Dog food has received growing attention from veterinarians and dog advocates throughout the world. Many dog foods contain corn, wheat and other grains that are thought to be culprits for the dog allergies and auto-immune disorders we are seeing in unprecedented numbers. Additionally, the meat by-products contained in most dog foods are made from cattle, chickens and animals that have been fed growth hormones, antibiotics, even liquid methane as our industrialized food and agribusiness corporations seek cheaper, faster methods to produce our human, and our dogs’ foods.
Genetic engineering of everything along the food chain, from corn and wheat that produces its own pesticides, to cattle that have been genetically modified to eat a diet of corn and liquid methane has further complicated locating the source of food allergies and other possible harmful effects of our dogs’ diets. Unfortunately, just about anything in your dog’s food could be causing skin problems and itching.
Dogs are genetically identical to wolves and wolves don’t eat grains. Dogs’ digestive systems are radically different from those of humans. Because of this, they don’t break down complex carbohydrates the same way we do. One theory is that dogs’ immune systems interpret these complex molecules as pathogens and have allergic reactions to them. Following this line of reasoning, if a dog’s diet is more similar to the diet of a wolf, it should lower the possibility of allergic reaction.
There are many foods on the market today that utilize this theory. A wolf’s diet consists mainly of protein, bones, fat, nuts and fruit that grows on bushes or falls from trees. Fruits contain simple carbohydrates which are easier to digest. Blue Buffalo Evolution Formula is one food designed to mimic a wolf’s diet. There are also many others. Try a different food that doesn’t contain wheat, corn or traditional meat by-products. Don’t feed your dog cereal or bread as a treat, and no donuts or tortilla chips either. Table scraps are fine, just stay away from grains. We feel half the fun of having a dog is letting them lick the plate, just hold the pie.
Other dog food companies including Purina and Hills have created foods using hydrolyzed proteins. The concept of using hydrolyzed proteins is that complex protein chains are broken down into molecules so small they are not recognized by your dog’s immune system as allergens. Changing your dog’s diet is a trial and error process, so if you decide to change foods, allow at least two weeks for the effects to appear.
The explosive epidemic of dog skin issues has developed relatively recently compared to the industrialization of the world’s food business. It is our opinion that there are more obvious causes for dog paw licking. Your dog’s diet may very well be causing his skin problems, but because the dog food business is so large, the attention given to dog food allergies could be disproportionate to the other possible triggers. There are more easily identifiable triggers you might consider first. Pesticides are a common suspect for dog allergies. Be aware of using too many pesticides around your home or garden. It might be giving your dog itchy skin. This includes flea medications. This is an especially difficult issue because fleas cause dog skin allergies, which can lead to infections, sores, and the cycle begins. Mites, fleas, ticks and other parasites could be the trigger that is causing your dog to chew his or her paws. Fortunately, this trigger is easily identified.
Fleas are visible to the eye. Mites are not. Clues to flea and mite infestation include hair loss scabs and sores. Your vet can easily determine if your dog has fleas or mites, so a checkup is your first stop in narrowing down possible causes.
Plants, grasses and pollens are a common source of allergies in dogs. With recent changes in rainfall patterns across the world, pollen counts are extremely high in some regions and your dog may be exposed to pollens in higher amounts than ever in his life. Allergies in dogs from plant pollens have skyrocketed in recent years and many veterinarians believe it could be due to increased rainfall.
Pollens and other inhaled allergens such as molds, house dust, dust mites, or household cleaners can cause a reaction known as atopic dermatitis. Clues to look for include scratching at the face, abdomen, armpits and genital areas. Atopy is thought to be the most common of all dog allergies and is usually evident by increased, excessive licking. If you can’t locate the source of the allergy, it is probably an inhaled substance. Try to think about what changed in your dog’s environment before she began chewing her paws. If you can determine the cause of inhaled allergies, you can remove the trigger. If not, your vet can help with the investigation.
Often the first treatment for atopy is antihistamines. They may be helpful if you can’t pinpoint the allergen, but common human antihistamines like Benadryl aren’t as effective in dogs. Benadryl is usually safe for dogs, but you should check with your vet on the dosage. 25 milligrams is the usual dosage for a 150 pound person. It is also a usual dosage for a 30 pound dog. If you try Benadryl on your dog, start at 25mg, usually before bedtime, and slowly increase the dosage if necessary. You can try 25mg in the morning too if needed.
If your dog appears tired, then back it down. Although they might help allergies, antihistamines often make the dog tired, thirsty, nervous, and can increase depression. They can also cause urinary difficulties, especially if used for more than a week. Just because Benadryl and other antihistamines are sold over the counter, doesn’t mean they can’t harm your dog or make him uncomfortable. Use with caution, and watch him closely, especially the volume and frequency of urination. If he appears to have urinary difficulties, stop the Benadryl.
Contact allergies can show themselves by swelling on the surface of the skin and redness, in addition to itching and hair loss. Plants, grass, wool, a new dog bed, pesticides including flea collars, or anything new to your dog’s environment could all be likely causes. The spraying of odor absorbent or masking substances, like Febreze or any of a dozen “pet odor eliminators” in the dog’s bed or on the carpet could also be the cause. Although this is an uncommon form of allergy, it could be a likely suspect in chronic paw chewing.
Bacterial infections show up on your dog in the form of crusty or cracked skin and hair loss. All skin has bacteria, but if your dog’s immune system is already off balance, he can develop hypersensitivity to normal skin bacteria. This causes itching. Itches causes scratching, licking and chewing. This often spreads the infection and things go downhill from there. Antibiotics to control the infection offer short-term, usually rapid relief. Unfortunately, the bacteria that survive each round of antibiotics produce offspring genetically resistant to the antibiotic. Your vet may change the antibiotic or boost your dogs immune system with steroids, but you should consider alternative treatment if possible. Again, we would like to stress that antibiotics and steroids provide effective, often immediate relief, and fast, aggressive intervention can often head off a case of chronic paw chewing before it becomes obsessive. We feel these drugs should definitely be used in severe cases. We would however caution against continued, habitual use of either antibiotics or steroids if possible.
Fungal infections can often appear similar to bacterial infections and allergies. Only your vet can diagnose these and prescribe effective oral medications. Don't use athlete's foot cream or spray from the drug store. Again, dogs don't read warning labels and will ingest whatever you put on them.
If the skin on your dog’s body seems fine, and only the skin on his feet is raw, irritated, red, cracked, bleeding or losing hair, the culprit is probably the grass in your yard.
Over the last decade, lawn grasses have been genetically modified to be uniform, green and weed resistant. The grass in our yards contains pesticides and herbicides built in to their DNA. These grasses may be one of the primary, unexamined causes of the rise in paw chewing and dog skin allergies. Although the grass in your yard or park could be a likely trigger, planting a new yard is expensive and in many cases simply not feasible.
If your dog displays other allergic signs, like hair loss on other parts of his body, runny, yellow discharge from his eyes, ear infections, rash on his armpits or around his rectum, coughing or sneezing, the allergy is probably not caused by your grass. Look for other triggers first. Start by enlisting the help of your vet.
Keep in mind that if your dog has begun chewing recently, it could be something new introduced into his environment. Or, more likely, your dog being introduced into a different environment, like a move to a new home. If anything in your dog’s life changed at the same time she began to chew her paws. This is where you will probably find your trigger. If it isn’t possible to locate the exact trigger, there are still multiple tools in your arsenal to relieve your dog’s symptoms, boost her immune system, and improve her psychological and behavioral reaction to the triggers.
We recognize that we can’t always control our environment, or our dog’s. So we have listed a number of things that may help. Our belief is that all of these things are good for your dog anyway, and none of them will harm him, so try as many as you can and watch your dog’s behavior closely. If you pay attention, your dog will tell you what works.
The more information you have, the better able you will be to make decisions concerning your dog’s health. We remind you to check your sources, including information from this site. The opinions expressed are not meant to be used without the collaboration and advice of your veterinarian.