My Dog Has Itchy Skin, Could Diet Be The Answer?
Imagine the scene – you’re curled up on the couch, watching your favorite television show, and your dog climbs up on your lap for a cuddle. Mmm, nice – until he starts biting at his back and scratching at his ears. The fidgeting is so annoying, and the chewing so noisy that you may as well give up on seeing your show.
When your dog is itchy, the constant scratching and biting at his skin is distressing for both of you. It’s not fun to see your best friend so uncomfortable.
Your dog may have an allergy. In people, allergies usually cause sneezes and runny eyes. This can also be the case in dogs, but it’s much more common that his allergy causes red and itchy skin.
No doubt you’ve heard of flea allergy – it’s by far the most common allergy in dogs. Why then does your dog still scratch and itch, when you’re using a gentle and effective flea control product, such as Flea the Scene ?
The culprit may be what’s in his dinner bowl. Recent studies have shown that up to 20% of itchy dogs have a food allergy. Another 20% on top of that have a food allergy combined with another allergy, such as flea allergy.
He Eats Only The Best!
Dogs can react to any protein or any carbohydrate in their food, but they are most commonly allergic to beef, dairy or wheat. Whether he’s eating a gourmet diet or a bargain basement dog food, if it contains an ingredient that he’s allergic to, he’ll scratch.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that allergies don’t occur when you change your dog’s diet. Food allergies don’t develop suddenly. He will have been eating the same food for a long time with no problems, then bang! The itching starts.
Most dog foods contain similar combinations of meat protein and carbohydrates, so changing brands of food isn’t likely to help. He will still be eating the same proteins and the same carbohydrates, so he’ll still be itchy.
How do you know if your dog has a food allergy? There’s no blood test to tell if it’s his diet that’s causing the problem, but there are some features of food allergies that can give you a hint.
Most food allergies start to rear their ugly heads when your dog is a young adult. It’s not worse at certain times of the year, as you’d expect from a flea allergy, or an allergy to dusts and pollens.
Your vet may have prescribed some corticosteroids to relieve your dog’s itch. In a lot of cases, food allergies don’t respond very well to this treatment, and your dog may still chew, scratch and rub.
If any of these are starting to sound familiar, it’s time to seriously consider checking your dog for food allergy.
Getting To The Bottom Of The Problem
Let’s start by saying that diagnosing a food allergy in a dog takes a huge amount of commitment from his owner. We’ve already mentioned that a dog becomes allergic to a food he’s been eating for years. So, the only accurate way of diagnosing food allergy is to feed him something he’s never had before.
Your first job is to rule out any other causes of itchy skin . Make sure your flea control is good: Flea the Scene is a safe and gentle flea control that won’t cause irritation to traumatized skin. Often skin that is red and itchy can develop a secondary bacterial infection, which is also very itchy. Your vet may suggest a course of antibiotics to help with this.
Next, choose one protein source, and one carbohydrate source that your dog has never eaten before. It’s easiest to use a commercially available diet like those from the Honest Kitchen which contain low allergy foods such as potato, venison or salmon. If you make it as convenient as possible, you’re more likely to stick to the program.
Here’s the hard part – your dog must eat this food, and only this food, for at least 10 weeks. No other food, no treats, no table scraps. If you feed a monthly beefy chew for heartworm prevention, you’ll have to find an alternative. If your dog wanders to the neighbor’s place for snacks, you’ll have to put a stop to that too. You need to control everything that goes into your dog’s mouth. Vets have suggested that less than 20% of dog owners folllow through on a food trail.You can see where the commitment is needed!
While you’re going through this lengthy process, you can help to control the irritation by being careful about what you use for bathing him. Comfy Dog shampoo contains oatmeal and herbs to gently soothe his skin and stop the itch. If there are one or two areas on his body that are specifically irritated, try some Itchin’ For Relief . It has a nozzle that allows you to apply the soothing formula directly to a hot spot, and its all natural ingredients will stop inflammation fast.
When The Scratching Stops
If your dog stops itching and scratching while he’s on the low allergy diet, that’s fantastic. However, there’s one more step to take, to be sure it’s the diet that’s the problem. You need to feed your dog his old diet, to see if he starts scratching again.
Why on earth would you want to do that? Maybe he’s stopped itching because the seasons have changed and the pollens have gone, or maybe the flea numbers have dropped. You need to rule out any coincidental factors that could have eased his itching.
If you feed him his old diet, and he starts scratching again, you can be pretty sure it’s a food allergy. Most dogs will start scratching again a day or two after eating a food he’s allergic to, but some can take up to two weeks to show any signs.
Heading For The Future
There are no cures for allergies. The best that you and your vet can do is control the symptoms, and manage the condition to keep your dog as comfortable as possible.
If you’ve confirmed your dog has a food allergy, and you’re managing it with a prescription diet, you can then start looking at increasing the range of foods or treats you can give your dog. Again, this takes time and commitment.
Choose one food or treat at a time, and give it to your dog for up to two weeks. If he starts scratching, it gets added to the banned list. If he doesn’t, then it will be okay to feed him that. By doing this, you can build up a list of safe foods for your dog.
Food allergies are a common cause of itchy skin in dogs, but they can be well managed. If you take the time to find out what your dog is allergic to, and remove it from his diet, you can control his itch safely, effectively and without needing to use drugs. Isn’t that worth the effort?