Warm weather means green grass, blooming flowers and blossoming trees. You feel the urge to get outside for fresh air and sunshine. Pet parents, however, also know that spring means increased numbers of fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. For owners of pets with sensitive skin, flea and tick control can be especially challenging. Read on to learn more about protecting your BFF’s (best furry friend’s) sensitive skin from fleas and how nutrition might be able to help.
Fleas are a common cause of canine skin irritation
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, flea bite hypersensitivity, or flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), is the most common skin disease of U.S. dogs. When fleas feed on dogs, they inject saliva which contains histamine-like substances, enzymes, amino acids and polypeptides (large chains of amino acids). These compounds trigger an allergic reaction — usually itching — in dogs with FAD that is much more severe and prolonged than what “normal” dogs experience after being bitten.
Left untreated, FAD-associated itching and inflammation lead to excessive scratching and chewing that, in turn, damage skin. Opportunistic bacterial and/or fungal infections are common and can lead to more scratching, licking and chewing.
Flea control and prevention is essential for managing dogs with FAD. While it’s unlikely you can completely prevent flea bites, you should be able to help protect your dog’s sensitive skin by reducing the number of bites they receive. In fact, some veterinarians will recommend year-round flea control for any dog who suffers from sensitive skin, even if there are no visible signs of fleas.
You’ll want to speak with your veterinarian when choosing a flea and tick control product for your dog, especially if they have sensitive skin. Some dogs with sensitive skin can tolerate today’s flea and tick control collars and topical spot-on solutions, but others cannot. Be aware that the makers of topical flea and tick control products use different “carrier solutions,” some of which can be irritating to skin. If your dog’s skin is irritated by topical products, there are now several oral medications available through veterinarians, and they may be an option for your dog. Regardless of the form, you’ll want a product that kills adult fleas on your pet and targets the immature stages of fleas, such as eggs and larvae, that are found in the environment. You’ll also want a product with residual speed of kill, meaning the product can kill newly acquired fleas trying to make a meal of your pet before they have the opportunity to extensively bite.
What role can nutrition play in flea control?
No food can keep fleas off or from biting your canine companion. But your dog’s skin and immune system health can be positively or negatively influenced by the food they eat. So in addition to consistent flea control, dogs with FAD may benefit from a food designed for dogs with sensitive skin. These diets combine carefully selected ingredients to support skin and immune system health, and may include a limited number of protein sources, increased levels of omega fatty acids and a blend of antioxidants.
Limited protein sources
Allergy, whether triggered by proteins in flea saliva, pollen or food, is considered a “threshold” disease. In other words, your dog can be allergic to one or more things (allergens) but the symptoms don’t appear until they reach a certain level of exposure. In addition, exposure to allergens has a cumulative, or additive, effect on the immune system. If you can reduce or limit allergen exposure, you may be able to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Limiting the number of protein sources in your dog’s food can help lower their overall exposure to allergens in general and decrease stress on the immune system. Feeding a food that contains hydrolyzed protein (protein that has been broken into small pieces) or unique protein sources, such as venison or bison, can help decrease reactions in dogs with allergies.
Omega fatty acids
All body cells have membranes that are made up of fatty acids. When cell membranes are damaged, some of the fatty acids from the cell membrane are converted to different compounds, including those that contribute to inflammation. One way to influence the body’s natural inflammation is to replace some of the omega-6 fatty acids in cell membranes with omega-3 fatty acids. This can be done through nutrition, which is why some dogs benefit from increased levels of omega fatty acids found in a dog food for sensitive skin such as Diamond CARE Sensitive Skin Formula for Adult Dogs. Salmon, flaxseed and fish oil are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Vitamins A and E along with other antioxidants such as the minerals zinc and selenium are important to your dog’s healthy immune system. As part of a complete and balanced dog food, this antioxidant combination can help protect your canine companion’s body from damage by free radicals.
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