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What to Do When Your Pet has Allergies...

Humans aren't the only ones who suffer from allergies -- pets do too. In fact, in 2008, allergic reactions were the number 1 source of pet insurance claims for conditions that affect both humans and pets. In general, the same chronic illnesses that affect people, most of them due to unregulated inflammation, also affect pets.

Many vets will prescribe an immune system suppressant, such as steroids, to treat allergy symptoms, but this comes with dangerous side effects and allows opportunistic pathogens to infect your pet. Instead, Dr. Becker discusses natural ways to treat your pet’s allergies.
Dr. Becker's Comments:

Is your pet sneezing and coughing? Does he have swollen paws or inflamed ears, or itch constantly? Or does she experience chronic gastrointestinal upset?

All of these diverse symptoms are signs that allergies could be wreaking havoc on their system.

The definition of an allergy is an immune system overreaction. If your dog or cat has any allergic responses going on, it’s really important that you recognize that their immune system isn’t under-responding, it’s over-responding.

Understanding Your Pet’s Immune Spectrum

On the immune spectrum, health is in the middle, in homeostasis (balance). That’s where you want to be for your own immunologic responses and that’s certainly where you want your dog or cat to be.

When a pet is in the middle of the spectrum, it means that your pet’s immune system is capable of identifying and responding to pathogens (i.e. viruses and bacteria) in a timely, healthful manner.

This defense system is capable of recognizing a problem and resolving the underlying infection.

If your pet is out of balance, however, and at a far end of the immune spectrum, there is an immune failure, or an under-active immune system. The end result of an under-active immune system is cancer, which means the body is so debilitated that not only does it not always fight infection, but it may not even recognize basic abnormal cell growth -- and that’s a problem.

On the other end of the spectrum, the the hyperactive end, the end result is autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease occurs when your pet’s body is capable of reacting to viruses and bacteria but begins viewing his or her own tissue as a potential pathologic foreign invader. This means your pet can mount an immune response against its own tissue or blood.

In this case, you have an ultra-confused immune system, one that’s becoming more and more amped up. This is a significantly over-reactive immune system.

Your pet’s allergic responses are on the hyperactive end of the immune spectrum.

So your pet’s body can absolutely react to viruses and bacteria, but your pet begins viewing substances either in the diet (food), or in the environment, as a threat.

Your pet begins to view these ordinarily harmless substances as foreign invaders and mounts an immune response to environmental or food-related substances.

Problems With Allergy Treatment in Conventional Veterinary Medicine
Unfortunately, conventional veterinary therapy for allergies revolves around suppressing your pet’s immune system.

This common treatment involves corticosteroids, although veterinarians will use a lot of different terms to describe them, such as:

  • “Anti-inflammatory” shot or injection
  • “Allergy” shot or injection
  • Anti-itch injection
  • Cortisone or DepoMedrol injection
  • Oral prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone

These are many different words for the same thing: steroids.

These are not anabolic steroids (the kind that athletes may abuse for athletic development), they are catabolic and immunosuppressive, and can lead to major organ degeneration and a whole host of other issues. In my opinion, these drugs should only be used in life threatening situations.

In certain life threatening situations, steroids are sometimes indicated, such as anaphylaxis, which is a rare type of hypersensitivity that occurs if your pet experiences a vaccine reaction, or your pet eats a problematic food or gets a bee sting that cause a sudden acute, allergic response where the whole face or throat can swell up and restrict breathing.

In those emergency instances, sometimes steroids are warranted. Steroids are also used to control some types of immune-mediated diseases, which can become life threatening.

But when it comes to a pet’s immune system that just begins overreacting (or developing an allergic response), oftentimes veterinarians will prescribe antihistamines and if they don’t work, they’ll turn the immune system off with steroids.

Why Using Steroids for Chronic Allergies is Not a Good Idea

Steroids do not address the underlying immune system overreaction that is causing your pet’s allergies. Only the symptoms are reduced with these drugs.

Further, when you turn your pet’s immune system off with steroids, how does your pet fight off basic bacterial or yeast infections? Well, the truth is they really can’t.

So, even though their itchy, red, swollen paws, ears, skin, and anal gland or GI problems have resolved temporarily, you’ve opened the door for potential infections.

Conventional veterinarians know this, and will therefore often prescribe antibiotics along with the steroids. Without antibiotics, your pet will be open to acquiring hotspots, oozing skin, pustules that look like acne, red spots on the belly, and discharge from the ears while taking steroids.

From there you enter what I call the “crazy antibiotic steroid cycle.” You get into this mix of antibiotics and then steroids and then antibiotics and then steroids.

Needless to say, antibiotics, can obliterate your pet’s healthy bacteria and yeast often develops as a result.

If you smell your pet’s paws or ears and notice a kind of cheesy popcorn,  corn chip, musty wet dog/ stinky odor, that’s yeast! And yeasts are opportunistic pathogens, which mean they are allowed to exist when the immune system isn’t functioning up to par. Yeast are tremendously itchy, and usually send owners back to the vet for more drugs.

Why is the immune system not functioning up to par? Because it was suppressed by steroids.

So it becomes a really frustrating and damaging cycle. And, again, it does not address the underlying cause of why the animals are having an upregulation of the immune system in the first place, which is typically related to two factors …

Genetics and Environment

So, we know that allergies are an immune system overreaction and we know that the immune system is based on two factors: genetics and the environment.

On the genetics side, if you’re going to spend money on a dog or cat, I highly recommend that you do not go to a puppy mill. Instead, do some heartfelt research to be sure the genetics behind the dog or cat you want to buy are sound, diversified and healthy.

You will need to ask questions like:

  • What did the great grandma/grandpa/mom/dad die of?
  • How diverse is the gene pool?
  • Have the hips/elbows/heart/eyes been certified as healthy?
  • Are there allergies or other genetically predisposed diseases in the line?
  • Have the mom and dad ever been on steroids?
  • What foods are you feeding mom and dad, and what food will the pups be weaned onto? 
  • How many vaccines have gotten into mom and dad?

All of these things absolutely have the potential to influence the health of a litter.

So, if you’re going to shell out money, you need to know, to the best of your ability, that you’re getting as genetically balanced, sound, and resilient offspring as you possibly can.

If you’re rescuing a cat or dog instead, bless you for doing that. In that case you really can’t pick the DNA of your pet, which means you need to be even more cognizant of the food you’re feeding, the environment the dog or cat is in, the vaccines you’re putting in, and other factors that could be upregulating your pet’s immune system and contributing to allergies.

Pets with allergies should not receive unnecessary vaccines!

One of the most important aspects in keeping your pet healthy, regardless of their genetics, is feeding them healing (biologically appropriate), non-allergenic (grain free) foods that allow their immune systems to rest (remain in a state free of inflammation).

Rebalancing your pet’s immune system by offering natural, biologically appropriate wholesome foods is necessary to begin the road to recovery. Also remember that the more variety you include in your pet’s diet, the less likely your pet will be to react to the same monotonous foods.

Pets tend to develop immune system over-reactions to the foods they have over-consumed!

Nutritional variety is not only the spice of life, it’s critical for a balanced and healthy immune response -- and for keeping your pet allergy-free.

Giving your pet a 3 month break (minimum) from previously consumed proteins and starches is a terrific way to begin the healing process and reduce inflammation, which leads to annoying symptoms.

For dogs I suggest you start with a detoxifying dietary elimination diet: stop all foods and treats containing chicken, beef, corn, wheat, rice, soy, millet and oats.

For cats I suggest you eliminate all foods containing poultry and seafood, corn, wheat, rice, soy and millet (because 90 percent of foods on the market contain these ingredients, which over time can become allergens).

Addressing food allergens is the first step in rebalancing your pet’s immune system.