The itchy scratchies are no mystery to owners with dogs who have canine atopic dermatitis. With between 10-20% of dogs suffering from this skin condition, there should be some sort of common cure right? Unfortunately, there is no “cure all” treatment for canine atopic dermatitis, with a combination of steroids and changes in diet and environment sometimes being the only form of relief. Fortunately, a recent study by researchers at the University of Helsinki has shown that feeding pregnant dams and puppies a diet low in processed carbohydrates can potentially reduce the risk of developing canine atopic dermatitis during adulthood.
Canine atopic dermatitis or CAD is just a fancy term to say dog skin allergies. There are an abundance of triggers for the disease. The most common allergens that aggravate CAD are environmental or diet based and potentially even a combination of the two.
Critical immune development happens during gestation and just after birth, Human studies have shown that what the mother eats during pregnancy and lactation may influence food based allergies in the offspring. The goal of the study by Helmida et al. 2020 was to identify the role of early life nutrition on allergy susceptibility in adult life dogs. The researchers also tested if early exposure to dietary and environmental factors stimulate the development of CAD.
What they did
This study was conducted on a set of collected data from a questionnaire. The questionnaire was filled out by a subset of owners, who were asked questions about their dogs diet, environment, lifestyle, background and maternal/paternal factors. Data was then analyzed through statistical analysis.
The study consisted of 10,460 dogs with all breeds and sexes being considered for inclusion. For a dog to be considered as CAD positive, they had to be first diagnosed by a veterinarian. Ultimately, 406 individuals in the study were confirmed to have CAD. These factors helped determine the association between CAD and different nutritional, environmental, genetic and demographic variables in the pre- and postnatal periods.
What they found
The most significant finding of the study was that dogs who had a maternal background of CAD were also at high risk for developing CAD. Furthermore, if dams were fed a non-processed meat based diet during gestation and lactation, the puppies were less likely to develop CAD than puppies whose mothers were fed a high processed carbohydrate diet. Early life stage puppies that were fed non-processed meat based diets were also less likely to develop CAD in adulthood. Lastly, obesity in puppies was also determined as a risk factor for CAD in adulthood.
Some potential implications with the study
Like every study, there are always some limitations. This study only addresses data collected from dogs at home. To produce any conclusive results on whether the processing of diets affects the development of CAD, independent laboratory studies should be conducted. With the proper controls and standardized testing, a more concrete conclusion could be observed.
Furthermore, the long timeline for data collection in the study is a limitation as the memory of owners may have produced incorrect data input in some cases.
Take home message
This study shows that there is potential to prevent the development of CAD in adult dogs by feeding them and their mothers non-processed diets like fresh cooked pet food, during critical pre and post natal periods.