Itchy Pet? Environment or Food? Behaviour?

Mar 30, 2021 Dan

Itchy Pet?  Environment or Food?  Behaviour?

At Back To The Bone, we get to meet quite the variety of breeds and breed mixes.  It is one of the best parts of owning a store like ours.  We also come up against quite the array of health issues as pet parents come to our stores to learn more about a healthier diet for their pets.  The most common health issue our customers discuss with us is their itchy pet.  Many feel that changing their pets’ diet will help and/or cure the itchies.  Some are looking for the magic bullet and are hoping that a raw diet will be the cure all.  Sometimes, we see and hear of incredible improvements within weeks of a change in diet.  Sometimes, there might be slight improvement, but their pet still shows allergy symptoms.  Scratching, hair loss and hotspots to name a few.  

Just to clarify, there are two main categories of allergies — food and environmental. Food allergies create year-round symptoms in pets, whereas seasonal environmental allergy symptoms flare intermittently depending on when triggers bloom, blossom and grow.

Environmental Allergies

We are hearing more about pets experiencing the telltale signs of seasonal allergies:  Intense itchiness, hair loss, skin issues and problems with ears and feet.  These symptoms tend to show up at the beginning of spring and again in the late summer/early fall. If you know your pet experiences seasonal flare-ups, try getting ahead of the game.  Do not wait until symptoms occur to start an allergy solution. Preventing systemic inflammation is a whole lot easier than addressing an allergic response, once it is occurring.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. Feed a real food diet, low in carbohydrates and starches.  Eliminate all foods high in sugars. A species-appropriate diet, balanced over time, will prevent unnecessary inflammation. 
  2. Make sure you are supplementing with a good source of essential fatty acids.  A good fish oil containing vitamin E will help keep inflammation to a minimum.
  3. It is important to try to avoid unnecessary vaccines and veterinary drugs, including chemical pest preventives, all of which interfere with the performance of the immune system.  Remember, keeping the immune system as strong as possible will have a powerful impact in suppressing the bodies response to environmental allergens.  
  4. Consider using natural antihistamines as a supplement in your pet’s food.  Quercetin is considered nature’s “Benadryl” but must be used before the allergy season kicks in.  The Earth MD Environmental Aid contains plant-based ingredients that have a documented history of helping animals combat seasonal allergic responses.
  5. Look for a local and unpasteurized honey to use as a supplement as well.  Locally produced honey contains a small amount of pollen from the local area that can help desensitize the body to local allergens over time.

Most importantly, begin a seasonal allergy support protocol before your pet becomes itchy, red, and inflamed. Waiting until your pet becomes miserable makes it difficult to get through allergy season without using allergy drugs that have side effects.

Food Allergies/Sensitivities.  Or is it yeast?

Food sensitivities can create those same skin, ear, and paw issues that environmental allergens can trigger.  The biggest difference is that these symptoms continue throughout the course of the year or until the food issue is identified and eliminated.  

There are a variety of tests available to pet parents that can help identify what foods can trigger inflammatory issues.  These tests can be blood, saliva, or hair tests.  Some are available to you at your vet and some can be purchased online.  The advantage of these tests is that they can be dealt with quickly and you will have the information you need to ensure you stay away from the “trigger” foods.  The downside is that the “good” tests can be a little pricey.  

Some pet owners are choosing to use elimination diets as a way of identifying trigger foods.  An elimination strategy involves choosing one novel protein that agrees with your pet.  Some of the more popular proteins we might recommend are pork, turkey, rabbit, or kangaroo.  You would feed this protein for 6 to 8 weeks and eliminate everything else from your pet’s diet.  The objective is to feed only proteins and phytonutrients that your pet does not react to over time.   This strategy can take months before you figure out what you can and cannot feed.  Remember, the objective is to get to a protein rotation where you can feed 3 or more different proteins over a 3-to-4-week period.  Using an elimination diet strategy will take patience AND a lot of time and effort. If you have the patience and willingness to see it through, an elimination strategy can certainly be an effective way of helping you ensure your pet can live a healthy and “scratch-free” life.

Is it really a protein issue?

So, here is something that we have observed over the last 10 years in dealing with pet owners and their “food intolerant” pet.  More times often than not, it really has little to do with the type of protein being fed.  Yes, chicken is an inflammatory protein and can be the root cause of a food sensitivity.  Other proteins that can cause inflammation are lamb and for some even beef.  We have found that the underlying issue is either yeast, leaky gut, or both.  It is an issue in the gut and the lower digestive tract.  

Dogs with a balanced immune system have healthy levels of yeast that occur naturally on the body, including on the paws. However, dogs with an unbalanced immune system are at risk of yeast overgrowth. Animals with weakened immune systems or those who are immuno-suppressed can end up with an overgrowth of yeast, as can dogs with overactive immune systems that result in allergies.

Yeasty gut is a nasty situation and can be the cause of serious skin inflammation and itchiness, especially in the dark damp and moist areas of your pet.  Ears, armpit, groin, the anal area, and muzzle.   Yeast will move into these areas of your dog and it will feel like fire to them.  So, what do our pets do?  They lick and lick, and scratch and scratch.  Trying to put the fire out.  We go to the vet and we are prescribed an antibiotic or a steroid, or both.  These really do nothing to deal with the yeast but can provide some relief to our pets and allow us to sleep at night, temporarily.  These solutions just deal with the symptoms.  The underlying issue is still there and if not dealt with the yeast symptoms will return to the skin and we are back to square one, often even more aggressive.

Eliminating yeast in the gut takes time.  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Yeast feeds on sugars.  Eliminate all foods high in sugars and all starches and carbohydrates (wheat, chickpeas, legumes, potato, etc.).  This will help to starve off the yeast.  Oh yeah, pizza crust and bread are a big no no!  A species-appropriate diet of raw meat, bone, organ meat, and the right veggies should be the starting point.
  2. Yeast does not like a highly acidic environment.  Try introducing Braggs Organic Apple Cider Vinegar into your pet’s diet.  Apple cider vinegar (with the mother) has amazing health benefits and does add a certain level of acidity back into the gut.  To help with red and inflamed skin issues and paws, use a dilution of ACV with water and use as a paw dip or skin cleanse.  This will help kill off yeast on skin surface and provide some relief to your pet.  Make sure there are no open sore or hotspots.  Those will really sting, and your pet will not like it one bit.
  3. Supplementation of a good, pet-specific, probiotic can help re-introduce good bacteria back into the gut and help defeat the yeast.  You can also consider using a good anti-fungal supplement like Earth MD Olive Leaf Powder.

We have had a lot of success with a product from Adored Beast Apothecary called Yeasty Beast Protocol.  This product will kill off the yeast and efficiently carry the dead yeast away.  It does take time and it is a protocol, so you need to see it through and follow the directions to a tee.

This part is important regardless of how you choose to deal with a yeasty pet.  A pet that has an overgrowth of yeast is usually in an immune-compromised state.  Keep this in mind when you are considering vaccinations and/or using pest control for ticks and fleas.  Again, these may interfere with the immune system and can set your pet back as you try to get rid of the yeast.

One final thought on yeast and our pets.  For the most part, the type of protein you feed has little to do with yeast.  Yes, you might want to stay away from chicken. It usually is not the protein that is the cause of yeast.  It is most likely the carbs and sugar rich food that you pet has had or is currently eating.  

The Leaky Gut

Not that we want to overdo it here, but we are finding that more and more of our customer’s pets exhibit what appears to be Leaky Gut Syndrome.  This can also be the root cause of the many symptoms associated with environment allergies and food sensitivities.

Your pet's gastrointestinal (GI) tract has the important job of deciding what nutrients to allow into the bloodstream, and which to keep out. The job of the GI tract is to allow nutrients in while keeping allergens out. When the gut starts to "leak," it means it is allowing allergens into the bloodstream.

Often medications, especially antibiotics and steroids, cause leaky gut syndrome. Any pet on routine drug therapy should be assessed for a leaky gut. Another trigger for leaky gut is a processed diet containing genetically modified ingredients.

There are tests that your vet can provide to determine whether your pet has a leaky gut.  

Some of our customers have been using a good, and properly made Bone Broth that is extremely high in collagen yet low in salt.  It is an easy supplement to your pet’s diet since most love the scent of a good bone broth.

Adored Beast Apothecary has also created a Leaky Gut Protocol.  Again, this is a protocol that needs to be given as directed and be used to completion.

Final Words

There are so many things in life that can cause our pets to have suppressed immune systems.  Some things we cannot control, like genetics.  Some things we can.  The food we feed, when and how often we vaccinate, extensive use of antibiotics and steroids, how we choose to protect our pets from fleas, ticks and mosquitos, the water they drink, the pesticides we may or may not use, the cleaning products in our house, and the list goes on.   Most of our pet’s immune system is in the gut and lower digestive tract.  Focusing on the gut will go a long way to helping our pets live a long and comfortable life.  

Remember, the proof is in the poop!!!