Dog owner’s most common health concerns are about skin and coat problems, digestion problems and urinary issues including crystals, stones and infection. Once again, I am going to address questions about allergies, allergy testing and skin problems. My most immediate reason for this is that I am seeing more references by dog owners using saliva or hair testing to determine allergies in dogs, and these are completely bogus. I plan on offering several references to this in this month’s newsletter and a short discussion on how these tests have been debunked. I do hope you read the references here to gain better information and understanding on this issue.
The term ‘sensitivities’ has been bandied about quite a bit. I have people tell me their dog has food sensitivities to several foods (as per indicated by a saliva test). The term is mostly made up, mostly by those marketing these tests. Understand that sensitivities are used to describe specific conditions such as lactose intolerance, Crohns disease, or gluten intolerance. While some of these are geared toward specific things, (i.e., lactose being milk and gluten being about grains that contain gluten), the doctor will diagnose these conditions, not through a food sensitivity test, but hearing a list of symptoms. Dogs are not prone to any of these except lactose intolerance and this is why only cultured milk products are recommended for dogs, not plain cow’s milk. Food sensitivities have to do with having a specific condition, not a reaction to a random, wide selection of foods. Food allergies are to an immune response to proteins in food. Not fats, or fiber, but proteins. It usually takes up to two years to develop this because the body needs to have a lengthy exposure to a substance to develop the immune response. Allergic responses most commonly result in the following:
- Swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids, or earflaps
- Red, inflamed skin
- Itchy ears
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Constant licking
Hives are the most common. Swelling can occur, but can also be a reaction from bug bites, which can also be an allergic reaction. The swelling and hives are the best markers. Topical yeast infections – the only kind dog’s get – can also cause itching, runny eyes and face, hot spots, and constant licking. For more on diagnosing and treating the very common yeast issues in dogs:
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And while allergies might cause digestive upsets, this is most commonly caused by something else. It could be an irritated digestive tract lining, too much food fed to the dog, too much fat, or even too much fiber, (i.e., carbohydrates such as starches and grains). The best way to treat that is with frequent small meals, taking care in the amount of food fed, adding probiotics, l-glutamine, or the Berte’s Digestion Blend.
Allergies come from mediated (immediate) reactions, or Immunoglobulin E (lgE). This reaction happens immediately, with flushing, hives, throat swelling or even anaphylaxis. These affect mast cells, and why antihistamines are effective in minor cases. Immunoglobulins (IgG) show us if we have been exposed to a food. Some take this to mean we are ‘intolerant’ to a food, but it really means we are tolerant of it. And that is what some of the saliva tests are designed to do, test the IgG. Which makes them worthless. Read more here:
As for IgE, the testing used in most blood or skin prick testing, most are worthless and the results are not reliable. “To summarize the current clinical consensus on allergen-specific IgE serology in canine atopic dermatitis, specialty clinicians universally recognize that these assays are ‘IgE tests’, not allergy tests.” “As such, they are merely tools to aid diagnosis and therapy, not definitive diagnostic tests. The usefulness of these tools can be greatly improved through appropriate use; principally, prior to their use, other possible diagnoses must be eliminated from consideration and a firm clinical diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is required. It is well established that there is only partial correlation between the serological and intradermal tests; however, the significance of discrepant results is unknown and unstudied. Some healthy dogs, and some dogs with nonatopic skin diseases, have positive serum-based test results. Finally, variation in test methodologies, along with the absence of universal standardization and reporting procedures have created confusion, varying study results, and an inability to compare across studies performed by different investigators. Establishment of appropriate standards would greatly facilitate additional study, and arguably is necessary if meaningful conclusions are to be drawn in the future.”
Most Veterinarian websites are now stating the only way to test for allergies is an Elimination Diet, or a diet with two food sources, and slowly introducing new foods along the way. They also state explicitly that saliva and hair tests are bogus.
And lastly, the hair and saliva tests that are being marketing for dogs have been researched and found bogus. And please note, these tests were banned for human use some years ago and determined as bogus:
“Positive test results were provided by the direct‐to‐consumer pet allergy for all submitted samples, including synthetic fur and saline. The test results for healthy and atopic animal samples were no different from each other or from synthetic fur and saline samples. Reproducibility for paired samples was not different from random chance. The results for real animals correlated strongly with results for synthetic fur and saline samples (r=0.71, P<0.05).”
So please, do not buy a hair or saliva allergy test for your dog. They are totally worthless and a scam. What I do suggest if your dog is itching, has red skin, and simple bathing and flea preventions are not working, is to get a skin scraping and have it sent off to be tested for both bacteria and yeast. Quite often after a dog has had a flea or bug bite, or gets a mild skin bacterial infection, yeast will set in. While waiting results of the skin scraping, bathing your dog with an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial shampoo every other day will help. Rinse the dog with a solution of 4 tablespoons of baking soda to a quart of water. This baking soda solution will kill yeast if you leave it on the dog for 5-10 minutes and then rinse. Then use twice weekly for two weeks, and then weekly. While you may kill the yeast, the dog will continue to itch for a month. Be sure to wash the dogs bedding often and clean the floors well. You can also use athlete’s foot spray twice daily on feet and areas on the body. I do recommend cleaning the ears with Zymox (you can find this on Amazon. Use the non-cortisone formula) religiously for ten days. Yeast tends to grow around moist areas. This includes the dogs face, ears, eyes, belly and rectum. At times, dogs will have bacteria and yeast. The bacteria needs to be addressed with antibiotics. However, remember antibiotics and steroids cause yeast to grow like mad. I recommend adding the Berte’s Ultra Probiotic to the diet, and the Berte’s Immune Blend. Once the antibiotic use is over, treat with the anti-fungal and anti-bacterial shampoo, and rinse with the baking soda solution every other day for a week, twice a week for 2-3 weeks after that, and weekly for a time.
Please note, Food Allergies in dogs are RARE! It takes time after being feed a single protein repeatedly over many months and in most cases over several years for these to develop. The term intolerances or sensitivities rarely, if ever, apply to dogs. Please do the skin scraping to test for bacteria and yeast and use the simple solutions outlined above to kill yeast. Even if the dog doesn’t have yeast, it will not harm the dog, but I think you will get good results. Remember, the same is true for hot spots, which are most often caused by yeast. I have also used the Gold Bond Foot Powder for Hot Spots with good results, and it contains baking soda.