Why Is My Pet So Itchy?
I’ve had a rash of clients (pun intended!) over the last year who have called me for help with their itchy, unhappy pets. In every case, they’ve already been to their vet and have had tests run to look for the cause of their pet’s unexplained, persistent itching, but they’ve ended up with no clear-cut answers, and they felt stuck.
In some instances, an allergy is already suspected; in others (particularly cats), they might wonder if it’s merely a behavioral issue. In some of the worst cases I’ve seen, the poor dog or cat has scratched so much that they have drawn blood! Then comes a cycle of healing over before re-scratching and starting the process all over again. This understandably creates a lot of stress and worry for pet owners. Creams and medications may be of some help, or sometimes not at all. At any rate, medicated creams or steroids are only treating symptoms, not the root of the problem, and my clients agree with me that it just isn’t a desirable way to treat a pet for the rest of their life.
I’m always interested to get to the actual root causes. I have worked with some pets who are allergic to grass or other environmental factors, but in most cases, the cause is internal — and in my experience, it always comes down to the same thing: the pet’s diet.
I’ve worked with pets that are fully allergic to gluten, or just grains in general. Even pets on a grain-free diet can have a sensitivity, or a more pronounced allergic reaction to certain meats or vegetables. You might be surprised to hear that I’ve also worked with many that are allergic to chicken (even though we tend to think of chicken as a benign, mild meat.)
It’s astonishing to me how varied the sensitivities can be, as it is with humans. When I am working with a pet and am “inside” their body, I very clearly feel the itching, and I can quantify it for my client, for example: “on a scale of one to 10, it feels like a 7 or 8.” So they get a clear idea from me of how bad it actually feels to their pet. Then I start looking into what the specific allergens are.
Once we’ve eliminated the foods that are problematic for that pet, the itchy skin usually begins resolving itself within a couple of weeks. (Note that it can take longer to fully disappear — the problem has usually been years in the making.) In lots of cases, I also recommend certain supplements, plus other natural products for my clients that can soothe the aggravated skin and speed up healing.
Just as with people, an animal’s health ultimately comes down to their diet. In my experience, the itchiest pets, with the most persistent and recurring scratching behaviors have been the ones who eat a dry diet, aka “kibble.” No matter how organic or healthy the brand is, the fact is that ALL dry pet food is highly processed, and has additives in it as well. I do recommend that instead of kibble, my clients save the “crunchies” as a special treat, not a regular part of the pet’s diet. As for canned food, the most minimally-processed ones are definitely the best. If possible, a raw diet (including freeze-dried raw, which is very convenient) will definitely give you the best results. Even if you can’t/don’t want to go “fully raw”, including some in addition to high-quality canned food will be of benefit.
Recently, I worked with a dog who had been on the same kibble his whole life — 12 years. He had also been frantically itching and scratching — for 12 years! When I asked if he seemed to enjoy this diet, the client told me that “he doesn’t act like he really loves it…I think he just eats it because that’s what’s there.” I then determined which meats, fish and vegetables he was allergic to, and suggested that my client look into switching him over to a raw food diet. She was a bit hesitant at first but felt she had nothing to lose and she really wanted her dog to be more comfortable. So she switched him to a combination of freeze-dried raw and frozen raw from a healthy pet food store. Two weeks later, she told me she was astonished that the dog went absolutely bonkers for the new food — he could not have loved it more! His itching behaviors had already started decreasing quite a bit. And her husband, who had been skeptical regarding animal communication in the first place, pointed out that it must be working because his coat suddenly looked smooth and shiny, where before it had been quite dull. (As a side benefit, he also lost a couple of pounds from the new diet, which took some pressure off of his arthritic joints so he was able to take longer walks again, which he really loved.)
The bottom line is that scratching is not normal, there is always a cause for a pet’s itchy skin, and I am able to offer help on both causes and solutions. If you’d like more information, book a complimentary consult to discuss how I might help your pet stop driving themselves (and you!) crazy with all that scratching.