Itchy Dogs Part III : Food Allergies & Sensitivities

Welcome to the Dermapaw blog!

Welcome to the Dermapaw blog and to the third part of our “Itchy Dogs” educational series! In this series, we will go over all of the most common causes and solutions for skin itching, skin licking and skin irritation in dogs. In this article, “Itchy Dogs Part III: Food Allergies & Sensitivities”, we will be talking about the most common ways skin irritation appears when it is because of their food, and how to navigate some of the pet food options when choosing what to feed them.

Determining Whether Your Dog is Dealing with a Food Issue in The First Place

When your dog is licking, itching and biting their skin it can be challenging to pin down exactly why. Many times, it is a combination of reasons and may take some trial and error before you can begin to solve the problem. When it comes to food allergies or sensitivities and itchy skin, there are a few symptoms you are more likely to see, and a few questions you will want to ask yourself.

Is the itching seasonal? - Try to think of your dog’s licking symptoms on a timeline. If your dog itches and licks his paws the most when flowers are blooming outside but not during the winter months, it might be a seasonal environmental issue.

Does your dog have any pre-existing medical issues? - Sometimes, skin problems can materialize due to other medical conditions. Does your dog have an autoimmune disorder? Is it possible that your dog has a parasite like fleas, ticks, or even ringworm? Depending on what your dog may be dealing with and a conversation with their vet, you may want to consider supplementing their food to fill in those nutritional gaps or provide a natural anti-inflammatory. Some good supplemental products to check out are: Green Juju, The Missing Link and NaturVet products.

Is vomiting or diarrhea also present? - Vomiting and/or diarrhea accompanying itchy skin is most likely caused by something the dog has eaten, so it may be time to reevaluate your dog’s diet if this is the case.

Is there a strong skin odor present? - Some dogs are prone to yeast infections as well as bacterial infections in the skin. Both of these things will need vet attention to get taken care of if they have one, but what you feed them can greatly lessen the likelihood of one of these infections occurring in the future.

Examine the Common Denominator - If this licking and itching has recently developed, take a moment to think about what has changed in their life. Have you moved? Have you started using a new shampoo on them? Have you started using a new laundry detergent on their favorite blankey? Have they recently started taking a new medication? Did they eat something new and different (even if it was just once)? All of these things may be the culprit, and may lead you closer to the answer. If new food or treats is the obvious change - then you are most likely looking a at a food allergy or sensitivity.

Food Allergies & Sensitivities

When we say food allergy, we are referring to it in the definitive sense of the phrase, which is when the immune system in the body overreacts to something the dog is exposed to in some way and produces inflammatory symptoms, which many times includes itchiness in the skin. 

A very common example of this in dogs today is an allergic reaction to chicken protein. If your dog is allergic to a specific kind of protein, that can really affect how you will want to start looking at your dog’s food labels when shopping. Many times, even if chicken is not the main protein listed on the bag, a quick glance at the ingredients can tell you that these foods still may contain chicken fat, chicken eggs, chicken meal, and even chicken byproduct.

To avoid unwanted protein ingredients, try a “Limited Ingredient” formula, that only contains the specific animal proteins that work for your dog. A “Limited Ingredient Diet” in a pet food generally means “1 protein and 1 carbohydrate” or “less than 10 ingredients”. A couple noteworthy Limited Ingredient pet food brands include FirstMate and Natural Balance.


When talking about “food sensitivities”, we are referring to instances when a dog eats a food that creates an inflammatory response in the skin or digestive symptom that may not necessarily be because of an overactive immune system. The most common example of food sensitivities or food intolerances in dogs today is with grains in the food such as corn, wheat, soy and even rice and barley.

One of the theories on this is that a dog’s digestive system is not designed to break down that large of an amount of complex carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (grains) and that the overabundance of sugars in the bloodstream can create chronic yeast infections in the skin.

Another theory on this is that because a dog’s digestive system is not designed to break down all of those complex carbs, the dog is not absorbing enough of certain nutrients causing things like dull coats and itchy, dry skin.

Regardless of why many dogs have an “itchy” response to certain or all grains, many dog foods out there today are labeled as “Grain-Free”, which would probably be a good place to start when trying to eliminate the food ingredient causing itching in your dog. A couple noteworthy grain-free pet food brands include Nulo and PureVita.


Although the most common reasons for inflammation due to food are because of protein allergies or grain intolerances, other factors may be at play as well. One less-common food issue is not enough moisture in the food causing digestive upset, which can be curbed by feeding a wet or just-add-water food diet or by adding water or other wet supplements such as pumpkin or broth made for dogs. Usually, there is a wet canned version available of most of the dry dog foods out there. Many people these days are also praising raw food diets, which contains natural enzymes, no grains or fillers, and can be much easier to digest for the dog. 

Thankfully there are many alternative options out there for what to feed your dog if they are having an inflammatory, itchy response to their food, or even if they just do not like their food or are having digestive issues!

We the Dermapaw team are a family-owned and operated company that has created a skincare line for dogs and cats designed to soothe, heal and stop itching in dog and cats’ skin due to a variety of causes. We are a group of animal-care professionals with a combined hands-on experience of about 20 years. We have put lots of energy and resources into research and development for over 10 years, and are always continuing to do so! Please be aware that none of this information should be taken as medical advice or replace a diagnosis from your veterinarian, and that none of these suggestions are guaranteed or should be viewed as a “cure”. Every dog or cat out there is different, and we are just speaking from experience. We hope you learn something and we hope to help your dog or cat, whether you try out our products or not!