Today I'd like to discuss seasonal allergies in pets.
There are two types of allergies your dog or cat can acquire: food allergies and environmental allergies. Seasonal allergies fall under the environmental category.
There are many types of environmental allergies. For example, dust mite hypersensitivity is an environmental allergy, as is hypersensitivity to chemicals. Your pet can develop allergies to things like cleaning supplies, aerosol sprays, latex paints, and plastic food and water bowls.
But hands down, the most common environmental allergies affecting pets are outdoors in the form of ragweed, grasses, pollens, molds and trees. Those are the types of environmental allergies I want to discuss today.
Your dog or cat can acquire seasonal allergies for a whole host of reasons.
Allergies are an immune system overreaction. Your pet's immune system is based partially on genetics, so he could have inherited a predisposition to allergies stemming from environmental causes.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to moderate your pet's environmental exposure and/or immune system reaction to potential allergens.
Symptoms of Seasonal Environmental Allergies
Just as the causes of environmental allergies are vast, so are the symptoms.
Pets with environmental allergies almost never have just one symptom. Animals with weaknesses in their lung fields will have symptoms of inhalant allergic responses including:
- Sinusitis, which is inflammation of the sinuses
- Bronchitis – inflammation of the bronchi (airways)
- Allergic bronchitis, which causes coughing and mucus production
- Clear nasal discharge
- Runny eyes
Your allergic pet might also have puffy red eyes, red mouth, red chin and red ears. Hyperemia can develop as a secondary inflammatory response, causing a pet's paws, belly and anus to be red.
Itchiness is another very common symptom of environmental allergies. Bowel problems are also common. Pets that eat allergens can have a systemic inflammatory response which winds up in vomiting and diarrhea.
Notice all the symptoms I've just listed fall into an itis. 'Itis' is the Latin word for inflammation. Colitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, dermatitis and otitis are all types of inflammation that develop from seasonal environmental allergies.
Natural Allergy Fighting Support for Pets
If you suspect or know your dog or cat is suffering with seasonal environmental allergies, you should give some thought to providing her with systemic support for inflammation before a full-blown inflammatory cascade overwhelms her body.
If your pet is red, itchy, swollen and feeling miserable enough to be seen by your vet, this inflammatory cascade is already underway.
But what if you recognize your pet develops itchy paws every April when the grass greens up and plants, trees and pollens bloom? In that case, February or March is when you should start planning to proactively manage your pet's seasonal allergies. This way, you can help minimize the inflammatory response before it gets out of hand.
There are several natural ways to reduce 'itis' or inflammation in your pet.
- Quercetin. One of the things I recommend at my clinic for allergic dogs and cats is starting on a quercetin supplement before allergy season. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. I call it ‘nature’s Benadryl’ because it does a great job suppressing histamine release from mast cells and basophiles.
Histamine is what causes much of the inflammation, redness and irritation characteristic of an allergic response. By turning off the histamine production with a quercetin supplement, we can suppress or at least moderate the effects of inflammation.
Quercetin also has some other wonderful properties. It inhibits 5-lipooxygenase, an enzyme that upregulates the inflammatory cascade. Quercetin inhibits the production of leukotrienes, another way the body creates inflammation, thereby decreasing the level of bronchoconstriction. Bronchoconstriction occurs in the lung fields as a symptom of asthma. Quercetin can actually suppress how much constriction occurs.
- Bromelain and papain. Bromelain and papain are proteolytic enzymes. Bromelain is derived from pineapple; papain comes from papaya. These enzymes do two things. First, they increase the absorption of quercetin, making it work more effectively. They also suppress histamine production.
One of the reasons I use quercetin, bromelain and papain together is they also suppress prostaglandin release. Prostaglandins are another pathway by which inflammation can occur. By suppressing prostaglandins, we can decrease the pain and inflammation associated with irritated mucous membranes and body parts. Using the three substances in concert provides some natural pain and inflammation control.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Another thing I recommend is optimizing an allergic pet’s omega-3 fatty acid balance in the diet. Optimizing the ratio of omega-6s (primarily found in vegetable oils) and omega-3s (primarily found in fish body oils) is extremely beneficial for overall health. Omega-3s are very sensitive to heat and light, so their presence is minimal in frozen raw food, canned food and dry pet food – any processed food and especially any exposed to high temperatures.
Since omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation throughout the body, adding them into the diet of all pets -- particularly pets struggling with seasonal environmental allergies – is very beneficial. The best sources of omega 3s are krill oil, salmon oil, tuna oil, anchovy oil and other fish body oils.
- Coconut oil. I also recommend coconut oil for pets with seasonal environmental allergies. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which helps decrease the production of yeast. Using a fish body oil with coconut oil before inflammation flares up in your pet’s body can help moderate or even suppress the inflammatory response.
- Bathing and grooming. Most pets are naked, fuzzy, and travel close to the ground. Even if you own a Great Dane, his feet are in contact with the ground. You and I wear shoes, socks and clothing to protect our skin. We also take frequent baths or showers. So even though we’re encountering the same allergens as our pets, our skin is more protected and more often disinfected to remove those allergens.
Your dog (or cat) doesn’t have all that protection. Plus allergens cling to her coat. She’s outside sniffing around, breathing in potential allergens. She’s walking through allergens. Also, dogs are able to sweat only through the pads of their feet and the tip of their nose, so they become like wet ‘Swiffer’ pads during allergy season. They’re collecting billions of allergens on and in their bodies throughout the warm months of the year.
Now your dog comes inside and those allergens prompt an IgE allergic response that causes redness, inflammation and itching. Your pet will start digging and chewing at her skin to quell the itching and discomfort, which only creates painful spots and additional inflammation.
Common sense dictates those allergens be washed off. Dermatologists recommend this common sense approach for human allergy sufferers. If you have hypersensitivities, your doctor will tell you to shower at night and in the morning to remove allergens from the surface of your body. I recommend you do the same for your dog or cat. Particularly for dogs, I recommend setting up a foot bath to soak the feet and remove allergens on a regular basis – daily if needed.
A Few Additional Tips
I recommend you get the pro-inflammatory byproducts out of your pet's diet.
Foods are either anti- or pro-inflammatory. During peak allergy season, if your pet is prone to environmental allergies, I recommend you decrease the amount of pro-inflammatory foods you feed your pet.
Foods that create or exacerbate inflammation are high in carbohydrates. Feed your allergic pet a diet very low in corn, wheat, rice, starches in general, and soy. Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your pet's diet, especially berries for dogs. Increase lean meats as well.
And one last piece of advice. I do not recommend you vaccinate your pet during a systemic inflammatory response. Vaccines stimulate the immune system, which is the last thing your pet with seasonal environmental allergies needs. Talk to your holistic vet about titers to measure your pet's immunity to core diseases as an alternative to automatically vaccinating.