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Allergies and your Pets

Natural Pet Animal Hospital

A healthy immune system reacts to bacteria and viruses by manufacturing antibodies that allow the body to mount an immune response against these unwelcome invaders (pathogens). The immune system also encounters hundreds of particles every day that are not pathogenic, but just part of the natural environment. These substances (ragweed, grasses, pollens, molds, foods, etc.) should be recognized by the body but not considered foreign invaders.

Allergies are a result of an over-active immune system that processes and interprets common substances as a pathogenic assault. When the body mounts an immune response to common substances, allergic symptoms appear. These substances, when viewed by the immune system as foreign invaders, are called allergens.

There are only two types of allergies: food and environmental. Pets can be allergic to one type of tree or every outdoor allergen, allergic to only wheat or every starch. Some pets inherit sensitivities to certain foods and environmental factors. Pets with inherited tendencies toward allergic responses often demonstrate allergic symptoms early in life. any allergies are acquired over several years of continual exposure to the allergen.

Some pets have both food allergies and environmental allergies. If pets itch during the spring, summer or fall, they are most likely reacting to something they are exposed to at that time. If pets continue to exhibit symptoms after outdoor allergens have been buried under snow, it points more towards non-seasonal, or year-round antigenic stimulation (food). Allergy tests determine what substances a pet is reacting to at that point in time. Allergy panels can yield very different results when conducted over several months, demonstrating that the immune system can over-react to many different antigens as they are presented.

Interestingly, food allergies have been shown to occur more in pets that are fed only one food source for a prolonged period of time. “y pet can’t be allergic to her food, she’s been eating it her whole life.” y point exactly. The immune system is bombarded with the same allergens for so long that it can begin to react negatively to the food source. The foods most commonly found to be allergenic on allergy panels are wheat and corn. Surprising? Not really, as dogs and cats were never meant to ingest foods containing such high amounts of carbohydrates (the average commercial dog food contains over 50% grains).

Food antigens can circulate in the bloodstream for up to 6 weeks. This means that a true food trial should last at least six weeks, sometimes longer. During this period, animals must not eat any foods suspected of causing a reaction. This includes treats. A single bite of a problematic food can cause a flare up that lasts several days. After the patient has been given adequate time to clear the allergic substances from his/her body, new foods can be added slowly, watching the animal’s response after each food is added. Interestingly, many of the foods that were previously considered allergenic can often be incorporated into the diet once the body has had ample time to detoxify and clean out the cellular debris.

any holistic vets theorize that it’s not the actual food protein that causes the immune system to react but the chemicals and preservatives included in the foods that cause the problem. Although we can’t say for sure, it would explain why many pets can now consume foods that were previously listed as allergenic on their allergy panel with no negative effects after the correct dietary changes have been made.

Allergy symptoms are very diverse. They range from the basic itch to red eyes, unexplained vomiting, nasal discharge, oozy skin, asthma, coughing and sneezing. Because the symptoms are produced from the inside out, ointments, shampoos, sprays and dips can only provide temporary relief. Treatment must focus on balancing the immune system. Suppressing the immune system with steroids (also called prednisone, cortisone or the nondescript “allergy shot”) is least optimal. Steroids turn the immune system off, which improves the symptoms remarkably fast but doesn’t address why the immune system is over-reacting. Turning off your pet’s immune system is also not a wise long term solution, not to mention the negative effects of steroids on your pet’s liver, adrenal glands and kidneys.

Drug-induced immunosupression, in addition to a grain based commercial food, can also lead to an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria on your pet’s skin. Yeast are opportunistic pathogens, which mean their numbers increase when allowed to do so. When the body cannot resist infection then yeast and bacteria tend to become a problem. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to fight the infection, and the vicious circle of prescribing steroids, antibiotics, steroids, antibiotics has begun.

Feeding a grain based diet also allows for an unnatural alkaline skin pH where yeast and bacteria can thrive. When we alkalize our pets by feeding an abundance of carbohydrates, yeast are given the opportunity to set up housekeeping in the ears, skin folds and between toes. Yeast exude a musty smell. any people assume their pets should smell this way. Healthy pets do not stink. Healthy pets should only be bathed with they’re dirty but not because they’re smelly. Bathing smelly pets in oatmeal (a grain) shampoo often adds fuel to the fire, requiring the pet to be re-bathed multiple times a week for the owners to tolerate the pet in the house. Feeding pets a grain-free diet allows the skin to maintain a healthy, slightly acidic pH. Feeding pets a living diet builds a healthy immune system that is not conducive to yeast overgrowth.

What is the foundation of a functional immune system? Strong genetics and a healthy environment. Al Plechner, author of "Pet Allergies: Remedies For An Epidemic," states, "After 15 years of clinical investigation, I am convinced that the critical regulating mechanism linking the endocrine and the immune system has been seriously damaged by excessive cosmetic breeding."

any holistic vets believe the basis for allergic reactions is a genetically induced and/or environmentally acquired deficiency in various hormones produced by the exocrine (glandular) system. Deficient or unbalanced hormone levels result in loss of control of the immune regulatory system. Antigens allowed into the body are either over-processed or under-processed. The resultant stress on the animal's system caused by fluctuating hormone levels, together with genetic predisposition, can then lead to a hyperactive immune system and the loss of recognition of pathogenic vs. nonpathogenic substances.

In addition to a genetic component, an animal’s immune response is also influenced by environmental factors, including diet. Remember, the foods you feed will eventually heal or harm. Feeding pets healing, non-allergenic foods allows the immune system to rest. Rebalancing the immune system by offering natural, biologically appropriate wholesome foods is necessary to begin the road to recovery.