Atopy is a condition in which a dog suffers from an adverse immune reaction to one or more environmental allergen (usually inhaled). Atopic dogs produce more immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies. The normal role of these antibodies is to protect the body against parasitic organisms, but they also produce allergic reactions.Atopy can be treated with immunotherapy, and symptoms managed using anti-inflammatories and immunosuppressant drugs, but it is still a tricky situation to manage since drug therapy is not always fail-safe and many allergens are impossible to completely avoid. These tips may help to minimise exposure.
High sensitisation rates to the Tyrophagus, Acarus, and Lepidoglyphus species of storage mites have been reported in atopic dogs, and studies have indicated that dry dog food can be a suitable substrate for storage mite reproduction. Environmental conditions may influence food contamination and mite development, so taking special care with the storage of dry dog food can make a significant difference. Using twoor even threeairtight containers for each sack of food will help to retain its freshness. A small container kept on the kitchen counter for daily use means that the rest of the food kept separately is not exposed to air, moisture and environmental contaminants every time the dog is fed. If financially viable; smaller packs are a good idea.
If using dry dog food, choose a high quality brand that isn’t too cereal heavy and has well defined kibble (not broken, overly dry or dusty). Commercial dry food can also be vacuum packed or frozen (defrost before use) if a dog has very severe allergies to storage mites. Dry food is best damped down with water before serving to try and limit any dust which may be otherwise inhaled. An alternative would be to use commercial wet dog food or a properly balanced home-prepared or raw menu.
House dust mites inhabit carpets, bedding and soft furnishings. Commercially available “hypoallergenic” dog bedding is available, but regular washing of regular bedding is also a good way to minimise house dust mites. Temperatures of +60 degrees C will kill them. It’s probably best not to encourage an atopic dog into or onto your own bed as dust mites are particularly prevalent in this area; but if he is allowed, you’ll need to wash your own bedding much more frequently. Launder your curtains and soft furnishings regularly, and make sure you use gentle un-fragranced detergents.
If possible, remove carpets and vacuum hard floors with a high-filtration vacuum cleaner with the capacity to retain a high proportion of the smallest particles. When the vacuum cleaner needs emptying, do this outdoors and make sure your dog is not in the vicinity. If carpets cannot be removed, a high-temperature steam-cleaner is an effective way to kill dust mites. Spray preparations are also an option, but care should be taken if your dog (or anyone else in the household) suffers from respiratory symptoms.
Use a damp duster when cleaning to minimise the amount of particles being wafted up into the air. Take care when selecting cleaning products as some sensitive dogs can be very reactive to certain chemicals and fragrances. Scented candles and plug-in air fresheners can be especially provocative. Many dogs love soft toys, but for the atopic dog, hard and easily washable toys are a safer option. If your dog is passionate about his soft toys, wash them regularly at +60 degrees C. If they won’t survive a high temperature then they can be sealed in a plastic bag in the freezer for at least 12 hours once a month and then washed at a lower temperature.
If you know or suspect that there is mould in your home, it is best to consult a professional for remedial advice. Mould spores can make dogs (and people and other pets) very ill. To prevent mould occurring, wipe down condensation from windows and window sills, avoid drying clothes on radiators and ensure that all rooms are adequately ventilated. A humid atmosphere promotes mould growth and dust mite population growth; so a dehumidifier may be a good investment (keep indoor humidity at under 50% because you do not want the atmosphere to be too dry).
Limiting a dog’s exposure to pollen is difficult because he will still need to be walked outdoors. Intradermal skin testing is expensive, but it can be an extremely useful diagnostic tool for the atopic dog since particular types of pollen that are problematic to the individual can be identified. If you know which trees and grasses are annoying his immune system, it can sometimes be possible to alter routes to avoid these particular plants. Try to avoid walking at very humid times of the day if possible too. Protective boots may be an idea if your dog’s feet become irritated when walking in particular areas. Nibbling at the feet can be symptomatic of atopy, so your dog may have sore feet even if he’s not walking on something that’s directly affecting him such as chemicals used to spray crops or insecticides used on grass. Salt and grit on the roads in winter can exacerbate this, so it’s important to be careful at all times of the year.
Reactions to insect bites and stings can be very severe if your dog has an allergy to the enzymes released by the insect. External parasite control is therefore important for the dog who is allergic to flea or tick saliva, but be sure to use safe products and avoid chemical overload. Other insects such as ants and midges can also be a problem for some sensitive dogs, so be careful where you’re walking. If your dog has had a past anaphylactic reaction as a result of a bee sting for example, your vet may provide you with a syringe containing the correct dose of epinephrine for your dog’s body weight in case of a future reaction.
Just like people, dogs can be allergic to the protein in dander (skin particles). Cat dander can be a particular problem for them, and in rare instances – human dander. Cats in the household should be well groomed to remove dead skin cells and stimulate sebum production. Make sure this is done away from your dog (preferably outdoors) and that the grooming debris is quickly tidied up and disposed of. Wash brushes, combs and any other grooming tools regularly, and use separate equipment for your cat and dog. Dogs should be groomed regularly, and a mild emollient shampoo used when bathing. It’s highly unlikely that your dog will be allergic to dog dander (it is however possible), so keeping him and any other dogs in the household scurf-free is important. Good nutrition designed to feed the skin and coat from the inside can be very helpful, so choose your dog’s diet with care.
Atopy is much more prevalent than food allergies, but the diet of an atopic dog requires consideration for several reasons:-
a) When a dog is sensitive to one or more allergens in the environment, this may leave his immune system more vulnerable. It is therefore not uncommon for an atopic dog to develop other types of allergy; such as to one or more dietary proteins. If a food allergy is suspected or diagnosed, then a trial using a diet that provides both a novel protein and carbohydrate source may be beneficial (i.e. ones which the dog has not eaten before, since food allergies usually arise after a reasonable period of exposure to the provocative ingredient).
b) Good nutrition can support and strengthen the immune system. This can be especially beneficial to an allergic dog with a threshold based allergy because even if the allergen cannot be completely eliminated, his reaction to it may be less severe if the threshold at which a reaction occurs can be raised by increasing immune strength.
Dogs do a lot of sniffing, so it’s no surprise that certain things can get up their noses and cause them problems. They are also smaller than adult humans, so what might be mildly bothersome to us (e.g. a high pollen count on a summer’s day) could be a lot more irritating to an atopic dog. As mentioned above, supporting the immune system can be highly beneficial to the atopic dog. Some nutritional supplements which may help include Omega-3 DHA and EPA acids. They work in the skin to help reduce the amount and effects of histamine and other chemicals that are produced in response to the allergen. It may be several weeks or months before a significant improvement is noted, but they are very safe and are not associated with any harmful side-effects. Studies have shown that when Omega-3 fatty acids are used in conjunction with other treatments such as anti-histamines, the use of steroids may be decreased or even discontinued (gradually, and only under veterinary supervision). The Omega-6s have lubricating properties. An optimal level of vitamin E is essential when using added EFAs; and its antioxidant properties help to protect the body from free radical damage.
In order to further support the immune system, dogs with allergies may benefit from a probiotic supplement. Live yogurt is popular but dairy products are one of the more common dietary allergens; and dogs lose their ability to digest lactose once they cease to be puppies, so a non-dairy product manufactured specially for dogs is the best option. With over 60% of the immune cells living within the gut, it can really pay to give a helping hand in this area.
Minimising exposure to allergens can be highly beneficial since the immune system can then focus more on its important protective role.