Help me give relief to a friend's dog.
October 3, 2009 10:28 PM   Subscribe

I have met some new friends recently and they have a 10 year old golden retriever who is suffering from a list of allergies so long it could fill a book. Removing the exposure to allergens is impossible. I want to help them reduce the strength of the symptoms.

So from what I've been told the dog is allergic to pretty much any and all food as well as grass and cedar (which is *very* common here). It would probably be shorter to provide a list of what the dog isn't allergic to.

They tried an anti-allergy medication for dogs and the side effects were so serious the dog had to be taken off of it.

Right now they're trying to feed the dog raw food. This provided noticeable relief initially but the symptoms have returned.

I recommended keeping up the raw food because the latest hypothesis on allergies is that they're the result of an underused immune system. I also recommended mixing their own food to see if they could actually feed their dog with stuff that it's not allergic to. Even if removing all allergenic exposure is totally unrealistic then at least taking it out of its food would help.

Google has also recommended vitamin C and E to reduce allergic reactions but I'm a little out of my depth with this.
posted by Pseudology to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
I know this isn't the answer you want, but has the dog been to a vet? And if so, has the dog been to another vet?

This all sounds half-baked. If I was told my dog was allergic to "any and all food" I'd definitely get a second opinion. And a third. And there are probably a hundred different pet allergy medicines - have they tried more than one?

And exactly what symptoms are we dealing with here?
posted by mmoncur at 10:58 PM on October 3, 2009

Seconding that, based on the information you've given us here, the very best thing you could do for this dog is encourage its owners to get it to a vet again. A decent vet would very likely have more than one medication to try, and could formulate a diet/general plan of attack for your friends that would be based on careful tracking of the dog's symptoms/reactions to things in its environment that would very likely be much better than what a bunch of strangers on the internet who have never met the dog could come up with.

Probably-not-useful anecdote as an example: my sister had a cat with chronic ear problems. She took it to one vet, than another after she moved who all diagnosed it problem X and gave it recurring treatments for such. The cat still had problems after months and multiple multiple vet visits. Finally, her husband bugged her to give a new vet one last try, even though she had more or less given up on solving the problem. Ta-da: in fact, it was deep-buried problem Y, finally fixed, and the cat hasn't had problems since.

This is all to say: really, vet, and if they don't get a good answer or a plan of attack from one, they should try at least one more.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:27 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The underused immune system thing goes like this (in human - I don't know from dogs).

Your immune system is kind of compartmentalized. You have an innate immune system that kind of acts like police patrolmen, cruising around and looking for anything suspicious. It's not exactly a well focused system, but if it were, it wouldn't be flexible.

Then there are the detectives who are looking for known troublemakers - antibodies. They are specifically targeted at a piece of protein called an epitope. There are various kinds of antibodies, but the ones we mostly think of are IgG's which tend to target bacteria and virus. There are also IgE's which tend to be involved in allergies and also seem to be involved in the body's response to parasitic infections. This, and the fact that developed countries have more cases of allergy than developing countries has caused some to theorize that if we were exposed to more parasites then maybe our immune systems would settle down, rather than turning into the Boston police's bomb squad and just going after whatever comes down the pike.

I'd start with mmoncur's advice and check a different vet. That your immune system might do something weird, sure. But at that level of out of control, why isn't Fido rejecting his own organs or some such.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:34 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

the latest hypothesis on allergies is that they're the result of an underused immune system.

Really? Who's opinion? Because an allergy happens to be an overactive immune response by definition, so this makes no sense. I work in an immunology related field and haven't heard this opinion. I think you're getting confused with the hygiene hypothesis (which does not say what you're asserting here) and should probably stop giving uninformed advice to your friends. Definitely stop googling for quack theories, vitamin C and E supplementation makes no sense at all.

I agree with mmoncur that this all sounds rather half baked. There are a number of types of anti-allergy meds, many of which have no side effects at all. Really wide ranging allergies are possible but unlikely and need to be rigorously confirmed by a vet. The only way to reduce symptoms is to remove allergens and/or suppress the inappropriate immune response. Both of these require working with a trained veterinary professional to get the correct balance of medication and safe diet, so really the only thing you can do to help them is to encourage them to go to a good vet and if that doesn't work then to go get a second (professional) opinion rather than screwing around with it yourselves.
posted by shelleycat at 11:44 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Kid Charlemagne is describing the hygiene hypothesis by the way. Keep in mind that it's about how the immune system develops and does not mean it is 'underused'. It's actually a complex hypothesis, not fully worked out, not fully proven, always poorly understood by laypeople (in my experience), and doesn't say anything about feeding an allergic dog raw food.
posted by shelleycat at 11:48 PM on October 3, 2009

Have they tried a cortisone shot to give the animal some relief? There are certainly risks with cortisone. If the animal is miserable and doesn't have risk factors, it may be something to consider with the vet. My cat is 10 and this year he developed really awful seasonal allergies. After debating it we decided to try the shot and he felt much better within 24 hours. My only regret it that we didn't do it sooner.

Cortisone doesn't last forever, but we're hopeful he may make it through the allergy season on one shot. Even if they aren't seasonal allergies, we have an opportunity to allergy test and try some different medicines when the poor cat isn't in misery.

Your vet can also point you to some sources of limited ingredient food for the dog. Sometimes you'll have luck with an ingredient the animal hasn't been exposed to previously.
posted by 26.2 at 11:52 PM on October 3, 2009

They've probably checked this, but just in case - have they tried switching out the dog's food and water bowls? I know of a dog that had terrible "food" allergies that turned out to be a reaction to the plastic bowl he was being fed with. They switched to glass or metal, I don't recall which, and he got much better.
posted by platinum at 12:07 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you familiar with the Elimination Diet technique? Basically, you feed the dog a novel protein - food it hasn't been exposed to before, and if s/he shows improvement on this diet, you begin adding back in other ingredients, eliminating the ones that cause a recurrence of the problem until you have a list of foods that your dog can thrive on. You must give the dog purified water, and absolutely no extras - no scraps, no treats, nothing at all other than the novel protein diet for a specific number of days. Google around for info on this... I've read that even if the dog is allergic to other things, resolving the food allergy component can hugely help with his/her ability to fight off other allergies.

Here's one story that, while mentioning alternative medicine (and I understand that not everyone is onboard with that), is an example of an extreme case that improved under this regimen.
posted by taz at 3:35 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a vet, but I am not your or your friends' vet.

Urge your friends to get a referral for this dog to see a specialist veterinary dermatologist, or at least go to a GP vet with a special interest in dermatology. Yes, it will be expensive, but specialists have a systematic approach, are current on their subject, and have all the latest treatments at their disposal. It sounds like this dog may really be suffering. There is no magic cure.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 5:12 AM on October 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

I had a dog with severe food allergies, esp. red meat, incl. cow bones and rawhide treats. I spent a small fortune on special food, and supplemented with white rice cooked with chicken bouillion. Rice is usually tolerated. Rice-based dog food may have a lot of additives; rice is easy to cook at home.

2nding the See another vet recommendation. For my dog: 1st vet said "He's allergic, buy special food; use antibiotics where his skin is infected because of scratching" 2nd vet said "Add prednisone for severe reactions, and some other daily meds to reduce inflammation."
posted by theora55 at 7:33 AM on October 4, 2009

The dog has been to a vetinary allergy specialist and they've done allergy testing. "Any and all food" is a simplification on my part because the list of foods the dog is allergic to is *very* long and I haven't memorized it. If it was just 4 or 5 foods I would have just listed them.

The quacky immune system hypothesis was something proposed by an allergy specialist (for humans) over the CBC a few years ago that I seem to remember. Of course it was grossly simplified for the public and if I didn't understand it properly it wouldn't suprise me. I was driving to work at the time. The raw food experiment was done two months before I met these people and their dog and did initially succeed in reducing allergy symptoms. I took this as evidence supporting this hypothesis but from what I've read here about immune systems I understand that it's more likely that another variable relieved the dog's allergy symptoms.

I will recommend the veterinary dermatologist and I will also recommend another vet. I will also make sure they've tried Cortisone and tried using anti-inflammitories although the owner expressed some concern of long-term organ damage with over using them. I will also recommend switching food and water bowls and I will recommend the elimination diet. I will also explain that my allergy hypothesis was wrong.

PS I understand my allergy hypothesis was wrong but quacky advice? I told them I wasn't sure. I offered to try and help find the right professionals. I don't charge people money for advice I just do research for friends if they need help finding an answer with something. I told them I'd be back with better advice and maybe even be able to point them towards a professional field which they might have overlooked. Thank you for correcting some of my wrong info but real quacks don't check to see if they're right when they're not sure and they just make shit up.
posted by Pseudology at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2009

When I was younger my family had a yellow lab with terrible allergies. She bit her hind legs so much she would bleed and constantly had bald patches all over her, and her fur was always oily. We invested tons of time and money in helping her, but I don't think we ever fully got on top of the problem. Acupuncture seemed to help a little with the itching, though.

Another issue we had with her was that she had a lot of anxiety issues. After awhile her biting and scratching became a way of coping with stress so we couldn't tell if it was a sign of allergies or anxiety. You don't mention the dog's symptoms, but maybe your friends should explore that possibility.
posted by lilac girl at 12:24 PM on October 4, 2009

Looking back at what I wrote yesterday I realise it comes off as a lot harsher than I intended, sorry. You obviously want to help and your heart is in the right place, but you're also in over your head. Also I didn't say your advice was quackery but that the stuff you're finding on google is. The part where you don't recognise it as such just reinforces the over the head part. You shouldn't be giving them any advice about actual treatments to try, you're not at all qualified (neither am I). You can maybe suggest things for them to talk to their vet about, but beyond that working with professionals is the only responsible advice to give here. I hope your friends and their dog can get some relief.
posted by shelleycat at 2:44 PM on October 4, 2009

How much daily exercise is this 10 y.o. Golden getting? Perhaps not enough?
(related to lilac girl's response about anxiety)
posted by artdrectr at 3:37 PM on October 4, 2009

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