In the US, studies reveal that 10 to 15% of the population is “allergic” to companion animals. The common resolution from the family doctor or allergist is generally simplistic: “get rid of” the pet. US municipal shelters and rescue groups are ceaselessly overwhelmed with animals surrendered for “owner allergy.” Other “experts” lazily admonish “owners” to banish the pet outside of the house: leaving unacknowledged the betrayal of the human-animal relationship, ceded to the crushingly lonely, despairing life led by the “backyard dog.”
More encouragingly, however, growing awareness indicates that many people believe the benefits of pet companionship outweigh hardship of the sometimes attending allergies; and in the US, the National Institute of Health estimates that 25% of people with allergy/asthma-related health problems keep pets in their home. For those with allergies, living comfortably with a companion animal simply necessitates general knowledge about allergies and allergy management; and willingness to pursue some sensible, practical protocols, which include: good hygiene, diligent cleaning, air quality management, sensible pet handling, and prudent use of safe, effective medications or natural remedies.
How the Human “Allergic” Reaction Works:
“Mediated Mast-cell Activation”
The body’s immune system responds to and fights off bacteria, toxins, and other harmful substances. Upon sensing an invader, the immune system dispatches immunoglobulin E, or IgE, antibodies (proteins used to identify and counter-check foreign objects, such as bacteria or viruses).
However, overproduction of these antibodies irritates surrounding cells, which release histamine(s) that triggers an inflammatory response, causing the “allergy” symptoms. The allergic response represents a hypersensitive disorder of the immune system, as it inappropriately reacts to non-threatening elements, such as harmless proteins emitted by pets. In severe instances, it sets off muscle spasms in the airways (asthmatic response) which can be life threatening.
Allergens are any substance (such as animal proteins) that stimulate an “allergic” response. In allergic response, a reaction is provoked to harmless antigens (molecules recognized by T-cell receptors of the immune system) that are not associated with invading pathogens that need to be expelled. Allergic reactions are triggered when allergens cross-link pre-formed IgE (a mediator) bound to the high-affinity receptor FcRI on mast cells. These resident mast cells line the body surfaces and alert the immune system to local infection.
During allergic reaction, allergens bind to high affinity IgE on mast cells or basophils (certain white blood cells), crosslinking the IgE molecules and aggregating the underlying FcRI receptors. This triggers the mast cells to secrete chemical mediators (neurotransmitters that control the inflammatory response) stored in pre-formed granules, including histamine; and by synthesizing leukotrienes (fatty molecules of the immune system that contribute to inflammation in asthma and allergic rhinitis), cytokines (proteins that transmit signals between cells), prostaglandins (lipid compounds made at sites of tissue damage or infection), and other anticoagulants (controlling width of blood vessels) after activation occurs.
Also stimulated are T-helper cells (TH cells: which assist other white blood cells in immunologic processes of the allergic response, including consuming antigens, creating antibodies, and maturation of B cells into plasma cells).
The outcome of IgE-mediated mast-cell activation—regulating response to injury and inflammation, intended as a healing process—depends on the amount of antigen and its route of entry: then tempered by the individual's sensitivity (degranulation: selective release of immune mediators) and presence of any cross-trigger allergen (perhaps: a rapid release or anaphylacitc degranulization). It manifests as “allergic symptoms” when the allergens land on the lining of the eyes and nose, and/or are inhaled into the lungs.
Symptoms can range from mild rhinitis (nasal drip) or watery eyes to a strong multi-symptom “hay fever” when inhaled and brought to the eyes; dermal exposure (contact with the skin) alone can result in flushing, pruritis (itching), urticaria (hives), headache, gastrointestinal symptoms (including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, gastroesophageal reflux), and hypotension (low blood pressure); extending to life-threatening circulatory collapse that occurs in near-anaphylaxis or systemic anaphylaxis: an acute, multi-system hypersensitive reaction, such as severe asthma or seizure. This is described as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS: one type of disordered mast cell activation), an immunological condition in which mast cells inappropriately and thus pathologically overproduce chemical mediators out of proportion to the perceived threat to homeostasis.
Sensitivity is often compounded by other allergens and irritants (cross triggers) in the environment which, when combined (perhaps at different times), exceed an individual’s threshold of ordinary tolerance. In the late, or “chronic reaction” phase, the inflammatory response process becomes continuous, and long-term patho-physiological change leads to permanent tissue remodeling that, in turn, lowers the individual’s tolerance and intensify the “allergy.”
Allergies Aren’t Provoked by Fur:
but by Proteins
can be less than
1 micron (micrometer)
in size and may
for more than
Many people still wrongly presume that “dog allergies” are caused by fur. In reality, allergies are triggered and aggravated by proteins (polypeptides: organic compounds composed of amino acids) that are secreted by oil glands and cast off with dander (microscopic scales of dead skin or hair that dogs continually shed), and proteins in saliva or urine.
For example, when the dog licks himself, saliva gets on his fur: as the saliva dries, protein particles become airborne and work their way into fabrics in the home. These proteins and other substances have unique properties that cause an individual's immune system to inappropriately react as allergens.
Dander is similar to allergens from non-animal sources, including foodstuffs and fruits, molds and fungus-es, mildew, pollen, smoke, ragweed, household chemicals, dust and dust mites, insects, parasite bites, plants, foods, plastics and other synthetic materials, cosmetics… in short: almost anything. Many are present in virtually all homes, regardless of levels of cleanliness, furnishing materials, or economic status. Allergens can be nearly effortlessly transferred via air, physical contact and other means; animal dander particles can be less than 1 micron (micrometer) in size and may remain airborne for more than 8 hours after vacuuming.
Individuals sensitive to dog proteins can suffer symptoms even if the dog no longer resides in the home, because his dander may remain as particles for months, at levels that can continue to trigger allergic symptoms.
Ultrafine dust is defined as respirable dust particles can be less than 2.5 micrometers with aeromatic diameter; dander particles can be less than a single micrometer. For comparison: the average human hair is between 60 – 80 micrometers.
While some assume that the tightly woven fur of breeds such as poodles and bichon-frises limits the shedding of allergen-laden dander, other people have allergic reactions even to fur-less breeds. Despite popular belief, there are no "non-allergenic" breeds of dogs, and individual sensitivity varies, with size factoring, (since a large dog would shed more dander than smaller breed, and for this reason, certain smaller breeds can be a better match).
Not Giving In…
& The Issue of Lazy Doctoring
For the conscientious dog guardian—to whom the dog is a family member—realize that it is not only possible, but essential, to find an allergy specialist who understands your commitment to living with a canine companion. A skilled allergy specialist can develop a plan to help manage allergic reaction/asthma and prevent episodes.
As an informed client, you should feel justified in questioning before you first meet, if the practitioner respects the importance of the human-animal relationship. For all but the most severe and life-threatening sensitivities, a mixed traditional/holistic medical control of symptoms, appropriate housecleaning, designation of a “dog-free zone,” and alert pet handling practices (limiting hugging/cuddling, hand washing after prolonged contact) is usually effective, enabling the sensitive person to live comfortably with a dog. In fact, those efforts, in many respects, would differ little from the types of everyday precautions practiced to safeguard against the typical mid-winter flu.
STUDY: Animal allergens
virtually all homes
Informed dog guardians now reject indifferent physicians who un-hesitantly scold clients with generic, age-old recommendation to “get rid of” the dog (or keep him outside): as if “it” were disposable “property.” Even when it's certain that a person is allergic to dog dander, saliva or urine, it is false to assume that removing the dog will resolve future symptoms. Dander is a very hardy antigen and can remain in an environment for months or even years.
In July of 2004, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology detailed a study in which dogs and cats lived in only half of the subject residences examined, conducted by the US federal government’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Institute, using data from the National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing. However, dog and cat allergens were detected in 100 percent and 99.9 percent of homes, respectively, even though only 49.1 percent of the homes actually had such a pet.
It's important to be aware of all of an individual's allergy triggers—which can create cross sensitivity—and take steps to minimize exposure to all that may collectively contribute to breach the threshold that can initiate allergic symptoms. Aware dog guardians correctly reject "giving up” on a family member, knowing that they would regret the wrenching experience of surrendering a dog on the recommendation of a physician, only to find that the family member still experiences allergic reactions—and wish they had first attempted more thoughtful means to manage the allergy.
It’s important to remember that pet allergens also are easily transported on clothing and shoes and spread to public places such as schools, hospitals, office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, cinemas, buses and trains… essentially… anywhere and everywhere. This can contribute to breaching the threshold of individual tolerance at home.
For these reasons, suggestions that keeping animals outdoors will materially help are too simplistic. Spending long periods isolated—often tethered—will stress and adversely affect the health of the dog, leading to body chemistry changes that will increase dander (even dandruff) and make him a more potent allergy trigger.
Rescue volunteers and shelter workers, trainers, canine behaviorists, veterinarians and animal welfare associations stress that exiling a dog outdoors is a cruel fate for a social animal—who substitutes his human family members for natural canine relationships—and unmistakably harmful to the human-animal relationship. Dogs left to this desperate and vacant circumstance often succumb to anxiety and boredom, developing behavioral difficulties that make them problems for their guardians and the community-at-large.
Further, dirt, pollen, ragweed, grass and other outdoor allergens that will accumulate on his body. And so, on those limited occasions when household members do interact with the dog, they will carry these allergens back into the house.
Solutions... Worthwhile Efforts
Brushing Reduces the Level of Allergens on Fur
Remembering that dog “allergens” are present in dander, saliva, and urine, if possible, someone other than the allergic person should take responsibility for handling grooming, cage/carrier maintenance, and house cleaning chores. A dust filtering mask on hand may work if the allergic person wishes to groom the dog, and disposable gloves can augment this protection. Try to comb and brush pets outside, or on a hard floor. Then mop (environmentally safe cleaners that lack harsh chemicals, may help lessen cross-sensitive allergic triggers), rather than sweep; or vacuum the area with a HEPA filtering appliance (see, discussion below) immediately after brushing.
Wash hands and forearms straight away: before any chance of rubbing nose or eyes, or touching the mouth, with allergen-contaminated hands. Institute as ordinary habit (just as you would to protect against winter-season flu), that after close handling, or exposure to a dog in someone else's home: try to shower and put your clothes directly into the laundry.
It's important to be alert that outdoor allergens including pollen or ragweed, can cling to your dog’s coat: so after walking or playing outdoors, make a routine of brushing out your dog upon returning to the house. Also, brush in response to seasonal shedding, or other times of excitement or stress: frequent brushing also distributes oil throughout the coat while removing loose fur and skin flakes. According to the HSUS, bathing pets weekly can reduce the level of allergens on fur by as much as 84%; so try to do so, at least monthly. Use a mild soap (homemade formula: baby shampoo to neutralize dander and saliva; adding white vinegar and glycerin).
Between baths you can rub down the dog (particularly helpful after walks outdoors) with a damp paper towel or even better, special liquid damp-wipe products that quickly cleanse the fur of dander, saliva and sebaceous gland secretions, as well as urine, (that may have stuck on the rear legs); all of which are major sources of pet-related allergens that lead to allergic reaction. As a daily routine, these products will substitute nicely for a bath, and include those with ingredients which help ensure moisture remains in the skin.
If a dog's skin is dry or irritated there is more sloughing of dead skin cells (dander). Bathe your dog frequently but don’t use human shampoos or conditioners on dogs: they are usually too acidic and contain irritating additives. Use a quality moisturizing shampoo that supports healthy skin; add organic (virgin, cold pressed) coconut oil, which will moisturize and has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Switch to distilled water if tap water irritates your dog's skin.
Cleaning Up… Clearing Out
Most problems with animal allergens can be swiftly eliminated by thorough and consistent cleaning, particularly if using modern appliances with better filtering. But soon, this can become an ordinary household routine, and even severely affected family members or visitors can very quickly co-exist in the dog-family home.
Dust frequently; using damp cloths or disposable wipes to prevent the rerelease of particles into the home environment (those with severe respiratory allergies should consider wearing a filtering mask).
Choices include tape pickup rollers and similar devices (look to the warehouse-membership store for volume pricing) to remove shedding from clothes, bedding, and draperies; disposable dusting cloths and wearable-mitts that pick up fur with electrostatic (static electricity charged) attraction; or “static breaker” devices that release the static charge that bonds pet fur to rugs and furnishings, so that it can be
more easily removed.
Dogs with soft, clingy hair offer an opportunity to use special purpose brushes that roll and
gather that type of hair.
“High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance”
Conventional vacuums generally will pick up irritants, but cannot “filter” the small particulates and typically, exhaust them back into the room. Dog allergens are especially lightweight and can remain aloft for long periods after this inefficient “cleaning,” worsening the environment for allergy sufferers. Investment in a better vacuum with multi-wall or ultra-fine HEPA (High-Efficiecy Particulate Air) certified bags can speedily change the home to a remarkable extent: HEPA filters mechanically purify or trap 99.97 percent of all airborne particles larger than 0.3 micrometers (or simply: microns), and often, the capacity and efficiency of these models makes them practical and perhaps cheaper to supply and use in the long run.
Fiber-based HEPA (then called: high-efficiency particulate absorber) filters were developed by the Atomic Energy Commission (The Manhattan Project) during WWII to remove radio-active dust from their plants. The standard for definition is established by (the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). A genuine HEPA filter is much more hygienic than an ordinary one because it will stop mold spores and even some bacteria and viruses: it's cleaning at the microscopic scale.
NIOSH recognizes nine different grades, based on three different levels of efficiency (95, 99, and 99.97 percent) and three levels of resistance to filter degradation (N, R, and P: N= not resistant to oil, R= oil resistant, and P= oil proof.) So you might see a filter labeled N95 (95% efficient and not resistant to oil) or P100 (99.97% efficient and oil proof). You might also see HEPA filters classified using letters A through E: based on how well they capture particles and resist airflow: Type A are the least effective that still meet the basic criteria for HEPA; while type E are military grade filters capable of coping with chemical, radiological, or biological particles. A further classification identifies whether filters are fire resistant (type 1) or semi-combustible (type 2).
HEPA filters are composed of a mat of randomly arranged (fine-thickness) fiberglass fibers; not merely a sieve-type (membrane) product present in a typical filter (where particles larger than the pore size are stopped). Functional factors that affect HEPA effectiveness are fiber diameter, overall filter media thickness/construction, and face velocity: the measured air speed at an inlet or outlet of a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
Pollutants (aerosol density) stick to a layer of fiber (they are trapped) through a combination of:
(Predominates above 0.4 micron diameter particle size) where larger particles are unable to avoid fibers by following the curving contours of the air stream and are forced to embed in one of them directly; this effect increases with shrinking fiber separation (density) and greater air flow velocity. Interception and impaction predominate above 0.4 microns.
(Predominates above 0.4 micron diameter particle size) where particles following a line of flow in the air stream come within one radius of a fiber and adhere to it.
(Predominates below the 0.1 micron diameter particle size) an this enhancing mechanism that is a result of the collision with gas molecules by the smallest particles, which are thus impeded and delayed in their path through the filter. This is analogous to pedesis (Brownian motion): the random motion of particles suspended in a fluid resulting from their collision with the fast-moving molecules in the fluid. Pedesis raises the probability that a particle will be stopped by either of the two prior mechanisms; it dominates at lower air flow velocities.
In the gap between these three mechanisms, the most penetrating particle size (MPPS) is 0.21 microns, because both diffusion and interception are comparatively inefficient, and, as the weakest point in the filter's performance, NIOSH specifications use the retention of particles near this size (0.3 microns) to classify the filter.
Cost is still the overriding factor. Understanding how these filters work is important when making a purchase decision. A vacuum with proper HEPA filtration will channel more than 90% of the dirty airstream through the filter… otherwise: it's simply rearranging the dirt. HEPA filters obstruct the airstream in vacuum cleaners, and correspondingly more suction is needed to pull past the convoluted fibers. Vacuums and air purifiers with true HEPA filtration need more powerful motors and may have higher power consumption for the same reason (which means they're more expensive to run for long periods and perhaps noisier than rival technologies, such as photocatalysis, that work in different ways).
Beware of brands that name their filters with HEPA-sounding names or marketing terms with “HEPA” added in that aren’t genuinely HEPA systems. A HEPA filter will also need cleaning or replacing periodically: as the filter collects particles (including mold spores, pollen, and other airborne allergens additional to dog dander), the airflow resistance will increase. This results in less airflow through the filter and lower air cleaning performance, and puts stress on the motor. This will add to the running costs: learn how much replacement filters cost before making a purchase decision.
In the absence of a HEPA appliance, a conventional vacuum can be enhanced by using special disposable electrostatic bags (see diagram above). Allergic family members should avoid handling the bags, which should be disposed of regularly. A periodic steam cleaning of remaining carpets will be helpful.
Instead of a vacuum, switch to an electrostatic dust mop for hard floors, at least for a first pass. Products with disposable microfiber covers are alternatives. Special purpose dry rubber squeegee or rubber brooms lift up any dog hair from carpets that vacuuming often misses; for hair on upholstery, specialty products for long (not wiry) hair include a Lilly Brush. Home-made solutions can be surprisingly simple: rather than vacuuming, a damp clean sponge or paper towel, rubber glove, or window squeegee works better.
Clean areas where the dog sleeps, plays and eats twice a week; wash his bedding frequently (zip-able covers simplify) in hot water (as should the family’s bed linens), using “sensitive skin” detergent that is free of dyes, scents, and other additives. Once a week, wash the dog’s rubber, plastic and other hard-surface pet toys in the sink with mild soap and hot water to remove saliva (it contains protein: an allergen); remember to launder the “dog drying towel” at least as often.
Bare Floors are Beautiful
As much as possible, keep pets from dense carpets and upholstered furniture, since it's harder to remove dander particles from fibers and fabrics: the proteins left behind will trigger reaction for allergy sufferers. Ornately carved or heavy, overstuffed furniture will collect all sorts of allergens. If you are committed to letting the dog on a couch or bed, cover with a throw (a good opportunity for a decorative touch) so that it can be washed once a week.
Wherever practical, dispense with wall-to-wall carpeting: it holds dust, dander, and allergens of all types which can cross-trigger (remembering: that dog proteins are potentially only one trigger,) and are difficult to clean even with diligent vacuuming, since allergens can work down into the fibers and lodge in the underlayment. If changing out wall-to-wall, don't extend rugs to the baseboards: bare wood perimeters are
easier to clean.
For a family member with allergies, the more washable surfaces and materials in the home, the better. Modern, overstuffed furniture, dust-collecting blinds, and accessories that tend to attract dander and dust electrostatically should be minimized. When choosing fabrics, bear in mind that rough textured fabrics will trap allergens. In all cases, choose window treatments that can be easily taken down for a wash every couple of months; or, invest in a portable steam cleaner with attachments so they can be done in place. Special impermeable pillow and mattress covers keep allergens from lodging on bedding and can be washed, occasionally, since allergen particles can be brought into the room on clothes and other objects; (they also help control dust mites, a typical cross-trigger to dog proteins).
Use of aerosols, sprays, paints, insecticides, chemicals, epoxy, and heavy fragrances in the home (and most particularly, smoking), may cross-trigger the effects of other allergens (such as dog dander), and should be avoided: have another family member use those products. While good air circulation is generally helpful, realize that tabletop or ceiling fans can stir up allergens. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers (humidifiers in winter) can help significantly, particularly if due effort is taken to maintain the filters.
Some allergy sufferers find benefit in putting dog sweaters or similar clothing on the dog to control release of dander, reduce shedding, and protect the dog’s skin from outdoor climate conditions (which in turn has allergy symptom-abating benefits, since holding moisture in the skin can mean less potent dander and oil secretions).
Ventilation and Filtering Devices
Most allergic people spend a third of their day in the bedroom: for them, make it a (mostly) allergen-free zone by keeping the dog out. Place a high-efficiency air cleaner in this room, to remove many types of airborne particles. You will need to decide regarding a mechanical (replaceable fabric filters) or electronic unit. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters were developed by the Atomic Energy Commission during WWII to remove radio-active dust from their plants. HEPA filters are the most efficient type available, generally 99.97% effective at removing particles as small as 0.3 microns.
There are actually two types of ionic air purifiers. Electrostatic precipitators and air ionizers. In both cases these are "filter-less " air cleaners. They are also known as electronic air cleaners.
Electrostatic precipitators (tower devices) are generally marketed as “air purifiers” or “clean air machines,” not as “air cleaners.” Fan-less air ionizers are noiseless and inexpensive to run, because they have no moving parts. They work by dispersing charged ions into the air via corona discharge. These ions attach to airborne particles, which are then attracted to any nearby “earthed” conductors—the next thing they come into contact with—supposedly oppositely-charged flat plates within the unit, which can be removed for cleaning. An electrostatic precipitators' performance degrades when the plates become dirty.
Corona discharge is a process by which a current flows from an electrode with a high potential into a neutral fluid (air), by ionizing that fluid so as to create a region of plasma (a state of matter) around the electrode. The ions generated eventually pass charge to nearby areas of lower potential, or recombine to form
neutral gas molecules.
Put simply: ionizers use electrostatic-ally charged plates to produce positively or negatively charged gas ions (N₂ or O₂) that particulate matter sticks to in an effect similar to static electricity. In this way, the “dust” is attracted to, and settles on the metal plates; but also indiscriminately: on, any nearby surface (including the outside of the unit, furniture, or floors, etc.). For that reason particularly, air ionizers are not recommended for relief from allergies or any other respiratory condition, although vendors would maintain that the particles are thus "prepared" to be wiped up by the homeowner (but if not, would eventually result in "soiled" walls and surfaces).
Despite that these devices are not fan driven, there is a perception of a slight “breeze” created. This is because ionized gases produced in a corona discharge are accelerated by the electric field, the “discharge current” associated with air movement of gas: or, “electrical wind.”
A second type of device, ion generators, disperse charged ions into the air without using collecting plates. So while they “remove” pollutants from the air, the particles are then stuck to any nearby surface (such as furniture) where they a sensitive individual would still be exposed to them prior to a mechanical cleaning.
The efficacy of portable air cleaners is rated according to its deliverable clean air delivery rate (CADR). This number— typically measured at the air cleaner’s highest speed—is intended to help consumers select an air cleaner based on the size of the area it will be placed in: a higher CADR indicates more particles the air cleaner will remove and the larger the area it can serve. Most air purifier packaging will display three CADR numbers, one each for dust, smoke, and pollen. The higher the number, the faster the unit filters the air, with 250 established as a point of effectiveness.
Interpreting claims made by vendors, it’s important to be mindful that, an air purifier can “remove” only airborne particles—perhaps stated in microns, as the size of a particle—not the dust and pet dander that has already settled onto surfaces such as the carpet.
In 2005, surging consumer demand for the devices collapsed: subsequent to a follow-up report to a 2003 test by the US-based non-profit Consumers Union (CU), determining that both fan-less and fan-driven air purifiers didn’t effectively “clean” surrounding air, and additionally because of their approach (the charged particles don't discriminate in what they attach to). More condemning was the finding that the appliances were generating high levels of ozone, a byproduct created because of how they work. CU suggested that the US Federal Trade Commission investigate “unsubstantiated claims” made by ionizer vendors.
Ionizers are distinct from ozone generators—machines used to generate sterilizing ozone—although both operate in a similar way. Even the best ionisers will also produce a small amount of ozone—weakly bonded triatomic oxygen, O₃—which is unwanted; whereas ozone generators are optimized to attract an extra oxygen ion to an O₂ molecule, using either a corona discharge tube or UV light. Ozone generators are marketed not only for medical-type “whole house air purification,” but for their effectiveness in removing odors, such as in basements, or moldy environments subsequent to a flood. For that reason, commercial ozone generators are used in hotel rooms to remove difficult tobacco smoke smells. CU described that the deceptively “fresh air” smell emitted by tower-type ionizing products (similar to the scent just after a thunderstorm) that convinced consumers they were working, was actually ozone.
Ozone is a highly toxic and unstable (extremely reactive) gas with powerful oxidizing properties, thereby a molecule that is very effective at combining with and eliminating strong odors and airborne chemicals. Essentially: ozone breaks down virtually anything it comes into contact with. Ozone is formed from oxygen by electrical discharges or ultraviolet light, and differs from normal oxygen (O₂) in having three atoms in its molecule (O₃).
Exposure to a higher daily average than 0.1 ppm (100 ppb, 0.2 mg/m³) of ozone can damage the lungs and olfactory bulb cells of the fore-brain directly. Particularly in a confined/indoor environment, ozone can be particularly problematic for an individual with a sensitive immune response or already suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or asthma.
There is no regulatory standard for ozone emission by air cleaners, including ozone generators marketed for removing odors, such as consumers seek to resolve basement and mold issues; manufacturers claim to adhere to a voluntary standard of 50 parts per billion (ppb), a limit established by the US FDA for medical devices. CU used Underwriters Laboratories Standard 867 to measure the units’ ozone levels from 2 inches away in a sealed polyethylene room.
At concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone has been found to have little potential to remove indoor air contaminants. At high concentrations ozone can be toxic to air-borne bacteria—and has been investigated for use in hospital settings—and may destroy or kill certain infectious pathogens. However, the required concentrations are sufficiently toxic to humans and animals that the FDA declares that ozone is inappropriate in medical treatment (ozone generators that are marketed as “air cleaners” can release 50 to 200 milligrams of ozone per hour). The US Environmental Health Agency (EPA) notes that it is increasingly difficult to determine the actual concentration of ozone produced by an ozone generator because many different factors regarding use by an individual consumer can vary.
How Filtration Efficiency is Rated
Proper ventilation can lower concentration of pet allergens. Quality Furnace/AC duct filters can become a bargain in the effort to reduce airborne allergens year-round, generally not affecting airflow (LAD, or least affected deviation), and are rated in MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) for HVAC (heating, ventilation, & air
Higher value MERV rating equates to finer filtration (removal efficiency), meaning fewer dust particles and other airborne contaminants can pass through the filter. MERV corresponds to standards set by ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air conditioning Engineers), the only nationally regulated, independent rating system for air filters.
Manufacturers have generally implemented color-coded packaging to make the differences more obvious to the under-educated consumer. Some express expected filter life as “weight gain.” Even better cost savings and effectiveness may be achievable with one-time purchase of washable permanent filters (plastic instead of cardboard frame, with synthetic fabric), which are generally available at the local big-box home center or warehouse club.
The test for the ratings is done in a controlled testing environment, according to the ASHRAE Standard 52.2 test proceedure. A challenge aerosol of 12 known and varied particle sizes (typically between 0.3 microns and 10 microns, in three groups) are added upstream of a test filter, and a laser counter gathers readings for each of the size data points of the particles before they enter and after they leave the filter (downstream in the test duct). The two gathered readings for each of the three groups are then averaged and compared to calculate the Particle Size Efficiency (PSE) of the test filter, and a MERV parameters chart is then set up according to
MERV ratings range from 1-16, and the rating is designed to measure the worst-case performance of a rated air filter on particles in the size range of .3 to 10 microns. (Note: As a point of reference, an average human hair has a diameter of 40-50 microns.) The rating works on three tiers, and the rating depicts what percentage of particles are removed in the 3.0-10.0 micron range (known as E3: the largest), 1.0-3.0 micron range (known as E2: medium), and .3-1.0 micron range (known as E1: the smallest particle size).
MERV testing is conducted at one of seven airflow rates (between 118FPM and 748FPM), and as such, is stated with the air velocity at which the filter was tested. For example, if the filter was tested with an air velocity of 492 FPM and was found to be MERV 8, the filter’s Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value would be MERV 8 @ 492 FPM. The MERV value, therefore, as a single number is intended simplify the extensive data generated by the 52.2 testing procedure.
As an example (highlighted in the chart below), to achieve a MERV 8 rating, a filter must remove greater than 70% of all particles in the 3.0-10.0 micron size range (that is: E3); and must also remove greater than 20% of particles in the 1.0-3.0 micron size range (E2). For a MERV 8 filter—probably the highest suitable for a non-refitted residential/home environment, In this example, there is no minimum removal efficiency for particles in the .3-1.0 micron size range (E1).
Typical flat panel (spun fiber) residential filters have a MERV between 1 - 4, while medium efficiency pleated (extended surface) filters range between 5 -13: the higher end being nearly as efficient as a true HEPA filter. Higher efficiency filters can range from MERV 14 - 20 (perhaps misidentified as “HEPA filters”), but this would require professional modification of ordinary HVAC unit and ductwork, owing to dimensional limitations and the increased static airflow resistance, which if un-remedied, would stress the main blower.
Duct-mounted Air Purifying
Because a whole house air purifier system that works in conjunction with the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, it will be affected by an HVAC system’s limitations. The simplest are replacement filters for a house’s furnace; sometimes, replacement filters for return air path are also combined. However, air being pulled into a forced-air based HVAC system comes from the return air grill, which for most homes is either in the hallway ceiling or hallway wall and not in each individual bedroom. Because most modern homes are limited to only 2~3 return air grills, these air filters can really only filter limited locations within a home.
In-duct, or “whole house systems” are installed in a central HVAC system, essentially replacing a section of duct-work, generally in the return air path area before the air reaches the HVAC air handler unit, and in place of the duct-work are installed filters. Return grille air cleaners may also be installed with a single central return.
The resistance imparted by true HEPA filters would stress the blower of the existing HVAC and cause a significant pressure drop, (also causing wear), and so it would need to be replaced with a more powerful blower. A common alternative is a bypass configuration in the return air path of a duct-work (only one intake is filtered: leaving the other as a “bypass” to not impede airflow), but this means that half of the system would not be filtered at all. A non-bypass configuration would indeed be “whole-house” because the HEPA unit is installed at the main point where return air duct-work is located, just before the air enters the heating and cooling system. The unit would have its own blower to maintain the lost pressure, with an air flow sensor that only powers the unit when the main blower itself is running.
Some of these systems are PCO (photo catalytic oxidation) cleaners, which use a UV lamp along with a catalyst substance such as titanium dioxide (TiO₂) in a coated filter (now: a photocatalyst), that reacts with the light (it is bombarded by photons).
The process creates hydroxyl molecule radicals and super-oxide ions, which are highly reactive electrons that aggressively combine with other elements in the air, such as bacteria and volatile organic compounds (VOCs: bacteria, mold and fungus). In this way, PCO cleaners help destroy gaseous pollutants by destroying the bacterial walls, converting them into harmless vapors (H₂O, CO₂), but they are not designed to remove particulate pollutants. Or, duct-mounted systems may enfold a pre-filter, a true HEPA filter, and a charcoal filter, the last intended to resolve issues of odors or chemical vapors. For larger rooms, ceiling mounted air cleaners can their own fan to ensure thorough exchange of air through the filter, and are often mounted through standard 2x2' or 2x4' suspended ceiling tiles.
HVAC air purifiation only occurs when the HVAC (either the heat or the air conditioning) is running. Also, mold can grow in the ducting, and most obviously, no filtration of the pollutants generated in the part of the duct that comes after the filter can ever occur.
Evaluating claims of professionals who install “whole house” systems, it’s important to accept that HVAC systems in a residence are designed to heat and cool the home, and no add-on can change the primary function to one of air purification. In fact, the filter elements for an HVAC system are meant to protect the system components, not filter pollutants.
Depending on the installation, and thorough analysis of the total costs, (some studies suggest that whole-house systems clean only about 30% of the total air pushed through a system, or, that the system itself does not pull through enough “total air” from the house), it is often more practical to simply have your HVAC system including ductwork professionally cleaned, and simply switch to an upgrade furnace filter (as discussed above, and which you can change once a month), augmented by stand-alone HEPA units in selective rooms.
Cleaning Your Own “Filters”: Irrigating Nasal Passages
Further to working with a doctor or allergist respectful of the importance of the human-animal relationship (and whether pursuing conventional, alternative, or holistic/natural management of allergy symptoms, augmenting those protocols by “washing” the inside of the allergy sufferer’s nose can be significant, in just the same way hand washing is. The tiny hairs in the nose—cilia—are purposed to filter debris and allergens from the air we breathe, waving to push mucus either to the back of the throat (where it can be swallowed), or through the nose (to be "blown out"). Sometimes, these cilia become clogged (congested) or so dry (especially in winter) that they don’t move well; and mucus so thick that it hardens and cannot be normally expelled (removing the irritant).
Since these “filters” cannot be changed, a cleaning/moisturizing can be beneficial. Many allergy sufferers profit by use of a neti pot, to clean and irrigate the nasal passages. A neti pot is a small ceramic or plastic device (often mimicking appearance of a gravy boat), that uses gravity to draw a warmed water & saline solution through the nostrils. Some vendors add sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to buffer the solution, and some solutions add eucalyptus oil or aloe vera extract to soothe irritated tissue.
Nutritional Strategies: Improving Your Dog’s Diet
A better quality diet can be a critical element of allergen reducing protocols, since it will improve your dog's skin condition, and decrease shedding and flaking (dander). Dogs fed high carbohydrate grain-based (corn, wheat, rice) foods are not only at risk of succumbing to a myriad of health issues—the biologically inappropriate (indigestible) and high-glycemic grains stress the dog’s gut —where 70% of his immune system resides—but more immediately, are often sensitive to storage mites and glutens present in in these products, which increase scratching, shedding and general skin problems that in turn, trigger an inappropriate immune response (allergic reaction) in their human housemates.
Further to quality food, essential vitamins, and nutrients, ensuring for an adequate and balanced ratio of Omega-3/6 essential fatty acids in the dog’s diet is important. Fatty acids are incorporated into cell membranes, and released when a membrane is damaged. They are then metabolized (altered) by enzymes into new substances that function to either decrease or increase inflammation (the body’s reaction to attack). The goal of any canine nutritional protocols should be to minimize inflammatory processes that support triggering an allergic reaction or an autoimmune condition.
Certain fatty acids (short-chain polyunsaturated fats) are identified as essential (EFAs) because they cannot be sufficiently manufactured by the body, and therefore must be sourced through the diet. Adding an ocean-caught source Omega-3 supplement (ALA, alpha linolenic acid; EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid; DHA, docosahexaenoic acid) to your dog's diet can help his skin retain moisture, and additionally, make it inhospitable to parasites.
Many commercial dog foods contain EFAs in ratios of 20/1; ratios of 50/1 or more (often seen corn or other grain-based foods which contains high levels of Omega-6 EFAs) will result in an Omega-3 deficiency.
Adding (organic/virgin/cold pressed) Coconut oil to his diet will substantially improve his coat: it is almost exclusively (more than 90%) saturated fat and is often described as a “superfood,” often suggested in protocols for controlling diabetes, arthritis, and ligament problems. The Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) is “good fat,” contributing to improved digestion, immune system support, metabolic function that assists with weight loss, skin and coat health and thyroid health. MCT is made up of Lauric Acid, Capric Acid, Caprylic Acid, Myristic Acid and Palmitic. Coconut oil also contains about 2% linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and about 6% oleic acid (monounsaturated fatty acids). Lauric acid has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. Capric and caprylic acid also have similar properties as lauric acid and are best known for their anti-fungal effects.
Additionally, MCTs are efficiently metabolized to provide an immediate source of fuel and energy, enhancing athletic performance and even aiding weight loss.
Beneficial fatty acids (antioxidants: enzymes that counteract the damaging effects of oxidation in animal tissues) in dog foods are subject to rapid degradation upon exposure to light, and oxygen, and are generally destroyed by heat during production of dog food, or, become rancid when dry dog foods are stored.
Even vacuum-packaged dry foods contain oxygen within each kibble, and it is impossible to know how much EFA remains in the food at the time of purchase, much less after the bag is opened and sits at home for days.
For these reasons, all food— but especially dry dog foods— should be as fresh, and used in less than 3 months. “Best by…”/expiration dates are always listed on better quality foods packaging. To determine when a product was made: call the manufacturer and ask what the “shelf life” of their food is; you can then work backward to determine when the specific bag or can you are about to buy left the factory. A quality EFA supplement should be part of your ordinary feeding protocol to overcome these problems.
ALA is found in plant foods (flaxseed and nuts) while EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, trout, & mackerel). When choosing fish oil, ensure that it is sourced from ocean-caught (marineculture) fish: farm raised (acquaculture) fish are often grown in packed concentrations which lead to stressed animals in polluted pens rampant with disease and parasite infestations. To keep the fish alive until harvesting, aquaculture technicians commonly add heavy doses of antibiotics, which may accumulate in the animal tissues; and logically, end up in the supplement. Its important to also understand that fish oils are very highly prone to oxidative degradation: influenced by many factors, including fatty acid composition, exposure to O₂ and light, temperature; any of which can and do begin during the collection and manufacture.
Recent Animal Allergy Research:
The “Hygiene Hypothesis”
2001: (Sweden), a study of 412 children; being around cats and dogs during infancy may actually reduce the chances that a child will develop allergies later in life. The children were tested for allergies at age 7 and again at age 12: of those children who were not around cats or dogs during the first year of life, nearly 9 percent developed asthma, compared to about 3 percent of children who were around pets; (see: 2012, below).
2002: August, Journal of the American Medical Assn. (JAMA), study of 474 infants, found babies raised in a home with two or more dogs or cats were up to 77% less likely to develop various types of allergies at age 6 than kids raised without pets. And immunity was greater for those babies in 2- pet households than single-pet households. Besides pet allergies, those children were less likely to develop reactions to dust mites, ragweed, and grass.
2003: Allergist Thomas Platts-Mills of the University of Virginia and Swedish researchers studied 2,500 children, observing that the longer children had pets when they are young (ideally during their first two years), the lower their frequency of having pet allergies is, years later. The children were tested for allergies between ages 7 and 8 and again at 12: children who continually owned pets were less likely to have pet dander allergies than new pet owners or those who had only been exposed earlier in life. Further, of those who proved to be allergic to cats, 80% never had a cat at home. Platts-Mills discoursed specifically on the recklessness of giving up the family pet.
2006: (Pediatric Allergy and Immunology; also The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 1999) concluded children who grow up with animals in the home gained a decrease in sensitization across a range of allergic conditions later in life.
2012: (June 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology): Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan: Ann Arbor, concluded that house dust from homes with dogs appears to protect against infection of syncytial virus (RSV), a common respiratory virus in infants associated with the development of childhood asthma. The study compared three groups of animals: mice fed house dust from homes with dogs before being infected with RSV, mice infected with RSV without exposure to dust, and a control group of mice un-infected with RSV.
The study found that the mice not exposed to dust that received the RSV had lung damage, as well as mucus buildup and “infiltration of inflammatory cells.” The mice that were pre-treated with the house dust did not exhibit symptoms associated with RSV infection, and they possessed a distinct gastrointestinal bacterial composition (“enriched with bacilli class bacteria [and] immune response profile”) compared to animals that were not fed dust.
The study asserts that the microbiome (collection of bacterial communities) in house dust from homes that have a cat or dog is composition-ally different than house dust from homes without pets. Researchers concluded that microbes within the dog-associated house dust colonize the gastrointestinal tract, control immune responses, and protect the host (the child) against RSV. The study is significant since identifying the specific species that lend this protective effect may lead to comprehension about the role of microbes in defining allergic disease outcomes, and could lead to new microbial-based therapies.
2012: (July; American Academy of Pediatrics Journal): European researchers tracked the health of 397 Finnish children born between September 2002 and May 2005. When the infants were 9 weeks old, parents began keeping weekly diaries to document indicators of their health (including runny noses, coughs and ear infections), also noting when their babies were given antibiotics. At one year of age, researchers determined that dogs were linked to a reduced incidence of various upper respiratory illnesses: babies who lived with dogs were 31% more likely to be in good health than those who didn't. The children with pet dogs were 44% less likely to develop ear infections and 29% less likely to have used antibiotics during their first year, the report said. The effect was amplified for children whose dogs spent more time outdoors: researchers explained that dirt brought into their homes by these dogs caused the children’s immune systems to mature faster than they would have otherwise. “We speculate that animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system, leading to more composed immunologic response and shorter duration of infections,” they wrote. (The study didn't include children whose parents had allergies to dogs). CLICK HERE to read the full report.
The theory of “Hygiene Hypothesis”
The premise that in today’s modern, ultra-hygienic living conditions, children aren’t being exposed to as many infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms, and parasites as in the past: with the result that their unchallenged immune systems remain immature and un-adaptive; and that this “clean” environment thereby increases susceptibility to allergic diseases. One explanation is that the developing immune system—in-utero, the child is protected by the mother’s antibodies—must receive stimuli to adequately develop regulatory T cells (see: top of page).
An allergic reaction is an overreaction of the body’s natural immune response (inflammation) to an otherwise harmless substance. Researchers believe that growing up with pets “trains” a child’s immune system to be less reactive to allergens. More recent studies have focused on high exposure (more than 2 pets per household) with the same results.
For example, when children play with cats or dogs, the animals may scratch or lick them, transferring enough “Gram-negative” bacteria (endotoxins, which are the remains of dead bacteria) to temper the way the child's immune system responds. Scientists believe that regular exposure to endotoxins, (also found in dirt), may explain the ultimately defensive health benefits of pets in the home. However, on a related note, parents who smoke wipe out the anti-allergy benefits their infants receive from early pet exposure; (Medical College of Georgia).
the “old friends” mechanism
In 2003, Graham Rook and colleagues of University College London qualified the hygiene hypothesis as too simplistic, proposing a new explanation for the rise of immune disorders, calling it “old friends” hypothesis: “We realized human beings co-evolved with a whole host of organisms, and it was far more likely what was going on was that we were being deprived of organisms on which we are dependent.”
The hypothesis suggests that early and regular exposure to harmless microorganisms—“old friends” present throughout human evolution and recognized by the human immune system—train the immune system to react appropriately to threats. It’s not that children in developed countries aren’t subject to enough infections when they are young, but that their exposure to the microbial world is far more circumscribed than it once was. The Old Friends (OF) Mechanism postures that the vital microbial exposures are not colds, measles and other childhood infections (the crowd infections), but rather microbes already present during primate evolution and in hunter-gatherer times when the human immune system was evolving.
Rook argues that the immune system needs information (in the form of exposure to a diverse set of microbes) to train it to identify threats appropriately, by learning what to tolerate, so that it can differentiate between allergens that are harmless and those that can be threatening.
Today researchers are challenging reverence to the hygiene hypothesis. Of concern is a lack of evidence in these studies demonstrating how to reduce rates of allergic and autoimmune diseases. Modern research offers evidence that interaction with microbes that inhabit the natural environment and human microbiome play a role in immune regulation. Lifestyle changes, a degrading and changed environment accelerated by global warming, increasing urbanization, altered diet and widespread antibiotic use have had profound effects on the human microbiome, leading to failure of immunotolerance and increased risk of allergic disease. Many scientists insist that there is in fact little reliable evidence that hygiene, as the public understands, is responsible for the clinically relevant changes to microbial exposures.
In addition to accepted immunotherapy protocols, many “non-medical” (holistic, homeopathic, aromatherapy, etc.) remedies may be worth exploring, and which can be cost-effective.
A common herb in natural medicine, stinging nettle, may also be a natural antihistamine. In one study, 58 percent of participants found their symptoms relieved with the use of freeze-dried nettles, and 69 percent rated it better than the placebo.
Flushing out your sinuses with a neti pot or nasal washes may help break up thick mucus and ease swelling. Follow directions and keep your equipment clean. Add 1/4 teaspoon of non-iodized salt and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to 8 ounces of boiled, then cooled water. Distilled or bottled water may be less “hard.” Some people choose to use bottled water instead.
Quercetin is an antioxidant (a flavonoid aglycone of rutinfound) naturally in grapefruit, apples, onions, okra, and other produce. Several studies have demonstrated the antihistamine effects of quercetin. One found that it even lessened the respiratory side effects of allergies in rats by reducing inflammatory response in the airways.
Some experts believe that this natural chemical acts like an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory, as it helps balance levels of histamine (that causes many allergy symptoms). Quercetin can be found in teas, onions, red wine, and apples. It’s also available in supplement form.
About 5-7% in the roots of Tumeric, Curcuma longa, a flowering plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. Tumeric is a spice commonly used in Asian food, the main spice in curry. Turmeric’s underground stems (rhizomes) are dried and made into capsules, tablets, teas, or extracts. The yellow color of curcumin is often used to color foods and cosmetics. Among its broad use for its potent anti-inflammatory effects, curcumin is widely used for headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, and hay fever.
Some studies have shown that Petasites hybridus—specifically an extract called Ze 399—to be at least as effective as antihistamines. Because it has compounds that are damaging to the liver, it is important to use butterbur that has been processed into an extract. In a 2003 review, butterbur was found to be equally effective for itchy eyes as a commonly used oral antihistamine.
Researchers believe there may be an association between gut bacteria and allergies, including seasonal allergies. A specific set of probiotics that was studied showed improved seasonal allergy symptoms compared to a placebo. Further, a 2015 review of 23 studies indicated that probiotics, helping to balance the gut microbiome, may help improve symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Acorbic Acid has been studied extensively and appears to prevent the secretion of histamine by white blood cells and increase its detoxification. Studies confirm that histamine levels were found to increase exponentially as ascorbic acid levels in the plasma decreased.
Frankincense essential oil
Based on the results of a 2016 study, frankincense oil may help against perennial allergic rhinitis. You can dilute it in a carrier oil and use behind your ears or use inhalation by diffusing it into the air.
Fish oils are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are known for resolution of inflammatory processes in all tissues. Omega-3 metabolites act as a source of lipid mediators, limiting leucocyte recruitment in inflammation, induce the apoptosis of granulocytes and enhance efferocytosis by macrophages (the removal of dead cells). They can alter cell trafficking by influencing cytokines and chemokines, and can help to initiate tissue repair and healing. A number of studies have focused on the efficacy of fish oil in management of asthma, because they lower levels of leukotrienes.
Regardless of exposure to animals, a good allergy management plan often includes prescription medications; significant development in treatments have occurred in recent years, including new steroid and antihistamines, for a combination of preventive and symptom control medications. In addition to accepted immunotherapy protocols, many “non-medical” (holistic, homeopathic, aromatherapy, etc.) remedies may be worth exploring, and which can be cost-effective. A commonly cited example is stinging nettles, a natural plant extract, which mimics the application of OTC antihistamines.
 The term hypoallergenic dog breeds is a misnomer: all dogs produce the allergens that some people react to, but a few breeds do not shed as much as others, which reduces the spread of allergens. Some suggested breeds for sensitive individuals include: Poodle, Schnauzer, Portugese Water Dog, Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier, Llasa Apso, Bichon Frise, Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, Shih Tzu, Irish Water Spaniel, Kerry Blue Terrier, Havanese, Chihuahua, Whippet, & the Italian Greyhound.
 In addition to MERV, you may also see the terms “MPR” and “FPR.” MERV = “Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value,” regulated by standards set by ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air conditioning Engineers), the only nationally regulated, independent rating system for air filters.
MPR = “Microparticle Performance Rating,” system was created by and is only used by 3M—a $38 billion company with an unlimited promotion and advertising budget—as a marketing description, characterized by proprietary third-party testing. Only filters under the 3M Filtrete® brand contain an MPR rating, and 3M uses this tack only for home/consumer filters: the company uses the traditional MERV designation for its commercial liquid and air filtration products.
FPR = “Filter Performance Rating,” a proprietary system developed using third-party lab tests, used since 2013 regarding filters sold at The Home Depot stores. Because the tests are proprietary, there is no information to gauge the requirements used for “large” and “small” particles, now what the “E” efficiencies are or how they are measured. Consumer Advocates contend that FPR and MPR are marketing gimmicks intended to complicate the purchasing and comparison process, by capitalizing on “trust” and brand equity.
 See: US Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor Air Quality- Air Cleaners in the Home: click HERE for PDF.
 There are two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids, “Omega-3” and “Omega-6”: some considered essential, because they cannot be manufactured by the dog’s body, but must be sourced through diet: (essential fatty acids, or “EFA”).
“Essential Fatty Acids”
EFAs are fat-carried nutrients that regulate overall antioxidant activities, including the synthesis and modulation of various prostaglandins—eicosanoids having diverse hormone-like effects—that serve as mediators of various physiologic processes in the body. Prostaglandins are found in almost every tissue of the body. They maintain healthy function and structure of smooth muscle organs of the heart, reproductive, and digestive systems, protect and build liver cells, and are needed to maintain healthy skin, coat, and strong joint tissues, blood-clotting function, and retinal development. EFAs, therefore, should not be regarded as supplemental measures of nutrition, but as fundamental components of overall health.
Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, alpha linolenic; EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid; DHA, docosahexaenoic acid) have anti-inflammatory properties that help combat root cause of many chronic diseases, including: arthritis, infections, cholesterol control, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dry skin conditions. DHA and EPA are actually key structural elements of cells, including your brain cells, and without them, the dog’s ability to repair and maintain healthy cell structures is seriously impaired.
Omega-6 fatty acids (LA, linoleic; GLA, gamma linolenic; DGLA, dhomo-gamma-linolenic; and AA, arachidoc) while important, are more complicated. LA is important because it optimizes water permeability in the skin. However, when a cell is damaged, AA is released from the cell membrane and metablolized by enzymes into substances which increase inflammation (pro-inflammatory). Inflammation is beneficial if a dog has an infection to fight; but in most cases it manifests as a health problem, including pruritus (itching), allergies, blood clotting problems, and certain vitamin deficiencies.
AA (common in treats high in corn/vegetable oils, grain-based dog foods, animal tissues like pork or chicken fat, even grain-fed red meat) competes with Omega 3 for absorption (metabolization by enzymes). As such, the ratio between omega-3 (anti-inflammatory/ antioxidants) and omega-6 fatty acids is important, as DHA and EPA Omega-3s help negate the release of (pro-inflammatory) AA.
Supplementing becomes important, since these antioxidants in dog foods are subject to rapid degradation or oxidization from age, exposure to oxygen or light during collection or manufacture, may already have been destroyed by heat during production (even when listed on the label), or become rancid (oxidized) when dry dog foods are stored long-term. Choose a stand-alone Omega-3 supplement that does not combine Omega-6 (as many human supplements do), or contain synthetic preservatives (rather, Omega-3 coupled with natural antioxidant Vitamin E).
Sources of Omega-3s include flaxseed oil and fish oils. Fish that are especially rich (they consume the algeas high in Omega-3s) include mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, trout, and menhaden. Tuna, at the top of the food-chain, would be discouraged, as the likelyhood of accumulation of heavy metals is high; whereas krill, an advised alternative, is generally devoid of that concern, since it is at the bottom of the food-chain. Environmentalists, however, are conerned about the growing demand (overfishing) for krill, which holds an important place in the ecosystem.
Food safety experts often suggest plant-based sources, since fish oil capsules contain highly unsaturated DHA and EPA. Unfortunately, the less saturated an oil is, the more unstable it is and the more quickly it degrades (becomes rancid). For this reason, manufacturers often add Vitamin E as an anti-oxidant/natural preservative. Somewhat more costly (but more efficient) are oils made from the algeas themselves. Nevertheless, consumers must now confront—and seek information about—the issue of algae-sourced oil being from genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Flaxseed oil contains higher levels of ALA than fish oil, and dogs can convert ALA to EPA and DHA; but as they lack the proper enzymes, the conversion is not efficient. Fish oil is a direct source of EPA and DHA. Fish oil supplements should be sourced from marineculture, and not from a “fish farm” (a “hatchery”) where fish are generally raised in stressful conditions of overcrowded and dirty pens, necessitating the addition of antibiotics and antifungal agents to the water in order to ensure their survival. Check the manufacture/expiration date to ensure that the product you purchase is fresh, and ask questions about potential exposure to heat during transportation and storage before it came to the store. Higher quality oils will be transported in oxygen-barrier containers.
It’s also important to express concern about country of origin, how the vendor chooses to acknowledge the issues of sustainability and of bycatch—the global problem defined by the unintentional removal of seabirds, marine mammals, turtles or other sea creatures while fishing for a target species—because bycatch a significant threat to maintaining healthy ecosystems.
You should ask: does the vendor have a robust chain of custody program, so that the oil can be traced from ocean to bottle, and is correctly labeled? It’s important to understand that, many brands will promote their products as “Norwegian,” however, this typically refers to the country where concentration and refining happens, not the country where the fish is caught and ground into oil.
Choose a supplement that has named species, an is independently certified for content, purity, and freedom of contaminants. The International Fish Oil Standards tests products for PCB, mercury, and other contaminants; whether the product has been irradiated, and for label-claimed concentrations (standardization). Examine the label to ensure that the supplement you choose has been molecularly distilled to remove contaminants. Another known certifying body is the Ann Arbor, MI-based NSF International.
Since fatty acid supplements are indicated across a range of health concerns you should work carefully with your veterinarian to decide on an appropriate dosage.
 Other notable studies: 1989, The British Medical Journal; 1999, The Lancet; and 2000, The New England Journal of Medicine; have shown that infants who regularly are exposed to bacteria and other microbes, (perhaps from other children or from living on a farm or with pets) are less likely to develop allergies than children who are raised isolated from these sources or in clean environments. Also: studies in Germany and Switzerland concluded that children regularly exposed to animals on farms, had less allergies than children in urban areas (Downs SH.,Clinical Experiments in Allergy Research, 2001).
 Rook, GAW, Martinelli R., and Brunet L.R. (2003): Innate immune responses to mycobacteria and the downregulation of atopic responses; Current Opinions in Allergy Clinical Immunology 3(5):337–342.
N.B.: This essay is written for informational purposes. Our goal is to build awareness of concepts and define common terminology to stimulate discussion. We draw your attention to issues and concepts that are or may be important to the subject at hand, but do not consider that our interpretation is necessarily complete. Mutually respectful and open relationships with physicians, veterinarians, and shelter/rescue organizations are all essential to productive dialog on this issue. We welcome your comments or suggestions! We do not specifically endorse any of the organizations discussed here, but interpret that they may be of interest, and have provided links and/or PDF's to stimulate creative thinking so that you may conduct your own research.
“They do everything with gusto, whether it's drinking from the toilet, or heading down the driveway for a walk they've taken a thousand times before. Every day is new, every activity is the best.
In their company, we're lifted out of our human concerns and remember what it's like to be excited.
But most important... it's not about something that they give us, but something we give ourselves.
Our days on this earth are short, even if we live to a fine old age.
Something we want out of this brief life is to love grandly. But we don't often give our hearts without reserve. With dogs, though, we can.
Our feeling isn't complicated by hurts of the past or worries about our independence.
We feel no need to be coy or cautious.
The humans we love have aspirations that don't always mesh with ours,
and when we come up against those different longings, we reign ourselves in.
But we aren't so scared about loving a dog.
(Unlike a child)... a dog doesn't wish to go out and have a life of his own;
he only wants to share his life with his person.
Dogs live in such a way that we forget their mortality.
We can't imagine the day when the dog's exuberant spirit will be extinguished.
So we open our hearts to them and discover our hearts hold an extravagant amount of love.
We let it flow out. Think of what this does for us as people. Think how that enlarges us.
Loving full out gives us a way to defy death.
Death surrounds us, but love holds its own against loss.
I think this means (I'll) go on loving dogs.
For those of us who have been loved by a great dog, who have, in turn, loved the dog back,
we can say, and this is not too large a statement, we have known Glory in our lives”
—Patti Sherlock, A Dog for All Seasons (a Memoir)