Lew Olson's newly revised edition is filled with an abundance of new topics and information. Whether you are new to home feeding or a seasoned raw feeder, have a senior dog or a new puppy, a pregnant mom or a toy breed, this book presents all the information you need to make the best nutritional decisions for your dog.

The Immune System

By Lew Olson • December 2007 Newsletter
The information contained in this newsletter should only be used as a guideline. Always make sure you have a correct diagnosis from your veterinarian before proceeding and always follow their directions and protocol.

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B-Naturals Newsletter

December 2007

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Lew Olson,

PhD Natural Health, LMSW-ACP

The Immune System

How often do we see our dogs exhibiting dry flaking skin, thinning coats, running teary eyes, excessive foot licking, hot spots, chronic diarrhea, hyperactivity, inability to gain weight or mood swings? We may try different dry dog foods, visits to the vet for antibiotics or cortisone drugs or special shampoos. However, usually these symptoms reappear, only to start the treatment cycle of drugs and bathing all over again.
The most common diagnoses for these symptoms are flea allergies, dermatitis, environmental allergies or food allergies. Treating skin disorders is the most frequent reason for trips to the veterinarian. However, all these symptoms often point to another disorder – either an under active immune system, or an overactive immune system. Let’s examine both of these.
Under Active Immune System
A suppression of the immune system can occur when the body’s system is compromised by immune suppressing factors. These can include over vaccination, vaccinating during a bitch’s heat cycle or pregnancy, antibiotics, use of steroid drugs, protein malnutrition, insufficient calories, vitamin or mineral insufficiencies, hormonal fluctuations, virus and disease and other specific drugs. Other illness and systemic diseases can also lower the immune system, such as diabetes, renal failure, systemic lupus erthematosus and neoplasia.
A suppressed immune system leaves the dog with poor ability to fight bacteria and virus, prone to infections and poor health, and leaves a dog susceptible to cancer and inability to fight insults of the environment, such as pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants. The dog lacks the ability to develop normal immunity to everyday exposure to routine infections that other dogs can fend off naturally.
Overactive Immune System
This condition is called autoimmune disease. The body literally overreacts to normal agents found in the body, and develops antigens to destroy them. The immune system goes into ‘overdrive,’ and not only tries to destroy the cells it may see as bacteria, but can start to destroy normal red blood cells. The body will begin to see these cells as ‘foreign,’ and react by developing skin allergies, hot spots, teary eyes and other common symptoms of allergic response. However, the autoimmune response can go further, creating other autoimmune disorders.
These diseases can be either acquired or congenital. Information from Cornell University indicates that the acquired immunodeficiencies are more common that the congenital. Acquired immunodeficiencies can be triggered by:
– Puppies not receiving colostrum during the first 48 hours of life
– Parvo or distemper infection
– Ehrlichiosis
– Demodex
– Drug reactions
– Over Vaccinations
– Modified live vaccination response
– Poor diet or malnutrition
– Chemicals in the environment
– Stress
Some of the drugs implicated in triggering autoimmune responses include anticonvulsants, potentiated sulfonamides and reaction to vaccination at time when the dog is not in good health or stressed. Poor nutrition and vaccinations can trigger the immune system to over react, by reacting to the ingested material, injected antibodies or the struggle in fighting off bacteria and virus. *Never Vaccinate a dog unless they are in perfect health.*
The new anti-inflammatory drugs for dogs (NSAIDs) have been suspected in some reactions as well
Other drugs, such as cortisone, prednisone and other steroids work to suppress the immune system (therefore reducing allergic reactions) but in this further suppression, can create more problems. As soon as these drugs are removed, the symptoms usually come right back, with a further compromised immune system, leaving the dog more susceptible to further infection. Antibiotics may suppress the immune system, and unselectively kill all bacteria, therefore destroying the friendly bacteria in the digestive system, which in turn lowers the immune system.
Chemicals that can affect the immune system include pesticides, herbicides and household cleaners. Dogs are lower to the ground, and have a greater tendency to be closer to yard chemicals, agents used in the house for pest control and chemicals used in carpets for stain and dirt resistance.
Some of the same things that trigger autoimmune disease can also lower the immune system. It can be difficult to determine whether it is an under or an over active immune system problem. A good diagnosis is necessary along with a blood panel and urinalysis to determine autoimmune diseases.
Now, let’s briefly examine some of the more common autoimmune disorders.
The thyroid gland is essential for the production of protein. When this gland is not working properly, it is first seen in poor coats, thin hair and brittle hair. Other symptoms can be obesity, low energy, difficulty staying warm enough, irregular estrus cycle, poor stamina, and poor resistance to infections. A blood panel can be drawn to test for this disease, but the timing and type of test are important considerations. Also, yearly tests need to be continued to monitor the thyroid. There are some speculations that low thyroid can be caused by poor diet and a selenium deficiency. Low thyroid can cause elevations in the blood panel of ALT, ALK PHOS and Cholesterol.
The disease shows its symptom through loss of pigment. It will generally appear as white hair growth in a ‘ticking’ pattern, anywhere on the body. The pigment of the mouth can mottle or turn pink, and toenails and areas around the eyes can turn white. It is an autoimmune response, in that the body suddenly starts destroying the melanocytes, or the cells that produce pigment. It can be associated with diabetes, Addison’s Disease and hypothyroidism. Although no medical treatments are known, good nutrition and use of antioxidant drugs have seen to help stop this condition from becoming worse.
Addison’s Disease
This condition is caused by an underactive adrenal gland. Sometimes this can be caused by long term use of cortisone drugs, which can cause the adrenal glands to shrink in size. Symptoms include discoloration and darkening of the skin, diarrhea, weight loss, loosing of coat hair in patches and increased thirst. The dog may seek heat, walk unsteady and have mood swings. The danger of this disease is that the symptoms can wax and wane, and so it is often misdiagnosed or treated as other conditions. Blood panels can show increased kidney values, raised potassium and calcium.
Cushing’s Syndrome
The opposite of Addison’s disease, Cushing’s is an overactive adrenal gland. Symptoms of this disorder include a heavy or rounded body with thin limbs, along with wasting of the muscles. Sometimes increased body hair will appear. Blood value indicators can include raised liver values along with increases in cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose.
Hemolytic Anemia
The anemia in hemolytic anemia is caused by the bodies over reacting to an antigen, which in turn can attach itself to the red blood cells. The body then begins to destroy is own life supporting red blood cell supply. This most often affects young adults, and females are affected more often than males. Treatment is most often cortisone type drugs, to suppress the over active immune system. However, this is turn suppresses the already compromised immune system. Sometimes this disease is so aggressive, that chemotherapy drugs such as cytoxin are used to further suppress the immune system. There is speculation that certain prescription drugs, dog anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), anti-seizure medications and vaccinations can often initiate this autoimmune disorder.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Lupus can affect the joints, red blood cells and skin. It is also called the “great imitator,” as it mimics many other diseases. One symptom is loss of hair on the face, across the nose and cheeks. Treatment is similar to that of hemolyic anemia. Lupus generally affects females more than males.
The symptoms of uvietis generally are a drying and reddening of the eye, starting with a minor eye irritation. Again, the body over reacts with antigens in the eye, where the body begins to destroy the good cells. The result is inflammation of the eye and eye tissue.
Intestinal Lymphagiectasia
This is a congenital or acquired disorder of the lymphatic system resulting in fat and protein malabsorption, with a protein-loosing enteropathy. Typical symptoms include weight loss, fluid in the abdomen and vomiting and diarrhea.
Diagnosis is made from an intestinal biopsy or examination of stool for elevated fecal alpha-l-antitrypsin levels (acts as a marker for protein-loosing eneteropathies. This disease is often confused with irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, although there is speculation they may be related.
This disease is currently being examined in Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, and it is noted in their studies that Rottweilers are showing a high incidence as well. This disease has responded well to reducing long-chain fats in diet and adding medium-chain triglycerides.
Good nutritional support is indicated, as well as vitamin supplementation. There is now speculation that this disease, as well as irritable bowel disease may be triggered by food allergies, or processed dry dog food diets.Thrombocytopenic PurpuraLow platelet count and bruising on the skin are indicators of this autoimmune problem. This bruising can be seen on the abdomen, or in the mouth or gums. It can be associated with tick borne disease, most commonly ehrlichiosis. This condition can also occur after a parvo or distemper vaccination. This is serious condition and needs immediate medical attention. Certain medications can affect platelet counts, such as NSAIDS, certain antibiotics and some chemotherapy drugs.
Other common autoimmune disorders in dogs include:
– Rheumatoid Arthritis
– Diabetes Mellitus
– Seizures
– Chronic Active Hepatitis
– Myasthenia Gravis
– Hypogonadism
– Connective Tissue Disease
– Glomerulonephritis
– Alopecia
– Graves Disease
Speculated disorders caused by an overactive immune system include:
– arthritis
– irritable bowel disease (or syndrome)
– skin disorders
– reproductive problems (irregular heats, infertility)A low immune system may make a dog more susceptible to contagious disorders such as leptospirosis, urinary tract infections and tick borne diseases.
Treatment of Immune Disorders
The standard treatment of autoimmune diseases is with immune suppressing drugs. This would include steroids (such as prednisone and dexamethasone) and cytoxen. The idea is to stop the over active immune system. However, the steroid drugs have many harsh side effects, and need to be monitored closely. A diet that supports that immune system is needed in conjunction with these drugs.
For under active immune systems (as in the case of after an illness, vaccination or stress) there are many immune enhancing nutrients that can be given to the dog. These can include zinc, selenium with vitamin E, vitamin B-6 (pyrodoxine) and linoleic acid. Also helpful are vitamin C, bioflavonoid with quercitin, vitamin A and betacarotene, B-Complex, Sea Kelp, acidolphilus and bifidus and animal based essential fatty acids such as fish oil.
Vitamin C, E and A, along with the mineral selenium are all antioxidants. The idea is that they will destroy the free radicals that form in the bloodstream that multiple during times of lowered immunity. Zinc has also been noted as deficient in dogs with immune related problems. The B complex vitamins are good for stress, and helping with nerves and brain function. The good bacteria, such as acidolphilus and bifidus are depleted during times of illness (and drug use) and are necessary for good digestion and production of vitamin K. Lastly, the essential fatty acids are some natural anti-inflammatory agents, and help regulate and promote good immunity.
Bertes Immune Blend is a good mixture of all these. It includes vitamins C, E and B Complex, along with bioflavanoids, enzymes and acidolphilus. Please remember that these nutrients do NOT stimulate the immune system, but simply help to support the immune system during times of immune suppression, or for an over active immune system. Bertes Immune Blend is safe to give for both conditions.
There are also several immune supportive. Some good immune-boosting herbs include echinacea, Goldenseal red clover, dandelion, burdock, cats claw, essiac tea, suma and astralagus. The most effective administration for dogs is a glycerine-based tincture.The Tasha's Immune System Support (Use Berte’s Immune Blend) contains many of these immune supportive herbs and is great to give two weeks prior to vaccinations or other immune suppressing procedures.
As I have noted in other articles, a fresh food diet, either raw or home cooked is the best defense for dogs with the potential of a compromised immune system, either autoimmune or under active. The additions of fresh foods help the dog more readily assimilate nutrients and build a healthy immune system. Dry dog foods are harder to digest and due to the processing, are more prone for the body to develop antigens against the cooked and often preserved ingredients. Fresh food is of higher bioavailability, allowing more energy for the body to fight invading bacteria and viruses, and create and maintain a strong immune system.
Until more research and treatments are discovered for immune problems, the best method to keep your dog healthy is prevention. This would include good nutrition, avoiding unnecessary chemical use in the home and yard, minimal vaccinations and avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics. Other important factors include routine physical exercise and using common sense to keep your dog’s stress levels low. Dogs that are being shown or working need the best nutrition available, along with routine rests and playtime. Don’t forget, that while those wins and ribbons may mean a lot to you, your dog values your company, and time to relax at home. Keep the dogs health first, so that they can perform to their very best, with a healthy immune system.I would like to take this time to wish everyone a happy Holiday season and may the New Year bring good luck, prosperity and all your wishes come true!
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Lew (and her new baby, Buck, born Oct 4th, 2007)

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