Does your dog have a chronic ear infection, red paws due to obsessive licking, an itchy face and runny nose? Or maybe his coat is ragged from dermatitis or hot spots? What causes your dog so much misery? Could it be allergies?
Understanding what an allergic reaction is, will be crucial to know how to combat it. Unfortunately, finding a definition of an allergy can be confusing. In this article, we’ll clear the confusion.
An allergic reaction is an overly intense reaction of a confused, weakened immune system to a substance that causes the release of antibodies.
Many diseases cause inflammation and symptoms of allergies, but only a real allergy causes the production of the antibodies to fight off the invading substance in the body.
We’ll quickly define disease as well. It helps to separate the two root words: Dis-ease.
Disease: Any dysfunction in the body related to immunity and health.
What an Allergy Is Not
Several conditions cause symptoms that mimic allergies. It’s helpful to know what these conditions are and how to tell them apart from allergies.
An allergy is not a food intolerance.
An intolerance occurs when food irritates the stomach or when the body cannot properly digest the food. Many dogs are lactose intolerant. So, when they clean up your bowl of cereal behind your back, their intolerance might cause them some discomfort like diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. Unless they are allergic to the lactose, their bodies will not produce antibodies, and there will only be inflammation.
Food intolerances take time to build up. The dog must eat a fair amount of the food many times before developing an intolerance. Whereas, with a food allergy the dog only has to eat it once to have a strong reaction to a tiny amount the second time.
This is why variety in your dog’s diet is valuable. Eating the same food twice a day, for several years increases the risk of developing intolerances.
Food allergies and intolerances can have similar symptoms, making them hard to tell apart. These symptoms include:
- Red, painful ears
- Obsessive licking and biting
- Dull, thin coat
- Hot spots
- And diarrhea
An allergy is not an infection, or overpopulation, of yeast, bacteria or fungus.
The dog with a chronic ear infection is less likely to be experiencing an allergic reaction than he is to have a yeast overpopulation. Dogs who obsessively lick themselves, or bite their paws raw, are also more likely to have an imbalance in yeast colonies than they are to have allergies.
When the colonies of good bacteria in your dog reduce due to inflammation, and his immune system is weak, the harmful bacteria, yeast, and fungi jump at the chance to grow. They soon populate the space that should have been filled with beneficial bacteria. Then the body tries to push out a large number of unhealthy cells using inflammation.
Any dog with a weakened immune system may appear to be allergic and may possibly react to many different things.
How Does an Allergic Reaction Occur?
We’ll start with a simple explanation. For those of you not afraid of doing a little science for your dog we’ll then give a more in-depth answer.
In the book “The Nature of Animal Healing” Veterinarian Martin Goldstein says that an allergy is caused by the immune system’s antibodies reacting to a substance and sensitizing the body to that substance. The next time the body encounters that substance the immune cells respond to it. Goldstein explains that a healthy body would typically be insensitive to the element and have no allergic reaction to it.
“Simply put, an allergy is the reaction of an antibody to an antigen.”
– D.V.M. Martin Goldstein
In the case of vaccinations, the protein enters the bloodstream and encounters an immune cell. This immune cell sends off signals and reacts with another type of immune cell. The second immune cell produces antibodies to fight off the invading substance. The antibody, IgE, coats two kinds of immune cells, sensitizing them to the protein.
A Little Science:
Homeopathic practitioner Maria Ringo goes more in-depth explaining an allergic reaction to proteins in a vaccine:
“When food proteins are injected directly into the blood stream, a type 1 hypersensitivity reaction against this new allergen causes a response in a type of immune cell called a TH2 lymphocyte, which belongs to a subset of T cells that produce a cytokine called interleukin-4 (IL-4).
These TH2 cells interact with other lymphocytes called B cells, whose role is the production of antibodies.
Coupled with signals provided by IL-4, this interaction stimulates the B cell to begin production of a large amount of a type of antibody specific to food proteins, known as IgE.
Secreted IgE circulates in the blood and binds to an IgE-specific receptor on the surface of other kinds of immune cells called mast cells and basophils, which are both involved in the acute inflammatory response. The IgE-coated cells are then sensitized to the allergen (food proteins).”
A little more simply:
If an undigested protein (also known as the antigen) enters the bloodstream (as happens in vaccines and leaky gut syndrome) and encounters the immune cell called a T2H lymphocyte, that T cell produces an immune-regulating substance called IL-4.
Then the T2H cell communicates with another lymphocyte called a B cell. The B cell’s job is to produce antibodies to invading substances, in this case, the protein. Signals from both IL-4 and the interaction between the T2H and B cells cause the B cells to start producing their antibodies (IgE).
The IgE circulates through the body, attaching to specific IgE receptors on the surface of immune cells called mast cells and basophils. Mast cells and basophils are involved in acute inflammation. The IgE cells are then sensitized to the antigen (allergen).
Allergies, Coke, and Mentos?
When the sensitized cells react to the allergen, they produce substances (histamines) that cause inflammation, mucous secretion, nerve stimulation, and smooth muscle contraction to rid the body of the invading material by pushing it out through the skin.
This is like dropping a package of Mentos into a bottle of diet Coke. The rough outer coating on the Mentos causes a reaction in the low surface tension of the water and the sweetener aspartame. This creates an awesome vertical explosion of bubbles out the top of the bottle.
Likewise, when an allergic reaction occurs, the immune cells react to a substance, become sensitized and then release a chemical reaction. The result causes a not-so-awesome explosion of inflammation through the skin, trying to rid the body of the substance. Therefore, your dog gets hot spots, ear infections, and itchy eyes, ears, legs, and paws.
True Allergic Reactions
While true allergies share similar symptoms with intolerances, infections, and even some parasite infestations (mange), you can also recognize allergic reactions by their more extreme symptoms. Responses like wheezing, itching, swelling, and a blood pressure drop are life-affecting. These reactions are due to chemicals produced by the immune system cells called mast cells and basophils. These reactions are acute; they happen quickly.
An example of an acute reaction would be the reaction to a bee sting that swells up and becomes red and tender. Though the reaction is painful, it is likely to heal quickly if properly treated.
A chronic reaction lasts for days, weeks, months and even years. Ear infections often become chronic.
An allergic reaction is an overly intense reaction of a confused, weakened immune system to a substance that causes the release of the antibodies.
There is so much confusion over what allergies are, yet they are one of the most common diagnosis’ veterinarians are making today.
The problem is a dysfunctional immune system.
There are so many things that can harm the immune system that it is impossible to prevent every cause. Instead, we must sort through the confusion to find what affects the immune system most directly and how we can best support and protect it.
What causes your dog’s allergies? Knowing your dog’s reactions can help you find out. Next up: Understanding Canine Allergies Part Two: What Type of Allergy Does Your Dog Have?
– Cassy Kay
Ringo, Maria. “Dog Allergies… Or Is It Something in The Water?” dogsnaturallymagazine.com. Web. Sept. 22, 2017. http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/dog-allergies/
Scott, Dana. “Dog Allergies: The Ultimate Guide” dogsnaturallymagazine.com. Web. Sept. 23, 2017.http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/dog-allergies-the-ultimate-guide/
Goldstein, Martin D.V.M. The Nature of Animal Healing. Toronto, Canada: Random House, Inc. 1999. Print. Chapter 7 pgs. 180-183.