I can’t tell you the number of times that we’ve heard, “I’m switching my dog’s food because he’s started scratching and I’ve been told he’s probably allergic to what he’s eating”. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction.
The reality is that it’s probably NOT his food.
Blaming the food is certainly an easy option because the “solution” is easy – switch foods and everything should be A-OK.
However, it’s reported by veterinary colleges and journals that food allergies only account for a very small percentage of scratching, skin, eye, and ear problems – anywhere from 1% to 10%.
The most common cause of scratching is flea bite dermatitis. I know we all work hard to keep those nasty pests away from our dogs and cats but all it takes is one or two bites and the scratching starts. The area gets inflamed, the scratching intensifies, the inflammation gets worse, the scratching builds and soon there are raw, hairless patches on your poor dog or cat.
Another common cause is the dog/cat equivalent of hay fever or inhalant allergies. Dogs and cats can suffer from different allergens in the air. Grass, too, can prompt the terrible itching or runny eyes. In fact, the grass in your backyard could be fine but the grass in the field your dog romps through every week when you go hiking could be the culprit.
Have you changed your laundry detergent recently? Are you using a different dryer sheet? Did you (or someone) slip your dog a piece of people food that he normally doesn’t get? Were your carpets cleaned last week? Was your lawn treated? Weeds wacked sending zillions of potential allergens into the air?
We had one pet parent who discovered that she had washed her dog’s bedding in a different soap and that was the cause of the scratching that was driving her and her dog crazy! She went back to the detergent she had been using before and everything was fine!
The point is that there are many, many possible causes of allergies or skin/eye/ear problems. If your four-legged best friend starts licking his paws or scratching, or his eyes get runny, or his ears start getting stinky with a nasty build-up, start by taking account of where he’s been and what he’s been doing and then what may have changed in his life including all that you do in and around your house. And, if you can, sit and paw through your dog (or cat’s) hair to search for those elusive fleas or ticks. You may find the culprit right there!
If you rule out pests and all of these environmental causes, then start looking at the food. Keep in mind that changing diets isn’t an automatic fix – an effective change involves a 12 week trial with a novel protein and carbohydrate source. If you’re interested, we can talk about this process next.
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