The Canadian pet food industry is vast. In 2017, dry pet food was responsible for 32% of the total revenue of the entire industry, amounting to more than $100 million in revenue. Canadian households view their pets as part of the family, and it would be assumed that such a large, important industry would hold the same values and be tightly regulated. However, this is unfortunately not the case.
Canadian Pet Food Regulations
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will inspect imported ingredients and imported products for disease contamination only, to prevent animal diseases being introduced to Canadian livestock. Pet food that is manufactured here in Canada is not inspected.
Other countries have imposed much more comprehensive regulations.
United States Pet Food Regulations
The FDA mandates that pet food be safe to consume.
European Union Pet Food Regulations
Even more impressive are the regulations that the European Union (EU) have put in place. The EU has imposed regulations that encompass ingredients and ingredient sourcing, and manufacturing facilities’ hygiene, equipment and environmental impacts.
Why You Should Purchase Canadian Pet Foods
Supporting Canadian manufacturing should be a priority for all Canadian shoppers and choosing brands with high standards sets the bar for all Canadian manufacturers. There are many Canadian pet food brands that go above and beyond to uphold high manufacturing standards. By becoming aware of the different manufacturing policies and making a point to only purchase from brands with strict protocols, the industry is pushed towards putting in place strict regulations. Consumer awareness is the key to regulation development.
What to Look For
Research the brands you are interested in or contact their offices to ask about their protocols. The staff at your local Global Pet Foods are very familiar with many brands so are also a great source of information.
Look for brands that:
Nature’s Harvest is a brand that is made in a Canadian facility that is certified compliant with European Union standards. Click below to learn more about the Nature’s Harvest story and products.
Allergies are on the rise, and we see them more this time of year, not just for us but for our pets too. Incidents of dermatitis in our pets is increasing and our first instinct is to assume a food sensitivity. While food sensitivities are certainly becoming more common, we can’t forget about environmental sensitivities. It is important to note that environmental allergens not only affect the exterior of the body (skin, feet, ears) but also the digestive tract. Environmental pollutants and allergens are inhaled and inevitably swallowed; the gastrointestinal lining responds to these allergens just as the exterior skin does. It is possible that an environmental allergy will contribute to, or present as, a digestive sensitivity along with digestive responses.
We can’t control what is in the environment, unfortunately, so we have to do our best to manage the irritation our pets are dealing with this time of year.
Environmental allergens get trapped in our pets’ fur and cause constant irritation. It is important to clean these particulates away by bathing regularly with gentle, hypoallergenic shampoo. In between baths, good daily practice is to wipe the areas on our pets that are most exposed and that they are most likely to lick (licking will result in allergens being ingested). The ground contains the most concentrated irritants; this is where they all end up as they fall from the air. Rinsing or wiping our pets’ feet when they come in from outside can significantly reduce their exposure to these irritants and limited their ingestion. Bare bellies are also at high risk of irritation and should be wiped each day to prevent licking and hot spots.
When animals are dealing with allergies, it is very important to support the immune system, and all essential body functions. When the immune system is active, the body is under physiological stress and nutritional requirements may increase in these instances. Ensuring we are providing quality proteins and fats in sufficient quantities along with bioavailable vitamins and minerals is particularly important for supporting the health of the whole body.
When we think about what makes strong bones, we intuitively think calcium. So, this makes us think that growing large breed dogs need more calcium than growing small breeds, because they must put together considerably bigger bones. However, it is in fact the opposite. Large breed puppies require lower levels of calcium per the same number of calories.
It is true that large breed puppies have a lot of growing to do, and a lot of bone mass to build, much more so than small breeds. It is unrealistic to think that large breeds should do more growing, in the same amount of time; it takes much longer for large breeds to grow to their adult size. Issues arise when the growth process happens too rapidly. Rapid bone growth can be caused in two main ways: excess energy intake and excess calcium intake.
Large breed puppies can end up consuming too much energy if they are over fed or fed a diet that is very calorically dense (high fat). Body condition for growing puppies should be maintained at ideal condition (5) or slightly leaner than ideal (4). *See body scoring chart below.
Excess dietary calcium can result in rapid, uneven bone mineralization. Puppies, unlike adult dogs, do not have mechanisms in place to regulate how much calcium is absorbed and deposited into the bones; excess calcium in the diet results in excess calcium deposit in the bones. This causes a deficiency of phosphorous in the rapidly growing bones, leading to skeletal abnormalities. Calcium and phosphorous should be provided to large breed puppies in a very tight ratio from an even 1:1 ratio up to 1.3:1 calcium to phosphorous.
When looking for a puppy food for your growing large breed, you will want to look for lower calcium levels to prevent excessive intake. Most food ingredients contain smaller amounts of phosphorous so a food with less calcium is also likely to give a closer ratio of calcium to phosphorous, but it is a good idea to check this ratio before purchasing.
If you would like more information, please contact us!
Free feeding cats is a very common practice in many households, but just because it is common does not mean it is the best option.
Indoor Cats are typically not Highly Active
Typical indoor cats are not considered “highly active,” rather they are more often a moderate or low activity level. Living indoors simply does not provide the space or stimulation that cats are adapted to. In an environment that lacks stimulation, cats will often eat when there is nothing else to occupy them. Free feeding makes it easy for indoor cats to consume more calories than they are expending, leading to weight gain and possible obesity.
Cats are not natural Grazers
When food is always available, you may see your cat eating at a variety of times throughout the day. Although it seems like your cat is grazing all day, picking out just a few kibbles here and there, in reality they are eating meals. Having a full bowl of food available 24 hours a day allows cats to eat many full meals in a day, often more meals than they should based on their energy expenditure.
Food Intake is an important Indicator of Health
Cats are very stoic and often do not present signs of illness that are obvious to us. A loss of appetite or reduced food intake can be a helpful early indicator of disease. Early detection of illness increases the chance of successful treatment. When cats are free-fed, it can be difficult to see when consumption has declined.
Cats prefer Fresh Food
When we set food out in a bowl, the oxygen in the air begins to degrade (oxidize) the fat in the diet. Cats are very sensitive to oxidized fat; even a slight breakdown in the structures decreases palatability, leading to a less enjoyable eating experience for cats.
Weight management relies on proper Measurement
When free fed cats begin to gain excess weight, creating a weight loss plan can be tough because it is difficult to know how many calories the cat has been consuming each day making it a challenge to restrict calories. When weight management diets (lower calorie diets) are free fed, cats will typically consume a higher volume of food, resulting in minimal, if any, calorie reduction.
Tips for transitioning to Meal Feeding
When cats are accustomed to having food always available, they end up on their own schedule which might not align with yours.
Measure out half of the day’s food and set it out in the morning, allowing the cat to eat on their own schedule. In the evening, serve the other half of the day’s food.
Adding canned food to the meal can encourage consumption right away and your cat will get use to the new schedule.
Engaging in play stimulates feline appetite, so spend some time interacting with your cat prior to meal time.
Meal feeding promotes Health
Feeding meals instead of free feeding can increase your cat’s health and prevent things such as obesity, which is a precursor for many feline diseases. Feed your cat fresh, appropriately sized meals to enhance their enjoyment and health.
We love our cats, but we don’t love the litter box.
There are a few different ways our litter box griefs can be resolved such as choosing the right type of litter or locating the box in the optimum place in the house. Another very effective solution is choosing a high-quality food.
Here are 3 ways switching to a higher quality diet can solve your litter woes.
1. Reduce Volume and Cost of Litter and Supplies
High quality diets are very digestible and result in less waste in the litter box. This reduces the volume of litter used and keeps the litter box cleaner for longer. Quality, digestible ingredients can lead to better stool consistency, making clean-up simple and easy, with less litter removal with each scoop. When using poop bags for disposal of litter and waste, you will also obviously also use less of these when disposing of less waste.
2. Reduce Litter Odour
High quality diets support optimal gut health with highly digestible ingredients as well as prebiotics and sometimes probiotics. Improved gut health can limit the offensive odour of the stool.
Some higher quality diets also include ingredients that work specifically to reduce litter box odour. Yucca Schidigera extract is an ingredient that supports the growth and function of beneficial gut bacteria for enhanced microbial fermentation, more complete digestion, less waste and less odour.
Other gut health support ingredients to look for are: chicory root, pumpkin, spinach, cinnamon, kelp, milk thistle, probiotics and digestive enzymes, among others.
3. Prevent Urinary Crystals
Urine crystals are a painful litter box issue for cats so urinary support is very important. Often, urine pH for cats is too alkaline; a more natural pH is slightly acidic. High quality diets contain high proportions of meat which keeps urine pH at the proper level. Diets also may contain support ingredients that acidify urine to prevent crystals. Cranberry and DL-methionine are examples of this type of support ingredient.
Your cat’s drinking source can also play a part in urinary health. Many tap water sources are slightly alkaline and contain a variety of dissolved minerals, that may end up forming crystals in the urinary tract.
Cat Water is a bottled water source designed specifically for cats, with urinary health in mind. Cat Water is distilled water with virtually no dissolved minerals and an ideal pH of 6.2-6.4. This water source limits mineral intake and helps keep urine pH at the perfect, slightly acidic level. The slight acidity of this water is also more appealing to cats than more alkaline sources, which will encourage cats to drink more water. Increased water consumption is a great prevention for crystal formation.
Cat Water is now available at Global Pet Foods!
Although it may not look like it, it is officially spring. We are at the beginning of the season filled with fun activities, outdoor adventures, and rain and mud and lots of clean-up to do!
Cleaning Up the Yard
When the snow melts, it often reveals a mine-field of poop in the yard, and unless you want it all over your dog, your shoes and your house, you need to get out there and clean it up. The best way to dispose of dog poop is to bag it and dispose of it either in the garbage or compost (if your city allows that). With so much to pick up all at once, I’m sure we all want to make the smallest environmental impact possible by using poop bags that will break down, or that we can throw in the compost. Earth Rated original poop bags are available unscented or with a pleasant lavender smell and will biodegrade in a landfill in 24 months. Also available are the Earth Rated compostable poop bags that are made with 100% corn and are very durable despite the thin eco-friendly material. The Canadian company operates a zero-waste factory where there are no scraps – all bag scraps are reworked into production. Earth Rated gives us the best of all worlds with environmentally friendly products that are tough enough to stay between fingers and feces.
Dealing with Dirty Pets
Even after all the waste is picked up out of the yard, it’s still a mess! Mud is inescapable this time of year, so we are left just having to deal with it. We’ve all done the baseball catcher stance, towel in hand, trying to grab hold of our dogs or cats as they run in from the yard, soaked up to their bellies in dirt. The mud saturates their fur, gets in between their toes and they are most impatient with us as we wipe, rub and pick at them in the doorway. There must be a better way! As it turns out, there is a better way. Let’s be real, it’s never going to be easy or fun but it can be much less frustrating if we just have the right tools. Your everyday hand towel or even bath towel is no match for our messy mutts. Thankfully, Messy Mutts really gets it and has created products that put up a good fight against dirty dogs and crusty cats. Arm yourself with microfiber matts, mitts and towels that hold 7 times their weight in water, and then you’ll have a chance at winning the fight against filth.
For scrubbing betwixt the toes, a towel or mitt is not your best tool – for this you need the Dexas Petware MudBuster dog paw cleaner – add a bit of water and the soft silicone bristles gently and effectively scrub all the nooks and crannies of your dog’s feet. The clean paw then just needs to be dried off with a towel and your floors are saved.
Going on Adventures
Although there are obvious struggles that come with spring, it really is an exciting time of year. We are all itching to get out and do things, and now we finally can! We can shed our parkas, double layered gloves and heavy insulated boots. We can go on adventures and do activities, any excuse to be out in the fresh spring air. Your dog will love to go out in the yard or down to the park to play with all the new interactive toys you will bring home from your next visit to Global Pet Foods! Balls and frisbees for fetch, ropes for tugging and floating toys for swimming; plus, all the gear you need for your escapades – leashes, collars and harnesses, treat pouches and poop bag dispensers.
Taking on New Challenges
Maybe this spring you and your pet are taking on new challenges. Perhaps you signed up for agility or rally obedience classes or have decided to teach your cat how to skateboard! A new training challenge calls for tasty training rewards. There are all kinds of soft and chewy treats at Global Pet Foods that have a taste and texture that is super motivating and they are easy to chew and consume so they won’t distract too long from the task at hand. Find the perfect training treat for your pet and feel confident that they are healthy and nutritious!
Finding Time to Relax
If your style is more relaxed and you just want to spend time outside enjoying the fresh spring air with your pet, hanging out in the yard, you can find everything you need at Global Pet Foods. Pick up a tie out harness for your exploratory cat, or a cot for your tranquil dog. Toys and treats for chewing help your pet relax and relieve stress.
No matter what you like to do with your pet, this spring you can find all the essentials at Global Pet Foods.
When it comes to deciding how to feed our pets, we make it our mission to find a formula with the highest quality ingredients, in the right form for our pets – whether it be kibble, raw, freeze dried or canned. We heavily research the company that makes the food and the regions from which they source ingredients. We watch our pets closely on each new formula, assessing their energy, weight, coat condition and stool quality. We become dietitians, dermatologists and gastroenterologists all in the name of love – for our animals. We love to see them wag their tail and lick their lips, shake a paw and get up on their hind legs dancing in joy! We want to thank them for being our companions, confidants and cherished friends with the most delicious, tempting treats we can find!
But treats don’t just have to be delicious. “Treats” can become part of the diet that you have so carefully chosen or maybe even cooked up yourself. Considering treats, not just as a tasty morsel, but as a functional part of the diet, you can ensure the health of your 4-legged family members is always optimized. Lots of pet parents are already making a great effort to choose healthy treats, but it is possible to go even deeper and choose the right treats for what your pet specifically needs – a treat that is the perfect complement to the pet food you have chosen.
Single ingredient treats are a simple addition that you can be confident in selecting. Only one ingredient means you have complete control over what you are adding to the diet. If your pet has dietary restrictions, it can be a hassle reading through the list of ingredients in many biscuits or chewy treats. There is a wide variety of single ingredient treats including meats, fruits and vegetables.
Dogs love the taste of liver, so liver treats are a highly motivating reward. Not only are they delicious, they are high in protein, low in fat and a rich source of vitamin A – essential for skin & coat, eyesight and mobility; and B vitamins – essential for the function of multiple body systems, including energy generation, immunity and gut health. Chicken jerky is also a tasty, lean protein treat that contains B vitamins and Selenium – an important antioxidant. These treats are a great choice for weight conscious pets or pets that would benefit from extra protein or vitamins.
Fish skin is a high-quality source of omega fatty acids as well as other nutrients that support skin structure and function including B vitamins, selenium and amino acids. Beef fillets also contain omega fatty acids as well as zinc, a very important mineral for skin and immunity. These treat options are healthy and tasty for pets that need dermatological and immune support.
Many vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals as well as complex carbohydrates that help regulate blood sugar and provide prebiotic fiber to enhance gut health. Air dried sweet potato is a palatable, low calorie treat that is low glycemic with fiber to support digestive health. Sweet potato contains vitamin B6, which also helps regulate blood sugar as well as support the nervous system and many other body functions. Vitamin C and manganese in sweet potatoes are both involved in antioxidant activities in the body.
With so many nutritious treat options, you are able to complement and enhance your pet’s diet with the most suitable additions, while enjoying quality time bonding with your pet.
This month at Global Pet Foods we are highlighting three new single ingredient treats from Nature’s Harvest: air dried Chicken Jerky, Beef Fillets and Pork Cracklings. Crispy cod skins and sweet potato chews are also available from Nature’s Harvest.
Visit your local Global Pet Foods to see a full selection of healthy treats from a variety of trusted brands.
Obesity is one of the most common health concerns for dogs and cats nationwide. There are many factors that contribute to excess weight gain in pets, but in the end, it comes down to calories in vs calories out, pets eating too much and exercising too little. The most prominent concern with obesity is the numerous health problems for which obesity is a precursor. Orthopedic disease is the biggest risk for overweight canines, whereas diabetes is the biggest risk for overweight felines. In addition to these, obese pets are also at higher risk for urinary tract disease, dermatitis, oral disease, pancreatitis, respiratory complications and renal disease.
Preventing obesity by closely monitoring body condition and feeding only as much as is required by the pet is extremely important. Note that feeding directions on pet food packaging is only a guideline and some dogs may require less than the recommended daily amount. Another thing to be aware of is that most household pets do not fit into the “active” or “highly active” category. We must be realistic about the exercise our pets are doing. Exclusively indoor cats do not tend to engage in intense activity. Dogs that go for a couple walks a day and perhaps to obedience or agility class once per week are considered moderately active. We also must be aware of the condition our pets are in. The majority (60-70%) of owners with overweight pets underestimate the body condition score of their pets. This means they score them as less overweight than they really are. Learning how to properly body score and being honest about your pet is imperative to their health. Feeding programs should also be regularly evaluated and adjusted. Pets may become less active as they get older, or during certain times of year, and food should be reduced accordingly. Unfortunately, in many cases, weight gain is not monitored closely enough, and feeding programs are not adjusted regularly. It is therefore important to know how to create an effective weight loss plan.
Simply switching to a weight management food is not always the answer. We have to pay close attention to the calories and where they are coming from. Some weight management diets are lower in fat and/or protein but not lower in calories. These diets provide a higher proportion of calories from carbohydrates, which is not beneficial for weight loss. A diet that is higher in protein and fat is advantageous for weight loss.
If you would like to learn how to create an effective weight loss plan for you pet, continue reading.
Creating a Weigh Loss Plan
Step 1: Body Condition Scoring
Accurately body score the pet and decide how much weight they need to lose. Every increment above “ideal” on the body condition score (BCS) scale accounts for 10-15% additional body weight due to excess fat deposition. Below is the 1-9 Body Condition system. This is the most accurate BCS system.
Example: We have a female Rottweiler that weighs 50kg. We assess her body condition and rate her a 7 on the BCS scale (5 is ideal). This means she needs to lose 20-30% of her body weight, which is 10-15kg. Based on her size, we estimate her ideal weight to be 40kg, so she needs to lose 10kg.
Step 2: Diet History and Adjustment
Catalogue daily food intake and calculate total calories consumed. This includes meals, treats, chews, table scraps and anything else the pet eats. Based on calories consumed and weight loss goal, decide on the level of caloric restriction. Calories can be reduced by 10-40% depending on the weight loss goal. Larger pets and pets with more weight to lose can tolerate more aggressive calorie reductions than small pets with less weight to lose.
Example: Our female Rottweiler needs to lose 10kg (20% of BW). She is consuming 4 cups of food (a total of 1620 calories) per day, plus 1 large dental chew (140 calories) per day. She is consuming a total of 1760 calories per day. We decide we want to reduce her caloric intake by 30% since she is a large dog with quite a few kgs to lose. We decide to reduce her food to the recommended amount for a less active 40kg dog, which is 2 ¾ cups according to the guideline on the package. We want to continue giving her one dental chew daily. This brings her calorie intake to a total of 1254 calories per day. This is approximately 29% calorie reduction. We did not need to make any big changes to her diet; she is eating the same food, just less of it.
Step 3: Exercise
Catalogue daily exercise and decide, based on the ability of the dog and the household, how to implement extra physical activity.
Example: We take our female Rottweiler for a 30 to 45-minute walk twice a day and we go to obedience class once per week. She is young, with no mobility restrictions, so we decide to replace one of her walks with a 1-1 ½ hour visit to an off-leash dog park where she can run.
Step 4: Re-evaluation & Adjustment
Every 2 weeks or so, the plan should be re-evaluated and adjusted if needed. Weight loss should progress at a rate of approximately 1-2% of body weight per week. For larger dogs with more weight to lose, a steep calorie reduction could result in quicker weight loss at the beginning of the program. If at any point in the program there is no weight loss observed for more than 2 weeks, the program should be adjusted by further reducing calories or increasing exercise.
Example: We should expect our rottweiler to weigh in at approximately 48-49kg after the first two weeks of the program, and the program should continue for 10-20 weeks until desired body weight is reached. At her first weigh in, she has dropped to 47kg. The program is working, so we continue! After 14 weeks, she weighs in at the goal weight of 40kg.
Step 5: Weight Maintenance
Once ideal body weight is reached, it must be maintained. The weight loss program should be continued after the ideal weight is achieved. If weight loss continues beyond the desired weight goal, calorie intake should be increased slightly until desired weight is maintained. Calories required for maintenance might be slightly higher than were required for weight loss. This maintenance step entails regular monitoring and adjustment.
Example: Our rottweiler has reached the goal weight of 40kg. We assess her body condition and are satisfied that she has reached a body condition score of 5 – the ideal score. We continue the same program for two more weeks, and at the next weigh-in, she is still at 40kg, so we will continue the same program to maintain her here. We continue to regularly weigh her and evaluate her body condition and make adjustments whenever necessary. With continued assessment, we should successfully maintain ideal body condition for the rest of her life.
For more information or for assistance creating a weight loss plan for your pet, visit your local Global Pet Foods store or submit a question or comment through our contact page.
Play Behaviours of Domestic Cats
Observing feline playtime can be quite entertaining; a statue still, low crouch followed by a tail swish and a butt wiggle, leading up to a most dramatic pounce! It is adorable and maybe even comical to watch. But what do all these actions mean, and what is their purpose? They are all predatory behaviours – yes, even the cute little butt wiggle is the act of a ravenous hunter!
Hunting Behaviours of Feline Predators
For a successful ambush, a predator lies in wait in a concealed spot that prey are likely to wonder by. They must be perfectly still in order to avoid being detected, and driving prey out of reach. While stalking, a predator follows their prey in a low, silent crawl until they are in the optimal position for attack. In preparation for the pounce, the hunting feline must be sure their targeting is accurate. Sometimes prey are also very still and it is difficult to lock in on their location. A slight tail swish can catch the attention of the prey, causing small movements, giving away their exact position. Next, the feline squares up their hind legs by rocking their weight side to side (the butt wiggle), giving them maximum pouncing power! These behaviours are exhibited by wild cats and domestic house kitties alike. The difference being that our house pets are often going after toys or dust bunnies and not actually hunting their food source.
Why do Well-Fed House Cats Exhibit Hunting Behaviours?
The hunting instinct ingrained in felines is not driven by momentary hunger; rather it has been established by thousands of years of evolution as a mechanism of food acquisition. Felines, as obligate carnivores, have evolved as predator animals, and an important part of a predator’s lifestyle is hunting. Being at the top of the food chain comes with a lot of responsibility. Acquiring food depends on hunting – it is a much more involved process than scavenging for others’ leftovers or grazing across an open plain and it requires a very high level of motivation. But why do we still see this instinct in our domestic house cats? If you give a cat a meal, their hunger will be satisfied, but the urge to hunt still lingers. Why, when the need is eliminated, does the desire persist?
To better understand our pet cats, we should better understand how they became our pets in the first place. The process of domestication involves genetic alterations affecting physiology, appearance and behaviour. The transition from a wild animal to a domesticated animal can result in traits lost or gained, depending on which are beneficial in the domestic lifestyle. The domestication of cats began with humans and cats living symbiotically – in a mutually beneficial scenario. The most common theory of feline domestication involves the stored grains during early agriculture attracting small rodents (prey), which in turn attracted small wild cats (predators). Wild cats that were less wary of humans had access to an abundance of prey, and in turn they provided humans with effective pest control. Early in the domestication process, hunting was still the primary manner of food acquisition, so success of the animals relied on a strong motivation to hunt. Even though our house kitties are fed meals in a bowl and no longer need to hunt for food, the instinct is still present, and we must ensure they receive appropriate stimulation in order to preserve a positive state of well-being.
Enrichment for Indoor Cats
Outdoor cats have the opportunity to hunt real prey – the ultimate stimulation; but for those that live exclusively indoors, we must provide the stimulus. Strings tipped with feathers fly through the air like darting birds; toy mice unknowingly wait to be ambushed; bouncing wires dance like hopping insects. There are so many enriching toys available that are engaging and satisfying for our cats. Perhaps the most satisfying are products that allow felines to actually hunt for their food. Available at Global Pet Foods is the indoor hunting feeder from Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. This product allows your cat to hunt for kibble-filled mice that you’ve hidden around the house. It satisfies their instinctual desires, gives them plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, and enhances overall well-being of your beloved feline.
An under stimulated feline may exhibit destructive behavior; frustration may build up and lead to misbehaviours such as going outside the litter box; a lack of physical exercise can lead to unhealthy weight gain; a lack of satisfaction can prevent relaxation and increase stress. When we provide enrichment for our indoor cats, we provide them with an outlet to express all their natural behaviours, satisfying the deeply ingrained urges they maintained through domestication. In doing this, we prevent them searching for other, less desirable outlets, and most importantly, we make them happy.
Visit your local Global Pet Foods to see all the most innovative feline enrichment products available!
The winter season presents a variety of challenges for people and pets. Dry skin is something we can all be affected by – two-legged or four-legged.
Dryness in the air, whether it be cold winter wind or dry heat indoors, can reduce or eliminate the moisture-locking oil barrier on the surface of the skin. Skin that is most exposed to the air is most vulnerable to losing this protective layer. We, as people, notice it most on our face and hands. For our pets, areas at most risk are dependent on how much hair they have and where it grows!
For any dog, the nose is always vulnerable as it is always exposed. Other areas at risk of high exposure are ears and bellies. Paw pads are especially vulnerable in the winter months because they are not only exposed to dry air, but also to ice, cold concrete, salt and rough terrain.
Some breeds are more at risk than others. Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with shortened/flattened faces; example, pugs) have difficulty licking their noses due to the anatomy of their face, so they are less able to wet their noses, putting them at even higher risk in dry conditions. Breeds that are short-coated, with more exposed skin on their ears and bellies (example, boxer) may experience dry skin in these areas as well. Finally, hairless breeds are fully exposed and many more areas can be affected.
There are a variety of strategies we can implement to prevent or treat dry skin in winter time.
Winter apparel can limit the exposure of some areas, but what about the areas that are difficult or not possible to cover up?
First and foremost, we must support the skin from the inside-out: with nutrition. It is important to support total nutrient requirements of the body. If some requirements are not met, the body will direct nutrients to essential body functions and may not allocate enough to the skin. This can compromise the health and function of skin.
Nutrients to pay close attention to:
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs): Essential omega-3 and -6 PUFAs are the most important nutrients for maintaining moisture in the skin. Essential PUFAs are assimilated into epidermal cell membranes and are an integral part of cell structure. They are also components in the extracellular lipid matrix – this is the oil barrier on the surface of the skin, and is directly related to moisture retention and permeability of the skin’s surface by preventing trans-epidermal water loss.
Vitamin A: important for cell reproduction and growth. Skin cells are continuously regenerating and it is important to support this process in order for the structural integrity of the skin to be maintained.
Vitamin C: strong antioxidant activity; plays a role in collagen production. Preventing oxidative damage and supporting skin structures are important for keeping the skin healthy.
Vitamin E: strong antioxidant activity. Vitamin E works alongside vitamin C in the antioxidant complex.
Vitamin B5: attracts and binds to water. Used topically on the skin, it can help to lock in moisture.
“Complete and Balanced” diets should provide enough of each of these nutrients for maintenance requirements. However, in dry conditions, requirements for some of these nutrients may be elevated beyond normal maintenance levels. Increasing feed rate is one way to increase nutrient intake without changing the balance of vitamins, but excess calories may not be tolerated by some pets. Sometimes supplements can be introduced.
The most important and safest supplements to introduce are fatty acid supplements. There is no concern with upsetting the carefully calculated vitamin balance in your dog’s commercial diet like there is with vitamin supplements (if you feel a vitamin supplement might benefit your pet, consult your veterinarian). Omega-3 and omega-6 supplements are readily available for purchase. Fish oil and flax oil are examples of high omega-3 sources; sunflower oil and chicken fat are examples of high omega-6 sources.
*A Note on Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a popular go-to for dry skin but it may not be the solution your pet requires. Coconut oil is DEFICIENT in essential fatty acids and is composed of primarily SATURATED fatty acids, not the beneficial PUFAs, so it is not a good dietary additive to improve or prevent dry skin. It can be used topically to temporarily relieve symptoms of dry skin, but since it is a comedogenic oil (plugs skin pores), it should not be the long-term solution to dry skin.
Topical products to consider are those that moisturize and protect the skin without clogging the natural oil ducts.
Moisturizing shampoo followed with moisturizing conditioner can be beneficial to the whole body. A soothing oatmeal shampoo and conditioner can be a great start to a moisture-replenishing regimen by cleansing dirt and debris and leaving the skin clean and pH balanced (make sure to only use products that are formulated for pets, since the pH of their skin is different from ours). From this stage, moisturizing and protective products can be applied to treat or prevent dry skin. It is important, however, to limit bathing to once a month. Excessive bathing can end up having an opposite effect to what we desire, by stripping away natural oils, leaving the skin dry and unprotected.
Oils such as argan oil, olive oil, jajoba oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and many others moisturize and soften skin without clogging pores.
Beeswax is a natural substance that seals in moisture and acts as a barrier to cold air without clogging pores in the skin so they can continue to function optimally. It is also antiviral and antibacterial which is especially important for dry, cracked skin that is more vulnerable to infection.
Paws are especially at risk during cold weather. Paw pads can become irritated and cracked in the winter not only because of dry air but also due to road salt, cold surfaces and rough/abrasive terrain. The best solution for this challenge is prevention and protection! Some dogs will tolerate boots, which offer the best protection against salt, cold and rough surfaces. However, many dogs strongly dislike the sensation of wearing boots. In these cases, paw balm is a great solution. It creates a barrier on the paw pad surface to protect against winter hazards. Natural combinations of wax and oils protect the surface of pads while allowing perspiration to escape (remember, dogs sweat through the pads of their feet so this is very important to maintain healthy pads and avoid infection). Antiseptic and protective beeswax is a great option for pads as a barrier and to encourage moisture retention as well as healing.
Moisturizers can be used short term to help cracked pads heal. Products with high oil content which are intended to soften skin should be avoided as long-term solutions because the function of the pads of the feet relies on toughness, not softness. The softer the pads are, the more vulnerable they are to cuts and abrasions – this is not ideal, especially when traversing frozen winter terrain. Once pads are healed, products intended to maintain moisture and protect the pads are best.
No matter what you and your pet like to do in the winter, it is important to give them what they need to be healthy and comfortable. Proper nutrition and protective layers ensure your pet can enjoy any winter activity, whether they are bounding through the snow or tucked in on the couch.