Southtown Veterinary Hospital

1806 Ridge Rd.
Montrose, PA 18801


STVH Tips on Dietary Therapy for the Itchy Dog

The following information is intended to provide the dog owner with a basic understanding of the most common underlying causes of itching and allergies. Persistent scratching and grooming by a dog can result in more skin damage and even cause open wounds.

Ear infections, hot spots, licking feet…most are related to allergies. Allergies in dogs are often heavily influenced by diet.

An allergy is a state of hypersensitivity in which exposure to a harmful substance known as an allergen induces the body's immune system to overreact. The incidence of allergies is increasing in both humans and pets.


  1. Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements (fish oil)
    1. Omega-3 is integral in skin health, anti-inflammatory pathways, immune system function, and brain development.
    2. Like a vitamin or mineral; your dog's body cannot manufacture it, it must be eaten in the diet
    3. Brands: Not all nutritional supplements are equal (even if the ingredients look identical). The FDA does not regulate nutritional supplements the way drugs are regulated.
    4. Be sure to use pure Omega-3 fatty acid supplements and not a supplement that contains any added vitamins. These added vitamins can be toxic to your pet.
    5. Side effects: a few dogs may develop diarrhea with fish oils. Other sources of Omega-3 include: Missing Link product, or flaxseed.
  2. Meat-based high quality diets
    1. Corn and other grains such as soy and wheat can exacerbate skin conditions, ear infections and other allergic symptoms.
    2. The first ingredient in the food should be meat. The ingredient list should have NO CORN, NO WHEAT, NO SOY, and NO GLUTEN.
    3. is an excellent resource for canine nutrition, dog food brand reviews and information. We recommend at least a grade 4, 5, or 6.
    4. Places to look for meat-based diets include:

i. Southtown Veterinary Hospital; Blue Buffalo

ii. Tractor Supply (TSC); Blue Buffalo, Taste of the Wild, 4-Health

iii. Lucky Dog Pet Spa; Origin, canine caviar, back to basics, and others

iv. Pet CO / Petdepo: usually a nice selection ( before you buy - ask about the refund policy)

  1. Treats:
    1. Use quality treats also! Most treats contains a lot of grains and byproducts.
    2. One treat with grains can start the allergy symptoms up all over again.
    3. This goes for any table scraps and human snacks

Dietary therapy does not eliminate allergies: it helps your pet's body handle them more appropriately. Dietary therapy is successful in varying degrees, depending upon each individual dog.

If dietary therapy alone is not successful, or only moderately successful, then other options are available:

  1. Anti-histamines: Zyrtec (ceterizine, generic), Claritine, or Benadryl. Ask for dose instructions. We usually recommend Zyrtec or the generic first because the dose is given once per day.
  2. Symptomatic drug therapy can help to reduce itching. Steroids are often employed to stop the itch. However, without addressing the underlying cause, the itching will return
  3. Atopica: a daily medication (cyclosporine) that helps moderate the immune response. Depending on your dog's size, it may be rather expensive, but; for some dogs, it can literally be a life- saver.
  4. Limited ingredient diets: single protein and carbohydrate sources (not mixed) with new proteins that your dog has never eaten. (Example: duck, venison) please ask us for more specifics.
  5. Allergy testing: blood testing in the laboratory that will point to specific allergens. Allergy shots may then be available to "retrain" your dog's immune system.

Links to check on appropriate dog food: