Podcast: Pet Allergies — How to Help Dogs and Cats Suffering from Resting Itch Face

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marshall in grass - dog environmental allergiesPictured here is my dog, Marshall. He loves rolling in the grass as much as I love wearing sweatpants and drinking bourbon. He is, of course, allergic to grass, which has put a damper on a lot of our outdoor fun time.

So, for our very first Paws & Play podcast episode, Dr. J and I do a deep dive into how to help dogs and cats with environmental and food-related allergies.

We discuss symptoms to look out for, preventive measures you can take, some different treatment options, and a lot of ways to help keep your pets comfortable as they're dealing with the pain and inflammation (and you're dealing with hearing the nonstop licking).

Play Paws & Play episode Resting Itch Face: Helping Pets with Allergies
Paws & Play Resting Itch Face: Helping Pets with Allergies

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Full Paws & Play podcast transcript:

Mia: Alright, welcome everybody you're listening to the Paws and Play podcast with Dr. J and Mia! This is our first episode, so just give you a little background, again, my name is Mia, and I work at Preventive Vet. I’m not in the veterinary space, but I am an animal lover with two fur babies of my own — a dog and a cat — and I have a lot of questions, so I'll be trying to get as much helpful info for all of us and from Dr. J as possible. So I'd love it if the man who started it all, Dr. J could give a little intro as well.

Dr. J: Hi everybody! Welcome to the podcast. My name is Doctor Jason Nicholas, or as everybody more affectionately, I hope, calls me, Dr. J. Thanks for joining us.

Mia: If you wouldn't mind, since that we're just getting to know everybody, what made you start Preventive Vet?

Dr. J: Preventive Vet was born out of the realization that a lot of what I was seeing coming into the emergency room and also you know on emergency in general practice, was avoidable, preventable. If only people had been aware of certain things beforehand, in terms of the, you know, the conditions that were occurring or even the simple things they could do to prevent them. And so I wanted to help people, because taking care of pets isn't necessarily intuitive or common sense or common knowledge or what have you.

They're not even like human babies, they require some special care and some knowledge and paying attention. So I want to help share what I've learned, both in my formal education in vet school and internship, and also out in practice, and from chatting with other vets, and with trainers, and technicians, or veterinary nurses, and a lot of other pet owners. I wanted to help people benefit from that experience so that they could hopefully avoid the costs and the emotional toil and the pain and suffering associated with emergencies.

Mia: I consider myself a helicopter parent, and yet, in a very short time after starting at Preventive Vet, I was going around the house, dog and kitty-proofing, because there were just a lot of dangers that I never would have even thought to think about. I mean, you know, you just can't know what you don't know. And especially you know, if it's something that just wouldn't jump out at you as being hazard.

I mean some things make sense, you know, you don't want like in an open electrical wire around them, or anybody really, but there's a whole lot more that you're bringing to light, and I just I definitely appreciate it.

You know, the weather’s changing - today actually I was fighting some allergy stuff and it's pretty terrible around here right now. So is it safe to assume that since my allergies are flaring up badly that it might be allergy season for our pets too?

Dr. J: Allergy season for pets, just like with people, can vary significantly. Just like people, cats and dogs can be allergic to different grasses, different pollens, different molds, different mites, different insect bites — you name it, they can pretty much be allergic to everything that people are allergic to.

So their “allergy season” really depends on what it is they're allergic to and where they are located at the time and when those things are more likely to be around. But for that kind of classic allergy season, of grasses and pollens and things of that nature, yeah spring time is a big time often.

Mia: Actually, I didn't know originally that my dog Marshall had allergies until we moved from Brooklyn to Seattle, basically for the sole purpose of having more room, having a yard for both of us for the first time in our lives. Basically having more green things in our lives, and it turns out Marshall is allergic to all of them.

Like literally everything, but loves to roll around in everything. So, first of all if you've got a dog that is allergic to all of the grasses, but also loves to roll around in it, what are some of the preventive measures I can take while still allowing him to and enjoy life?

Marshall in the grass

Dr. J: I mean there's quite a few things that people can do if they know or suspect that their pet has an environmental allergy. Daily fish oils at certain dosages can help to decrease inflammation, so I typically recommend that all dogs with environmental allergies be on fish oils, because those really don't have much in the way of side effects and they can benefit. They're not “magic bullets”, so they’re not going to fix the problem, but getting those on board early can help. And antihistamines. Animals can take antihistamines just like people can, and just like in people different antihistamines will work better for different pets.

Mia: Sorry when you say antihistamines, is that like Benadryl?

Dr. J: Yeah so Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, and things of that nature. But you know, I say that with caution because I wouldn't encourage people to just start grabbing Benadryl, or Zyrtec or Claritin or any other over the counter antihistamines and giving them to their dog or their cats, because they can have contraindications.

There can be instances where you wouldn't want to give them to your pets based on other medications they’re on or other medical conditions they might have. But they’re the type of thing that you really just want to have a chat with your vet to have a discussion about what you can do proactively before their allergy season starts, safely, proactively effectively to try and minimize the risk and problems.

Calculate the Benadryl dosage for your pet

Mia: Last year I didn't jump on it quickly enough, and I guess I really just didn't realize it until it was too late, which led to getting the irritated skin and lots of scratching, irritated paws which then made it really impossible to clip his nails, which became another issue, so I mean it really does end up snowballing.

Dr. J: Yeah, it definitely does

Mia: I should've asked earlier, what are these allergies, and maybe more importantly, what are the symptoms that we can be looking for in our cats and dogs — and would the symptoms present themselves the same between the species?

Dr. J: It really depends on what they're allergic to and how severely allergic they are. But things like itching and scratching, nibbling on themselves, licking themselves constantly, those could be signs of allergies. I mean don't get me wrong, scratching can also be signs of fleas or mites or any number of things really.

If we see itching and scratching, that could be an allergy, but that's not your final diagnosis because the allergy can be related to something in their environment, whether it be pollens or molds, or grasses, or house dust mites.

Or it can be something potentially in their food. Typically that is related to the protein in the food and not necessarily grains or anything like that. So itching and scratching are definitely some pretty common ones.

Often times they'll have flare ups in the paws, so the paws will get really moist and irritated, and you'll start seeing a change in the color of their dog or your cat's coat — their fur in that area, because they're constantly licking it.

Often also, especially I think dogs that are having hypersensitivity, or allergies to something in their food, frequently will have ear infections, and whether those are chronic ear infections that just never really go away, or ear infections that are recurring.

Mia: That's so interesting because I never would have linked food allergies with the ear infections.

Dr. J: What's happening is, with allergies their skin is just becoming inflamed in general, and the ear canal is lined with skin. One of the primary functions of the skin is to act as a barrier and to keep the yeast and bacteria that are normally on there, like you and I, our pets, everybody walking around has a degree of bacteria and yeast on their skin, and it's normal, it's natural.

The problem is when the skin can't keep those bacterial and yeast numbers in check because it's inflamed and it's not as effective a barrier, then they begin to over populate that yeast and bacteria. And that's what's happening in the ears as well.

So if we know that we've got a cat or a dog that's got allergies whether it be to something in their environment or something in their food, we really should be checking their ears on at least a weekly basis, and that could be something as easy as just flipping up the ear flap and looking there. Does the ear look red and inflamed or does it look nice and calm and cool? Is there any discharge? Is there any change in odor, anything like that.

I would never encourage people to stick a Q-tip down their cat or dog’s ear, but certainly wrapping a little gauze square cotton ball or a tissue around your finger and sticking your finger down in there a little bit and seeing if you're getting back a lot of discharge. And if you are, it’s time for a visit to the vet because the earlier you act on the ear infections, the better.

How to clean your pet's ears || When NOT to clean your pet's ears

Mia: It sounds like most of the symptoms of allergies present themselves as inflammation, but I was wondering if any times they present themselves kind of like humans. Like my eyes get all runny, I'm sneezing constantly, and sometimes coughing.

And I noticed that sometimes Marshall, even Mazel our cat, will sneeze. Of course, that could just be dust in the air something like that, but are there times where it really does kind of show up more like what I would consider a human allergy does?

Dr. J: Are you asking if pets can be allergic to humans?

Mia: Aw, I hope not, that would make me sad.

Dr. J: Right you just want to get near them, but they just can't be near you! Yes, you can get the sneezing, runny nose, the runny eyes, the cough. In fact, we’ll sometimes see, especially in smaller dogs like the Bichons and whatnot, they will have what we call a reverse-sneeze. It's kind of like they're snorting inward.

Mia: Marshall does that a lot and it always scares me a little and makes me want to jump into action, but I never really know what to do.

Dr. J: Totally, because you think they’re going to suffocate. Yeah, I mean it could be quite distressing. Fortunately, they tend to resolve it on their own after a little while but, oftentimes antihistamines can help, as can having them in a humidified environment.

I frequently recommend to people, if their cat or dog is getting some nasal discharge or sneezing or coughing, one of the easiest things you can do at home is, if there's a room that they spend a lot of their time in, put a humidifier there. Or twice a day get them into the bathroom and run a hot shower. So when you're taking your shower and bathroom is all steamed up, bring your pet in there with you. Not into the shower of course, but into the bathroom, and let them breathe that humidified air.

And that can help to ensure that all of the tissues that line the respiratory tract, you know their breathing apparatus, are nice and hydrated and that the stuff that's in there is as a loose as possible — as opposed to dry and crusty and more difficult to get out. So those things can help with those types of allergies as well.

Just don't reach for essential oils to add to your humidifier

Mia: Are there some other natural remedies besides the steam shower and the humidifier?

Dr. J: In terms of “natural”, one of the best things you can do for allergies with cats and dogs in their environment really is keeping those allergens off of them. So if you're going outside with your dog and they've got allergies to grass or pollens or whatever, you can put on dog socks or dog boots to help keep those allergens off their skin.

Mia: I’m sure that other people can, Marshall refuses to move at all. I’ve tried like six different kinds he won’t move.

Dr. J: Then that's fantastic video. So if your particular pet doesn’t tolerate socks or boots then before you come in, after your walk, go ahead and rinse off those paws. Whether you just dip them in a bucket of water before you come in, or use an unscented baby wipe, or a medicated paw wiper — something like that. Or you do a waterless shampoo, or an actual shampoo, and give them a little foot bath.

The important thing is to be sure to rinse it off really well afterwards and dry it really well, because you don't want to trap moisture and then wind up with skin cracking and yeast, and the bacterial over populating.

But you can also bathe them. So if they are going out, like you said with Marshall, he likes to roll in the grass, so maybe he's a dog that gets a bath twice a week, so that you can remove the allergen load that could potentially be absorbed across his skin and trigger bad allergies. So there's lots of things that people can do to be proactive and try and really decrease their risk, and that's before you even get into the medications that your veterinarian might recommend, which can help with a lot of pets in terms of decreasing the scratch, decreasing the inflammation, and decreasing secondary infections.

Mia: I definitely want to hear about some of those treatment options but, I was warned before about over-bathing, so I was wondering if there's like a sweet spot. I was thinking like once a month, I mean he's pretty short-haired, he normally doesn't get very dirty.

Dr. J: Right, well so the sweet spot you’re asking about, it really depends on multiple factors, the primary among them being your pet and how well they tolerate the bathing process. And then how bad their allergies are and how bad their skin is. But it's not outside the realm of possibility to bathe your pet a few times a week.

If you're gonna be bathing them that frequently, the first thing I would say is use a pet-specific shampoo. Don't go grabbing like the head and shoulders or whatever it is that you've got in your shower.  You want to make sure that you've got a shampoo that the PH in particular is correct for your dog or your cat’s skin, and so they're less likely to be stripping a lot of the protective oils. Or if you use a topical flea and tick preventive you're not gonna be removing that as much.

Tips for bathing your cat

There is one in particular, that’s not even a shampoo, but a soap, that unfortunately lots of people reach for first to bathe their pets, and I would highly encourage people not to, except for in certain situations, and that's dish soap. So like Dawn, a lot of people know that we use Dawn in the hospital for washing off oil-based toxins.

Mia: Right, like oil spills. (I will never forget the Becky the duck episode from Saved by the Bell)

Dr. J: Yeah that's what they use on wildlife to clean up oil spills, and even if somebody applies a heavy concentration pyrethrum or permethrin based flea or tick preventative for dogs on to their cat, and we wind up with the toxicity, that's what we reach for because it's so good at stripping grease and oil.

You really don't want to be using Dawn or other dish soaps. And if you're using something often, like multiple times a week, ideally you something that’s soap-free has added you know fish oils or is maybe oatmeal-based shampoo. And that can help.

But really, the thing that's going to irritate an allergic dog’s skin more than bathing frequently, is gonna be having these allergens on their skin and causing the flare-ups, and the inflammation, and then the secondary bacterial infections, or yeast infections that are going to occur.

More about choosing the right kind of shampoo for your dog or cat

Mia: Before we forget, let's go back to the different treatment options that are available, because Marshall just actually started getting an injection this year — he was on some some pills before. What are some of the recommended treatments, and is there a time to go both? I don't know if the injection seems to be a little more powerful, it hasn't been enough time yet to tell. But so far so good.

Dr. J: As a pet owner it's difficult to know what's going to be the best medication, the best treatment course, and that's obviously where your veterinarian or even a board certified veterinary dermatologist really comes in. But in terms of the options that are available, we are really lucky now, we've got quite a few more treatment options that can help pets. 

It used to be just steroids. That’s what would typically be given, and those are either in pill form or injection, and I don't believe that that's the injection you're talking about that Marshall just got. But the steroid injections or steroid pills, they are really highly potent anti-inflammatory medications. Which is great, but they're not without their problems, especially in overweight pets, and especially overweight cats.

So steroids are good, but they are not without their side effects. They are relatively inexpensive, but they’re not really a great long term solution. So thankfully, companies have come up with other options like, and I imagine that the medication that you're talking about, the injection, because it's the only one out there really non-steroid, is Cytopoint.

Mia: Yep, that’s the one!

Dr. J: Yeah, that's typically the one, it's a great medication. They also have a pill that's really effective at stopping itching called Apoquel. And so these are the types of things that have really revolutionized our ability to care for pets with allergic skin disease.

But we also have to step back a second and realize that, often times, it's not actually allergies. We could be dealing with fleas or mites or something like that, so making sure that fleas are not part of the problem is really important.

And some of the flea preventatives that you can get over the counter at Walmart or your local supermarket, can actually be downright dangerous — especially if you've got cats in your house. But they can also be less effective, and so those are the types of things to at least check with your vet about and find out what's the best one for your own pet, in your own family household situation.

Also, like people, we have the ability to test pets for what they're allergic to.

Mia: Yeah, I was going to ask about that.

Dr. J: So we draw a bunch of blood, send it off to an outside lab, and they expose it to a battery of different allergens and determine what they are reacting to.

And then you get a report back that says what they're allergic to and how strong that allergy is. And then they can create a serum based on that, to try and do what we call, hyposensitization. So it's basically an allergy shot. You start off with every day, every few days, to once a week, then every other week, to eventually where you're getting to hopefully like once a month or every other week where they're given an injection. It can be quite effective for quite a few animals.

You know probably somewhere in the range of around 75% get some response. It's not inexpensive but it can certainly help. And if they can decrease the cost of skin infections and other flare ups, in the long run it may actually be less expensive.

Going to the dermatologist, they could do the intradermal skin testing like we're used to in people, where they actually inject the different allergens under the skin and we get a really good response as to what they're allergic to, again with the goal of creating that allergy serum to hyper-sensitize.

And then there's even a product out there that's actually created by veterinary dermatologist here in Portland, Oregon, where you don't even have to go through the allergy testing, he basically just looks at the regions of the country, and what are the most common allergens, and sort of batches them together. So you can do that to hyper-sensitize as well.

And even for people who are squeamish with needles, there are ways to do these “shots” with just a drop of liquid on your pet's tongue, as opposed to actually doing an injection. So there's lots of options available, the trick is, recognizing the problem of the itch, and likely allergy, and then working with your veterinarian to find out what it might be and what works for you both logistically, financially, and otherwise, to help try and manage your pet’s allergies and minimize the secondary effects that can really make their life pretty miserable — and yours as well, because a lot of people lose sleep when their pets are constantly licking and itching themselves overnight. So it's quality of life for everybody.

Mia: Yeah definitely. You know, speaking of quality of life and things that we're trying to do for our pets to ensure that they're more comfortable, I was around for a conversation that kind of blew my mind. It was totally counter intuitive. I overheard you speaking to another doctor about brushing your pet even though they may have skin irritation, including an open sore or something like that. To me, I never would have thought that. I would’ve thought back away until everything is back in order, but apparently we actually should be continuing to brush. I mean, depending on the brush obviously that's important.

Dr. J: Yeah depending on the brush and depending on how severely inflamed and painful their skin is. Brushing with an appropriate style brush, something that’s relatively soft and almost more massaging like action, that can help encourage blood flow to the skin. And when we're bathing pets with allergic skin disease we really want to use cool water as opposed to really hot.

Cool water can be a little bit more soothing. But the massaging action of an appropriate brushing can help bring blood flow to the skin, to the surface, and that is important for healing — to get the blood flow into that area. So fortunately there are more massaging kind of silicon-based brushes that you can use even when you're bathing your pet, so they can get wet.

Especially using a medicated shampoo, a prescription shampoo from your veterinarian that's treated with something or that contains a compound that can help kill off bacteria and or yeast. Contact time could be quite important, so often times in the clinic we say, bathe them, and then let it sit on the coat for a good five to ten minutes before rinsing it off.

Well if your dog likes being massaged and if you can do that with the brush in with your hands and really work that latter in for ten minutes, you're probably going to have a dog that's looking forward to their next bath as opposed to you know struggling to get out and do everything they possibly can. So yeah that could be quite helpful.

Mia: Yeah Marshall’s one of those dogs that — actually you might, sorry in advance, you may hear him squeaking away. That's actually the toy that you and Jeff and Anne got him. He won't stop playing and he likes it, it's great but there has not been a day that has gone by where at least one of us has accidentally stepped on it and scared the (meow) right out of ourselves. But he loves it, and he also does really love a good bath. I didn't know that about the lather and keeping the shampoo on for that long, so that's good to know!

Gosh we've covered a lot so far, but there's so much more to talk about! So, when you’re talking about the testing, I'm assuming that was more for environmental allergies?

Dr. J: Exactly.

Mia: So it sounds to me like the symptoms pretty much manifest themselves the same way in terms of irritation, lots of licking, scratching…

Dr. J:  Although with food allergies, sometimes not always, we’ll also get some digestive signs like vomiting and or diarrhea. But not always.

Mia: Would cats tend to get similar food allergies?

Dr. J: Yeah they can, both species have that potential.

Mia: If you do suspect that your animal has a food allergy, is there something that you should do right away? Because obviously there are ways to minimize the ingredients you give them, but is there a place to start?

Dr. J: Most of the food allergies, the food hypersensitivities, are due to the protein in the food as opposed to any grains or anything like that. So whether your dog or your cat is allergic to say, chicken or beef or lamb — you know, it used to be that back in the day, when we suspected or someone thought that their pet had a food allergies, we’d say to put them on lamb and rice because at that point, lamb wasn't a very common protein in pet foods. So it was relatively novel for a lot of pets and so they had to build up an allergy to it.

So it would help with quite a few of those food allergic pets, but now a lot of pets have seen lamb and soy and fish and chicken and beef and turkey and duck. And even some of these more “exotic” ones that people are getting access to as far as venison and quail and even kangaroo and emu.

What I would encourage people to not do if they think that their pet has a food allergy, is I would encourage them to not grab a bunch of different foods, with a bunch of different proteins and try all of them. I would encourage people to go earlier in the course rather than later — if we don't have a good diet history on the pet, and they've already been exposed to a lot of the different proteins, the different meats, and things of that nature, then it does become more difficult to find a diet and a protein that will be likely to be novel so the pet will have never seen it before. Therefore it minimizes the treatment options for that.

You can get instructions on cooking at home to limit the ingredients in your cat's food. You can do what would be called an elimination diet, and that should be done under the guidance of your veterinarian, or board certified veterinary dermatologist, or even with the guidance of a board certified veterinary nutritionist.

But your vet has access to prescription diets that have truly limited ingredients and single proteins. That we have guarantees from veterinary manufactures — the Royal Canins, the Hills, the Purina, that if the bags says “rabbit and pea”, then that is truly the only protein in there. They have a dedicated line to make the rabbit-based foods. Where, if they don't, they're breaking down the line completely in between production with other foods and cleaning them well.

And the reason that's important is because if you're going to go through the time and the expense, and we're typically talking about three months of feeding them that single food exclusively to know whether or not it's going to fix things.

If you're going to undertake that time and expense, what you’ve got to realize is that even the smallest contamination of a different protein can throw off the results significantly and make it look like it's not working, when in reality, it's just that there's some cross-contamination. So if you're using a food that says rabbit but they're producing it on a line, or right next to a line, that produces chicken food…

Mia: I guess I hadn't even thought about that.

Dr. J: Yeah, so it's really one of those areas where going with the veterinarian prescription diets (is going to be an ideal option) because we have the guarantees from the companies and they have a lot at stake by not holding up those guarantees. So we can feel more confident with that, and know whether or not we're truly doing an elimination diet, a novel protein diet.

But, if we can’t easily do a novel protein diet, because a pet has been exposed to all these other allergens, the other option is to go with what's called a “hydrolyzed protein diet”. So basically what they're doing is either enzymatically or chemically they're breaking down the protein into smaller peptides, into smaller molecules that the body will not recognize as a protein.

So with the hydrolyzed protein diet, you can actually take chicken and feed it to a dog that has a chicken allergy, but the chicken protein has been hydrolyzed so small that it no longer looks to the body's immune system like it's chicken. It's still got all the same nutrients.

Mia: So, like basically it fakes it out? Break it down in a non-scientific way, because I don’t have that kind of brain.

Dr. J: Off the cuff — I don’t know, say you're watching Game of Thrones, right? And you're looking out for giants, you're on patrol, you're looking out for those crazy awesome giant things in Game of Thrones, or dragons. So there's these huge things, and that's what you're looking for. You’re prepped to know what those things look like, you know how to deal with them when you see them, you ring the bell and you mount the defenses and you start attacking everything and there's collateral damage as well, right.

But now say instead of the giants coming at you, they've broken those down now into a bunch of smaller, I don’t know, warriors.

Mia: Mini giants!

Dr. J: Mini giants! So now you're up on your tower, you're looking out for these ginormous things and you don't see them, but yet they're still coming and they're getting in, and now you've got these mini giants.

So you're not thinking, okay I've got to ring the bell, I've got to mount the defenses, and I've got to start an attack. And so that's basically what hydrolyzing does: it breaks down these larger proteins into smaller components so they can evade the immune system and not trigger that response and still deliver the nutrients and nutrition that the pet needs.

The hydrolyzed chicken is coming

So if you can do a hydrolyzed protein diet, that can help, and then it can help you know whether or not it's a food allergy that you're dealing with because if the signs improve, especially drastically, on a hydrolyzed protein diet — once you've taken care of and you know that it's not fleas and you know it's not mites — if the clinical signs improve, then you've got your answer.

Oftentimes you can stay on those hydrolyzed protein diets, so that will get quite expensive in the long run, but now you know that it's a food hypersensitivity, and so you can start reintroducing one protein at a time to see if the condition comes back. If it does, then that's the or would at least one of the proteins that your dog is allergic to, and you want to avoid that one.

But then when you find other proteins that they don't react to, then you can start feeding a food that's got that as its single protein. And again, you can also cook those at home.

Mia: Okay, that's a totally different option than I’ve even heard of.

Dr. J: My giant analogy? How did you like that? Winter is coming!

Mia: I loved it actually, that's kind of the only way that I could really visualize it.

But, I'm a little confused on the topic of food allergies when it comes to the proteins, and then the novel proteins. Marshall doesn't seem to have an allergy to any of the proteins, but I was just like, okay well I don't want him to build up an allergy. Is that something that happens?

So I've been kind of rotating the protein in his food with every bag. Am I just doing it wrong? Or how is it exactly that these protein food allergies are coming about? Is it from eating it too long and building up some kind of intolerance?

Dr. J: I mean, I don't know that we know a hundred percent. There’s different theories out there as far as protein rotations being good or protein rotations being bad. For rotating proteins often, that’s when if it comes down to needing to find a novel protein then it’s going to be far more difficult. So that can make life a little bit more difficult, but again, now we've got hydrolyzed protein diets so that minimizes some of those difficulties.

Mia: I guess am I doing him a disservice actually, by rotating the proteins?

Dr. J: Not that I can necessarily say definitively one hundred percent. I mean, feeding an animal the same protein over and over is going to potentially increase the risk of them developing an allergy to that. But if you're starting to see that, then you've got other proteins to switch to.

Unfortunately, there's not a fantastic answer for that. What I typically recommend to people, and what I practice, really, with your pets, the best food for your pet is the food that they thrive on. You know, that they've got good energy on, their skin and coat is good. They're not vomiting and having diarrhea.

Mia: Uh, yeah, I imagine that’s not the food for them.

How to figure out which dog is having diarrhea or pooping in the house

Dr. J: Yeah, that's not ideal. So for me, once you find a food that your pet thrives on, don't change it. Pets don't necessarily need variety to be excited about eating, unless you're giving them a bunch of table scraps — which I discourage against.

If your dog is eating dog food, and whether that's a commercially prepared one or one that you cook at home, ideally with a recipe that is balanced and has been guided by a nutritionist, that's great. If that's what they're eating and they like it, and they're doing well on it, don't make your life more difficult than it needs to be. There's a lot of other things in life that really need time.

I don't think that dogs or cats really need a ton of variety in their in their food, in their diet, so once you find the food they're doing well on, stick with it. If you start noticing a problem then you make your pivot.

Mia: Okay, and you touched upon it a little bit, but could you talk a little bit more about grain-free foods?

Dr. J: Grains really aren’t the boogeyman here, that's more the protein when it comes to allergies; we know that. I can't tell you the number of pets that I've treated that have had skin issues and diagnosed food allergies, that were eating a grain-free food. I mean, the number of people who come in the hospital, and I say, “Well what food are you feeding them?” and instead of telling me the brand in the formula and all that stuff, it’s “Oh, it’s a grain-free food”. That really means nothing to me.

So grain-free has become this amazing marketing thing and people are spending a lot of money for it. You don't necessarily need to. But again, if you're getting a grain-free food, whichever one that is, and it’s nutritionally balanced and your pet is thriving on it, go with it. If you can afford to keep feeding that, go with it, totally, because if your pet is thriving, you’ve found the right food.

The one area where I do really recommend and look towards more grain-free is really with cats. I'm a huge fan of wet food for cats much more so than dry food. The thing with wet food for cats is that typically it's going to be higher in protein, and higher animal protein, which is extremely important especially for cats because they are what we call obligate carnivores.

They need protein, they need animal-based meat protein to thrive and really do all the biological functions that their body needs to do. So if you're feeding a grain-free wet cat food, it’s more likely that the protein that’s in there, is going to be animal-based as opposed to plant-based, which is better for cats.

Mia: Well Dr. J, this is been so great and really informative, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge and help us be preventive in our everyday lives and help keep our fur babies safe and happy and healthy for lots of years to come.

Dr. J: It’s been fun!

About the author

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Mia Horberg

Mia Horberg is a Digital Strategist at Preventive Vet, and when she's not working she is watching Jeopardy! with her wife, planting flowers and veggies, and hanging out with her senior rescue pug Mabel Petrillo, and exotic shorthair kitty, Mazel von Schmear Visage. A lover of all animals, Mia is also lucky enough to volunteer at a rescue where she gets to hang out with goats and sheep every week.

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