My dog is itching, should I change his food?  

The vast majority of itchy pets fall into one of 3 categories – flea allergy, environmental allergy and food allergy.  There are others, but these must be ruled out first.  Despite pet store hype, food allergy is not very common.  Food allergies are the LEAST common reason for itchy skin.

Fleas:  I don’t see fleas, so how could my dog have fleas?

Dog who itch from flea bites are allergic to the saliva of the flea.  Think of it like a peanut allergy.  An allergic person does not have to eat a handful of peanuts to have a reaction – one little piece of one little peanut causes a severe reaction.  The same is true of flea bites – one bite from one flea who then jumped off will cause severe itching.  In addition, 1 female flea lays 50 eggs every day in your environment, so that one flea that jumped off is going to be an infestation before you know it.  If you are seeing fleas on your pet,  especially cats, you have a BIG problem and need both treatment on the pet and in your environment.  Please discuss flea allergy with your veterinarian.

Environmental allergies:  the most common cause of itching in dogs (also called atopy)

hese are the things that make humans sneeze – grasses, trees, pollens, dusts and danders. While these are harder to control, just like in humans, they can bet tested for and allergy shots that desensitize the pet to the allergen, can be made specific to your pet.  If the dog “read the book” for these types of allergens, they usually have itchy feet (including red saliva staining), itchy groin, and itchy armpits.  Of course, not every dog reads the book. Many are seasonal, but not all.  And, if your dog is allergic to an environmental allergen, it is very likely he is also allergic to flea saliva so regular flea control is essential to deciphering care.  Shampoos, antihistamines, cytopoint injections and apoquel can help too.

Food allergies

Sadly, these have been completely blown out of proportion and so many dogs are on foods that might be dangerous to them because someone told them their dog is itching due to grains.

Patika Pets

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Veterinary formulated products that bridge east to west, the past to present. Ancient herbal wisdom perfectly balanced with modern microencapsulation technology puts your pet on the path to the best skin and coat ever!

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DermAllay™ Oatmeal Shampoo is used for routine bathing and to promote relief of dry, itchy, sensitive skin.

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Malaseb® Shampoo is a medicated shampoo formulated to treat skin conditions associated with bacterial and fungal infections.


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Ketochlor® is a antiseptic shampoo for dogs and cats is designed to help manage skin conditions that are responsive to ketoconazole and chlorhexidine.

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Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed Canine Formulas contains hydrolyzed protein, which is protein that has been broken down into small components to be less likely to cause an adverse food reaction in certain dogs. HA Hydrolyzed is highly digestible and made with high-quality ingredients. The science behind our therapeutic diets represents a collaboration between Purina nutritionists, researchers and veterinarians

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Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein Adult HP is a veterinary-exclusive dry dog food for adult dogs and growing puppies with food sensitivities

First, grain free is a dangerous gimmick based on NO DATA or SCIENCE

Grain free diets and diets with exotic ingredients have now been determined  by the FDA to associated with  dilative cardiomyopathy in dogs.  This is sometimes reversible but grain free diets are no longer considered appropriate for dogs unless they have had feeding trials, follow WSAVA guidelines for nutrition (see link below), and employ a BOARD CERTIFIED veterinary nutritionist.  If a food is being formulated without a board certified veterinary nutritionist (not just a vet or an “animal nutritionist”) , it is a BIG RED FLAG.  Just following AAFCO guidelines is not enough — if they didn’t follow those, you would not be able to buy it in the US.  In 2019, our 5 cardiologists in Portland were diagnosing one case per week.  Of our own patients, we have had 5 patients diagnosed with nutritional DCM and have had two deaths.

What the FDA says:

What that actually might mean:

Is it really happening?

Yes — — this is a page for pet parents to gain information and share their successes for treatment or grief from loss over their pet from nutritionally caused DCM.

How is a food allergy diagnosed?

 When a pet (or human) eats an ingredient — let’s say carrots — the body will either look at it and say “oh yeah, that’s just carrots, no panic required” or if they are sensitive the immune system says “Holy COW, what is THAT??  Sound the alarm.  Bring in the army, we have something here we need to fight!”  That “fight” will manifest usually as skin issues (generally ears, butt and face but not every dog follow the book) or GI issues.

ALL research shows that there is not a saliva, hair or blood analysis that can accurately diagnose food allergies!

First, we have to understand that 95% of dogs that have food allergies are allergic to their protein source NOT their carbohydrate as many “grain free” diets would have you believe.  The other 5% are allergic to a protein AND carbohydrate.   No one is allergic to the carbohydrate alone!

What is a hydrolyzed diet mean?  What is  novel protein diet?

So what we need to do is put the pet on either a protein their body has never seen before (novel protein) OR on a hypoallergenic food.    Novel proteins are nearly impossible to find anymore because our treats and foods are made with duck, venison, even kangaroo!!  So unless you have some wild yak meat at your disposal, it is not realistic to do a novel protein diet.  This should ALWAYS but done with your vet as your partner because without supervision, it is an easy process to get derailed and then you start your trial from scratch again.  Your vet has done this numerous times and knows the pitfalls.

The hypoallergenic diet is the one time you WANT food to be super processed. In these diets the protein source (chicken or soy) is broken down so small that the body no longer sees it as chicken or soy (so no panic) but the body can use the amino acids for the protein it needs.

How do I do a food trial if I think my dog has food allergies?

Hypoallergenic diet trial — need to feed ONLY that food for 6-8 weeks (nothing else passes the lips!).  AT SIX WEEKS and not BEFORE: 

* If still as severe as before, it is unlikely to be a food allegery (as long as you have been diligent in allowing no other foods!

* If itching is improved, but not gone, continue another 4-6 weeks before introducing anything else

* If itching is improved and normal skin then introduce a novel protein that we don’t think your pet has had before (salmon, duck, venison) on top of the HA food.  Monitor for itching 1 week.  If no change at 2 weeks, then add novel carbohydrate  like sweet potato.  Monitor for  1 week.   If all is still well, then consider looking for a commercial diet as “limited ingredient diet” with those ingredients. 

* Continue the hypoallergic diet as your base.  If  there is a reaction with any of the above steps,  then go back to HA only for 2-3 weeks and start with a new protein/CHO.  If a commercial diet cannot be found, continue the hypoallergenic diet long term.

** Again this should only be done with a partnership with a vet you trust so that we get reliable outcomes.

Hair loss without itching is commonly a part of a hormone imbalance in the body – any hair loss should be investigated with your family veterinarian including bloodwork and microscope samples.

About Healing Arts Animal Care

Healing Arts Animal Care in Beaverton, Oregon provides veterinary acupuncture, pet rehabilitation therapy, physical therapy and athletic conditioning and Animal Massage Therapy for the dogs and cats of the Portland, Oregon Metro Area including Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, and Tualatin. We strive to create a team among you, your pet, your veterinarian and ourselves to create a whole package of care for your pet including wheelchairs for dogs. Pets come through our door knowing that we’re going to have fun here and this isn’t “another trip to the vet.” Through manual therapies, acupuncture, laser, ultrasound, underwater treadmill and creating a tailored individual home exercises, we strive to bring your injured pet back to speed, keep your elderly pet as an active member of the family, return your obese pet back to a functional friend and keep your athletic pet at the peak of his performance.