As we begin to enter the deepest throes of winter here in Colorado, I wanted to talk to you all about the seasonality of weather and how it affects our furry friends.
The seasonality of disease has long been observed by medical practitioners dating back to the days of ancient Chinese medicine (think B.C.). These primal doctors didn't have bloodwork or other modern diagnostics, but they had years of observation and quickly deduced what many of us already experience every year - allergies in spring and fall, the flu in winter, colds during times of stress or drastic changes in weather, etc. They used this data to preemptively gather certain medicinal plants and provide specific acupuncture treatment protocols prior to the onset of each season.
Similar phenomena have been documented in domestic animals as well. A three year retrospective study by Purdue University showed an increase incidence of meningitis in dogs from April thru September(1). Lower urinary tract disease in cats showed positive association with a high number of rainfall days in the month prior to appearance of clinical signs(2). Anecdotally, veterinarians appreciate worsening of neurologic conditions such as intervertebral disc disease and degenerative myelopathy in the winter, skin rashes and certain types of seizures in spring, and acute inflammatory disorders such as laminitis, cholangiohepatitis (inflammation of the gallbladder and liver), and cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) in summer.
Explanation of this phenomena has to do with stress. In fact, research shows that our very DNA changes with the weather, thus affecting our mood and susceptibility to certain diseases. In humans, up to one-fifth of the genes in our blood cells undergo seasonal changes in expression. For example, in winter when we typically are more susceptible to pathogens, our blood contains a denser population of immune responders, thus making us overall more "inflammatory"(3). We also experience a surge in stress hormones during this time as our bodies seek to lay down extra fat and muscle stores in preparation for winter.
The connection to our canine companions is clear. With meningitis, for example, we most often see a "steroid-responsive" form in the fall/winter. This form is not fully understood but seems to involve an over-activation of the immune system thus inducing a state of severe inflammation in the meninges of the brain and spinal cord. Dogs with this condition often present with high fevers, lethargy, severe neck pain, and generalized stiffness. Mortality rate is high and if they recover many have to be on immunosuppressive medications for life and cannot receive injections or vaccines.
So as we head into winter Game-of-Thrones-style, how can we help protect our pets against the inflammation and disease that often accompanies?
Seasonally-appropriate exercise is an important health regulator. Exposing our dogs and cats to early morning light (between 9 and 11am) can help regulate their circadian rhythm and balance melatonin release, thus leading to better sleep at night and lowered stress levels.
Nutrition also plays an integral role in the state of our pet's immune systems. Offering additional immune support such as Standard Process Canine Immune Support and/or Congaplex during the fall and winter can help offset disease incidence. If your pet suffers from a neurologic or orthopedic condition, upping your anti-inflammatory game with Ligaplex II and/or Boswellia Complex or Turmeric Forte before the weather turns cold and wet makes it less likely that your pet will experience setbacks in their pain control and mobility. If you have a cat that suffers from FLUTD (lower urinary tract inflammation), providing additional nutritional support during the rainy seasons such as Feline Renal Support and/or Cataplex A-C-P may lower the incidence of "flare-ups".
As with any nutritional therapy, please consult with a veterinarian knowledgeable in this area prior to starting any supplements. Alternatively, make an appointment with our practice for a Nutritional Consultation and let us see what we can do to improve the life and health of your pet.
Investigation of Immune or Infectious Etiologies in Canine Meningitis/Meningoencephalitis/Meningoencephalomyelitis. (Abstract N08) ACVIM 2017. Moore et al.
Elucidating the risk factors of feline lower urinary tract disease. Jones BR1, Sanson RL, Morris RS. N Z Vet J. 1997 Jun;45(3):100-8.
Widespread seasonal gene expression reveals annual differences in human immunity and physiology. Dopico XC et al. Nature Communications volume 6, Article number: 7000 (2015).