Probiotics for Dogs with Allergies: Vet-Reviewed Article

Filed in Dog Health on July 22, 2021

probiotics for dogs with allergies

Just like people, dogs suffer from food and environmental allergies. These conditions can be difficult to treat and are very unpleasant for your dog.

Probiotics have long been used as a way of improving overall health, but new interest is growing in how probiotics can be used to treat specific medical conditions like allergies.

In this vet-reviewed article, I’ll take a closer look at how probiotics for dogs with allergies may help provide some relief.

Understanding Allergies

Allergies are a hypersensitivity of the immune system to a substance known as an allergen. Allergens can come from insects, food, plants, or even other animals.

When the immune system mounts a response against the allergen, your dog may experience a variety of symptoms including:

  • Itching
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing or sneezing
  • Runny eyes and/or nose
  • Licking of paws
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

Allergies can present in a variety of ways and be mistaken for other more serious medical conditions. If you notice any of these symptoms, discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.

Atopic Dermatitis

More commonly known as skin allergies, atopic dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin in response to allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or other normally harmless substances.

Diagnosis of skin allergies is based on symptoms and history. Other medical conditions that could be causing inflammation or itch must be ruled out.

Skin tests and blood tests can help develop a list of environmental allergens that your dog is sensitive to.

Food Allergies

Dogs with food allergies have a hypersensitivity to a particular component of their food. Typically, food allergies are associated with a specific protein in the diet.

Unlike skin allergies, there is no skin or blood test to determine if your dog has a food allergy. Diagnosing a food allergy is a diagnosis of exclusion.

Once other medical conditions are ruled out, your veterinarian may recommend a food trial. During a food trial, your dog is fed a hypoallergenic diet for eight to twelve weeks.

It is vital that during the food trial your dog is only eating the hypoallergenic diet. Table scraps, treats, and even flavored preventatives can contain ingredients that may trigger your dog’s immune system and invalidate the food trial.

Treating Allergies

Dog scratching his back

The most important step in treating your dog’s allergies is to avoid the specific allergens that cause symptoms. In the case of food allergies, this may be as simple as changing your pet’s diet.

For dogs dealing with atopic dermatitis, avoiding certain allergens like dust mites or pollen may be more difficult.

If the allergen can’t be completely avoided, some steps can be taken to help relieve your dog’s symptoms. Weekly or biweekly baths can provide relief. Some dogs may require medications such as steroids or allergy shots. These are treatments that will need to be discussed and prescribed by your veterinarian.

Because allergies are a condition that your dog will live with for the rest of their life, long-term treatment options need to be considered.

What Is a Probiotic?

Before going deeper into probiotics for dogs with allergies, let me explain more of the basics with probiotics.

A probiotic is a combination of live microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast, that are naturally found in the body. Your dog’s body contains good bacteria and bad bacteria.

When your dog is sick or stressed, the bad bacteria can increase and throw off the balance in their body. Probiotics are made up of good bacteria and can be used to restore and maintain a healthy balance.

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotic use in dogs is believed to have many health benefits. some of these benefits include promoting a healthy immune system, maintaining a healthy gut, and decreasing the body’s inflammatory response.

There is a growing belief that probiotics may be beneficial in treating certain health conditions including:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • Parasitic infection
  • Obesity
  • Liver disease
  • Allergies

While there are some promising studies on probiotics’ effects on these health conditions, more research still needs to be done.

How Probiotics May Work On Allergies

Concept of probiotics

The exact mechanisms for how probiotics impact the immune response to allergies are not fully understood. However, researchers have some general theories.

Like other disease processes, allergies throw off the natural balance within the body. For dogs with food allergies, the normal bacteria that colonize the gut is disturbed.

The use of probiotics can help restore balance, regulate the immune response, and promote a healthy gut.

The benefits of feeding probiotics to a dog with skin allergies may not be as obvious. Like gastrointestinal disorders, skin disorders can throw off the natural balance of bacteria found on the skin.

An overabundance of bad skin bacteria can lead to irritation and infection.

However, gut health and skin conditions are more connected than one might think. Researchers believe that skin diseases are an indication of more systemic disorders related to gut health.

Studies done in humans have shown that restoring the balance of gut bacteria has helped patients suffering from skin disorders. Now, similar studies are being done on dogs.

Probiotics to Decrease the Use of Steroids

For some dogs, management of allergies requires long-term use of medications. Veterinarians commonly use antihistamines and steroids in allergy treatment. Long-term steroid use can cause a variety of adverse side effects.

A study published in the Veterinary Dermatology journal in 2015 looked at a group of dogs with atopic dermatitis who were given a specific strain of lactobacillus as a probiotic.

The dogs in this study were all being treated with an antihistamine and a steroid.

At the end of the study, the dogs who received the probiotic showed clinical improvement in the severity of dermatitis and itchiness compared to the control group.

Some of the dogs in the probiotic group were able to have their antihistamine and steroid dose decreased. A few dogs in the probiotic group were even able to come off steroids entirely.

Although larger-scale trials need still need to be done, the apparent ability to decrease steroid use by adding a probiotic could be a huge win for your pet’s long-term health.

Probiotics for Symptom Prevention

Another area where probiotics are showing promise is in the prevention of anticipated symptoms. Some dogs deal with seasonal allergies where owners can predict when their dog may experience an allergy flare.

For other dogs, their breed may predispose them to issues with allergies. Golden retrievers and beagles are known for being prone to allergies.

A study conducted in beagles looked at the effect of probiotics on atopic dermatitis when given to puppies. Two litters of puppies from the same set of parents were evaluated.

Bloodwork showed that the puppies given the probiotic had a stronger immune system response than the puppies who did not receive probiotics.

At the time of allergy testing, there was not a noticeable difference in how itchy the puppies of the two different groups were.

More studies need to be done to determine how these enhanced immune responses relate to the dog’s symptoms over time.

In the meantime, incorporating probiotics into your pet’s daily routine may help make them more comfortable when allergy season hits.

What to Know Before Picking a Probiotic for Dogs with Allergies

Probiotic strains

Using probiotics is typically a safe practice, however, there are some things you should be aware of before adding probiotics to your pet’s routine.

Strain: Because probiotics are made of different strains of bacteria, it is important to pick a product that meets your pet’s needs. Currently, the bacteria that appear to help treat allergies are:

  • Lactobacillus:

This genus of bacteria is known to improve gut health and aid in the treatment of allergies. Lactobacillus acidophilus has been shown to decrease the bad bacteria in the gut and help dogs who deal with food sensitivity.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is believed to aid in the alleviation and prevention of clinical signs in dogs with atopic dermatitis.

  • Enterococcus:

Enterococcus faecium improves gut health by decreasing harmful bacteria in the gut such as Clostridium.

  • Bifidobacteria:

Like the previous two categories, Bifidobacteria are primarily useful in improving gut health.

A unique finding is that as Bifidobacteria decrease the harmful bacteria in the gut, it creates an environment where Lactobacillus can proliferate and thrive.

In this way, Bifidobacteria may be more effective in reducing atopic dermatitis symptoms when used in combination with Lactobacillus products.

Some articles mention the use of certain strains of Bacillus as a probiotic. Research studies have questioned the safety of using Bacillus in companion animals.

Certain strains of bacteria have been linked to human food poisoning. More studies are needed to determine if the use of Bacillus products in dogs is safe and what health benefits they provide.

Product labels: Like many other supplements, probiotics are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The lack of quality control for products on the market means that some products do not meet the claims on their label. When picking a probiotic stick to reputable companies and talk to your veterinarian about their recommendations.

Storage: Probiotics contain live microorganisms, so proper storage is very important. To ensure the viability of the product, pay close attention to the temperature requirements and package instructions.

Some products may need to be refrigerated. If the probiotic is subjected to temperatures outside its recommended range, the living microorganisms will likely die and render the product ineffective.

Some products are sold in individual packages because exposure to air can kill the microorganisms at a faster rate.

Expiration date: Like any other product, make sure you pay close attention to the expiration or best buy date. The live bacteria continue to die over time.

Once the product reaches the expiration date, there are not enough viable bacteria for the product to be effective.

Conclusion on Probiotics for Dogs with Allergies

Well, I hope you learned more about probiotics for dogs with allergies. While probiotics are not the cure for your dog’s allergies, there is growing support for the use of probiotics as a valuable tool in reducing allergy symptoms.

I hope this article provides you with a better understanding of the different types of allergies in dogs and their treatment options. If you have concerns about your dog’s health, speak to your veterinarian before adding probiotics to their routine.

Hopefully, your dog will be saying goodbye to that pestering itch in no time.

 

Sources and Additional Reading for Probiotics for Dogs with Allergies:

Grześkowiak, Łukasz et al. “Microbiota and probiotics in canine and feline welfare.” Anaerobe vol. 34 (2015): 14-23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7111060/

Marsella, Rosanna. “Evaluation of Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG for the prevention of atopic dermatitis in dogs.” American journal of veterinary research vol. 70,6 (2009): 735-40. https://doi.org/10.2460/ajvr.70.6.735

Ohshima-Terada, Yuri et al. “Complementary effect of oral administration of Lactobacillus paracasei K71 on canine atopic dermatitis.” Veterinary dermatology vol. 26,5 (2015): 350-3, e74-5. https://doi.org/10.1111/vde.12224

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