Itchy skin – could it be food allergies?

Itchy skin – could it be food allergies?

If your dog or cat suffers from itchy skin, it’s natural to assume that it could be nothing more than a simple case of fleas. But what should you do if, after treatment, the itching doesn’t stop?

When you first notice that your pet is itching more than usual, it is natural to feel a bit concerned. Itching that is particularly severe can cause your pet to develop hot spots, bleed, and be generally an uncomfortable experience.

Many people, seeing their pet itching, will begin a round of treatment for fleas – and will not understand why their pet’s symptoms do not alleviate. If this is you, then you might want to check: can you actually see any fleas? If not, then there is a pretty good chance it’s not this that’s causing the problem. Often in these cases, it tends to be allergies that are the real root of the problem.

The cause of your pet’s itching

The most effective way to cure your pet’s itching is to work out why they are itching in the first place.

There are several possible reasons why your pet could be itching. We can generally break these down into two broad categories: (1) food-based (allergies to specific components of food such as types of meat, wheat, soya, etc); and (2) environmental (grass allergies, a change of fabric softener, pollen, etc).

There are lots of products on the market designed to help soothe irritated skin or prevent your pet from itching (sprays, creams and medications). These can be helpful in easing some of the discomfort felt by an animal suffering from an allergy. But you need to remember that these don’t necessarily solve the problem – they only mask it. The problem is still there, bubbling under the surface, and can become worse if not addressed.

Common food-based allergies

Just like people, our pets’ allergies can be relatively straightforward (an allergy to one specific type of meat, for instance, can be easily removed from your pet’s diet), or they can be incredibly complex (an allergy to several types of meat and vegetables can be much more difficult to help).

Knowing some of the most common allergens can provide a good starting point for you to begin exploring what your pet may be allergic to. In dogs, chicken, beef, maize, wheat, and dairy tend to be the most common causes – in cats, it tends to be fish, lamb, corn, and dairy. Therefore you should try and avoid foods that contain these ingredients in the early stage of your investigations.

Dogs Cats
Meat and animal derivatives (this is always a potential issue because you can’t say for certain what meats are actually present in what quantities; so if your pet is reacting to something like beef you can’t guarantee it will not be in this food) Meat and animal derivatives (this is always a potential issue because you can’t say for certain what meats are actually present in what quantities; so if your pet is reacting to something like beef you can’t guarantee it will not be in this food)
Chicken Fish
Beef Lamb
Wheat Wheat
Dairy Dairy
Soy Soy

Please remember: This is not an ultimate or definitive guide (there are items on this list that some pets will be okay with eating, and others which may not have ended up on this list that your pet may react to). This table is offered to show some of the most common allergies that we’ve come across in recent years.

Where to start… create a “default” diet

Step one: Choose a food

To find which parts of your pet’s diet are the cause of their itchiness, you need to be able to break down the different aspects of their diet. We recommend you start this process by finding one single food that your pet does not react to. The aim of this is to create a “default” diet for your pet.

This is one of the most important steps you will take – as this forms the basis of your pet’s diet that you will always be able to return to if your pet suffers a reaction to a new food that you introduce. Depending on what is causing your pet’s allergy, it could also take a few attempts – but once you have one food that your pet is happy with, then you can then proceed to the next step.

Here are a few of our go-to options…

Dogs


Peejay Pets Superstore Grain Free

£12.95 to £48.95 (depending on bag type and size)

This grain-free dry food is packed with real meat and identifiable ingredients. Because there is so much protein, it’s not packed with filler ingredients – which means that poos are smaller and less frequent, and your dog will stay fuller for longer. This range comes in a wide range of flavours – but for the purposes of testing for an allergy we’d generally recommend one of the following flavours:
Lamb, sweet potato and mint;
Turkey, sweet potato and cranberry;
Tuna, sweet potato and broccoli;
Venison, sweet potato and mulberry.




Burgess Sensitive Complete

£6.95 to £35.95 (depending on bag type and size)

This wheat-free dry food is ideal for dogs with a common chicken or wheat-based allergy. Whilst it is perfectly tasty on its own, if your dog has a preference for a dry/wet mix of food, then this is ideal for mixing with Forthglade wet dog food. There are three flavours in this range…
Turkey and rice
Lamb and rice
Salmon and rice
(please note: the salmon and rice product contains a small amount of chicken fat – if you believe that chicken could be causing your dog’s allergies, then either the turkey or the lamb options may be better suited)..




Forthglade (wet and dry options available)

£20.95 to £23.95 (for a box of 18 trays)

With high-protein wet and dry food options available, Forthglade is well known for its quality pet foods. With a great choice of mixers, complete and grain-free options, there is no wonder it’s appeared on our list. Forthglade wet food comes in a range of mixer and complete options. If you are opting to use the “Just” range of mixers, make sure that you pick a flavour that corresponds with your dog’s dry food (so if you are feeding Burgess Sensitive Lamb, you could mix this with Forthglade Grain Free Just Lamb), and don’t forget to take out a handful or so of biscuits so your dog doesn’t get overweight! The other option is to go for a Complete Wet Food (which might be a better option for dogs that struggle to chew biscuits).

Forthglade dry food is a high meat, freeze-dried biscuit. The way it’s made locks in nutrients which means you don’t have to feed as much.

Whichever option you choose, you can be assured that your dog will be receiving a high meat product packed with only identifiable ingredients. This is why it’s on our list of recommended foods for allergies – because when you look at the ingredients label, you will only see ingredients that you can recognize.



Acana

£6.95 to £35.95 (depending on bag size)

Acana is one of the most protein-rich products on the market – packed with real meat that can attract even the fussiest eaters. The Acana range holds lots of variety, but at the early stages of testing your dog for allergies, we’d recommend one of the following to start off with:
Grass-fed lamb
Yorkshire Pork

 

Cats




Peejay Pets Grain Free

£12.95 to £13.95 (depending on bag type)

Cats can suffer a reaction to filler ingredients (like grains and wheats). By swapping to a grain free food with a higher meat content, you may be able to see improvement and additional vitality in your cat.

 




Applaws (wet and dry options available)

£11 to £15.95 (depending on food type and size)

Applaws have crafted a range of meaty delights that cats love. If you look at the ingredients label, you’ll be able to find that their products generally only have one or two main identifiable proteins (meats), which means it can be ideal if you are trying to whittle down which foods your cat may or may not be allergic to.

 

Raw diet

If you’re struggling to find a food that your pet won’t react to, and are thinking it could possibly be something to do with one of the filler ingredients located in most commercial foods, you could always consider trying a raw diet. We will caution you that this diet can be more complicated than a standard kibble, and will require continuous monitoring over time, but it can be really beneficial for cats and dogs struggling with allergies.




Nutriwolds Raw Food

£3.95 to £5.95 (depending on type)

Nutriwolds offer a high quality range of raw foods that are suitable for both dogs and cats. Their recipes contain chunkier blends (like their Unroast Beef) perfect for dogs and cats that like to chew and tear their meat, and finer blends (like Herby Turkey) that are ideal for smaller mouths.

 

Step two: Introduce your new food

Only feed your pet this food for three to four weeks. It can take up to six weeks for an allergen to fully work its way out of your pet’s system – but once on their new food, you should begin to see signs of improvement within the first two weeks.

Step three: Bringing new foods into your pet’s diet

After your three-week period has passed, you can then begin the next stage of introducing a new food. There are a couple of ways you can approach this – either introduce a new flavour of food into the diet (for instance, if you had been feeding turkey, then maybe consider lamb if it’s in the same brand), or introduce new treats. If you are opting for the treat-route, then we recommend opting for a natural treat with no (or few) filler ingredients. Just like with your starting point, doing this will make it easier to identify what could be causing the itching.

If the itching doesn’t start again, then you know that this treat or food is safe to give your pet. If it does return, however, then you know that this contains something that your pet cannot tolerate – you therefore need to return to their default diet for a few weeks to allow the allergen to pass through your pet’s system once again.

This process can take time – don’t stress

Because pet food tends to be formulated with several different combinations of ingredients, it can be difficult to find that one “right” food first time round – especially if your pet’s allergy is a result of one of the minor components of the food you provide. If you think this might be the case, then you could consider opting for a raw diet.

If all else fails most veterinary surgeries will be able to perform an allergy test to try and identify exactly what is the root of the problem – whilst this can be a more expensive option (particularly for more common allergies like those to chicken in dogs or fish in cats), it is definitely one worth pursuing if your pet suffers from complicated or environmental allergies.

 

Summary

  • Find one type of food that your pet is okay eating and does not suffer a reaction to and give them only this food for three to four weeks.
    • Try and find a food which contains only one type of protein (only one type of meat – for instance, go for an option which is just “turkey” instead of “turkey and chicken” or “poultry”).
  • After your pet has settled on its new diet, you can then look to introduce a new component, which you can try over the fourth or fifth week. If you’re feeding your dog a turkey-based diet, maybe introduce a rabbit hide roll or a beef stick.
    • Whatever treat you provide at this stage, try to keep it natural with as few ingredients as possible to keep matters simple.
    • Introduce only one new ingredient per week – and if your pet does have a reaction, then wait for another two to three weeks before trying a new food again (you want to give it long enough for the itching to settle once again).
  • Remember to take it slow and you will be able to gradually build up a picture over time of the foods that your pet is okay with eating.
  • Always bear in mind that the source of your pet’s allergies may not be limited to their food – environmental factors can also have a significant impact. If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from a complex allergy that is particularly painful for them, then it is always advisable to speak to your vet.
Things to consider before putting your pet on raw diet

Things to consider before putting your pet on raw diet

Raw diets have grown in popularity in recent years as more owners have discovered the benefits that raw feeding provides. If you’re considering swapping your pet over to a raw diet, there are a few things you need to consider.

Lots of our customers feed their dogs, cats, and ferrets a raw diet. But the learning curve can be quite significant, both in terms of learning how to feed raw properly, and other practical realizations which occur only after feeding a raw diet has started. Here at Peejay Pets, we’ve been able to speak to our existing raw customers and discover what these are so that you can start raw feeding knowing what to expect.

Storage

This is by far one of the most important considerations of anyone wanting to feed a raw diet. If you don’t store your pet’s meat properly, it can cause them to become seriously ill.

Whilst one option is to make several small trips throughout the week to collect a couple of days’ food at a time, this can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Most people benefit from storing one to two week’s worth of raw and making the occasional top-up journey in-between.

To place this into context, if you have one moderately active dog fed at 2% of their body weight daily, then the average storage space you’ll require per week would be 1,750g raw for a 10kg jack russel or 5,250g raw for a 30kg labrador. If you’re planning to feed blocks of meat, can use this handy table to work out approximately how much room you’ll need to store your pet’s dinners here.

Defrosting

A raw diet can be really easy to prepare – as simple as taking it out of the freezer first thing in the morning before going to work, and last thing on the night. Many people when they first start out on a raw diet worry about what would happen if they forgot to take their meat out of the freezer. The answer to this is relatively simple – simply pop your raw food into a zip-lock bag or tupperware container and leave it in some warm water for a couple of hours (swapping the water over a couple of times to keep it a nice temperature).

But it is important to remember: you can never microwave or oven-cook your pet’s raw mince. Raw mince designed for consumption by dogs, cats, and ferrets contains bone (which is required for a nutritionally fulfilling diet) – which is soft when uncooked. When cooked in an oven or microwave, however, this bone solidifies and becomes sharp shards which risk becoming lodged in your pet’s digestive tract or oesophagus.

Waiting a couple of hours for your pet’s food to defrost when you forget to get it out of the freezer on the night/morning is okay for many people, but if you work a tight schedule then this may cause you some problems when it comes to managing time on an evening or in a morning before work. Therefore if you work uncertain hours, you may need to consider whether this would be the easiest diet to manage or not.

Food poisoning

Whilst your pet’s digestive system has stronger stomach acids which enable them to digest raw meat, there are not immune from food poisoning or salmonella. Making sure you handle their raw dinner properly is essential to ensuring their health.

The following should always be kept in mind…

  • Never feed your dog minces that have been defrosted for more than 24 hours;
  • Don’t defrost and then re-freeze raw meat;
  • Don’t give your dog meat that has developed a layer of fur or mould.

The majority of raw pet foods will also undergo a deep-freeze treatment to help kill harmful bacteria. Minces from the supermarket, however, do not (as we generally kill the bacteria by cooking it). This is one reason why feeding minces from supermarkets is not recommended (with the other reason being that they do not contain the required offal and bone components that dogs need as part of a healthy diet).

Nutritional imbalance

Another large concern is ensuring that your dog’s dinner is properly balanced – if it is not then you could make your dog very ill. Nutritional balances are particularly risky for puppies and younger dogs as their bodies are still developing – if they do not have enough of one element of their diet (like calcium, for instance), then this deficiency can have lifelong consequences.

You’ll already be aware of the 80:10:5:5 ratio of meat, bone, liver, and offal. Making sure you get the balance right is essential to ensuring the long-term health of your dog and ensuring they do not have difficulty going to the toilet. There are a couple of ways you can approach this…

  1. Daily balance: The first option you can consider is making sure that every single meal you feed your dog contains the right percentage of each component. This is a fairly easy way to ensure your dog’s overall health.
  2. Weekly balance: This option allows you to be a bit more adventurous by spreading their intake over the space of a week. This option tends to be easier if you are feeding raw treats (like knuckle bones, chicken wings, etc) alongside a complete mince. If you decide to feed a knuckle bone, for instance, you would reach an overall balance by feeding a meat-only mince.

Whilst either option is okay, you need to make sure you keep track of your pet’s overall intake. Feeding slightly more of one component won’t make much of a difference in the short term, but if you consistently fail to balance their diet then this can cause problems in the long-term. Take liver, for instance – whilst if you overfeed slightly every now and again it won’t make too much difference, but because of the really high levels of certain minerals overfeeding on a regular basis can lead to problems like Vitamin A Toxicicosis.

You should also remember that different meats contain micro and macro nutrients. To ensure a balanced diet for your pooch, you need to make sure that you are providing a variety of different proteins, and feeding oily fish at least once every ten days.

Affordability

There is no denying that raw meat can be expensive as a long-term option. Before you commence a raw diet, you need to consider how much you are willing to spend on your dog’s food on a weekly/monthly basis, and from there make the decision as to whether it is worthwhile.

Whilst a raw diet is an excellent choice, if you can’t afford to do it properly then you risk putting your animal in danger. Trying to reduce costs by opting for supermarket minces which do not contain the required bone and offal content increases the risk of your dog suffering health problems.

Fussy eaters

Raw diets are brilliant at enticing even the fussiest eaters to their dinner. Because of its stronger smell and meaty flavour, many fussy pets will be able to be coaxed into eating.

But this goes two ways – if your pet will instantly devour anything raw, but reject other types of food, then you need to bear in mind that this could cause problems later on if you decide that you cannot feed a raw diet anymore.

Holidays, kennels/catteries, and relatives

Another consideration you should make is what will happen if you decide to go on holiday. Regardless of whether you are taking your dog camping in the Lake District, or leaving them in kennels/catteries or with a relative when you take a trip to Spain, you need to consider how you will accommodate their raw diet. This is something lots of people worry about before putting their pet on a raw diet.

Most kennels/catteries (and, indeed, relatives) will be more than happy to accommodate your pet’s raw diet – especially since it is becoming an increasingly popular way of feeding animals. But there are those that don’t.

There are alternatives suitable for raw-fed pets, however. We often recommend owners turn to the Natures Menu Country Hunter range of pouches and tinned foods when an alternative to raw is needed. As this range is lightly steamed, it is one of the closest alternatives you’ll get you a raw diet whilst maintaining the convenience of pre-prepared complete meals.

Where do you go from here?

If you don’t think that you could feed a raw diet properly, and devote the required time and money to it, then there are plenty of very good dry and wet options available on the market which we would recommend you considering first. If you’re sitting on the fence, or would like to look at the other options available, then feel free to pop in store to speak to one of our trained members of staff.

Preparing your pets for your return to work

Preparing your pets for your return to work

Lockdown, for many, has brought mixed emotions. Whilst some have carried on work as normal, others have had more chance to enjoy staying at home a bit more. But as more of us return to work and offices, the next few weeks may prove a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for our pets.

Over the past year your pet might have become accustomed to having you around more. The sudden return to work will mean a wave of changes all at once for your pet; not being able to come and go as they please, not enjoying those extra treats throughout the day, a change in how often they can use the toilet, and one of the biggest, not being able to see you. This completely altered routine can cause significant stress.

But there are things you can do to make it easier for your pet – keep reading for our top tips!

Separation anxiety: what it is, and how to tell if your pet is struggling

Common signs of separation anxiety in dogs include…

  • Pacing;
  • Howling or barking;
  • Chewing, digging or destruction;
  • Urinating;
  • Throwing up.

Common signs of separation anxiety in cats include…

  • Meowing, crying or yowling;
  • Urinating outside of the litterbox;
  • Excessive self-grooming;
  • Destructive behaviour (for instance, scratching or biting).

What can you do?

Because of the sheer number of changes involved in the return to work, the sooner you can start taking the following steps the better.

1 – Getting into a new routine

One of the first things that might come as a bit of a shock to both you and your pet is the change of routine. If you’ve been relishing those extra few minutes sleep in the morning, and working a little later into the night, then it might not be just your pet who struggles with the return of the early morning get-out-of-the-door routine.

To help address this, start getting back into a routine now whilst you’re still at home. Waking up a bit earlier and going for a morning walk will help both you and your pet get into the habit of getting up earlier and feeling more refreshed when the time comes to return to the workplace. Even if you have a cat or kitten, getting up and going for a short walk by yourself will help them get used to you leaving the house early in the morning.

Top Tip: If you have the time in a morning, try taking your dog for a long walk – even when you go back to the workplace. Not only will this fun activity tire them out, but the exercise will release endorphins that will make it easier for your dog to cope with your absence. If you have cats, try spending some time playing in the morning.

2 – Start small

If you have gotten a new puppy or kitten over lockdown, then the chances are there has always been somebody home with them up until this point. A sudden absence of everyone from the house, even for a period as small as half an hour, can be a source of stress for your pet.

It’s important that you begin building up your pet’s confidence by taking small steps and gradually increasing this over time. Start off by finding (or creating) a time when everybody but yourself is out of the house. Now calmly go to the door and go through your normal routine (get your shoes on, if you have a house alarm set it up – just make sure you switch off the rooms your pet will be staying in – etc) and leave the house and garden. Wait outside for a few minutes – you can always walk around the outside of the house or to the corner shop – and then come back in. Give your pet lots of attention and treats – which will positively reinforce their good behaviour. Then, wait a few minutes, before going through the process again.

The idea behind this is getting your pet used to you being out of the house, safe in the knowledge that you will come back to them. Separation anxiety often arises when pets feel abandoned or they can’t get to you. Also, particularly if you have young animals, you need to take great care to ensure that your pet’s first experience of being left alone is a good one – the first time your puppy or kitten experiences something will have a significant impact on how they experience that thing in the future. For example, if the first time your pet is left home alone they are scared and panicked, then they will remember this experience as a bad one every time they are left home alone in the future – and it can be really difficult to change their mind. Because of this, it’s really important that you get this step right to help put your pet’s mind completely at ease.

It’s not just puppies and kittens!
You might think that, because you have an older pet who has experienced being home alone for long periods in the past, your return to work won’t make much of a difference so this step can be avoided. We’d suggest otherwise. Whilst your pet may have grown used to your absence in the past, it may be the case that they have gone through an extended period of having someone in the house with them at all times which can alter the way they feel about being left alone.

Over time you’ll be able to increase the amount of time you leave your pet to their own devices – from five minutes to ten, to half an hour and an hour, etc. Because you’re building this time up slowly, it will really help reassure your pet that no matter how long you are gone you will come back.

Q: Should I give my puppy a bone when I leave the house to give them something to do?
A: As a general rule, we’d say no – particularly with younger puppies. Leaving your puppy unattended with a bone or other hard treat like an antler can be a serious choking hazard that could put their life in danger – particularly if you’re not home for long periods. Instead, you could consider trying a softer treat just before you leave the door (like a dog biscuit), or giving them a toy to keep them occupied – like a stuffed Kong or Grrrelli.

3 – Try a calming diffuser or atomiser

This is a really useful tool at any stage of your pet’s life and training. A happy, relaxed pet is more likely to learn new information quickly than a stressed and upset one – so this can be a great investment regardless of how old or well-trained your pet is.

If you’ve noticed your pet has been getting stressed when you’ve attempted either stage one or stage two, then a diffuser can be a really great investment to help calm your pet down and put them at ease. If your pet’s anxiety is really bad, you could also consider adding a couple of drops of valerian compound into their water leading up to you leaving the house – which will help relax your pet and reduce tension. In extreme cases, CBD oil could also be considered.

4 – Leave the radio or TV on

When you are at home, your pet has a constant source of stimulation and noises going on in the background. Whether it’s the sound of the washing machine running, the tv, typing or handwriting, etc – there’s always something going on. When you’re not home, though, all of that goes away and leaves your pet alone in an echoy home, with only the sound of their own paws clicking against the laminate to keep them company.

By leaving the radio on, you’re creating a source of stimulus for your pet. Don’t leave it on too loud, just loud enough for a bit of background noise during the day that can help your pet focus on something.

5 – Be patient!

It can be easy to become upset and flustered if your pet becomes stressed and destructive – urinating in the house, scratching, chewing and howling/crying are all signs that your pet is distressed. It’s important not to shout at your pet if this is the case, you need to try and correct their behaviour by addressing the source of the problem: the fear that they have been abandoned.

If your pet is struggling, it may be worthwhile speaking to a behaviouralist to see if they are able to help. Other options you could consider are leaving your pet at daycare, paying a dogwalker or pet-sitter to come visit your pet during the day, or leaving your pet with a relative.

Top tip
Crate
training is another idea which some owners find helpful. By creating a safe “den” for your pet, you can provide a safe place for them where they can go when they get stressed and upset – but it’s not wise to leave your pet in a crate for extended periods. If you’re not sure where to start, get in touch – we’ll be posting an article soon about this topic.