Can dog food make a dog itch?

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

The short answer is yes, dog food can definitely make a dog itch. This is usually due to a food allergy if the dog food is directly involved. Common allergens include chicken, wheat, beef, oats, dairy, corn and rice. Other reasons why a dog may itch include fleas, ticks, infection, or a reaction to something.

The skin is the largest organ in your dog’s body, responsible for providing a natural barrier against harmful germs. As one of the first lines of defence against infection, it’s really im-paw-tant it stays healthy and intact. Did you know that dog skin is much thinner than ours? This makes them prone to skin conditions.

Dogs naturally itch themselves but when they’re constantly scratching or stopping doing something that they enjoy, such as chasing a ball or eating, to itch then they could have an issue. Sensitive skin is one of the most common reasons why a pet owner would visit the vets, so don’t worry you’re not alone. The good news is that it can be diagnosed and fixed relatively easily.

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One of the most common reasons why a dog itches is because of a food allergy. When your pup eats the food allergen their body reacts to it as it would a bee sting or an infection. The other top cause is the typical fleas and ticks. These can cause allergic reactions, skin reactions or even infection. For fleas and ticks make sure you’re using good preventatives (such as collars, sprays and shampoos) and giving your pup a bath regularly. In this article, we’re going to focus on food allergies.

There are a few potential allergens that dogs are typically allergic to. These include:

  • Wheat

  • Oats

  • Dairy products

  • Corn

  • Rice

  • Lamb

  • Soy

  • Pork

  • Egg

  • Rabbit

  • Fish

  • Barley

For a dog to be itchy from one of these it has to currently be in their diet or be something they’ve eaten recently. The itchiness could happen anywhere on your dog’s body, but it’s more common to find the ears, paws, rear end and stomach is itchy. You may also see some other symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues (vomiting, diarrhoea and passing wind), a swollen face or hives.

All dogs could be subject to a food allergy, however, there are some breeds that are more prone to a food allergy, these include:

You could in more rarer situations see some behavioural changes, such as restlessness, frequent shaking/scratching of the ears, reduced interest in playtime, disinterest in food or an increase in scratching on furniture/owner’s legs etc.

The best way of finding out if your dog has a food allergy is by utilising an elimination diet. This should ideally be done with the assistance of a vet or nutritionist. To carry out an elimination diet you should feed one specific protein and ideally one carbohydrate for 8 to 12 weeks. This can be hard to do because you’d need to feed a chicken and rice or salmon and rice diet that you would need to cook specifically every day.

You could do a pseudo-elimination diet where you switch foods and then observe the reaction over 8 to 12 weeks. We’re really looking to see if things change on a different diet without eating potential problem foods. But again, it’s best to do this with the help of the vet or a nutritionist to get a set of solid results. Many poor-quality dog foods including kibble and canned foods include obscure ingredients that can be hard to understand or additives that could cause issues which is why a nutritionist or vet is important to consult.

As well as elimination diets, vets could opt to try a blood or patch test, these are much rarer to see, however.

We would always recommend going to the vets to make sure there’s a problem and to figure out a long-term plan. Vets may prescribe an antihistamine or skin cream to help ease the symptoms in the short term.

There isn’t one dog food that’s best for allergies as theoretically your dog could be allergic to anything. You need to find what they’re allergic to and cut that out of their diet. It’s always best to go for the best quality of food possible too. Ditch the highly processed kibble and go for a healthy, human-quality diet.