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.
|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)|
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…
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.
£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:
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.
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.
- 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.