If you own a dog, there’s a fifty-fifty chance he has allergies. From fleas to dust to food, allergies are the second most common reason U.S. dogs visit the vet. With almost 70 million dogs in the country, that’s a lot of allergy-induced scratching!
If you had a dog as a kid, then you may wonder why you can’t remember any allergies for dogs, visits to the vet, or excessive scratching. That’s because earlier generations of dogs didn’t suffer so many allergies. In fact, the “epidemic” we’re seeing in dogs with allergies is a recent phenomenon.
Why an Epidemic Now?
What’s making today’s dogs so allergic? There are a couple of theories but the most common beliefs are that commercial dog food and over-breeding are to blame.
About 15% of dogs have allergies due to inhaled substances like dust, pollen, and mold. Vets have noticed that certain breeds are prone to reacting to inhaled allergens, shoring up the “interbreeding” theory that allergies in these dogs have a genetic component.
Kibble is another culprit, according to most vets. Switching diet can vastly improve your dog’s condition, and in many cases solve the problem. Commercial dog food isn’t what it used to be, and most vets will approach allergies in your dog from this angle. They’ll suggest a change in the diet to see if that brings relief.
There’s a third reason dogs get allergies, and that’s from fleas. It’s one thing to get bit with fleas and be annoyed. It’s another to have an allergic reaction to the bites because that brings on a whole new set of symptoms. Increased allergies to fleas might also be a by-product of over-breeding in dogs.
You can probably guess why interbreeding would cause an allergy epidemic in the dog world…mess with genetics and you risk all sorts of downsides. This may also be the reason so many more dogs are now allergic to fleas.
That leaves us with the kibble question. What is it about dogs’ diets that’s changed over the years, and how would that cause allergies?
What’s Wrong With Kibble?
Commercial dog food has evolved through the years to become something very different from what it used to be. They’re loaded with starches, fillers, and chemical preservatives, not nutrients and enzymes dogs need for a healthy immune system. Not only that, but even the best dog foods, containing meat, are cooked beyond the point where most nutrients, fats, and enzymes can survive.
The result is your dog’s diet doesn’t provide him with what he needs to develop resistance to allergies. Plus, dogs rarely get access to probiotics when they’re puppies these days, which have been shown to reduce allergy outbreaks in adulthood. Again, blame it on the kibble they’re fed as puppies.
Vets will often prescribe vitamins containing enzymes, fats, and other supplements.
Another Theory for the Allergy Epidemic in Dogs
Secondly, it’s sad but true that most dogs don’t get to roam the countryside any longer. Generations ago, dogs were more likely to be owned by people living in the country, where they had access to outside food sources. They might eat the occasional animal, or chew on some grass, or whatever else dogs get into when they run around outside.
This contributes to a diversity in their diet plus an exposure to bacteria, which is necessary for developing resistance to allergies. When we (including humans) live in a “sterile” environment, we’re exposed to far fewer bacteria than we should be.
Dogs who live indoors aren’t exposed to nearly the same number of bacteria they were in the past, and that could be another reason why their allergies are increasing. The BBC found that this was definitely the case with humans.
So, while it’s fantastic that so many people have adopted dogs and want to give them a home, it’s also unfortunate that so many of us live in cities, or work all day so the dogs must sit indoors for most of the day. While we can hardly change that, what we can do is walk our dogs more often, and on the weekends make sure they’re outside for as much time as possible. That shouldn’t be too hard, since what’s good for your dog is good for you!