Can dog food cause itching? – The Pet Experience
Teepee Grain Free. Can Dog Food Cause Itching

Can dog food cause itching?

This is a common question in the shop. Can dog food cause itching in some dogs?

In short the answer is yes. Poor quality dog food, or a dog food that does not agree with your dog can cause skin conditions. There can of course be other reasons why your dog has a skin problem. However over the years I have found that many of these cases have been resolved by a change in diet. Lets look at why this may be in straight forward language with no technical terms!


Teepee Grain Free. Can dog food cause itching

Teepee. Steam cooked, high meat content, grain free dog food from The Pet Experience.

Dog Food Quality

Dog food quality is wide ranging. Low quality food at one end of the spectrum and better quality food at the other (with lots in between). You have no doubt heard the expression ‘you are what you eat’ over the years? Well dogs are no different. As a general rule, good quality food means a healthier dog. Poorer quality food can mean erratic health problems that could require frequent trips to the Vets. This could be diarrhoea, skin complaints, ear problems etc. I think you would be amazed at how many issues can be caused (and avoided) by the food you choose to feed your dog.



Let me elaborate a bit. When a dog eats food it enters the digestive system. To gain nourishment from that food it must be broken down by the body i.e. digested. The process of digestion creates a range of natural by-products/toxins and free radicals in the dog’s body. Much like driving a car…. putting fuel into the car is like feeding your dog. If you want to drive the car forward, the car must burn fuel to do so. The cost of burning this fuel is creating exhaust fumes.

The cost of digesting food for the dog is the creation of these toxins etc. All food, when digested will create an amount of these by-products, it is a cost of digestion. The better quality the ingredients and processing of the food, the easier it is for the dog to digest. Therefore less ‘exhaust fumes’ or by-products are produced. A normal, healthy dog on a good quality food can deal with these by-products through the natural course of its bodily functions. Conversely, poorer quality foods require more digestion which can result in higher levels of these by-products.


Anal Glands

High toxin levels is where problems can start to arise. The production and elimination of waste products (toxins) is part of a dog’s normal metabolic functions. When toxin levels rise, they can build up throughout the dog’s body and as a result the anal glands can become overwhelmed *Source: John Burns – Burns Pet Food Unfortunately these toxins do not just disappear over time, the dog must get them out of the body somehow. This is where skin conditions can arise, itching, scratching, dandruff etc. Anal gland problems can often go hand in hand with skin complaints. Of course anal gland issues can be a stand alone problem. It is however worth considering that they could be a symptom of an underlying issue to do with your dog’s food.



It’s not just the production of excessive waste products that can cause itchy skin in dogs. Lets have a quick look at ingredients. In order to manage a dog’s diet, we need to know what we are feeding them so we don’t inadvertently feed them something that could cause upset to their digestion. Simple, right?! Remember there is a wide range of dog foods available. With poorer quality foods at one end of the specturm and better quality at the other.

Meat & Animal Derivatives

In general, poorer quality foods have a very vague ingredients list and tend not to specify particular ingredients. Often the words ‘Cereals’ and ‘Meat and Animal Derivatives’ are used. These terms allow manufacturers to use a variety of different ingredients to help make a food nutritionally complete. The problem is that this mix of ingredients is unknown. The food is often mis-leadingly sold under the heading of one particular ingredient. For example, a dog food can be labelled as Chicken flavoured. It could also contain a number of other protein sources though. By labelling a food chicken flavoured, there is a legal obligation to have a minimum of 4% chicken in the food. This will be shown on the ingredients as ‘Meat and Animal Derivatives (minimum 4% Chicken)’. However there could also be beef, lamb, fish or any number of other proteins contained in the food. These are unspecified.

These generic terms also allows manufacturers the option to change the ingredients of that food overnight.  This could be based on ingredient price or availability etc. The result for the dog and the owner can be serious. You could be feeding a particular brand of food, without issue for a number of months. Then suddenly, for no apparent reason, your dog gets sick. It could be diarrhoea, vomiting, itchy skin or any number of other problems. Generally the owner’s first thought is ‘well it can’t be the dog food, we haven’t changed the dog food’. What may well have happened though is that the ingredients changed. That unexplained illness may have be down to an adverse reaction to that change. Next stop? The Vets, to treat an illness that could possibly have been avoided with better quality food.

Hypoallergenic Dog Food

Dog licking it's lips. Can dog food cause itching

At the other end of the spectrum are the hypoallergenic diets. Hypoallergenic simply means ‘low risk of allergic reaction’. It is not a guarantee that a food will suit your dog. There is however a much better chance that the food will agree compared to feeding a poorer quality, non hypoallergenic diet. Hypoallergenic dog foods tend to have a fixed formula when it comes to ingredient make up. As well as higher guaranteed meat contents and clearly listed ingredients. Specifying certain food stuffs means the ingredients cannot suddenly change as described above. This guarantee of ingredients gives owners the ability to select a diet based on what it does or doesn’t have. For example, if your dog cannot digest beef, an ingredient list that details each ingredient by name, means you can avoid that protein.


Skin as an organ

Another side to itchy skin in dogs and/or a poor quality coat is to remember that the skin is an organ. Actually the biggest organ in a dog’s body. And this big organ takes about 30% of the nutrition a dog eats to keep it functioning and healthy. When there is a problem with the dog’s food (poor quality or unsuitable), one of the first signs can be failure in the skin and coat. Excessive moulting, dandruff, itchy scratchy skin, licking/chewing of the paws etc. Of course you will often see poor quality stools as well. That’s a whole other topic in itself which has it’s own article!


I hope this feature has given you a brief insight into the world of dog nutrition. As you can see, dog food can cause itching in certain instances. As a result it is worth bearing in mind when it comes to dealing with skin complaints on your dog. The above is a very simplistic explanation. I have specifically avoided medical and technical jargon which can be confusing. It is in no way meant to be a substitute for qualified Veterinary advice. In short, when it comes to selecting a dog food to feed your dog:

  • do your research
  • read the ingredients list
  • make an informed decision

If you would like some help just pop into the shop. If you are not local, drop me an email or give me a call! Cormac.


To read more about dog nutrition and health, click here:

If you’d like to change your dog’s food, find out which one is the best for you:

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