How to Care for Your Sensitive-skin Dog

Some dogs, like people, have more sensitive skin than others. For dogs, a few of the telltale signs are itching and inflammation. These can be caused by food allergies and environmental problems, among other factors. For food-related issues, you can take action to help your dog feel better.

One of the first key questions to ask, however, is if your dog’s skin problems are tied to the food that it is consuming. “Most people jump to change their dogs’ food whenever the dog starts to itch, assuming that the food is the problem,” says Dr. Katy Nelson, an associate emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. “However, only about 10 percent of pets actually have a food allergy, so finding the true allergen is key to controlling skin problems.” She adds that “even if the allergen is not an ingested one, sensitive-skin formula foods may still help.”

Dog Foods That Target Skin and Coat Issues

Special foods are now available through your veterinarian to address skin and coat problems. They promote a healthy skin and coat with these types of ingredients:

  • Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids: These are found in ingredients such as fish oil and canola oil. They help to manage a pet’s itching and scratching. These oils also “help the skin replenish its own luster,” says Nelson.
  • Unique blends of proteins and carbohydrates that can reduce the risk of bad reactions to food: “When looking for a sensitive-skin formula, ensure that there is just one protein source (e.g., chicken or beef versus ‘poultry products’) and one carb source to reduce antigenic stimulation,” says Nelson.
  • Vitamins and minerals to restore nutrients in the coat and skin: Nelson mentions biotin and vitamin E in particular.
  • Linoleic acid: This acid is found in high-quality, animal-based protein. It helps to keep your dog’s coat shiny and healthy.

Both wet and dry foods may contain all of the above. “Premium wet food can provide the same nutritional benefits as its dry counterpart,” explains Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams. “Premium foods provide a complete and balanced diet and deliver higher-quality ingredients for easy digestion and absorption of essential nutrients.”

Your Dog’s Breed Matters
Nelson says that certain breeds are more prone to skin and coat disorders. These include hound dogs, white dogs (think redheaded people with sensitive skin), golden retrievers (and other thick-coated breeds), Pomeranians, Doberman pinschers and more.

Wrinkly dogs, such as bulldogs and shar-peis, are notorious for suffering from skin and coat issues. A recent study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, determined that the wrinkled skin of shar-peis contains an excess of a compound called hyaluronan. Co-author Linda Tintle of Wurtsboro Veterinary Clinic and her colleagues found that the excess is caused by a genetic mutation, which can result in inflammatory skin disease. “With this genetic information, people can avoid breeding shar-peis with many (genetic) duplications,” she says. “Understanding the causes will also lead to more effective treatments.”

Additional Tips
Whether your dog is one of the at-risk breeds or just an itchy mutt, you can help your pet, according to Nelson, by doing the following three things:

  1. Always keep your dog’s flea and tick prevention current.
  2. Keep its skin as clean as possible by bathing frequently and using wipes in between baths.
  3. Avoid switching between foods/protein sources to lower antigenic stimulation. It’s better for your dog if you find one quality food that agrees with your pet, and stick with it. Variety can be the spice of life, but for dogs with sensitive skin, it’s best to stay with the tried-and-true food that your veterinarian recommends.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/yoglimogli

Nutrition Essentials for Sporting Dogs

In the ever-evolving landscape of dog food, formulas for highly active or sporting dogs are the latest trend. There’s good reason: Just like the nutritional needs of human athletes are different from those of non-athletes, the same is true for dogs. But what exactly is a sporting dog? Dr. Katy Nelson, a Virginia-based veterinarian, says the athlete/non-athlete comparison is apt.

“Think of this in terms of people,” says Nelson. “Michael Phelps is going to have vastly different nutritional needs from the average person who goes to the gym a few times a week. In the dog world, a weekend warrior really does not need a diet change in order to compensate for one major calorie-burning session a week, whereas a dog that lives on a farm, runs with its owner every day, does agility training or hunts every day is going to have much higher caloric requirement just for maintenance than a normal dog.”

These special foods are differentiated mainly by higher quantities of fat and protein, as well as a focus on high-quality protein. “Fat brings in twice the amount of kilocalories per gram than protein and carbohydrates,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, an Ohio-based veterinarian and technical services veterinarian for Iams, who specializes in diet and nutrition. “Meat-based proteins, such as chicken, bring in the essential amino acids to support muscle maintenance and development. Other meat-based proteins also supply natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin, which are important building blocks for healthy joint cartilage -- especially important for active dogs that may be performing activities that can stress joints.”

Improper Dog Food Use
Dicke says that regular dog food wouldn’t severely harm a sporting dog; it’s simply not optimal and it’s harder for these dogs to eat enough to get the energy input they need. In this scenario, owners should watch out for weight loss and loss of body condition. On the other hand, you definitely don’t want to feed a sporting formula to a nonsporting dog.

“House dogs should not be fed sporting dog food,” says Nelson. “The extra protein could cause undue pressure on the kidneys, the added fat could cause gastrointestinal upset, and the unburned calories will lead to obesity.” And while you may wean a dog on or off the food as sporting seasons come and go, she warns against feeding it to dogs only on weekends. “It would definitely lead to gastrointestinal distress if introduced abruptly. Any time you’re introducing a new diet, it should be done over a period of seven to 10 days. If they are just a weekend warrior, go with the law of averages: Some days they’ll do less, other days more. No need to over-supplement.” These formulas are also not for puppies. In fact, a sporting lifestyle is wrong for puppies, whose growing joints may be harmed by overly strenuous, repetitive activity.

Don’t Overdo Activity
As a last word of advice, both doctors warn overzealous owners not to mistake sporting dog food for a performance enhancer, and to guard against pushing dogs too far. “Owners need to be keenly perceptive of their pets’ tolerance, as some dogs will continue to perform past their max because of their enjoyment of the activity,” says Dicke. “Fatigue, lameness and post-exercise muscular, paw pad or joint pain can be indicators of overexertion.”

9 Key Ingredients That Nourish Growing Puppies

Mother’s milk may be the gold standard for newborn dogs, but when they wean at around 3 to 4 weeks of age, a new gold standard is required: a high-quality commercial puppy food. Luckily, it’s not hard to find.

“The pet food companies do a remarkable job with products that address overall nutrition,” says Dr. James Cook, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. “The science that goes into commercial pet food these days is comprehensive. It’s great as a veterinarian, because it makes advising clients about food easy.” Read on to learn what other docs have to say about feeding your pup for growth.

Choosing a Solid Food
“Puppies have different nutritional needs than adult and senior dogs,” says Katy Nelson, a Virginia-based emergency veterinarian. “Puppies need a food specifically formulated for young dogs. They also have size-specific needs.” Small breeds need higher protein and higher calories. Large-breed puppies, on the other hand, must have less of both to avoid joint and bone problems as they grow. Make sure then to select the right chow for your pup.

Introducing Solid Food
When puppies begin to wean at 3 or 4 weeks, they’ll consume both mother’s milk (or a milk replacement) and solid food, which should be mixed with water and initially provided once or twice daily. “Mix water with puppy formula to make gruel,” says Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Procter & Gamble. “Typically, more food will end up on them than in them. Slowly, they’ll make progress, and by 5 weeks they’ll be eating more skillfully. Slowly decrease the water as the puppy adjusts to eating kibble. By 8 weeks, they should be ready for weaning and dry food consumption.”

The Nine Key Ingredients

  • Chicken and Egg Nelson says that egg and chicken are the most ideal protein sources, followed by other meats and byproducts. “Puppies need a good-quality protein source, whether human-grade or directly below,” says Nelson. “There’s a bad feeling about byproduct meal in the world, but as long as it’s quality refined, it’s not actually a bad thing. Skin, liver and spleen are nutritious.”
  • Vitamins and Nutrients Like human infants, puppies have specific nutrient requirements. Calcium and phosphorus need to be in proper balance so that bone development is healthy. The same is true for amino acids and vitamins. “The proper ratio is key,” says Nelson. Look for a commercial food that has been certified “complete and balanced” by Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the FDA of pet foods.
  • Beet Pulp and Fructooligosaccharide (FOS) These fermentable fibers help to keep the digestive tract healthy. Beet pulp and FOS are moderately fermentable, which means they enhance nutrient absorption while also helping the puppy remove waste.
  • Antioxidants These substances are thought to protect cells against the effects of disease-causing free radicals. These free radicals are produced when food is broken down and when there is environmental exposure to toxins. Free radicals likely play a role in diseases like heart disease and cancer, among others. Puppies who take in antioxidants through food are thought to be less likely to have growth abnormalities and are generally healthier in the long run.
  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids Plan on teaching your new dog old tricks? Fish and vegetable oils -- rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, respectively -- may help you succeed. “It’s brain food,” explains Nelson. These fatty acids also keep skin and coat healthy, and benefit the joints and GI tracts by reducing inflammation. “They help with all body systems. I don’t think we’ve reached the tip of the iceberg in understanding their benefits,” adds Nelson.

Feed your pet right from weaning and into adulthood (one year, in dog time) and you’ll ensure it has a healthy foundation to grow on.

Does Your Dog Food Meet AAFCO Standards?

Most of us have learned to check the ingredients list on dog food, but there’s another set of information on pet food labels that merits your attention: the guaranteed analysis. Understanding this information, which is based on the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, provides you with yet another important tool in the marketplace.

“Minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture must be listed in the guaranteed analysis,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Pet food manufacturers may guarantee other nutrients as well.”

Here, Dicke and Dr. Katy Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., take you through the guaranteed analysis information on dog food, explaining its many benefits -- and its limitations.

What the Guaranteed Analysis Will and Will Not Do
“Guarantees indicate the nutrient will be present at no more or no less, depending on the guarantee, throughout the shelf life of the product,” says Dicke. Here’s what the guaranteed analysis will and won’t do:

Will

  • Allow you to compare foods
  • Indicate the legal minimums of crude protein and crude fat
  • Provide the legal maximums of water and crude fiber contained in the product
  • Permit direct comparisons between products with similar water content, such as one dry food versus another dry food or one wet/canned food versus another wet/canned food

Will not

  • Portray the quality of ingredients within a product
  • Specify the actual amount of protein, fat, water and fiber in the food
  • Permit comparisons between products with different water amounts

As you can see, water levels are a big consideration. “Canned foods typically contain 7 percent to 78 percent moisture, whereas dry foods contain only 10 percent to 12 percent moisture,” says Dicke. “To make meaningful comparisons of nutrient levels between a canned and dry product, they should be expressed on the same moisture basis.”

Using the Guaranteed Analysis Information
Until your dog actually eats a food, you cannot tell if the meal will be a taste bud pleaser. By reading pet food labels at the store, however, you can make predictions about a product’s quality and nutrient punch. Nelson shares the tips below:

1. If your dog is getting older and/or has renal issues, look for a food that has higher moisture content. It will help keep your pet hydrated.

2. If your dog suffers from weight issues, diabetes, renal difficulties, diarrhea or constipation, speak with your veterinarian about desired protein and fiber levels in pet food. You may need to find a diet that is more geared to your particular pet’s needs.

3. Beneficial inclusions like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are not required in the guaranteed analysis; however, many premium dog food products will guarantee minimal levels of these fatty acids to let pet owners know that the health benefits of the nutrient can be expected throughout product shelf life.

4. Another inclusion not required in the guaranteed analysis is L-carnitine. If your dog is overweight, however, studies suggest L-carnitine can help the body enhance lean muscle mass by promoting a more efficient manner of utilizing dietary fats.

5. Helpful inclusions found in diets, especially for large breeds, senior pets or overweight pets, are glucosamine and chondroitin. “These are the building blocks of cartilage and can help to promote joint health and even keeps the healthy cartilage in an already damaged/arthritic joint going strong,” says Nelson.

Dog Food Ingredients for Good Health

While all fats are not created equal, certain fatty acids are crucial for your pup’s good health.

“Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats,” explains Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Certain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for your dog and must be supplied through the diet. These omega-6s and omega-3s are keys for maintaining healthy cell growth.”

Health Benefits of Fatty Acids
Your dog needs linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that your dog can convert to a range of other omega-6 fatty acids, says Dr. Denise Elliott, a board-certified nutritionist for Banfield, The Pet Hospital. Alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, can also be converted into other useful fatty acids.

These acids offer a multitude of benefits for your dog’s good health, including:

  • Healthy skin and coat. The mentioned fatty acids help make your dog’s coat glossy and soft. You should also see less dandruff and dry skin. Additionally, several studies have clearly shown the benefit of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA in alleviating the redness and itching and improving the overall condition of the skin and coat, says Elliott.
  • Neurological development. Just as human babies need fat in their diet for brain development, DHA is important in the healthy development of neurologic and optic tissue. A commercial pet food containing omega-3 fatty acids will have a positive effect on the learning ability of puppies, says Dicke.
  • Healing. Omega-3 acids can help your dog heal faster, reducing inflammation.
  • Intestinal health. The anti-inflammatory qualities of omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for dogs suffering from irritable bowel disease, says Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian who is a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council.
  • Joint health. Is your dog getting a little creaky when it comes to climbing up and down stairs or simply joining you on a walk around the block? A diet with a well-balanced combination of fatty acids may help. Again, it’s the reduction in inflammation that is key.

Finding the Right IngredientsYour dog’s food should contain a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids alone can actually be inflammatory agents, notes Nelson. A high-quality dog food should have a ratio of five or 10 omega-6 fatty acids to one omega-3 fatty acid. “Not all diets supply the level of omega-3 fatty acids to achieve the benefits,” says Dicke. “The increased omega-3 supplementation is found primarily in the premium diets. Owners can look for a guarantee of omega-3 fatty acids in the guaranteed analysis section of the package.”

Vegetable oils and animal fats, such as chicken fat, are common sources of omega-6 fatty acids in pet food. Fish meals, fish oils and flax are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

It’s a good idea to discuss your dog’s diet and your interest in fatty acids with your veterinarian. “Fatty acids are a complex field,” says Elliott. While many supplements are available on the market, these supplements aren’t regulated and they may have unintended side effects. For example, cod liver oil has concentrations of vitamin A and vitamin D that can have adverse effects at high doses.

Adding fat through supplements to your dog’s diet also may lead to weight gain if not carefully monitored. If your dog receives the needed fatty acids through a commercial food, then you can control caloric intake.

Consider these omega fatty acids a part of your overall health plan for your dog -- not a miracle cure. If your dog is overweight or inactive, you’ll need to find a way to get it moving. “You have to do your part in order to allow the omega acids to be useful,” says Nelson.