Top 10 Tips for Itchy Dogs Before You Call the Vet Part 2/10: The Best Dog Food for Itchy Skin is Undoubtedly a Raw Diet, but There is a Process…
These days everyone wants the quick fix – what can I put IN or on them to stop this happening? – but that’s just treating the symptoms, not the cause of the issue. With recurring itch in dogs what you take OUT is far more important. The best dog food for itchy skin is made on very simple, fresh ingredients. It absolutely is not found in a packet.
At its simplest, itch is a pesky side effect of an activated immune system. Like a smoke alarm going off, a recurring itch, certainly one outside of pollen season, should be viewed as a symptom of something going on under the hood. Vets today love symptoms as they can identify and often treat them, in this case with immune-suppressing drugs (steroids, NSAID’s) which essentially tell the immune system to quieten down. Short term this mightn’t be a bad idea, giving your dog some much-needed relief. Long-term, however, artificially shutting down the immune system for anything but a transplant patient is not advised. First off, while it can be hard to believe, it was trying to help you. Secondly, that’s their force field you’re switching off. Lastly, like turning off that smoke alarm without investigating as to why it was going off, if you do not address what is antagonising the immune system, the itch will never go away. In fact, it’s destined to get worse.
Think of a man with a peanut allergy that unfortunately loves peanuts. He eats peanuts every day but takes a cocktail of steroids to fight the side effects he would have experienced. Sound smart?!
Dry and canned food contains all the stuff most likely to cause itch in your dog. The best dog food for itchy skin is free of them all.
General itchiness, including nibbling at the toes, scratching with the paw, tearing the skin away at some points, red-raw belly (sometimes with pustules), weeping eyes, even sore ears, are all top symptoms of food allergies in dogs. As the article will go on to explain in depth, dry and canned dog food contains all the ingredients most likely to leave your dog scratching. These include wheat (gluten), highly processed meat protein and a dizzying array of nasty food chemicals (if you can’t pronounce it, don’t feed it). It is these proteins and chemicals that are the most likely cause of your dog’s recurring itch. It follows that the best dog food for itchy skin contains none of them. It is the only thing you will have to do fix your dog’s issue.
Of course, it is not always the diet at play but in our experience, it explains the vast majority. Other enviornmental factors can be at play too but any vet that tells you food only explains less than 1-2% of unexplained itch or atopy in dogs does not understand what is going on. These vets are talking about allergy but this is no food allergy your pet is experiencing. It’s another type of food sensitivity called an intolerance. It’s not as dramatic, developing over time. Flying under the radar, food intolerance is absolutely rife in dogs, largely a result of the crappy food they were fed for so long. More on the difference between food allergy and food intolerance here.
I assure you the answer is NOT some horribly over-priced dry food sold to you under “prescription” (a misnomer to make you part with your cash, it has no medicinal qualities whatsoever) by your vet. The problem with these foods is the sheer number of ingredients they contain. More importantly, when we’re trying to find out what is causing the issue, studies show these foods are adulterated with all sorts of proteins not on the label. If you are using these foods and on meds, you need to take a step back and consider the following, taken from my forthcoming book Raw Science
Ricci et al. (2013) analysed 12 of the most popular single protein and hypoallergenic, veterinary-recommended dry foods for atopy and allergy and discovered that 10 of the 12 foods were contaminated with one or more potentially allergenic proteins or fats not listed on their labels, with gluten being the chief offender. Nor is this a once off with these sorts of diets. Numerous authors have noted the protein contamination of popular dry foods commonly used in dietary elimination trials by vets (Raditic et al. 2011, Willis-Mahn et al. 2014, Horvath-Ungerboeck et al. 2017). Raditic et al. (2011) detected the presence of soy protein in 3/4 products and beef protein in another, when both product labels explicitly stated these proteins were absent. Later, Willis-Mahn et al. (2014) detected soy protein in 3/4 ‘over the counter’ diets and 4/7 veterinary diets which claimed ‘no soy’ on the label. For all these reasons, these products are not found to be effective for recurring gastrointestinal upset, helping only 50-60% of dogs (Allenspach et al. 2016, Volkmann et al. 2017).
Instead, we work with the immune system, using the symptoms to guide us along the road, formulating a diet that is unique to your dog…
Studies show raw dog food vastly improves atopy in previously dry-fed dogs. That’s first. Know that dry food causes more homocysteine (a by-product of a raging immune system) in the blood of dogs than raw.
The best dog food for itchy skin is one based on a single, raw meat protein and a couple of other ingredients. We keep it really simple at the start, asking your dog what is OK with you and what is not. Think about it, you’re up against the wall here with a million things coming at you (not just dry food with a thousand ingredients but treats as well as chemical flea treatments, boosters etc. You don’t know which one is causing the problem. If any). With a simple diet, you can work with the immune system, asking it what is OK and what is not. If his itching reduces, you’re on the right track. We then vary the diet slightly each month checking which proteins work and which do not. Over time you build up your own tailor-made diet for your itchy dog and away you go. It’s a simple idea, called an exclusion diet, but highly effective done correctly. So please, grab a cup of tea, digest (har har) the article below, then make up your shopping list and get on it tomorrow!
If you follow the advice in that article, I would expect it to cure more than half of the itch cases that approach us today. That said, it doesn’t always work (once they go wrong, some dogs are hard to get right and it’s not always a food sensitivity…) or, it works but not completely, so the following 14 quick tips are what I call the window dressing, things you can make up yourself to feed or rub or spray on your dog to help reduce his itch while you keep working with your exclusion diet above.
More from the Itchy Dog series…
Itchy dogs part 10: Is your dog stressed?!