Allergies: They re not just for humans anymore
Lark L. Burnham, Ph.D
Whether in human or
companion animals, recent research (Rastall, 2004) has shown that allergies are
the result of both genetics and environment. Genetics (DeBoer, 2004)
predisposes a human or pet to suffer from allergies, but the deal is clinched if
they are raised in a modern Westernized home. What does modernization have to
do with allergies? We will see that the cleanliness (comparatively speaking)
and energy-efficiency of the home has a direct influence on the development of
allergies in both humans and pets.
Although most of the
published research in companion animal atopy, or allergy, has been done in dogs,
it can occur in cats, albeit, less often. Research with dogs generally
correlates to that done in humans (Rastall, 2004).
The development of the
immune response in prenatal humans and dogs
A newborn baby or puppy is
basically a clean slate, immunologic ally speaking, everything is new and
friends and foes have not been established yet. The immune system builds a
vocabulary, if you will, of self and non-self as it is bombarded with
microorganisms and large protein molecules from food. Eventually, the body
learns to identify what organisms in its body and environment are
non-threatening, and screens these out. In other words, those non-threatening
microorganisms and proteins do not set the innate alarm bells clanging. Further
modifications become necessary as the baby or pet is weaned and begins to eat
and increasingly energy-efficient homes.
Research (Leynaert et al.,
2001; Douwes and Pierce, 2002; von Mutius, 2001) has shown that humans or pets
raised on farms, especially those that produce livestock, have a lower incidence
of asthma, which is also caused by allergies. Why? Livestock farms are teeming
with all kinds of microbial life, children and pets continually come in contact
with these microorganisms, and as they do, their immune systems learn to see
them as non-threatening.
ompare this scenario to
the modern middle-class home in America. Although some homemakers are more
obsessed than others regarding cleanliness, the average home is cleaner than a
livestock barn. Many children raised in cities or suburbs never even get close
to a cow or pig or any part of one, unless it is in the kitchen or on the
grill. Any potentially beneficial or pathogenic bacteria have (theoretically)
been left at the plant.
With increasing energy
costs, many have tried to either improve the current efficiency of their homes,
or moved to newer, more air-tight housing. This means that even those
microorganisms that may be in the neighborhood are kept at bay. Add to this the
habitual use of household cleaners, and you have a home that is close to sterile
in some cases.
Sum it all up and you have
young children and puppies who only encounter a limited number of microorganisms
and proteins. In other words, their immune system's vocabulary is limited,
and anything off this short list sets immunological alarms blaring.
Food allergies (DeBoer,
2004) are provoked by large proteins, such as those in meat, dairy products,
fish, and some cereal grains. Generally, humans and dogs are only allergic to
one, or sometimes two, proteins or groups of proteins.
Allergic reactions often
mimic those of an insect infestation. Food allergies in dogs manifest on the
skin. Chronic itchiness leads to constant scratching and biting, which destroys
the skin s natural defenses. Hair loss, scaly skin, and yeast infections often
begin as a simple food allergy. Sometimes skin scrapings reveal the presence of
parasitic insects such as mites, and treatment misprescribed based on these
finding, even though allergies came first. Unless they are identified and the
offending proteins eliminated, any veterinary prescribed treatment will fail to
cure the problem.
Short and long term
environmental and food, can be identified and avoided, if possible.
Environmental allergens are more difficult to avoid, but are usually seasonal.
These types of allergies may require regular steroids to control the symptoms.
Since protein is the culprit in food allergies, limit your dog s diet to one
protein source (beef, pork, chicken, etc.) at a time and watch how they react.
The most common allergens are beef and dairy proteins, followed by pork,
chicken, fish, eggs, and cereal grains. You and your pet will be much more
comfortable once the offending protein(s) have been identified and eliminated
from the diet.
In the case of infants and
puppies, research (Benyacoub et al., 2003; Bracken et al., 2002;
Nowak-Wegrzyn, 2003; Warner, 2004; Wood, 2006) indicates that oral treatment
with hypoallergenic probiotics such as MSE Natural Defense can help teach the
nascent immune system to be less over-sensitive to strange proteins. In
effect, daily dosing with probiotics from birth can emulate the variety of
organisms and proteins that might bombard a child or pet on a farm, but in the
comparatively sterile urban/suburban environment. There are other immune
benefits from feeding benign microorganisms such as Lactobacillus acidophilus
(DeBoer, 2004; Duggan et al., 2002).
If one or both parents of
an infant or puppy have allergies, there is a good chance that the offspring
will be predisposed to them as well. In these cases, preventative use of oral
probiotics can mitigate the expression of that predisposition. This must start
within the first few weeks of life, when the nascent immune system is still
identifying friend and foe.
Other research (Ou Lim, et
al. 1997) suggests that pectin may alleviate allergy symptoms. Pectin traps
molecules such as starch, fat, cholesterol, and the immunoglobulin that triggers
allergy symptoms (IgE). Initial animal trials by Natur s Way, Inc. (Horton,
KS) show that most dogs have reduced
allergy symptoms if fed a pectin-based probiotic daily.
Allergies are serious
business, they can open the flood gates of disease in an otherwise healthy human
of pet. They cause stress from chronic discomfort, cause physical damage from
scratching and/or biting, and occupy the immune system when it needs to be
looking out for more serious problems. Diagnosis is often confused by secondary
infestation, and may postpone treatment for the initial problem. If the
condition is caused by a food allergy, the owner or parent can do the sleuthing
themselves and discover which item(s) provoke reactions. Both you and your pet
will appreciate the relief from all that scratching and digging.
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