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Causes of Itchy Skin & How To Help Your Dog

Founder and Veterinary Surgeon John Burns Gives Itchy Skin Advice

by John Burns BVMS MRCVS

There are a number of possible causes of itchy skin and it can be difficult to navigate through them,  but correct diet can change your pet’s system so that it does not react abnormally to the normal everyday environment.

Itchy skin is frequently the first sign that things are going wrong in the dog’s system.  Mast cells are white blood cells which produce histamine, an inflammatory substance.  In the dog, mast cells are concentrated in the skin; in humans, mast cells are found in the respiratory system which is why humans are prone to develop respiratory problems such as bronchitis, sinusitis and asthma.

To summarise my view of possible causes of itchy skin:

  • adverse reaction to food; food allergy or intolerance
  • overfeeding
  • poor quality food
  • excessive intake of fat and protein
  • chemicals and other inappropriate food ingredients

For a fuller description see my Guide to Natural Health, namely the Eczema/Itchy Skin page (page 11) and my leaflet on Itchy Skin, both downloadable below.

How do skin problems come about?

One or several of these factors in combination lead to the build-up of toxic waste in the system which culminates in a range of possible problems, the commonest of which is a skin disorder. Read more in my Veterinary Natural Healthcare Guide – Development of Disease Stage 1-3,  pages 6-8, downloadable below. All of the potential causes mentioned here need to be addressed in order to avoid build-up of toxic waste in the system which causes itchy skin.

Feeding a hypoallergenic diet

Feed a highly digestible, natural, wholesome, hypoallergenic food which is high in complex carbohydrate and low in protein and fat, and free from additives – other than essential vitamins and minerals. I have found over many years’ experience that food which uses wholegrains as the mainstay of the diet gives excellent results but other ingredients such as potato and buckwheat can also be effective.

Not every food suits every dog so it may be necessary to experiment with several foods to find the right one for your own dog.I find many owners stumble from food to food in the hope of coming across one which will help their dog. The Burns Health & Nutrition Team has the knowledge and experience to advise you on how a methodical process can help find the right food for your dog.

For example, one dog may not be suited to chicken but may do well on duck. For another, a potato or maize based food may be more effective than a rice-based one (or vice versa). You can read more about food allergy/intolerance in my Veterinary Guide to Natural Healthcare, pages 9-10.

Get the Feeding Amounts right!

Just as important as the right type of food, it is vital to get the feeding amount right too. This is where many pet owners fall down.  Overfeeding, even good quality food, contributes to the toxic burden of the system which causes anal glands to fill up and can lead to other health problems.  Manufacturers’ recommended feeding amounts should not be followed religiously.

Every dog is an individual with different needs from all others and must be treated as such.  Food should be fed as sparingly as possible, especially in the early stages. In the early stages at least, it is important to keep the food intake as simple as possible; no treats, table scraps, etc. This is important to minimise the risk of introducing food allergy or intolerance.

The beauty of this approach is that it will help not only itchy skin but in promoting all-round holistic health, not just for any pre-existing problems but help to avoid health problems in the future.

Two important take aways…

  • tests for food allergy are not accurate and cannot be relied upon
  • even if your pet seems to be allergic to an outside influence such as grass or pollen this can be managed by a holistic approach to health. A correct diet can change your pet’s system so that it does not react abnormally to the normal everyday environment

Visit our dog food section to see our recipes suited to dogs that want to fix an itch they can’t scratch.

by John Burns BVMS MRCVS
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