histamine.  

It is clear that those suffering with allergic disease will have a higher baseline of histamine, and so clearance of this is important.  

Top Tips to Support a Dog with Sensitivities:

Avoiding triggers where possible!

Support barrier function – skin health is essential.  Nutrients key in skin health can be found in our blog here: https://proflax.co.uk/blogs/allergies-skin-conditions-blog/how-to-keep-your-dogs-skin-and-coat-healthy 

Support gut health - more and more data is linking gut health to allergic disease.  Maintaining gut integrity is key, as is supporting the health of the microbiome.  

What can skew microbiome balance?

  • Undigested food – often a result of poor function in the digestive system
  • Overuse of medications/antibiotics
  • Decreased gastric acid (from PPI or antihistamine use)
  • Decreased pancreatic function
  • Motility disorders
  • Anatomical abnormalities
  • Toxin exposure – cleaning products, flea/worm treatments
  • Urban living

Aid clearance of histamine – B vitamins are important in supporting the clearance of histamine and are found in meat, eggs, fish and leafy green vegetables.  It also pays to avoid loading histamine rich foods during acute flares; so avoid fermented foods or those that have been stored for a period of time.  

Support anti-inflammatory pathways – inflammation is a necessary response, but like everything, too much can be a bad thing!  To reign the immune response back in, it sends anti-inflammatory messages.  But sometimes, the anti-inflammatory messages get lost in the inflammatory ones.  So we need to make the anti-inflammatory ones a little bigger and louder.  Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are great inflammation modulators.  

But it’s about balance, many commercial diets are higher in omega-6, so ensure you are adding omega-3 to the bowl.  Oily fish is a great addition, for examples sprats, sardines and mackerel. 

Allergies and sensitivities can be incredibly difficult to tackle; symptoms are simply that.  It’s really about looking at what is going on in the body for this response to occur. 

 

Written by Lisa Hannaby - Bsc. Psych. Hons, MSc Human Nutrition

 

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