The canine body is equipped with multiple defense layers to protect itself from various foreign bodies, whether visible or invisible. Just like in humans, a dog's immune system protects the body from viruses, diseases, infections, foreign bodies, etc. It's what helps a dog remain healthy. The strongest of these layers is the immune system, which identifies the threat, isolates it, and implements the appropriate defense measures to neutralize it altogether. But what happens when your dog's immune system can no longer tell friends from foes?
An immune system that no longer distinguishes itself from foreign bodies will attack anything that stimulates it, regardless of origin. This moment marks the onset of an autoimmune disease. From this point onward, your dog will require dedicated help to avoid triggers. Luckily, they will still be able to lead a healthy life as long as you make certain changes, particularly to their diet. Factors such as age and disease progression will determine the right approach toward managing your dog's autoimmune disorder.
It's always possible to take action against autoimmune diseases. Age is just a number, and with just a handful of well-thought changes, your senior dog may get to enjoy a longer, happier life!
The Immune System is a Multi-Layered Mechanism
Your dog's immune system is a thoroughly complex mechanism, and for a good reason: it coordinates the body's internal defense. That is why the immune system is built on multiple layers, each with unique yet equally important responsibilities. For example, white blood cells, antibodies, and various other interdependent substances all work to fight off infections and ward off any foreign substances.
Multiple organs and tissues, too, play a crucial role in building and maintaining your dog's defense systems. The skin, for example, is the body's first line of defense against bacteria and environmental threats. The liver and kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from the blood. The blood carries all the antibodies, oxygen, and nutrients to the organs. Last but not least, the spleen traps all foreign bodies that other organs picked up and calls upon the white blood cells to do the rest. This defense system works around the clock, 24/7, to keep your dog's body free from disease.
What is an Autoimmune Disease in Dogs?
Canine autoimmune disease occurs when the dog's immune system becomes overactive, losing its ability to distinguish between "self" and "foreign." Everything becomes an enemy — the immune system can no longer tell helpful proteins from harmful ones. Therefore, it starts to make mistakes, some with potentially harmful effects on your dog's health.
When suffering from an autoimmune disease, your dog's immune system receives inaccurate information from the brain, and the antibodies attack the body's own cells and organs instead of foreign proteins (e.g., bacteria and viruses).
Types of Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs
Autoimmune diseases in dogs differ based on the affected area. Therefore, you have diseases that target a single organ, a whole region of the body, or the entire body.
A more comprehensive breakdown of canine autoimmune diseases includes the following six categories (i.e., the Gell and Coombs classification):
- Type I autoimmune diseases affect the dog's immunoglobulin E (IgE) system, one of the primary lines of defense against parasites. The specific type I immune diseases include systemic anaphylaxis and localized allergic reactions (e.g., allergic respiratory diseases, intestinal allergies such as food intolerances, and allergic skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis).
- Type II autoimmune diseases cause the formation of antibodies that, in turn, attack the body's antigens. The specific type II immune diseases include immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP), immune-mediated neutropenia, alloimmune hemolytic anemia, myasthenia gravis, pemphigus vulgaris, and temporomandibular myopathies.
- Type III autoimmune diseases involve the formation of immune complexes (i.e., molecules resulting from the binding of antigens to antibodies), which trigger illnesses when stored in specific organs. The specific type III autoimmune diseases include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), discoid lupus erythematosus, immune vasculitis, immune-mediated polyarthritis, immune-mediated meningitis, and renal diseases.
- Type IV autoimmune diseases are caused by cell-mediated immune reactions. The specific type IV autoimmune diseases include skin hypersensitivities, infection granulomas, rheumatoid arthritis, lymphocytic/plasmacytic thyroiditis, polyglandular syndrome, insulin-dependent Type I diabetes mellitus, and keratitis sicca.
- Type V autoimmune diseases manifest themselves through gammopathies (i.e., the presence of abnormal proteins in your dog's blood). The specific type V autoimmune diseases include monoclonal (e.g., multiple myeloma and B-cell lymphoma) and polyclonal gammopathies.
- Type VI autoimmune diseases occur when something innate or adaptive messes with the body's defense systems. The specific type VI autoimmune diseases include congenital and acquired immunodeficiencies.
What Causes Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs?
The exact reasons why a dog's immune system attacks its own body are not known, but many holistic veterinarians believe the following are likely culprits:
- Overuse of vaccines, antibiotics, and steroid drugs
- Environmental pollutants
- Food preservatives such as ethoxyquin
- Chemicals found in pesticides, chemical flea and tick treatments, etc. (if you read some of the comments below, you will find quite a few visitors saying that their dogs developed autoimmune diseases after using Frontline® and other chemical flea/tick control treatments.)
Excessive UV exposure can predispose dogs to autoimmune skin diseases, whereas drug misuse has led to cases of pemphigus foliaceus, another autoimmune skin disease.
Out of all the autoimmune disease triggers in dogs, the one dog parents can control most easily is food. A natural diet that is rich in antioxidants, quality proteins, and healthy fats will help reduce inflammation and combat other immune disease symptoms.
Common Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases in Dogs
Various telltale symptoms can point toward an autoimmune disease in your dog. Remember that the same symptom can be indicative of multiple health issues, so be sure to conduct further medical investigations if you want to find the exact autoimmune disease your canine friend is dealing with.
The most common symptoms of immune-mediated diseases are:
- Loss of appetite
- Skin lesions and ulcerations
- Weight gain (in the case of thyroid-related diseases)
- Weight loss
Breed Predispositions to Autoimmune Diseases
Research shows that certain dog breeds show a genetic predisposition to certain autoimmune diseases. For example, Italian Greyhounds run a higher risk of immune-mediated polyarthritis, whereas female Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, and Old English Sheepdogs can develop autoimmune hemolytic anemia. In addition, Poodles, German Shepherds, and toy breeds are also at risk for diseases such as autoimmune thrombocytopenia, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Diagnosing Your Dog's Autoimmune Disease
The first step toward autoimmune disease management is getting an early diagnosis. This calls for a trip to the vet, who will conduct multiple blood tests to find the exact culprit. They will measure your dog's white and red blood cells, thyroid hormone count, blood urea, creatinine, etc. The results will provide crucial insights toward zeroing in on the exact autoimmune disease. For example, systemic lupus erythematosus is indicated by positive antinuclear antibodies, whereas lymphocytic thyroiditis will cause a low thyroid hormone level.
A Natural Approach to Autoimmune Disease Management
Dog parents can use natural remedies such as herbs, vitamins, and other natural supplements to support the immune system.
However, one thing to bear in mind is that before using natural supplements that can affect the immune system, we need to properly diagnose the immune-related problem.
For many autoimmune disorders resulting from an overactive immune system, you should use supplements to calm or balance the system instead of herbs or supplements that stimulate the immune system further.
The Value of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are the most valuable component in any immune disease-tailored diet. These nutrients hunt for free radicals (i.e., the unstable atoms with a knack for harming neighboring cells), thereby reducing oxidative stress without stimulating the immune system.
Glutathione, selenium, zinc, curcumin, coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, and the A, C, D, and E vitamins are the best antioxidants for dogs with autoimmune diseases. You can find them in foods such as:
- Grass-fed beef
- Leafy veggies
What to Consider When Managing Your Dog's Autoimmune Disease
The most health-friendly approach to managing an autoimmune disease will keep your dog away from anything chemical. Our approach focuses on natural remedies (by "natural," we refer to herbs, vitamins, and other natural supplements that support the immune system). Once you receive a diagnosis of your dog's immune-mediated disease, the following steps will cut down on inflammation and bring balance to the immune system:
- Focus on a natural, fresh, hydrated diet packed with healthy nutrients (i.e., proteins, vitamins, fats, etc.).
- Include inflammation-reducing supplements (e.g., ginger and turmeric).
- Preserve the balance of your dog's microbiome with pre- and probiotics (e.g., yogurt, kefir, etc.).
These dietary changes are not enough to bring the immune system back into balance. Certain lifestyle changes will become imperative if you want your dog to enjoy the best quality of life.
First, remove as many environmental toxins and pollutants from your home as possible. Dogs are surrounded by numerous household hazards you've never thought about, such as antifreeze, insecticides, glue, and medications. Likewise, keep your dog away from plug-in air fresheners and chemical flea-and-tick repellents.
Second, your dog must live an active life in a stress-free environment to keep the immune system balanced. Give your dog enough opportunities to spend their energy and relax outdoors. Constant physical activity will stimulate healthy blood flow and diminish stress levels.
The Volhard Rescue Diet is Ideal for Dogs With Autoimmune Diseases!
If you're considering switching your furry friend to an anti-inflammatory, hypoallergenic diet, then Volhard Rescue is the way to go! Our dehydrated functional food blend provides dogs with all the antioxidants and bioflavonoids necessary to manage immune-mediated diseases. Also, it is free from artificial preservatives, colorings, and additives to ensure that no unhealthy chemicals mess with the immune system. In addition, Rescue is known for its allergen-free composition, making it the optimal diet choice for autoimmune diseases!
The Right Steps Will Help Manage Your Dog's Immune-Mediated Disease!
Autoimmune diseases are a serious reality some dogs and their parents face daily. But an autoimmune disease diagnosis does not mean you have to give up the fight. On the contrary, now it's the time to tailor your dog's diet and lifestyle to their particular needs to ensure that your furry friend enjoys the healthiest life possible. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!
Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!