If regular scratching has become an issue for your dog, the cause may be more than skin-deep. Pruritus, or itchy skin, has many causes, including allergies. Just like humans, your dog can have allergies to food, and those allergies can cause itching.
Pruritus, or itching, is a sign of various possible skin conditions, including flea allergies, seasonal allergies, mange, contact dermatitis and even food allergies. The first step in treating pruritus is determining the cause. Your veterinarian will check for fleas and any other possible skin condition. If these are ruled out, he may recommend a diet change or a temporary elimination diet to determine if something in your dog's food is causing the condition.
When it comes to food, common allergens include beef, chicken, pork, corn, dairy, wheat and soy. Even if you are feeding your dog the same food as always, he may have developed an allergy. Older dogs, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, can develop allergies later in life. Just because your dog has been eating food with chicken his entire life does not mean that he can't be allergic to chicken now.
To determine the cause of a food allergy, your veterinarian may suggest an elimination diet. For an elimination diet, veterinarian Matt Allworth recommends as few ingredients as possible as well as ingredients that your dog has rarely or never eaten before. Some food manufacturers offer elimination diet foods, or you can make your own. The diet should include one protein source and one carbohydrate. For proteins, meats like rabbit, duck, turkey and other game meats are a good place to start. For carbohydrates, potatoes and rice are options. This diet will last 10 to 12 weeks. If the pruritus does not improve within the first six to eight weeks, more than likely it is not food-related. If there is improvement, it will soon be time to begin adding different ingredients one at a time. As you add each ingredient, watch your dog closely to see if symptoms reappear. If they do, you have found the culprit.
Do not begin an elimination diet without first consulting a veterinarian and ruling out any underlying causes for the itching. For the short term, elimination diets are fine. However, they do not provide all the nutrients your dog needs and your veterinarian may need to add vitamin supplements. When doing an elimination diet, it is essential that you stick to it. No table scraps here and there, and no treats. In order to find the possible allergen, it is essential to remove it completely.