It’s More Than an Itch!

An Update on Pet Allergies (and the Human Parallels)

more than an itchPet allergies cover a full spectrum of symptoms. It’s more than just an itch that your pet seems obsessed with licking or scratching so much that there are patches completely denuded of hair. An itch is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other common pet allergy symptoms include:

  • Paw licking or chewing
  • Itchy eyes and/or ears
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Snoring or wheezing, due to inflammation in the throat

Pets with allergies can be hyperactive, or they might be lethargic. They can have exaggerated reactions to bites from fleas and ear mites (and to make matters worse, those very tormentors are attracted to the animals that suffer the most). In severe cases, liver and kidney diseases can develop. Even seizures can be a symptom of pet allergies.

In Pet Allergies: Remedies for an Epidemic, Dr. Alfred Plechner, DVM, addresses some of the underlying issues. Upon reading through his reasons for the increase in pet allergies, I found it impossible not to consider the human parallels. (While this book is fairly old, Dr. Plechner continues to research and publish his findings on his website and has an updated book, Pets at Risk: From Allergies to Cancer, Remedies for an Unsuspected Epidemic.) Understanding the health issues of our pet companions can potentially open our eyes to the same types of trouble in humans.

Food is reason #1 for pet allergies. Many pet foods supply substandard nutrition, which can lead to problems with allergies. Even when the nutritional value is good, pets can be allergic to some sources of protein.

Poor quality protein is a prescription for kidney disease, in pets and in humans. When the kidneys fail to work properly, toxins that should have been excreted instead collect in skin and cause lackluster coats in pets. Humans lacking good protein can experience similar issues, resulting in skin eruptions and itching. There is a reason the skin has been called the “third kidney.”

Top among the foods that dogs are allergic to are beef, milk and yeast (often present in B vitamins); for cats, those foods are beef, milk, and tuna. Just as is done with human allergies, veterinarians may recommend an elimination diet and/or rotation diet to isolate the pet’s food allergies. They might also recommend a hydrolyzed protein (a predigested protein), or different forms of protein, to try to clear up the problem. Lamb is usually the most well-tolerated protein source for pets with allergies.

Another method for addressing pet allergy symptoms is to test for an antibody called IgA (immune globulin A). These are specialized lymphocytes that protect the lining of the intestinal tract from assaults of foreign chemicals. IgA lymphocytes also protect the junctures between cells so the partially digested foods do not get through to the blood stream. Dr. Plechner notes that sensitive animals typically have very low IgA test results. IgA can also be tested in humans, with similar interpretation of the results.

Providing mineral supplements to pets can also help overcome many allergy symptoms, according to Dr. Plechner. Each biochemical process in the body uses one or more cofactors (minerals) to facilitate the reaction; therefore, any mineral deficiency is likely to translate to slower or incomplete reactions and compromised processes. This is also true in humans.

Dr. Plechner also discusses testing for trypsin as an indicator of the production of enzymes by the pancreas. A low trypsin level signals difficulty in digesting proteins. Even if the quality of the food intake is good, poor enzyme levels may prevent the food from being digested and used by the body. Enzymes may need to be supplemented daily to help improve the health of a sensitive pet (or human!).

Breeding is reason #2 for the increase in pet allergies. In efforts to breed pets with certain types of cosmetic traits, the priority has gone away from having healthy and vibrant animals.

The main outcome of this practice is what Dr. Plechner calls the “adrenal bombshell.” As a veterinarian, he has done numerous autopsies on animals that had suffered with allergies while alive. To his initial surprise, Dr. Plechner found that the adrenal glands were a fraction of their normal size and often fibrous.

What Dr. Plechner eventually concluded is that pets can become deficient in cortisol, a major hormone produced by the adrenals. Cortisol, in proper amounts is anti-inflammatory, and will even turn on the production of antibody lymphocytes such as IgA.

Dr. Plechner further wondered what happened with the unrelenting production of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) from the pituitary, in an effort to produce more cortisol. He found that, under these conditions, more estrogen is also produced. And, while excess estrogen further increases the stimulus to create more cortisol, it can also in turn tie up the cortisol. Moreover, excess estrogen inhibits thyroid, a hormone known to help maintain healthy skin and hair (in both pets and humans).

The treatment Dr. Plechner advocates is a steady and continuous supplementation of cortisol. In his practice, he found that this produced miracles. When other well-meaning practitioners warned his clients against this and cortisol supplements stopped, their pets’ allergy symptoms would come crashing back.

Dr. William McKenzie Jefferies documented a similar solution for humans in his classic textbook called Safe Uses of Cortisol. Using small doses of cortisol, in divided doses throughout the day, produces stunning relief of allergy symptoms. Dr. Jefferies also believes that this therapy must be continuous for maintaining the results in some patients.

In Hypothyroidism: the Unsuspected Illness, Dr. Broda Barnes writes that the modern development of antibiotics allows people born with low thyroid function to survive well enough to reproduce. Hypothyroid people will tend to mate with other hypothyroid people because they have similar energy levels. These unions tend to result in children with even more hypothyroidism. Although this is not intentional, as in breeding pets, the outcome has been generations of less robust people, Dr. Barnes claims.

In addition to the solutions mentioned above, methods for reducing the suffering of animals from allergies are similar to those for humans, including:

  • Eliminating known allergens from the diet and environment
  • Reducing dust and frequently cleaning areas that may harbor dust mites
  • Avoiding exposure to mold and chemicals
  • Frequent bathing to remove substances from the skin that cause irritation
  • Providing nutrient and hormone supplements as needed
  • Becker K. If Your Dog is Itchy or Your Cat is Wheezy, You Need to Read This. June 22, 2012.
  • Pet Allergies: Remedies for an Epidemic. Very Healthy Enterprises: 1985.
  • Dr. Al Plechner: ANew Horizon for Healing. Last accessed July 2020.
  • Plechner A, Zucker M. Pets at Risk: From Allergies to Cancer, Remedies for an Unsuspected Epidemic. New Sage Press; Troutdale, OR: 2003.
  • Jefferies WM. Safe Uses of Cortisol. 3rd edition. Charles C Thomas Publisher; Springfield, IL:2004.
  • Barnes BO, Galton L. Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness. Harper and Row Publishers; New York, NY: 1976.

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP

Edited by the Staff at Pet Health

© Pet Health, a division of Women’s International Pharmacy, Inc.