There are lots of possible reasons that a pooch can suffer with chronic itchy skin, hot-spots, dandruff or an oily coat. In the summer months, fleas or environmental / contact allergies may be the culprit – many pets are sensitive to certain types of grass and weeds. Other possible irritants in the home include detergents used to wash blankets and bedding, household cleaners, or sprays used in the yard.
One common cause that’s often overlooked, however, is diet. Food sensitivities exist in almost every breed, possibly due to genetics or that fact that many pets are fed the same food for months or even years on end, with no variety in ingredients or alternative sources of nutrition, which in turn depletes the immune system and makes the animal even more susceptible to an eventual ‘food reaction’.
One of the most common causes of food sensitivity in pets, is grain. Lots of pets are sensitive to gluten, which can cause an inflammatory response that manifests itself as itchy skin or red and inflamed feet, GI upset or persistent ear infections.
‘Going grainless’ is a great first stop on the sometimes long journey of helping an itchy pooch to overcome a problem that can be infuriatingly uncomfortable for him – as well as frustrating and upsetting for the whole family to witness.
If it isn’t possible to feed a completely grain-free diet, then one with only organic, whole-grains is the next best choice. Organic food, by definition, cannot be genetically modified. One school of thought is that genetically modified (GM) grains are more likely to cause an adverse reaction in a sensitive pet; studies show that when butterflies and other species come in contact with pollen from genetically modified crops, they suffer a number of health problems and genetic mutations eventually occur. It is possible that a similar thing happens when other species consume GM foods – especially species whose systems aren’t designed to cope with a grain overload in the first place.
Some pets are sensitive to ingredients other than grain, such as certain meats, vegetables or even herbs. These sensitivities are generally less common, and in fact a pet who seems to be allergic to a certain meat, say chicken, because she gets itchy every time she eats her chicken flavored kibble, may actually be just fine when eating real, home-prepared raw or lightly cooked chicken. The problem is high heat processing that alters the amino acid structure, making the protein problematic in its processed form.
An elimination diet or veterinary allergy testing is sometimes needed to identify exactly what a pet can and can’t eat. More on this next time.
A natural, no-grain, minimally processed diet that’s also free of chemical preservatives and fillers, can go a long way to combating the problem of itchy skin, from the inside out. In many cases, changing the diet can actually help a pet to overcome a persistent itchiness that has plagued him for months or even years in end – often even reducing the long-term steroids and antibiotics they’ve been prescribed long-term.
Lucy Postins is the founder of the whole-food, human-grade pet food company, The Honest Kitchen.