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Dog scratching - dog suffering with allergies blog

Dear Katie, how can I help my allergic dog?

My dog seems to have a chicken intolerance – eating it gives her itchy skin and red ears. Chicken is featured in a lot of pet foods, and I want to avoid long term medication. I know an allergic dog can develop issues with other meats, too. What can I do to reduce the risk?

Many pet parents feel lost when caring for an allergic dog. As you say, chicken is widely used in food for canines, making it a common allergy (intolerance) amongst pooches. To begin with, it’s worth avoiding any food containing chicken if it’s causing a reaction in your dog. However, this reaction could be triggered by a gut in a less than optimal condition – this is called Leaky Gut Syndrome. 

Allergic dog

The makings of an allergic dog

Whilst it’s easy to avoid foods that your dog is allergic to, this isn’t a long-term solution. To prevent additional reactions to other proteins in the future, we need to tackle the underlying immune dysfunction.

Leaky Gut Syndrome is the term we use when the intestinal lining is unable to prevent undigested food particles or potentially toxic organisms from passing into the bloodstream. 

The conventional veterinary community has been slow to recognise the existence and consequences of Leaky Gut Syndrome (Dysbiosis). The toxins – for example, undigested food or pollen –  leak into the bloodstream from the digestive system. These foreign invaders are allergenic and produce a specific immune response as the body starts to attack them. We begin to see allergic dermatitis, inflamed ears, red skin, itchiness, scabs, hot spots, and general redness. Each time this food is eaten, the allergic response is repeated, and we end up with chronic inflammation. This inflammation is the body’s attempt to heal by increasing blood supply and circulating white blood cells to deal with the allergen. 

Your intestines are the first line of defence against the outside world, with the intestinal wall acting as the barrier that allows nutrients, toxins, and microorganisms into the bloodstream. If our intestines were sterile, we would die. Enter the microbiome: a network of beneficial bacteria or microflora that line the digestive system, coating the intestinal wall. This network acts as an extension of our skin and provides vital protection, creating antibiotics, anti-virals, and anti-fungals while controlling parasites. Good functioning microflora play many roles, including aiding appropriate digestion, mineral assimilation via transportation, and producing vitamins B and K – to name a few.

Microbiome diagram
The microbiome

These microflora make up 85% of our immunity, termed non-specific immunity, and are in constant communication with the internal or specific immune system. Vomiting and diarrhoea are ways in which this non-specific immune system attempts to rid our bodies of pathogens. 

Exposure to toxins (such as prolonged steroids, stress, and poor diet) prevents the gut flora from thriving as the bacteria have a “poor soil” to grow in; antibiotics have a detrimental effect killing off beneficial microflora. Often, less beneficial microflora such as clostridium and yeast take advantage of this weakened immune defence and overgrow. Once a dog is in this situation, it will need treatment to restore healthy gut flora with pre and/or probiotics. 

How to help an allergic dog

Prebiotics and probiotics are great for helping to restore your pup’s gut flora.

Feeding probiotics is the first step towards rebuilding healthy, immune-boosting gut flora. I recommend the Body Biotics range for dogs as it contains a diverse range of soil based probiotics, rather than just one species of bacteria. Soil based bacteria would have been ingested by canines in the wild pre-domestication, making them an ideal means of restoring the natural balance your pal’s microbiome needs.

One of the species Body Biotics contains is Bacillus: these micro-creatures are resistant to stomach acid and many antibiotics; they’re also immune-stimulating, producing anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial substances. Another species you’ll find in Body Biotics is Lactobacilli; these micro-creatures help cultivate an infant’s digestive system from birth onwards.

soil based ingredients

Once introduced to your pet’s system, probiotics will begin to kill off opportunistic (bad) bacteria. Subsequently, toxins may be released that temporarily result in symptoms becoming worse rather than better. This is why we start off feeding a small portion of probiotics, gradually increasing until we reach a therapeutic level suited to the individual’s needs.

Prebiotics are components in food that provide beneficial bacteria with the nutrients they need to re-colonise the gut, laying the groundwork for a strong microbiome. Some great natural probiotics come in forms of chicory root and various seeds – you’ll find them in Hug recipes.

Bone Broth helps seal a leaky gut as it’s full of gelatine and easy to digest. It’s worth having this ready-made in the freezer to feed your dog on days when she’s feeling off or needs some extra goodness with her meals. Here is a recipe for a really simple bone broth – this recipe is made using chicken, but you can sub it out for duck carcasses, beef marrow bones or other proteins.

Feeding a species-appropriate diet is key to combatting cat and dog food intolerances and can reduce the need for prescription diets and medication. Unlike typical highly processed pet food, a good natural diet contains the components needed for a strong microbiome. Additionally, whole foods are species-specific, so they’re easy for your pet to digest.

Hug raw dog food

Elimination diets can also help identify the dietary cause of your pet’s intolerance if there’s a chance she’s reacting to something other than chicken. I’d suggest feeding a novel protein (a new meat) for 6-8 weeks to allow her body to detox. Once hopefully settled, you can slowly add in another protein, one at a time. Here at Hug, we recommend building up to a rotation of 4 different proteins if possible to help prevent other intolerances from developing. This process can take a while, and you may discover some other intolerances, but it will help get to the bottom of what she may be reacting to. 

We understand a raw diet may not always be practical for every pet parent or pooch, so many owners with an allergic dog look into hydrolysed diets. Hydrolysis uses water to chemically break proteins into pieces that are so small the immune system no longer reacts to them. However, some available hydrolysed diets are packed with artificial fillers and low-grade ingredients, so they may not solve the overall issue. 

We hope your girl will be feeling her best again soon.

Katie x

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