Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Food Allergies and Testing

Disclaimer: Contact your veterinarian if you have questions or concerns about your dog.

Allergies in dogs can have multiple causes. Environmental allergies (think pollen, dust, etc.) are very common, especially in the southeastern U.S. Fleas can also be very problematic in this area and just a single bite from a flea can trigger severe symptoms that can last for weeks in allergic dogs. Another type of allergies in dogs is food allergies. Food allergies are reportedly less common than environmental and flea allergies, but the true incidence is not known. Further clouding the issue is that dogs with one type of allergy (environmental, for example) often have other allergies too. This means that even if you fix one of the causes of their allergies, the symptoms may not COMPLETELY go away. I will focus on food allergies for this post.

Food allergies cause symptoms including itching, licking/chewing feet, rubbing the face/muzzle, anal gland issues, and can be a significant cause of ear infections. These symptoms are typically year-round, which is the first clue that a dog may have food allergies, though environmental allergies can cause symptoms year-round too. Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea CAN occur, but are not the main signs that occur. Many people mistakenly think that “grains” are the main cause of food allergies in dogs. This is almost never the case (not “grains” as a general group anyway). There are certainly dogs that are allergic to a particular grain or a few grains; however, most dogs are allergic to the common proteins in pet food. The most commonly reported are beef, soy, and chicken, but dogs can be allergic to any protein in their food.

Diagnosing a food allergy can be a challenge. There are blood tests that claim to be able to diagnose food allergies; however, they are not considered by many veterinary dermatologists to be accurate. Unfortunately, the only way to definitively diagnose a food allergy in a dog is to do a “food trial”, otherwise known as a “dietary elimination trial.”

Food trials entail changing a dog’s food to a protein and carbohydrate that he or she, ideally, has never been exposed to or at the very least has not been eating recently. This means if a dog was eating a food that had chicken and corn, or beef and rice, we would want to switch to a food that did not contain those ingredients (think rabbit, venison, turkey, salmon, etc.). However, one must really look at the ingredients on a food label, because some foods are labeled as a chicken recipe or a beef recipe and also contain other protein sources such as fish, turkey, etc. The food should be selected with the assistance of your veterinarian. Once a food is selected, you must only feed THAT food with treats only being allowed to contain those ingredients as well. This is where many people fail at food trails. If other foods/treats are fed, the food trial will often not work. Food trials usually take 6-8 weeks to fully evaluate response. The response may not be complete resolution of symptoms because, as I stated above, many dogs have multiple types of allergies.

If a positive response (reduction/elimination of symptoms) is achieved with a food trial, many people simply stick with the food that fixed the problem and just assume that their dog is allergic to something in the old food. That’s understandable. But to PROVE that a dog is allergic to a certain ingredient (and to determine which ingredient is the issue), you need to do a “challenge” and “recovery.” The “challenge” part entails feeding ingredients from a previous food or feeding the previous food for a few days to a few weeks and observing to see if signs of allergies return. If they do, you then switch back to the food that was used for the food trial and “recover” them. This process confirms food allergies and can allow you to switch to a different food from the one used on the trial (if desired).

I have recent personal experience with this whole process because my Owen, who has allergies, showed signs suggestive that some of his allergies were food related (anal gland issues, ear issues, muzzle/face rubbing, excessive paw chewing/licking). I did a food trial; his symptoms improved; and I have challenged him with the ingredient that I thought was likely the problem. I am now at the “recovery” stage and have confirmed that Owen is allergic to fish (in addition to his already known wheat allergy). Owen’s allergy symptoms did not FULLY go away on a food trial, but I know that he also has environmental allergies, so I wasn’t surprised about that.

As always, contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

What's in Owen's Travel Bag (and how we travel)?

As some of you may know, when I travel, I take Owen along most of the time. He is a good traveler and enjoys seeing new places and doing new things. So, given that, what do I have in Owen’s travel bag?

The Bag: Owen’s travel bag has been a messenger-style bag, but I am upgrading it very soon to a hiking day pack. The reason for the upgrade is that Owen’s travel bag doubles as his “trail bag”, which is what I take when I go on hikes with him and need supplies such as water, emergency medications, and treats. The messenger bag works well if you don’t plan to use it as a hiking bag but if you do plan to use it for that, a hiking day pack works better because the messenger bag can make your back and shoulders sore on longer hikes since it is a side-slung bag. I am upgrading to an Osprey Daylite bag.

The Stuff: I keep a variety of things in Owen’s bag. Some things stay in it all the time, some things only go along for longer trips and come out when I am hiking.

Here’s what stays in the bag all the time:

1. Water bowl and water bottle. I use a Klean Kanteen bottle and a plastic water bowl. This is just what works for me and there are many options in this category.

2. Collapsible food bowl. I have a collapsible food bowl in here. It doesn’t get used often but I have it if I need it.

3. Treats. I always keep a variety of treats in the bag, including soft treats, crunchy treats, and freeze-dried treats.

4. Emergency medications/supplies. Owen has allergies so I keep a couple doses of allergy meds in his bag in case I need them for him. Additionally, I was advised by Owen’s vet years ago to carry diphenhydramine (Benadryl) just in case he was bitten by a venomous snake again (see here for more about that). I also carry things like cotton balls, gauze, etc. for minor injuries.

5. Extra poop bags. Nothing else to say about that.

6. Cooling neck wrap. This is made for humans but can work for dogs too. It’s great to have in an emergency where your dog (or you) overheats.

The things that are in his bag when I go on a longer trip are as follows:

1. Pouches of tuna, salmon, chicken, or dog food toppers such as Blue Wilderness Trail Toppers or The Honest Kitchen powdered bone broths. These are great for hydration and getting a picky dog to eat. I know many dogs are pickier when away from home and these can be just the thing to entice them to eat. The pouches are convenient and don’t require can-openers.

2. Food and regular food bowl. This one is obvious. Whether it actually goes in the bag or not is dependent on how long I will be traveling and how much food I need.

3. Brush/comb/nail-clippers. I keep a brush, comb, and nail-clippers in the bag to help remove any material caught in his fur and to trim a nail if needed.

4. Toys. I usually bring along a soft stuffed toy (whichever one he is currently liking most), a treat toy (such as a Kong), and a rope toy, but you can bring whatever toys your dog is most excited about.

5. Towel. This is a must if you are going somewhere your dog may get dirty or wet.

6. Baby wipes. I use these to spot-clean and to help with smell.

7. Extra leash. This is useful in case your normal leash breaks or if you just need an extra. I usually bring a super long “training leash”, which can be used to give your dog more room to run while still being safe.

8. Shampoo. This comes along as you never know when your dog may need to be bathed. You can put it in a travel bottle if you need to save space.

How We Travel:

Owen wears a car safety harness when we travel in the car. This has become a routine whether we are just going for a 10-15 minute trip into town or a longer ride somewhere. For more information about car harnesses, click here. 

How do you travel with your dog(s)? I think traveling with a dog is great and, for many dogs, is preferable to boarding them in a kennel.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Wisdom Panel Essential Review

Disclaimer: Wisdom Panel provided a kit for this review. Wisdom Panel did not pay me to write this review. My opinions are my own.

Have you ever wondered what breeds your mixed-breed or rescue dog is? Wouldn’t it be great if they could tell us? Well, Wisdom Panel has a way for you to find out! There are two options for tests from Wisdom Panel. The Essential kit tests for breed (350+ breeds are in the database), body traits (eye color, coat color, tail length, etc.), and medical complications such as medication sensitivity, immune deficiency, and bleeding disorders. The Premium kit tests for all of the above plus tests for 180+ genetic predispositions to disease, and tests carrier status for genetic diseases.

Both kits can be ordered directly from Wisdom Panel’s website (WisdomPanel.com). The kits are shipped in a small box that you use to send the sample back for testing (this is great since it means you don’t waste packaging!). The return label is included in the box.

I was provided the Wisdom Panel Essential kit for this review.

Getting the sample is easy. After making sure that your dog does not eat or drink anything for at least 2 hours, you do the following: simply rub the two swabs inside your dog’s mouth in the cheek area for about 15 seconds. The swabs are similar to mascara wands.

Once you collect the sample, you then let those swabs dry for 5 minutes by inserting them into the holes in the box. Activate your kit online at ActivateMyKit.com and use the code on the end of the box. You’ll also be asked for the name, age, sex, and altered (spayed/neutered) status of your dog. Next, take those swabs and slide them back into the little sleeve provided and pack that sleeve back into the box, seal the box up, and drop it into the mail. It’s that easy! You’ll get results typically within 2-3 weeks.

The results are available on the Wisdom Panel website and can be printed off as well. They are easy to read and understand. I got Owen’s results back in 13 days!

Before you read the results, consider guessing what you think they’re going to be, as it is fun to see if you were right or wrong, and if you were wrong, how different the results were. My guess was that Owen was either a schnauzer-hound mix or a wire-haired terrier-hound mix.

But the results showed that Owen is a true mixed breed. He has 17 different breeds in him! The percentages are as follows: 32% Shih Tzu, 13% McNab, 8% American Foxhound, 8% Argentine Dogo, and 7% Dalmatian. I didn’t expect him to be a Shih Tzu mix, but it does make sense based on how he looks. I have been told by multiple people that he also looks somewhat like a herding dog (Border Collie, for example), which is what the McNab is. The full results are as follows:

The health results test for Owen showed that he’s clear of all the 29 conditions tested for with the Wisdom Panel Essential test. They showcase a few that, based on the breeds he has in him, were important to test for. He is clear of the MDR-1/ABCB-1 mutation (found in the McNab and Border Collie), the Factor VII Deficiency (found in the beagle), and the Prekallikrein Deficiency (found in the Shih Tzu).

The breed results were not what I was expecting, but I believe them and here’s why: Wisdom Panel tests for “traits” as well as giving you the breeds themselves. Here are what Owen’s traits were—ALL were correct, by the way: Based on his DNA, he should be black or brindle because he has the dominant black gene found on the CBD103 gene or K locus, and he should have white markings/Piebald variant (found on the MITF gene or S locus). He should have “furnishings” or fuzzy beard/moustache/eyebrows found on the RSPO2 gene. He should have an average or long snout. He carries the gene for hind dewclaws (found on the LMBR1 gene). His ears should not stand up. His legs should be slightly short. He should have dark eyes and a full-length tail.

What do YOU think?

Overall, I’d say that Wisdom Panel is a fun and informative way to find out more about your mixed-breed dog. It is easy to use and the results are easy to understand. The usual price is $99.99 for the Essential test and the Premium is usually $159.99, but Wisdom Panel often has promotions as well. I recommend Wisdom Panel to anyone looking to find out more about their dog!