So far we have looked at what allergies in dogs look like, and how to get some relief.
For a long-term solution, we need to address what is causing the allergic symptoms.
If you can, avoid what triggers the allergy.
This is do-able in the case of food allergies – don’t eat that food. The tricky part is figuring out what the food trigger is – one triggering ingredient can show up in lots of different treats and kibbles.
The best approach is an elimination diet – this means feeding limited types of proteins until the allergy has had time to settle down. This takes longer than you think: the “allergic machinery” runs on its own momentum for a while, it takes up to 13 weeks of no allergen exposure to let the process come to a stop. The rule of thumb is to feed the test diet, and nothing but the test diet, for 3 months before deciding whether the allergic response is gone or not.
So what makes an Elimination Diet? There are 2 approaches:
Novel Protein – this means giving a protein source that your dog’s system has never seen before, and therefore never had a chance to develop an allergy to.
- Kibble – if you are going that route, use a prescription Hypoallergenic diet, where an effort has been made to avoid any extraneous proteins.
- Homemade diet – this gives you ultimate control over the ingredients used.
Hydrolyzed diets – these are diets where the constituent protein has been broken down into fragments too small for the immune system to recognize.
You see, the way an allergen interacts with one of the immune system’s antibodies is like a key fitting in a lock. It is very dependent on the 3D structure of the allergen.
Now, imagine a key ground down into a pile of iron filings. It is still the key: all its parts are still there. But, it will no longer fit in the lock.
Hydrolyzed proteins still have all the nutrition of their intact counterparts, but now they can “fly under the radar” of the immune system.
And after the 13 weeks – then what?
OK, first rule, though, is no cheating. You can not say “just a little won’t hurt” – think of a peanut allergic person, they don’t even have to actually eat a peanut to react, just a trace of peanut protein will do the damage. So, no slipping table food or treats; and watch out for flavourings in medication, they are often meat or malt extracts ie proteins!
So, after you have been diligent for 13 weeks, the next step is Challenge Feeding. Introduce one suspect protein to your pet’s diet at a time, and watch. If you see any return of symptoms, then scratch that one off the list of allowed foods. Then, back to just the elimination diet for a week – if the allergic response is only just gearing up, it will die down much more quickly than 13 weeks. Go through each protein you want to test (eg chicken, egg, dairy, beef, soy etc) one at a time until you have your “safe” list.
If you can’t avoid…
While you can control to some extent what goes in your pet’s mouth, you can not prevent exposure to environmental allergens – not unless you have the “dog in the bubble”.
For environmental allergies, we can do Allergy Shots, just like people get. This means starting with Allergy Testing, either:
- The Skin Prick Test – this is usually done by a veterinary dermatologist. An area of skin is shaved, and injections of different test allergens are made into the skin to see which cause a reaction. This is considered the gold standard, because the test is looking for exactly the type of skin reaction that we are trying to get a handle on clinically.
- Blood allergy testing – this involves drawing a blood sample, and sending it to a lab to look for the types of antibodies involved in the allergic response, called IgE. There are a lot of questions about standards between different labs, and about whether finding IgE to some allergen in the blood really represents that it is part of your pet’s allergic symptoms. That being said, though, I have had several cases where the blood test gave us a really good handle on what was going on.
Now that testing has shown what triggers the allergies, the lab can make up allergy serum, containing those specific proteins that cause the allergic response. The dose given starts out small and frequent, and gets gradually stronger and less frequent. The goal is to “recruit” other arms of the immune response, such as the free-floating blood antibodies called IgGs, to “run interference” for us and mop up the allergens before they bind to an IgE (allergy antibody).
Allergies don’t have to make your dog miserable!
We can help our canine friends by
Recognizing allergic symptoms when we see them
Managing those symptoms with baths, supplements and medication
Removing or neutralizing what caused the allergic response, we can make sure canine allergies don’t cause your dog grief!