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Is It Allergies?

By: Emily Hendren 

A true allergy, especially to protein-what your dog or cat is genetically designed to eat - is extremely rare and the reaction will be instant and quite severe. An allergic reaction is an inappropriate or exaggerated immune response. Dogs with true allergies have a compromised immune system that can no longer tell the difference between enemies (like viruses) and harmless substances (grass and food).

True food allergies trigger the third line of defense. Meaning, if your dog has a true allergy to a food, such as chicken, beef etc. then any chicken or beef protein will cause his immune system to respond by releasing antibodies that travel to specific cells called ‘mast cells’. These mast cells will release histamine and other chemicals. This type of reaction typically starts within hours of eating the allergen and it’s called a type I hypersensitivity(immediate anaphylactic response) resulting in severe itching and irritation of the skin.

Read more on Food Sensitivities>>>

When first switching to a raw diet your dog or cat will go through a detox phase. This is often confused for allergies or even an intolerance to the new food and in time will pass. Dr. Pollack, author of ‘Healing Episodes’ also known as ‘The Healing Crisis’ states:

“Upon switching to a more nutritious diet, physical and behavioral improvements can be dramatic or gradual depending on the state of the animal’s health. Severe nutritional deficiencies and toxic states have been known to mimic almost every known disease in veterinary medicine. In chronic conditions, some developing over several generations, improvement in health can take months or years. A pet’s ability to respond to high protein diets may require the individual animal “transitioning” through periods of purification or detoxification. Malnutrition and the toxic condition of the animal fed commercial diets can result in the inability to digest and assimilate basic food components of the fresher, more wholesome type we are describing here. The body will sometimes expel these accumulated poisons during periods of diarrhea, hair loss, or scaling of skin. These periods are known as Healing Episodes. Though these situations are not necessary, they are not uncommon. The body will cleanse itself of these toxic agents before it can assimilate more healthful nutrients to regain a higher state of balanced health.

During these Healing Episodes, the animal’s immune system continues to react to remaining toxins and poisons until a gentler, balanced diet can complete the transition to a more resilient internal state. These periods, during which time the animal can have diarrhea, loss of some of its coat, and appear transiently sick, are really signs of a more vital life force finally shedding disease more completely. The situation is an important sign indicating a transitioning to a state of greater Wellness. The frequency, intensity, and duration of a Healing Episode is totally dependent on the individual animal’s health, nutritional state, age and breed. Each animal will react differently during the transitioning to a more nutritious healthier diet. Not always will there be signs of purification. We can rest assured that as long as the animal is clear-eyed, bright and full of energy, these periods (should there be any) will quickly pass and the need for medical intervention is almost never. As concerned pet owners seek out these more wholesome natural food sources, we can anticipate occasional brief detoxification episodes. Finding professional or lay support that understands the process of Healing Episodes will help make the transition for the owner easier and less filled with fear and doubt.”

Read more on what to expect when switching to raw>>>

If your companion has made it through the detox/transitioning phase and is showing “allergy” type symptoms but not a type I hypersensitivity, we’ll need to first go over things that imitate allergies:

  1. Too much Omega 6 in the diet

Are you feeding mostly if not all store bought non grass fed, grass finished meat? When the meat you feed is from animals that are grain-fed and grain-finished you need to balance with more Omega 3 versus 6. Too much Omega 6 can lead to inflammation. This inflammation doesn’t only occur in the joints but in the skin as well, hence “allergy” type symptoms. The recommended ratio for Omegas 6/3 is thought to be around 4:1. Dogs cannot make their own Omega 3 fatty acids. This is why dogs have a dietary need for Omega 3 fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) this is achieved by feeding them small oily fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids or through a good fish/krill oil or squid oil.

If you’re giving any sort of plant based oil like flaxseed oil, coconut oil etc. cut those out! None of them are bioavailable. The fatty acids in plant based oils are in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which needs to be converted to DHA and EPA to have any nutritional benefit. Dogs don't have the necessary enzymes to do that.

Read more on Feeding Fish>>>>

Read more on Oils and Omega 3>>>>

   2. Yeast

Yeast is a fungus and is in all dogs (and people) as a normal part of their flora. The most common types of yeast in dogs are Malassezia and Candida. These yeasts live in little colonies on your dog’s skin, inside his ears and inside his gut, along with healthy bacteria and other flora. These little organisms outnumber your dog’s own cells and they’re an important part of his immune system. But those colonies can be disrupted. Vaccines, drugs and chemicals can kill off some of the beneficial flora and this allows the yeast colonies to start to grow out of control. Processed and genetically modified foods can also cause this disruption.

When yeast populations grow out of control, you’ll start to see the following symptoms in your dog:

  • Scratching the ears or head shaking with a reddish discharge in the ears.

  • Chewing or licking the feet, and dark rusty-red hair between the toes.

  • Cyclic symptoms (appearing in the spring and “going away” in the fall). This is often confused with “grass allergies” and other spring and summer symptoms.

  • Tiny black specks on the underbelly, or grayish or rust coloration around the genitals.

  • Smelly and greasy hair (seborrhea), often accompanied by heavy dandruff.

  • Hair loss on the tail and upper back

  • Black skin, especially where there’s also hair loss.

Read more on Yeast>>>>

   3. Leaky Gut

Leaky Gut or “Gut Trauma” is when harmful bacteria are allowed to proliferate, holes can develop in the lining of the gut, allowing bacteria and undigested food to start to leak into the bloodstream. When undigested food and toxins enter the bloodstream, the immune system spots the foreign protein matter and goes into battle mode to fight the invaders. The liver then tries to remove the toxins from the body but because the attack is constant, it can’t keep up and the undigested protein and toxins are soon absorbed into the body’s tissues - causing inflammation throughout the body.

The main dietary contributors to Leaky Gut are highly processed, grain-based foods, non-sprouted grains, sugar (this includes sugary food items such as fruit and carbohydrates), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and conventional dairy products.

Other Causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome:

  • Antibiotics (which kill both friendly and harmful bacteria)

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (many pain and arthritis drugs), which inhibit the growth of friendly bacteria.

  • Steroids

  • Antihistamines

  • Vaccines

  • Flea and tick treatments

  • Years of feeding dry commercial dog food.

  • Stress

Read more on Leaky Gut>>>>

   4. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is common in dogs and an improperly functioning thyroid gland can contribute to allergy symptoms. Hypothyroidism can affect any dog, but it usually occurs in dogs between 4 to 10 years and in medium to large breed dogs. Spayed and neutered dogs are also at greater risk. Some cases of hypothyroidism occur when the dog’s immune system attacks his thyroid gland. This can happen as a result of leaky gut because the foreign proteins that enter the body can trigger an exaggerated immune response. If you think your dog might have thyroid disease, a simple blood test can tell you if he does. Ask for the T4 and Free T4 tests and, if you can afford it, also ask for a T3 and Free T3. These tests will tell you if your dog’s thyroid is under-active.

Other possibilities that can be mistaken for allergies:

  • Ringworm-a type of fungal infection where round areas of hair are missing because the fungus grows in a circular direction. The edges of the rings can be red in color and there may be hair growing in the center.

  • Mange-sarcoptic mange can look like an allergy with severe itching. You’ll also see hair loss, red and inflamed skin and in the later stages, the tips of the ears will be crusty and there will be red bumps, sometimes with pus and a yellow discharge.

  • Fleas-Never overlook fleas as a source of skin issues in your dog! Some of the common signs of flea infestations are unusual, sudden scratching, head shaking, biting, chewing at himself and restlessness.


As you can see, true allergies aren’t as common in companion animals as these allergy imitators are. Hopefully you’re starting to see that most causes of itching and skin irritation are the result of poor diet and too many toxins. Treating your dog’s itchy skin with drugs and prescription foods may help with the scratching but will only deepen the root cause of most allergies and allergy imitators. If your dog is chewing, itching and scratching, look for ways to boost his immune system and decrease his toxin load. This all starts by switching to a 100% PMR diet.

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