Dog food allergy and other allergy types affect happiness in dog and owner

A case study of multiple concurrent allergies

How allergy signs can affect your life. This is the story of an otherwise very happy Labrador Retriever with concurrent allergies. It is based on an interview held on the 23rd of June, 2007 with Nell Kremers.

This story will show you how dog allergies can enter your life when you have a dog, and how they can affect your life, your mood, your dog's temper, your dog's appearance, where you go for a walk, what kind of food you buy and the medical attention required in diagnosing and treating allergies. This can really be a big thing and I hope you and your dog will be much more fortunate than the case described here.

Labrador Retriever dog Demi

Scratching for relief

Demi is a friendly Labby, she's always happy and playful… or at least she used to be up until one summer at 15 months of age. She then just started biting and scratching. As if the itching drove her mad she was literally rubbing and licking her skin away. The once beautiful chocolate-brown Labrador lost her shine.

She showed bald spots in her arm-pits and below her tail plus self-inflicted wounds in her face. Scratching for relief of allergy symptoms does cost a lot of energy.

Allergy signs in a Labrador Retriever

At first it just seemed as if she had developed a bad habit and the owners at first tried to correct her for overdoing the scratching thing as perhaps she was just seeking attention being in the puberty age.

Demi, the docile dog she is, obeyed and stopped the scratching as long as one of her human family members was around. But as soon as they left the room, she would make up for lost scratching time and hit it like crazy. Also when she got aroused and her blood started flowing more quickly through her veins, it appeared the itching increased.

Changing to hypo-allergenic dog food

And so it happened she was taken to the vet (well, not for the first time of course). She showed self-inflicted wounds and around her eyes virtually no hair had survived the intense scratching. The vet checked her for parasites and teeth problems (as she was scratching around her jaws as well) but found no problems in that area. He then advised to change her dog food from high energy Eukanuba to Lamb & Rice, to rule out a dog food allergy.

Lamb & Rice is a combination that is often prescribed as a low-allergen dog food and the rationale behind it is that dogs won't have eaten this before. However, nowadays Lamb & Rice is not such an exotic dog food anymore… and in this case this choice was not so fortunate for Demi. Why? Just continue reading this case study and you'll find out.

Demi has a very loving owner who would sleep on the couch, during the heavy episodes, just to be in time to calm her down. No more scolding or shouting to try to stop her hurting herself, but instead remaining calm and trying to transfer tranquillity to her (as if giving Reiki to a dog). The owner would gently let her hands go over the itching spots, which gave Demi some relief. This was to avoid Demi mutilating herself as the self-inflicted wounds can progress and get infected (so called hot spots).

However, the symptoms did not disappear and she was taken to the veterinarian again. She received a medicine to relief the itching and, thank god, this worked so she could have some sleep again. Poor Demi had not enjoyed a good night of rest for quite some time and this was taking his toll as well, changing her behaviour and making her more nervous. She also got antibiotics and a skin sample was taken for further research. No parasites or scabies was detected.

Do you recognize (parts of) this story or is your experience with your allergic dog different? Share your dog allergy story to educate others. Let us know about your experiences and perhaps you have some tips we can all benefit from (or at least our dogs).

Allergy blood test

Standard treatment in itching is to change dog food for about 3 to 4 months and to only give your dog that dog food, no treats, no snacks, no table scraps, nothing whatsoever. When symptoms remain, then a blood test is indicated. And Demi obviously qualified for this next step. Finally it all became clear. Just have a look at the results below.

Demi's allergy test revealed the following allergies:

  • Food allergies: Rice (!), wheat, lamb, soy, carrots and nuts with highest score for rice and wheat.
  • Contact allergies: Various mites and also flea bite allergy.
  • Inhalant allergies: Wheat (again), barley, corn, oats, stinging nettle and ribwort plantain.

Demi was suffering from multiple allergies such as grass allergy which explained the increase in allergy symptoms during summers (like the first episode) but also a very high score to rice and to a lesser extent to lamb as well, the main ingredients in her so-called hypoallergenic dog food. What an unfortunate choice this had been! With this new knowledge, she was immediately taken of Lamb & Rice and transferred to Duck & Potato Diet (Tovet's DPD).

Desensitization via allergen injections

To deal with the inhalant and contact allergies for grain and grasses, immunotherapy was indicated. It's pretty easy to ‘cure’ dog food allergies (the cure is to just eliminate the ingredients from the menu) compared to curing environmental allergies. It is often impractical to keep a dog away from offending allergens, so another solution than elimination is required. Based on the results of the allergy test a special mix was created in the laboratory to desensitize Demi to the identified culprits.

desensitization of dogs via allergen injections

Since this involves weekly injections the owner had to learn how to inject Demi subcutaneously with these liquids. This kind of therapy thus requires a dedicated dog owner and it can be quite difficult to inject your own pet (well, that's my personal experience).

The owner was given three kinds of fluids (red, green and blue caps) and the amount was set for a period of 6 months of therapy. There is a small risk of anaphylaxis, but still it's the safest long-term treatment available. About 70% of treated dogs respond well to immunotherapy and the others at least show some alleviation of the clinical symptoms.

Learning to live with dog allergies

Demi is now four years old and most of the time she is a happy dog. She will receive desensitization injections (maintenance dosage) probably for the rest of her life. To relief any itching that remains here's a tip from Nell that works for Demi: dilute some tea-tree oil in water and spray this on the inflicted areas. It reliefs the itching, desinfects the skin and helps the healing process of hot spots.

Knowing what allergies she has, she can enjoy an occasional treat again (though never dog biscuits or any other kind of treat that contains wheat such as most dental sticks). Luckily Demi just adores fruit and cheese which is safe to eat for her! You can make Demi really happy by offering her pineapple, mango, strawberries, cucumber, apples and pears. But she also loves a piece of bread, though she's allergic to the ingredients.

People passing by on the street sometimes want to offer a dog biscuit to this happy furry lady, but of course this is strictly prohibited. And since everyone would get tired of explaining the ins and outs of this decision, some people don't understand why this Labrador isn't allowed to enjoy a tasteful treat. Also bread left on the grass for the ducks to eat is a risk for Demi. Especially when walking in the dark it's not always easy for the owner to intervene on time.

Should the allergy episodes worsen again, then there is one official remedy left: Prednisone injections. Antihistamines, though beneficial in allergic humans, give inconsistent results in dogs. So that leaves us with steroid treatment. Counter effects of prednisone are that it can damage the organs and as such may decrease life span. Though when all else fails it's like Demi's owner stated: “Better be happy for a few years, than a very long life of discomfort and unhappiness”.

However, before turning to Prednisone as final resort it appears good results are booked with a holistic approach in similar cases. This is a non-traditional approach in veterinary medicine exploring alternative and complimentary areas of health care. Let's hope new therapies and treatments are discovered to prevent and cure diseases in our beloved pets.

So, what have we learned from this allergy case study?

In summary:

  • Prescribing Lamb & Rice dog food to rule out dog food induced allergies is not a good choice in all cases.
  • Dog food induced allergies, inhalant allergies and contact allergies can occur at the same time making a clear diagnosis very difficult.
  • When your dog is suddenly scratching a lot, examine his coat for fleas or other parasites and take him to the vet if your investigation was negative.
  • When your dog suffers an attack of heavy itching and is relentlessly scratching for relief, try to transfer calmness to your pooch. Diluted tea-tree oil can give some relief.
  • When you meet a person who is walking a dog that looks like he has some kind of contagious disease, don't immediately assume it is scabies and treat them like pariahs. You can just ask. When the other dog is suffering from allergic symptoms you need not worry. Let dogs be dogs if they want to play together. There is nothing contagious about allergies.
  • Allergies cause great discomfort to both dog and owner and it is pertinent to try and identify the allergens that are causing this as quickly as possible.
  • Holistic veterinary medicine may shine new light on this subject when traditional therapies fail.

Dog enzyme supplements can be beneficial in eliminating allergy symptoms, both food allergies as well as environmental allergies.

Do you recognize (parts of) this story or is your experience with your allergic dog different? Share your dog allergy story to educate others. Let us know about your experiences and perhaps you have some tips we can all benefit from (or at least our dogs).

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