My own itchy dog journey started my interest in canine nutrition. During my career as a veterinary nurse I happily sold kibble believing it was best for the dog client and their client, I never questioned what I had been told to sell. I then fulfilled a lifelong ambition by owning my first dog, Scooby the Labrador cross, he was the perfect addition to our family and we loved watching him grow.
We frequently found ourselves at the vets with his sore ears (otitis externa) and an increasing itch. I knew we needed steroid antifungal drops and accepted what I had seen done before for many clients. Whilst nursing I had seen some horrendously itchy skin and inflamed ears, on a few occasions the option was to have total ear canal ablations, a very unpleasant surgical procedure, alternatively long term immune suppressants were sometimes administered. After some further study and various animal related jobs, I found a job working at a local raw pet food company, something that was very new and intriguing for me and I left the rewarding but pressurised life of veterinary practice. I learned about nutrition and the benefits of feeding a balanced and managed diet, it was this that led to a change for Scooby. We swapped him onto a raw diet, and with some surprise found the ear infections became much less.
While in practice I had been in many dog consultations for re-occurring ear infections and diet had not been discussed. It’s not common for owners to understand that the cause of itchy skin could be related to a food allergy and be eliminated by a change of diet. Typical treatment for dogs that have recurring ear infections or itchy skin is to put them on steroids and/or antibiotics. This is not a healthy long term option and is more of a quick fix that pleases owners, steroids suppress the immune response, antibiotics reduce good bacteria in the digestive system that are important for inherent health.
While learning more about raw diets, I began a simple food trial for Scooby. We fed a single protein raw diet with nothing else for six weeks until I felt confident his ears hadn’t flared up. At this stage another protein was introduced and so on until we found a reaction. We soon found out the protein Scooby could not tolerate when his itchy, sore ear returned, that protein would be eliminated from his diet.
A dog with recurring ear infections or itchy skin may be having an immune response to something in his diet. This immune response is an over-reaction or malfunction of the immune system. The immune response should be controlled by your dog’s healthy microbiome. Essentially this is a layer of good bacteria lining the digestive system to stop absorption of food particles that go on to create the immune response.
Think of the microbes within the digestive system as plants in a garden, they need to be nourished to grow and be healthy. Research from the USA has demonstrated that healthy dogs have a higher quantity and more diverse bacteria in their digestive system then unhealthy dogs. Many factors can affect the microbiome such as a poor start to life via caesarean or being bottle fed hence losing out on bacteria from the birth canal and colostrum. Long term antibiotics, stress and a poor diet are also factors that can lead to a dog’s microbiome working less efficiently and causing skin irritation.
There are many options available once diet is recognised as a potential cause of skin irritation. Your vet may prescribe medication, and suggest allergy testing which can help gain short term control. A food trial involving hydrolysed diets is another popular option. These diets have highly processed protein molecules that are broken down during manufacture, the body no longer recognises them and they do not cause an immune reaction which reduces the irritation.
There are several types of allergy tests, some your vet may suggest and others involve sending saliva or hair samples directly to an external test lab. I have personally tried some and received contradictory results, I suggest proceeding with caution and using these only as a guide.
Herbal or homeopathic vets can take a holistic look at your dog and prescribe remedies alongside diet change to help reduce issues.
Elimination diets are long term approach that I found successful, it may take a few months to find the right diet. A simple first step would be eliminating grains and cereals then feed a protein source you haven’t fed to your dog before.
Unfortunately there isn’t a quick magic cure and your options will depend on the kind of treatment you have already taken and your own personal preferences. At Greens we are happy to provide support and advice on dietary options that could help improve your dog’s condition before using medication or allergy testing. Greens have a wide selection of foods that are suited to natural healing for your pet. We look forward to helping you.