It comes on like a storm. You think it’s rolling thunder, but it’s really just your dog in the other room pounding the floor with their leg. The thumping gets louder and more determined as your dog tries to scratch an itch they can not satisfy. Maybe the thunderous scratching stops, or maybe it works it’s way in to a super storm of itching frenzy….the gurgling muzzle!  For some it’s like fingers on a chalkboard. It’s a combination of chattering teeth, deeply exerted guttural breaths, and a flopping muzzle. It isn’t pleasant. After a long sleepless night of turmoil you’ll wish to wake up in a land where troubles are far behind you.

It would be great if you could use the Wizard’s magic to end the Wicked Itch. Unfortunately, the only escape is often a long and windy path with lots of dead ends. Then, just when you think you’ve reached a solution, it reveals itself as another wrong answer. You may feel that your journey is never-ending. Don’t fear though, there are others looking for the way to end the itch and you may find success by following their lead.

Yellow Brick Road winding through the forest, Beech Mountain, NC

Beware! It’s a path coated in pollen!

The First Step

They say the first step is always the hardest. That’s true for itchy skin too, because the first step is: identify the source of the itch. The source may be what you think, or something else entirely, but you have to start somewhere. Begin with some simple observations: when is the itching the worst? Night? After eating? Spring time? Here are some key categories to help you identify the source of itching.

INTERNAL

Internal sources of itching are best described as anything your pet ingests. These could be things that you know your pet is getting like food, treats, and pills. But it may also be some unknown elements like treats from the neighbor, dumpster diving, litter box cruising, or yard munching. Internal concerns are often the easiest to address because you can go into lock down. You can change food, and treats. You can address the neighbor, hide the garbage, and move the litter box.

EXTERNAL

External sources for itching are categorized as those items that you put on your dog, or things with which they come in close contact. Shampoos, sprays, topical medicines, and perhaps even their bedding can be identified as external influences of itching. Discovering these sources can be achieved by wiping them all out for a month and adding each back in over time. You should make key observations each time a product is added back in.

ENVIRONMENTAL

Environmental sources will be your worst nightmare because these are influences that come from the world around your pet. They are often things that you can do very little about. Fleas, mosquitos, gnats and other biting bugs may not live in your yard, but one or two bites can send your pet into the itching storm. Likewise pets can react negatively to pollen, dander, and dust. Environmental sources can lead to misdirection on your path to discovering the true source of the itch. More on that in a bit.

The Journey Begins

I'll get you my pretty.

The Wicked Itch swoops in!

These next steps could have you fumbling all over the place, but have heart you will eventually gain your footing and be back on the road to a peaceful home. The first thing you should do is reduce exposure to the things you feel are leading to the wicked itch. If you feel that it’s something in the food, try an elimination diet. This is a diet that is as simple as possible. More  than likely it is a diet that uses novel proteins. Novel proteins are identified as proteins that your pet has not been exposed to in the past. Examples could be: kangaroo, or pork, or millet, or tapioca. There are other approaches to diet that may help also. These included foods that are  grain free, gluten-free, raw, or homemade. The good news is that changing the diet may eliminate the itch all together, end of story.

If however diet did not stop the wicked itch, then your story is not over. Discovering many of the other itch influences can mimic the path to discovering a food allergy. In a word: elimination. If you find that a change in food is not helping you may find that you need to eliminate more factors. You may need to stop using your pet’s regular shampoo. You may need to change their bedding type. Perhaps you may even alternate topical medications, and other medications if possible. Essentially you want as little possible to influence your pets system. Then you can add these items back in over time. If after including an item you see flare up in the wicked itch, well then this could be the source of the problem for your pet.

Moving Forward

Still wandering aimlessly? Perhaps you will need to enhance your pet’s system to help combat the itch. Like oiling a rusty machine, there are supplements and medications that can help your dog’s body resist the itch. This is the part of the journey where you will meet lots of characters. You will find a wealth of opinions on how to enhance the system. Your friends and neighbors, your pet’s groomer, your pet care specialist, and even this blog will give you multiple ideas about how to move forward. Take your time, explore these options. In the end everyone would like to see the wicked itch disappear.

For your consideration:

Imagine there is a bubble in your dog, a bubble of immunity. At its fullest this bubble will fight off negative health issues (like itchy skin). However if the bubble is reduced then these negative health issues can manifest. The bubble grows and shrinks daily. If something combative enters the system the bubble goes down. You can help the bubble by adding supplements that support a healthy system. You can also help the bubble by removing influences that reduce the bubble. Consider your pet’s diet. If they are on a high carbohydrate food their body has to work extra hard in processing it. Inversely if they are fed a diet with more protein their bodies are can work less on the digestion and potentially more on immunity.

Is It Over?

Take that flying monkeys!

There’s no place like home!

No. Far from it. Here is the most winding, sometimes circular, part of the path. As mentioned earlier there is the influence of the environment. Sometimes your dog’s body changes can be in sync with the changing environment. Here’s an example: It’s early spring and your dog begins to itch. Then you spend the whole month seeking relief for your pet. You try shots from the vet, shampoos, supplements, and food changes. Heck, you even change the bedding and clean it with purified water and perfume-free non-soap cleaner. Yet, nothing seems to work. That is, until you try something around mid to late-spring. From this point your pet is relatively itch free. You may believe this recent change has done the trick. That is until the following spring when surprise, surprise the itch is back. Spring brings a number of environmental changes, not the least of which is grass pollen. If your pet’s itch coincides with early spring, then there is a good chance your pet is having an allergic reaction to this pollen. And it might not just be pollen. It could be bug bites, mold, or any number of things that come and go during the year.

No Place Like Home

Thankfully your pet has you. They do not need to vanquish the wicked itch on their own. You can help with changing the status quo. You can help by adding support to the system. You can help by being a keen observer of when the itch arrives. Then you can help provide the proper relief. Maybe the use of sprays, or an occasional pill will subdue the wicked itch? Ultimately it may mean that you need to find ways to live with some light itching. Perhaps ear plugs at night? For you, not your pet.

The End

Along the road you will no doubt pick up some great tips from fellow travelers. Like this one – Did you know? The one thing that can really reduce an itch manifested by pollen is to regularly rinse your pet. With water. Just water. [cue: the screaming itch]

In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble
They’re only made of clay
But our love is here to stay
– Nat King Cole, Our Love is Here to Stay

piggy

a well weathered toy

Recently, Mark* walked into the store with a torn, dirty, and otherwise tattered dog toy, “I got this toy here and Maisy loves it, but I’d like to get her a new one.” Sadly, the toy in question had not been manufactured for quite some time. In fact the last time one was sold from Dolittle’s was some years ago. I was excited to see a toy from so long ago in somewhat decent shape. “How long have you had this toy?” I asked. The response was: “Maybe six years or so.”

Six years. This dog toy had lasted six years. And honestly it looked good enough to go another six. This got me thinking about our perspectives of destruction.

Naturally we want things to last, especially if we pay good money for them. But our standards for “lasting” or “durability” can be very broad. For some a toy is ruined the second the first stitch undone, or the instant it becomes silent. For others it’s not until the toy is so tattered it barely holds together.

While our perspectives of the physical state of destruction vary, one constant seems to hold true: one day the toy will no longer keep our dog’s interest. Based on this, maybe we should give durability a new consideration. Perhaps we should look to our dog’s enjoyment as a measure of a toy’s durability.

As humans we tend to derive enjoyment from construction. Give us a puzzle and we will build it. Give us a canvas and we will paint it. Give us flour and sugar, and we will bake a cake. Dogs tend to derive pleasure from destruction (and sleeping in sunny spots). Give them a shoe and they tear it up. Give them a bone and they chew it. Give them your homework, and well, you get the idea.

Toys make dogs happy. Of this we can be sure. Her eyes get bright, her ears perk up, her tail wags, her tongue pops out, she starts to drool, we attribute these physical signals to joy. These signs of enjoyment are only the beginning. They occur even before she’s set the first tooth on a toy. Next comes the teasing: “Who wants the toy?” Then the interaction: “Go get it!” Then prolonged interaction: “Again! Go get it!” Then some individual interaction: ripping, de-squeaking, tossing, tugging, repeat, repeat, repeat. This is the process of canine enjoyment. This is what dogs do (they do not have tea parties with squirrels in hats and little dresses). Why would we stop this process at any point? Why not let enjoyment run it’s course?

torn toy

not destroyed, just well loved

Mark was disappointed to hear that Maisy’s toy had out lasted the company that originally made them. However he was happy to see a few other toys with similar attributes. Hours later I got a call from Mark asking for two more of the toy he had purchased. That should make Maisy’s enjoyment secure for the next 18 years, at least.

*From time to time customers provide us with ideas and stories to write about, but rather than placing them on this public forum we change names to keep their stories private (kinda).

A few words on toy safety:
It’s true, nothing is indestructible (the Rockies may tumble). Tearing seams, taking stuffing out, and popping the squeaker are all part of the canine enjoyment process. Naturally we advise that you purchase toys that are an appropriate size for your dog. We suggest supervision with toys. Swallowing bits of fuzz and stuffing are not uncommon. Swallowing large bits, or the squeaker whole, well, yes that is problematic. Hence, the supervision. Dog toys can live on with a small bit of maintenance. They can be re-sewn, re-stuffed, and even re-squeaked. Get creative: tie a toy in knots, hide a treat or two in it, or soak it and freeze it for a chilly teether. With a bit of effort you can continue to rekindle your dogs enjoyment in their favorite toy.

At Dolittle’s we try every day to improve the relationship between dog and owner (okay, guardian, for you freaks out there. Hey, give us some cred we did list dog first).  Having been around nearly 20 years Dolittle’s has picked up some handy tips and smart advice for living harmoniously with the family dog.  One such tip that we pass out daily is MORE WATER[1].

Dolittle’s understands that dry food is often the best option for busy families with pets.  Dry food is as it was 150 years ago: convenient.  And, the good news is that today’s quality dog foods are closer to mimicking ancestral diets than ever[2], except for one glaring…uh…exception, lack of water. A quick internet search will give you a rule of thumb for canine daily water consumption: 1 ounce for 1 pound of body weight.[3]  Sure your dog may drink a lot, but we’d like to make the case for adding some of their daily water into their daily food.

1. Dog foods contain salt.  Even the great all-natural foods found on Dolittle’s shelves contain some amount of salt.  Salt dehydrates the system and we want to hydrate it.

2. Stomach capacity. An average dog, say 50lb can have a stomach capacity of 24ounces.  Now one, we never want to push the stomach to capacity, and two, we certainly don’t want to do it with food. Adding water to the food allows us to trick the stomach into feeling full with far less food.

3. Dolittle’s Practical Guide to the Canine Universe– Double Patented Sponge Theory.  We believe that the dog’s system has a finite amount of water in it.  Roughly 70% of their weight. Next we propose that dry food, with it’s porous construction and salt content,  acts like a dry sponge on that system. So each time you feed dry food you actually deplete the system of valuable water.

Now you’re saying: “But my dog drinks a TON of water.”  Well one, that’s not true, a ton is an awful lot; 35,274 ounces roughly.  And two, are you sure?  By the above rule of thumb a 64 pound dog should be drinking 64 ounces a day, or 8 cups.  The average dog bowl is around 24 ounces so you better be filling that thing up at least two and a half times a day.

But enough about you, back to our sponge theory.  Let’s do some experimenting!

Investigating the Affects of Dry Food on a Wet System
Gather these materials: A measuring cup, a dry sponge (the old fashioned kind), and some water.

Part I
1.  Cut the sponge so that it fits nicely into the bottom of the measuring cup.
2. Into the empty measuring cup add 3/4 cup of water.
3. Drop the sponge in.
4. Wait 10 minutes, then remove the sponge. Save saturated sponge for Part II.
5. Observe the new water level.

Part II
1. Fill the measuring cup back up to 3/4 cup.
2. Drop the saturated sponge in.
3. Wait 10 minutes, then remove the sponge.
4. Observe the new water level.

So kids, what have we learned from this little experiment? Dry sponges don’t make good food, wait no, dry dog food extracts moisture.  Granted the amount of water lost can be debated, but hopefully we can all agree that there is a loss.  We believe losing any water is not good for the system, especially over a prolonged period of time.

In conclusion we offer that adding water to your dog’s dry food (and, hey, cats love it too!) will offer a few dietary benefits:
1. salt dilution. Easy enough, If you turn one cup of food into 2 cups fed (with water) you’ve diluted the salt.
2. stomach capacity trickery.  Take a look at the two middle pictures above.  The dog eating dry food (top row) would experience little change in capacity.  The dog eating food with water (bottom row) would feel like more food is in the stomach.
3. increased water consumption.  Say your 64lb dog needs 64 ounces of water. If you add water 1 to 1 to the feeding amount, let’s say 4 cups (2 cups twice a day), in two meals you’ve added 32oz of water. Half of their daily need.

MYTHBUSTER: We hear a few of you saying: “I feed dry food to keep my dog’s teeth clean.” This is a MYTH.  Don’t believe us? Try this experiment at home: Eat a bowl of cereal without milk.  How do your teeth feel? Now eat a bowl with milk.  Any cleaner? Food does not clean teeth (any more than it helps us lose weight (another blog)).  Brushing cleans teeth.  Ever had a dentist say: “you could brush, or just eat a bag of pretzels now and then. That should do it.” By the way, when you perform this experiment only move your jaw up and down, not sideways, that will more closely mimic your dog.

One benefit to adding water we did not go over (because we have a whole other blog on that) is that it greatly reduces flatulence. The dog’s not yours. Check it out here! Shameless cross promotion.

As always we welcome your feedback. Chow!

1We would like to emphasize that this is a PRACTICAL guide NOT a medical guide.  Changes to your dogs health and diet should always be between you and your dog’s professional medical care giver.  At best we hope our practical guide will give you practical questions to ask and/or food for thought.
2 BJones, Feeding Your Dog – Could You Be Feeding Your Dog The Wrong Things? www.siriusdog.com 

3 Why Your Dog Is Always Thirsty www.webmd.com 

About Us

August 8, 2012

Lately Dolittle’s has been digging deep into the internet.  Rolling in social media, yapping about online coupons, and check-ins.  Each time we unearth a new media outlet we find ourselves staring at the About Us section.  We’re a private little corner-shop and are much more interested in About You than About Us.  However, ready or not, here is an official About Us.  We promise to be brief…

Once upon a time there was a young boy with two entrepreneurial parents and a menagerie of pets.  His childhood was rich with pets, there were never less than five or six pets (dogs, cats, birds, and fish) in the house at a time.  Meanwhile, some 16o miles away in the foothills of SC a young girl was growing up with a parade of cats and a sweet little mix of a dog.  These two finally met in their twenties.  After college they decided to take a road trip and “discover” their future.  For days the conversation went on about the possibilities of a retail store; gifts, cards, household, it could not be decided.  Then, the subject of pets came up.  Neither of the two could recall a pet store in their hometowns (or elsewhere) that put style with substance.  A place that would be both fun to shop and loaded quality items (and not smell of hamsters or beef carcasses). Then somewhere on a bridge in Baltimore he said: “I know, we’ll call it Dolittle’s.” The name was an homage to Dr. Dolittle one of the boy’s favorite books growing up.  From there they set about creating a product line and imagining their future store.  However, a harsh reality awaited them on return.  At her house they excitedly explained the idea of Dolittle’s to her mom.  After listening patiently, and reviewing all of the product ideas and sketches, her mom gently said: “Well, it sounds really great, but what are you going to use for capital?”

Capital? Clearly there was another side to business that the young couple was not prepared for.  Fortunately, Charleston SC, their new home, has a fabulous way to launch a business with very little overhead: The City Market.  For the next 5 years they would build up a brand, and a following from the customers travelling through Charleston, and most of all capital. In 1999 the opportunity for a store front finally arrived.

From Dolittle’s little corner on Windermere Blvd they have helped dogs and cats grow up healthy, and improved the relationship between thousands of pet owners and their pets.

So that’s About Us, or the beginning of us, now tell us About You.  Oh, and come like us on Facebook, you’ll be glad you did.

Two Dogs Diverged

October 8, 2010

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Paisley sat below an anxious acrobatic squirrel, one who timed his aerial leap a second too late and fell to earth.  Except he didn’t make it to the earth, instead he landed squarely into Paisley’s open mouth.

To appreciate the importance of this event let me rewind a bit to introduce Dixie, Paisley’s squirrel hunting mentor. Dixie had spent years chasing squirrels from our suburban yard.  She was fast and efficient.  She’d stay low like a cat on the prowl watching the twitchy little creature dig his hole.  The squirrel’s head would pop up and quickly scan, Dixie would drop and freeze.  Then at just the right moment Dixie would lunge.  Her pursuits could cover a fair distance as the neighbors did not have fences.  It was the land of free range squirrels.  As fast as she was she never caught a squirrel, but she never gave up.

Years later we moved to downtown Charleston.  Our house was fenced in on a smaller property, but the trees were active with squirrels.  Soon after moving we brought home Paisley.  She would sit on the porch keenly watching Dixie’s tactics and when Dixie gave pursuit Paisley would bark her support.

For greater exercise we would visit the local parks.  One of our favorites was White Point Gardens.  The park is full of oak trees and alive with squirrels, though even I could tell something was different about these squirrels.  They were bigger than what Dixie had chased before.  Not only were they bigger, I’m sure Dixie and I shared this thought at the same moment, they were slower.  She immediately went into her crouched prowl at the sight of tubby tree rats.  I knew the signal Dixie was looking for and as soon as he dropped his head down Dixie bolted.  The squirrel had no idea.  He made a dash for the nearest tree but Dixie cut him off.  So he zigzagged toward another. And then it happened.  Dixie dropped down and closed her jaws around the prey at the same time she lost her balance on a tree root.  In a second she was rolling across the ground with grey fur flying from her mouth.  As she regained her footing she looked around for the squirrel, but he was already half way up the nearest tree.

Paisley continued to carry Dixie’s torch, scanning the trees and preparing herself at every opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.  What Paisley lacked in speed and agility she made up for with patience.  So we return to the accidental squirrel falling right into Paisley’s open mouth, victory of a dream nearly forgotten.  For all the years of preparation it was over in a moment.  Paisley was not prepared for the squirrel to squirm and so, like Dixie, she quickly dropped it.   They were two dogs sharing a passion for pursuit, and though their methods diverged the destination remained the same.

It was all I could do to keep my gag reflex from releasing the contents of my stomach.  Sweet Dixie, the first dog I called my own, and I had just visited Sullivan’s Island beach. At last call she came running to jump in the car.  I did not notice, with the intense ocean breeze, the dreadful stench emanating from her.  We were only a few minutes in the car when she poked her head from the back seat, putting her neck in close proximity to my nose.  Big mistake.  I nearly wrecked the car as I inhaled her freshly applied eau de mer.  I’d describe it as something between Four-day-old-decaying-trash-mixed-with-sun-baked-crustacean and Patchouli. I hung my head out the window for the rest of the car ride home.

Smells tell a story as much as speech or appearance.  For dogs it is the main story.  You may have heard that dogs have upwards of 200,000 smell receptors to our 10,000, but can you appreciate the importance of that?  Dogs meet in the parks, streets and beaches.  How are they to learn about the dogs they meet?  They’re naked (most of them anyway) so appearances can’t tell the story.  I’m going out on a limb to suggest that dog’s don’t bark in a dialect, “Woof ya’ll” (though that is a topic I would love to learn more about) so speech is out. And, even for a dog, touching and tasting come after initial “hellos.”  No, if you really want to get to know someone stick your nose in and get a good whiff.

Dixie could not have been more pleased with herself.  She could not wait to get back to her friends and family and share the story of her outing.  Sure enough, as we walked in the house my mom screamed “Ugh! What died?” When Dixie was chased into the backyard Johnny, our lab mix, was thrilled to smell her.  She just stood there like a proud peacock while he drooled.  What must Johnny have smelled? Certainly there was the overpowering stench of dead crab.  But did he appreciate the light scent of the sea breeze? Or, the faint undertones of salt water and white sand?  Perhaps a hint of sea oats? A delicate tinge of seagull, pelican or sand lapper.  Then there are the 3 to 5 other dogs that rolled in the creature before Dixie.  Were their signature smells in there too?

I’m convinced that dogs roll in whatever it is they roll in just to tell other dogs a story. “You wouldn’t believe it! I found raccoon poop in MY backyard!”  “Get a whiff of what they’re feeding the cat!” “I swear it wasn’t dead when I rolled in it.” “I just met my first hippie.”

Are you ready to learn from your dog?  Next time you shake hands with a stranger lean in and sniff.  What is their smell telling you?