First of all, we should define an allergy. A simple definition of allergy is a medical condition that causes you or your dog to become sick after eating, touching, or breathing something that doesn’t necessarily cause a reaction in other people or animals.
In other words, there is a reaction from the immune system that causes outward signs and symptoms. So certain substances may be toxic or poisonous to some dogs, even though they may not seem to be harmful to another dog.
The signs and symptoms of an allergy can be confusing because when we look at our dog, all we see is suffering! They look miserable! And if our dog is miserable, WE are miserable, also!
An allergy may look like some kind of infection (something that a virus or bacteria may cause), and even though an allergy involves the immune system (your dog’s body’s natural defense) an allergic reaction is not the same as an infection.
An allergic reaction is more concerned with ridding itself of a certain substance than it is hurting or poisoning the body. On the other hand, a bacteria or virus is actually infecting the body.
WHY ALL THE ITCHING AND SCRATCHING?
When an allergy strikes, your dog’s defense system goes into “overdrive” -- which basically means that the body starts to attack itself to some degree.
The immune system is made up of white blood cells who have a job to attack any foreign invaders that may hurt the body. However, in some cases these white blood cells may attack parts of your dog’s body that are not the actual source of the problem.
As the white blood cells attack the “allergy”, the excretion of the substances that are poisonous to your dog may come out through the skin, ears, bladder/kidneys, brain, bowel lining, liver, lymph and liver systems which can create symptoms in and on different parts of the body.
The timing of this white blood cell defense is sometimes obvious. Let’s say you fed your dog a new food and he or she immediately got an allergy symptom, such as itching, biting, burping, vomiting, nausea, etc.
Or, upon returning from a walk around the neighborhood you see an immediate reaction where your pet breaks out in a rash or hives.
Unfortunately, allergies manifest themselves in a variety of ways in dogs. Sometimes these allergies progress in a more silent fashion. Most commonly we see changes in the skin--especially with the gnawing and scratching our dogs are obsessed with. This can progress to the point of bleeding and open wounds.
Studies show that 65-70% of allergies in dogs manifest in the skin. However, other body systems affected by allergies include ear infections, respiratory changes (not as common), vomiting, diarrhea and even inflammation of the bowel, joint pain and bladder/kidney infections.
Of course, the “million dollar question” is what causes allergies in the first place?
As mentioned previously, there is some toxin or substance that has caused the response. So, what could it be? Any one or a combination of chemicals from the environment could be the cause. A poison to your dog could come from eating, touching, breathing or being bitten by an insect. The most common allergy in dogs is from flea infestation.
The allergen could also be in their food, water, the plants around your yard, your chemicals on your floor or carpet, the mold in your bathroom, the ant spray in the garage, the flea remedy you put on their back and so on.
Also it is important to understand that an allergy can be acute (happened very recently) and sometimes can be handled just by eliminating the offending thing that causes the allergy (such a certain food or environmental toxin). However, the condition grows more complicated when the allergic symptoms have been slowly building an inflammatory reaction over longer periods of time and the problem becomes more chronic.
The bottom line is the secret to relieving the allergy is removing the toxins that are the source of the allergy. We will discuss this more in our next post as well as look at why drugs do not work for handling allergies and actually can make them worse.