Could autoimmune conditions cause anxiety, fear, or behavior issues in dogs?

by Dawn C, M.S., J.D.

A recent NPR article has piqued my interest and had me thinking about something I’ve suspected and mentioned a few times in the past regarding many of the dogs I see in shelters, foster homes, and loving pet homes that have both behavior issues and allergies or other autoimmune conditions.

Could the two somehow be related?

At first glance, it seems counterintuitive. Anxiety, fear-based, or other behavior issues are based in the brain and generally involve neurochemistry. Allergies and autoimmune issues involve the immune system. However, I’ve noticed that a high percentage of dogs that exhibit fear-based, hyper-reactivity, or anxiety-based behaviors severe enough that their owners seek help often have moderate to severe allergies or other autoimmune issues.

Of course, lots of dogs have autoimmune or allergies issues and lots of dogs these days have behavior issues, so it makes sense, even if the two aren’t at all related, that a fair number of dogs would have both conditions, just as a coincidence. ¬†Association doesn’t mean causation.

But some doctors are coming to just that conclusion, according to the article. “Dr. Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, tells Shots that he believes an upset in the “immune-inflammatory system” is at the core of mental illness and that psychiatric disorders might be an unfortunate cost of our powerful immune defenses….[I]t would be reasonable to hypothesize that a subpopulation of people with depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia ended up that way because an infection activated their immune-inflammatory system.”

I’m interested in hearing from dog owners:

  • How many of you have dogs with fear-based, anxiety, or other behavior issues (hyperarousal or reactivity, etc.) that also have allergies or other autoimmune conditions?
  • If your dog’s autoimmune issue gets better (either through treatment or seasonal changes), does his or her behavior improve?
  • How many of you have dogs with such behavior issues that have no allergies or autoimmune conditions?
  • How many of you have dogs with allergies or autoimmune issues that have no such behavior issues?

Let me know in the comments and/or take the poll below.