Well, the sun is shining, and the buds are on some of the trees. Whilst it is a great time of year and you feel like anything is possible, it is also the time that seasonal allergies start to rear their ugly head! Whilst many dogs simply have a sensitivity to grass sap and keeping them off the freshly mown lawn for a couple of days can help keep pesky irritation at bay, some allergies are a little more complicated. As always, we are available to help you manage any chronic irritation suffered by your dog, but we thought we would give you some of our top tips that can come in handy when managing seasonal allergies. We love Spring here at My Pet Nutritionist, however we don't love all of the poor itchy dogs we see due to seasonal allergies.
What is an allergy?
An allergy is a hypersensitivity with a basis in immune mechanisms. Seasonal allergies tend to manifest as dermatological and respiratory symptoms. Sadly, secondary to dermatological symptoms, dogs can often develop chronic infection from repeated trauma in the form of licking, scratching, or rubbing.
Flea allergies are also often deemed as seasonal allergies, and it is the saliva from the flea that causes the irritation. Flea allergies affects animals of all ages, irrespective of sex or breed and there is new data to suggest that puppies given flea protection treatments too early are more susceptible to this disease. It is argued that this is because the young puppy will not be able to acquire immunity to the antigens contained in flea saliva.
For this reason, our first tip is:
1) Avoid the overuse of pharmaceutical flea and worm treatments
Whilst there is sometimes a place for the use of pharmaceutical products in high burdens of parasites, we would always advocate the use of worm count kits to establish any burden of worms before treatment and also the use of natural flea repellent products over any spot-on or tablet flea treatment. The overuse of certain pharmaceutical products can place an unusual burden on many pathways in the dog’s body.
2) Support the Gut!
As you will know if you read our articles on the immune system and the lymphatic system, in the gut you will find GALT, or gut-associated lymphoid tissue. The digestive tract is heavily laden with lymphocytes, macrophages and other cells that participate in immune responses. As we mentioned, an allergy is an immune response gone bad, so we need to support immune function. In a poor functioning digestive system, rogue particles can end up leaking through the barriers; this can be in cases of periodontal disease (bacteria getting into the blood stream from plaque formation), to damage in the tight junctions in the intestinal tract. But when this happens, the immune response is called to the area of the rogue particle to get rid of it. These systemic responses can lead to hypersensitivity, leaving the immune system a little too eager to do its job on a body wide level. It is essential to support the barriers in the mouth; ensuring good dental hygiene but also to support the barrier of the gut. Bone broth can be a great addition to support gut health. Glutamine is an amino acid that maintains gut barrier integrity and it can be found in bone broth. Read more about gut health here.
3) Limit Stress
Mast cells have a key role in allergic response; when they detect a substance that triggers an allergic reaction, they release histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream. Histamine makes the blood vessels expand and the surrounding skin itchy and swollen. This is known as degranulation and we know that stress can induce mast cell degranulation.
If you are working to tackle allergies in your dog, then it is important to remove as many stress triggers as possible.
There is also this idea of co-regulation of species, that dogs can pick up when we are stressed too. We know that seeing our canine companions suffer is worrying, so this is where it can be particularly useful to get a qualified professional on board to help develop a plan of action to move forward. Learn more about how to possibly support stress here.
4) Rinse your dog, but not wash!
If you suspect your dog may have sensitivities to certain grasses or pollen, rinse their paws, undercarriage,and chest after walks. You can also wipe their muzzle, ears, and face with a damp microfibre cloth when you get home too. But avoid over-shampooing your dog. Whilst you may opt for non-toxic products, washing can skew the microbiome found on the skin of your dog and this provides a first line of defence for the immune response. The skin has its own community of microbes that can engulf and destroy pesky ones before they have chance to cause problems; frequent bathing can alter this community.
5) Fill up on Fat!
As we know, allergies are an immune response and inflammation is the hallmark of an immune response. Therefore, it can help to fill up on foods to down-regulate inflammation. Omega-3 is a fatty acid that has regularly been linked to reduced levels of inflammation. In turn it is often associated with reduced perception of pain (win win!).
Omega-3 is found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sprats, and sardines. Fresh or tinned are a great addition to the diet (although be mindful of how much tinned due to mercury content).
You will find some content in beef and lamb– just opt for grass fed.
There are many fish oil supplements available, just be mindful that as the level of polyunsaturated fatty acids are increased in the diet, the need for Vitamin E also increases. To learn more about your fatty acid options, read here.
For some dogs, they can manage seasonal allergies well, with some simple lifestyle changes like:
- Ensure a fresh diet to give optimal support to your dog's immunity
- Walking early morning or late evening
- Rinsing after walks
- Regularly vacuuming with a HEPAfilter
- Regularly washing their bed (just on a hot wash in the washing machine)
But for some, it can be a miserable time of year. In these cases, there is often some other underlying niggles at play and certain nutritional plans and supplements can make a world of difference. Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we don’t have a magic wand, but we do have many years’ experience in tackling allergies. If you’d like to explore whether we may be able to help, then please check out our services here.
Thanks for reading!