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Itchy & scratchy? Allergies? a nutritional solution

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Itchy & scratchy

When a pet is incessantly scratching, either generally all over or a specific area of the body, it’s a clear sign that they are suffering an allergy of some form. This allergy may be triggered by the presence of environmental or external factors or internally due to dietary inclusions, both of which can be exacerbated by dietary deficiencies[1].

External or environmental factors include various plants, in New Zealand the succulent weed ‘Wandering Jew’ is commonly discussed as the culprit for many skin allergies especially when expressed on the paws and/or underbelly of small dogs, however, mites and other parasites are also a common potential source of itching. Various topical treatments, shampoos and washes are marketed as a solution which unfortunately can add to the challenge these pets face [1]. Removing the source of the allergy from the pets environment is an essential first step in treatment, this may be simply choosing a different park to exercise in or use of an anti-parasitic agent to target the appropriate unwanted guests [1]. Carefully examining and combing the coat will dislodge parasites and skin debris for closer examination and an accurate determination of any anti parasitic required.

If examining and combing the coat have ruled out the presence of external parasites and the presence of environmental triggers is considered unlikely then dietary considerations are the likely trigger for the allergy. Providing the pet with nutritional support is essential regardless of the trigger as this will improve not only the way the immune system responds but also the overall health of the pet. Commercial pet foods are a common dietary cause of itching or skin allergies, initially due to the inappropriate contents with deficiencies in vital nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids developing over time [2]. Ideally the pet will be transitioned onto a raw, species appropriate diet using a meat source that the pet has not previously been exposed to and therefore is least likely to produce an immune response [1] in New Zealand this could be goat or venison but for those that are not suspected to have a fish allergy salmon or mackerel is also an excellent source of protein.

Including supplements into the diet to support healthy skin and immune system can be particularly beneficial for those likely to be suffering from nutritional deficiencies, for example, for those not suffering from oily skin, supplementing with good quality fish oil or flax seed oil as an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids is recommended[1]. Probiotics can also be useful as they aid the digestive system; plain organic Greek yogurt provides a healthy option for pets whilst also providing a good medium for any other supplements such as kelp to be delivered [2].

When considering supplements to add to the diet of an itchy dog, brewer’s yeast should be excluded from the list as; although nutritionally beneficial it may exacerbate itchy skin conditions. As with any supplement there are individuals who may be sensitive or allergic to certain properties, in the case of Brewer’s yeast, a sensitivity can trigger symptoms of gas or bloating [3] as well as itching or swelling [4]. It should therefore be avoided if there is any history of yeast allergies, yeast infections, or if the dog is immune-compromised in any way [5].


[1] Syme, B. 2011. Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition. Southbank, Australia: Vets All Natural Pty Ltd. [2] Billinghurst, I. 1993. Give Your Dog a Bone. Bathurst, New South Wales: Warrigal Publishing. [3] Giorgi, A. 2019. Brewer's Yeast. Retrieved October 22nd, 2020, from Healthline web site: [4] WebMD Brewers yeast. 2020. Vitamins & Supplements: Brewer's Yeast. Retrieved October 22nd, 2020, from Web MD web site: [5] Elfenbein, H. 2017. Brewer's Yeast for Dogs: Understanding the Benefits and Risks. Retrieved October 22nd, 2020, from Pet MD web site:


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