Understanding Canine Allergies Part Four: Healing the Immune System
In this post, we will focus on treating the cause of your dog’s allergies, not the symptoms. The symptoms only exist because of something, and they will not go away until you remove the instigation.
Conventional medicine is well known for treating the symptoms. The result is that many dogs either must stay on medication the rest of their lives (with complications due to long-term use of drugs), or they never see relief and end up living with their uncomfortable symptoms or being euthanized.
Treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause can also lead to secondary complications.
DVM Martin Goldstein:
“My own approach to allergies begins with the premise that the allergy isn’t the root cause of the symptoms it manifests. It’s the symptom itself, which flares up when a body’s immune system has become sensitized to an allergen. So, the goal is to get the body detoxified and the immune system healthy again, not just to treat the symptoms. In all allergic reactions, the common denominator is inflammation, usually external but sometimes internal, as the immune system reacts to the unwanted protein. In a healthy immune system, the inflammation will be brief, with healing through detoxification the happy result.”
How to Treat the Cause of Allergies
What better way to treat the cause of something than to use a tasty meal? The number one thing that affects your dog’s gut, and immune system, is his diet. Healing the immune system starts with restoring gut health.
There is a colony of beneficial bacteria that live in your dog’s gut that are part of his immune system. This is called his ‘microbiome.’
These useful bacteria aid his body in all kinds of functions, including digestion and immunity. Your dog’s microbiome also works in tandem with the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), a remarkable part of the mucosal membrane of the digestive tract.
If 90% of your dog’s immune system is found in his gut, then that’s the perfect place to start the process of healing.
“The GALT contains special immune cells, such as lymphocytes, T and B cells, which are the main workers in the immune system. The GALT is so critical that it’s the largest organ in your dog’s immune system.”
When something disrupts the population of the microbiome, and overpopulation of bad bacteria occurs, the GI tract sends out signals that something’s wrong. When the gut becomes irritated and inflamed, it affects the health of the rest of the body.
Keeping a healthy gut microbiome is essential to healing the immune system and avoiding immune over-reactions.
One of the top causes of allergy symptoms is Leaky Gut Syndrome. Check out some healing foods for Leaky Gut!
“Young dogs are more susceptible to this condition, as are dogs fed dairy products. With leaky gut, the intestinal barrier becomes compromised and permeability increases. Small openings develop in the lining of the intestine. This allows large molecules of undigested foods to enter the bloodstream.”
Using His Diet to Heal
Your dog’s diet will need to calm inflammation, encourage healing of the gut wall, repopulate the microbiome with beneficial bacteria, and promote detoxification slowly.
It needs to create an environment that is inhospitable to pathogenic yeast, fungus, and bacteria, the causes of common secondary infections.
To give your dog a diet that heals, you need to learn what kinds of foods contribute to healing vs. inflammation.
Foods That Produce Inflammation and Damage the Microbiome:
These are the foods that you will want to keep out of your dog’s diet to the best of your ability. Commercial diets make this kind of control more difficult but do your best anyways.
- Rendered 4D Meats – with unknown toxins, and bacterial endotoxins, poor quality sourcing, high omega six fatty acids, and “feed” manufacturing practices.
- Starch – feeds harmful bacteria and yeast, found in many commercial pet food ingredients such as corn, rice, wheat, barley, potatoes, peas, and more.
- Gums – Arabic, xanthan, and carrageenan gum among others, can irritate the lining of the gut wall.
- Oxidation and Rancid fats – Cause oxidative damage to cells, and gut inflammation leading to Leaky Gut Syndrome and related allergy symptoms.
- Artificial colors – known to be carcinogenic, and to interact negatively with the nervous system, they are an unnecessary stress to the immune system starting with the digestive tract.
- Artificial Flavors & Sweeteners – unduly stress a digestive system not designed to deal with chemicals, synthetics, and sugars.
A dog with allergic reactions, inflammation, and autoimmunity will be less likely to heal on a highly-processed diet. If you use a commercial diet, it may require extra supplementation to help your dog heal.
The exceptions might be commercially available raw, freeze-dried and dehydrated diets which are less processed than kibble and canned foods. These foods will make your job easier when trying to heal your dog’s immune system and allergies.
It is worth noting that semi-moist foods will be altogether inappropriate for healing dogs with allergies.
Foods that Heal
Thanks to the many pet owners now searching for healthy and natural options for their dogs, many commercially available diets can help your dog avoid allergic reactions and heal his gut.
We would also encourage you to consider whether you could make your dog a homemade diet.
In the following sections, we will look at using a homemade diet as well as many Healthy Additions that can be added to any diet to aid healing.
Here are some important considerations when crafting a homemade diet, or when choosing a commercially available food, to heal your dog’s immune system.
Balance Omega Fatty Acids:
If you want to heal the immune system, inflammation must go. Omega Fatty Acids are one key to calming inflammation.
The balance of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids in your dog’s diet influences the amount of inflammation in his body. While omega-3 reduces inflammation and promotes health, omega-6 produces inflammation, which is the body’s natural method of expelling invading pathogens. Unfortunately, most commercial dog foods are high in omega-6 and low in omega-3. That balance is an awful recipe for dogs with actual allergies.
To balance omega fatty acids, avoid meats that are naturally high in omega 6 and low in omega 3. Chicken and pork are meats too high in omega 6 to constitute an inflammation-reducing diet. Try to choose from turkey, salmon, duck, venison and other wild game meats.
Look for organic, free-range, pasture raised, non-GMO, no hormones or antibiotics, grass-fed, wild caught, and other naturally grown forms of meat whenever you can.
Some extra sources of Omega 3 include whole fish, raw butter from grass-fed cows or goats, pastured eggs, and hemp oil. We recommend adding these sources of healthy fatty acids especially if you need to feed your dog chicken or pork to avoid other protein allergens.
We do not recommend fish oil because it quickly oxidizes and becomes rancid, causing your dog more harm than healing.
Keep the Carbs Down:
Another contributor to inflammation, carbohydrates should be strictly limited for dogs with compromised immune systems. Sugars and starches feed yeast cells, a common secondary problem to allergic reactions. They further stress the immune system by drawing the necessary digestive enzymes into saliva and away from other bodily functions.
Some low-carbohydrate, highly nutritious vegetables you can give your dog include spinach, kale, yellow squash and zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, spaghetti squash, and green beans. Check out our Healthy Additions series to become familiar with some of these.
Dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, and a good range of carbohydrate content in a meal is between 5% – 10%. If you feed a commercial diet, the carbohydrate content will almost definitely be over 10%. We recommend replacing 1/3 of your dog’s commercial diet with a source of healthy fatty acids to reduce the carbohydrate content of the meal without losing nutrition.
Keep it Limited:
If you limit the ingredients in your dog’s diet, you will be able to rule out food allergies. You may try an allergen elimination diet to find foods that trigger your dog’s allergic reactions if you suspect your dog has food allergies.
To try an allergen-elimination diet, merely reduce his intake to a few key ingredients, and slowly add one new food every couple of weeks. If the food causes your dog to have an allergic reaction, you can effectively eliminate that trigger food, while finding what you can use to add variety without adverse effects.
Homemade diets give you complete control over ingredients and quality. They are also an incredible door to creativity and the inclusion of unique Healthy Additions.
- When feeding raw, choose whole foods (meat, eggs, vegetables, etc.) carefully to avoid as many unnecessary ingredients as possible. Preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics, GMO’s, growth hormones, and other additives will not contribute to healing your dog’s immune system.
- Tip: Make a large batch of several meals, and then you can refrigerate or freeze and simply pull each meal out before feeding making meals even quicker.
You can find some great, veterinarian-approved, nutritionally complete raw meals suitable for a healing diet here:
Make transitions from commercial foods to homemade meals slowly. This reduces the risk of over-detoxification effects like excessive yeast die-off which will cause more discomfort.
To your dog’s new or allergy-friendly commercial diet, add some of the foods below that encourage healing!
Healing Foods to Include in Your Dog’s Meals:
Once you have picked the diet that will work best for you and your dog, try to incorporate these Healthy Additions. The benefits of these foods and supplements range from anti-inflammatory to anti-carcinogenic to immune-boosting.
A spice that is naturally antibacterial, antifungal, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory! This spice will give your dog a healthy immune system boost and fight off inflammation.
Add 1/4 tsp. Per ten pounds of your dog’s weight. Split the dosage between your dog’s meals each day and feed with a healthy source of fat, like coconut oil, and a pinch of ground pepper for optimal results.
Coconut oil is a source of healthy, easy-to-digest, medium chain fats with a flavor that dogs love. Raw coconut oil is known for healing properties as well as allergy-calming effects. You can learn more about coconut oil and how to add it to your dog’s diet by clicking the link above.
Feed Coconut oil at 1/2 Tsp. Per ten pounds of weight.
Also known as “first milk” colostrum is the first food for all newborn mammals. It contains over 90 immune-boosting factors and 70 growth factors for cellular support.
Feed as directed by product instructions.
A bioflavonoid found in fruits and vegetables, it is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-histamine! Quercetin can turn off the production of histamine, the substance responsible for your dog’s itching and inflammation, making it a natural anti-histamine.
Multiply your dog’s weight by 8 for dosage in milligrams. For example, a 25-pound dog would get 200 milligrams.
Plain Greek yogurt is a source of live enzymes and beneficial bacteria. It is a great digestive aid and helps repopulate the microbiome.
Add up to one tablespoon in your dog’s meal for medium dogs (20 lbs.).
Similar in appearance and benefits to yogurt, kefir packs a punch. It is a natural antibiotic, anti-fungal, and probiotic. Kefir contains beneficial bacteria not found in yogurt, as well as helpful yeast with the ability to eliminate pathogenic yeast. Quality kefir is also rich in vitamins and minerals.
Feed by weight:
Give small dogs (up to 20 pounds) up to one tablespoon daily.
Medium dogs (21 to 50 pounds) may have up to two tablespoons daily.
Finally, large dogs (over 50 pounds) can be given up to three tablespoons daily.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Necessary for fighting that inflammation, Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Omega 3 can improve skin and coat condition, and is a brain-boosting nutrient. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid because it must be part of your dog’s diet. His body cannot make it for itself.
Give 150mg per ten pounds of body weight, or include whole food sources in his meals.
Necessary for proper digestion, energy production, a healthy immune system and avoiding degenerative diseases like arthritis, digestive enzymes are a vital nutrient that is, unfortunately, missing from most dog’s diets today. If your dog eats cooked food, or a commercial freeze-dried or dehydrated diet, supplement his meals with digestive enzymes.
Feed as directed by product instructions.
Bone broth contains essential amino acids and the collection of proteins known as collagen. A homemade bone broth is a superfood for the immune system! The amino acids Proline and Glycine help restore the gut lining and support production of collagen. Collagen itself helps heal the gut lining from inflammation and irritants common to dogs with allergies.
You can add several tablespoons to your dog’s meals.
While using your dog’s diet to heal, it may take some time to reach the amount of healing you want to see. Take into consideration how long your dog has been on a highly-processed diet, how long he has exhibited allergic reactions, the degree of his allergic responses, and any conventional measures you may have used to treat the symptoms. These things will all affect how long it will take to reach full healing of the digestive tract and immune system.
It will not help to start feeding your dog a healing diet, and then once he finds relief revert to commercial products. Be consistent with your dog’s new food and watch him thrive in health the rest of his life!
Relieving your dog’s allergies starts with getting to the cause of his allergies: an unbalanced immune system. And healing that immune system begins with using a healing diet, aiding the microbiome and fighting inflammation.
With the tools in this article, you can help your dog change from struggling with his allergies to being a Satisfied Dog!
In the final post for this series, we will focus on finding relief for the symptoms of your dog’s allergies.
Find natural ways to give him ease of mind while healing the immune system!
– Cassy Kay
Goldstein, Martin D.V.M. The Nature of Animal Healing. Toronto, Canada: Random House, Inc. 1999. Print. Chapter Seven: An Alphabet of Ailments, page 180.
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