Signs of gluten sensitivity in Spike’s Disease

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Since publishing my understanding on Spike’s Disease last year, I have been inundated by comments from Border Terrier owners whose dogs were affected by such a nasty disease. This has prompted me to search deeper into the cause of CECS, and to why it appears that a gluten intolerance diet can control the symptoms in affected dogs.Our Indy has had many ailments, but he has never suffered from Spike's

Recently I have come across a site which claims that Spike’s is not a neurological disorder, but simply the expression in dogs of the equivalent to gluten sensitivity in humans. In other words, in dogs, and predominantly in Border Terriers, the disease presents with gluten sensitivity neurological symptoms – these symptoms can trick clinicians into searching the cause from a neurological point of view.


What is gluten sensitivity

Before I delved deeper in this new theory of cause and effects of Spike’s, I wanted to understand better what is intended for gluten sensitivity.

I came across the website HealthLine which explains quite accurately the difference in humans between wheat allergy, celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. And of course the three conditions are all linked to the human body reaction to gluten and its derivatives.

What HealthLine explains is that gluten is a protein contained in wheat, barley and rye. Wheat allergy is caused by an immune response to any of the proteins contained in wheat, which can be found in breads, pastas and cereals. Celiac disease escalates this reaction, as it affects your autoimmune system where, whenever eating wheat, barley or rye, your immune system starts destroying part of your small intestine which is designed to absorb nutrition. And that’s where you can see celiatic people showing symptoms of malnutrition.Grains contain gluten

Recent studies on Spike’s Disease concentrated their attention on the reaction given by gluten sensitivity – also known as NCGS, or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. In humans NCGS presents symptoms similar to the one of people who have been diagnosed with wheat allergy or with celiac disease. The problem with NCGS is that it can only be diagnosed by process of exclusion when tests confirm the individual as not suffering from wheat allergy or from celiac disease.

The symptoms in humans are very close to the ones of people who suffer from allergic reactions to wheat or from celiac disease sufferers. They include mental and physical fatigue, bloatedness and headache, and physicians encourage potential sufferers to keep a detailed diary of their food habits to establish if symptoms flair up solely after eating food containing gluten, and whether they disappear on a gluten-free diet. HealthLine believes there is a correlation between gluten sensitivity and autoimmune disorders which affect the neurological system in humans.


Symptoms of Spike’s Disease

In my last post on Spike’s Disease, I did mention how Spike’s symptoms are very similar to the ones of dogs suffering from epileptic seizures. And that is what seems to have buffered the veterinary world for so many decades. The symptoms seemed to affect the neurological system of dogs, presenting with spasms, sudden lack of movement and mental confusion and disorientation.

We are very lucky with our Indy. Indy has gone through the wars with his many ailments, last of which was in fact cancer. But he has never shown such symptoms. For this reason, although I had done much reading about Spike’s, I could not relate to the symptoms, until I saw a few videos on YouTube. The sights are not pretty, I am afraid. I have chosen for this forum one of the least traumatic to watch:

I hope you will not think of me as wanting to exploit such a nasty illness in dogs. I did not add the above video as an entertaining show, but purely to alert dog owners to recognise similar reactions in their dogs, which may prompt them to discuss the possibility of Spike’s in their dog with their vet. I believe hiding your head under the sand is the worst medicine to any type of potential illness, in both humans and dogs alike.

As you can see from the video, symptoms of Borders that unfortunately have been diagnosed with Spike’s are much similar to the ones of dogs suffering from seizures. It is scary stuff, but stuff that, I believe, dog owners, and particularly owners of Borders, must know in order to recognise the signs.


Is CECS a reaction to gluten sensitivity?

Now, in December 2013 the Journal of Small Animal Practice published an article of CECS in Borders – the first of its kind to recognise this condition academically (as mentioned in Wiley Online Library).

The research was prompted by the survey run by a Border owner on his dogs, which recorded changes in his dog’s exercise, but it gains weight and importance when it started linking cause and effect of dogs affected by Spike’s to gluten-free diet.

Blood test sampled were taken by 3 female and 3 male Borders, all equally suffering from CECS. The blood tests focused on antibodies function, in the same way as they would test the functionality of humans affected by gluten sensitivity. The results were then compared with the ones of Border not suffering from Spike’s and it was found – amazingly enough – that within 4 weeks of being on a gluten-free diet, the affected dogs had become symptoms free, to the point that seizures had stopped completely!

Not only this. But on completion of the study, two of the dog owners whose Borders had been tested, accidentally reverted back to food containing gluten for their dogs, and the seizures and the other symptoms of CECS started again immediately.

The study was fairly conclusive, therefore, in linking the cause of Spike’s, and the consequential symptoms, to gluten sensitivity in dogs. Again, particularly it was found that Borders seem to have a natural disposition to this type of sensitivity.


NCGS symptoms are much worse in dogs

So, why is Spike’s Disease so scary to see in dogs?

Wheat allergy in humans can produce scary effect, which like with all allergic reaction, can even escalate to anaphylactic attacks. If we humans suffers from celiac disease then, it is our small intestine that becomes unable to absorb nutrition – this often translate in stomach pains and nausea with vomiting, but it can also exacerbate into signs of malnutrition associated to weight loss, irritable mood and, in children, slower physical development.

However in humans NCGS causes only fatigue, headache and abdominal pain – all very painful and distressing symptoms, but not at all near the cramping and seizures seen in Borders.Border terrier in pain

Dogs suffering from NCGS, on the other hand, display symptoms which are very similar to the ones of dogs suffering from epilepsy, and for this reason they are much scarier and more intense.

And again, like with all other ailments our dogs may suffer with, dogs can be extremely stoic. Some dogs – and my Indy is one of them – will just go about their daily business, no matter how much in pain they may be. And that is why is so much more difficult to establish whether your dog may have tummy ache, rather than stretching as if he were yawning.


Gluten-free is the way forward

This study was somewhat of a ground breaker for two main reasons: because it is relatively recent compared to earlier studies, and because, unlike previous studies where the diagnosis of Spike’s was reached by vets as a process of exclusion from testing for other neurological disorders such as epilepsy, now you could test whether your dog suffered from CECS by feeding him or her gluten rich food.

Let me clarify: not all Borders who are fed gluten display sensitivity. Yes, I do believe that a regular diet is ideal for any dog – and after many trials and error approaches in the past few years, we have now worked out a diet for our Indy which we stick to regularly every day. But it is also true that Indy is one of the many lucky Borders, who do not suffer from Spikes, and does not require avoiding gluten in his food or in his treats.

Find out here best advise on gluten free diet for your dog

Nevertheless, if you are the owner of a Border who has displayed the horrible and scary symptoms of Spike’s, you want to try removing gluten-rich foods from your Border’s diet – in fact you want to switch your dog to a completely gluten-free diet, to check if the symptoms go away completely within the next few weeks, or even days.

Much more research is due to take place in the years to come to identify how to prevent this horrible disease from affecting our dogs’ wellness. If we think of how much has already been discovered in terms of procedures and medicine all aiming to successfully prolonging our canine friends’ life without affecting their quality of life, the results are outstanding and mind blowing. It is not many years ago that my Indy would have been given curtains down when diagnosed of cancer – whereas now, not only the cancer was removed successfully, but to this day (although it is only some seven months down the line) my Indy is still cancer free.

I am sure with time the same success will be replicated in the prevention and cure of Spike’s. But whilst studies are still underway, if we can help our dogs get rid of Spike’s symptoms through carefully selected gluten-free diet, so be it. If gluten-free diet is the answer, I am up for it. Are you?


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