Does Kibble Make Dogs Itchy?

Does Kibble Make Dogs Itchy?

Many dog owners have noticed their furry friends scratching more than usual and wondered if their diet could be the culprit. With kibble being one of the most common forms of dog food, it's natural to question whether it might be causing skin irritation or itchiness in our canine companions. Below, we look into the relationship between kibble and canine skin health, exploring various factors that could contribute to itchiness in dogs.

Understanding Kibble

Before we dive into whether kibble can make dogs itchy, it's important to understand what kibble is and how it's made. Kibble is a type of dry dog food that's been around since the mid-20th century. It's designed to be a convenient, complete, and balanced diet for dogs, containing all the necessary nutrients they need in a shelf-stable form.

Kibble is typically made through a process called extrusion. This involves mixing the ingredients (which can include meat, grains, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals) into a dough, which is then cooked under high pressure and pushed through a die to create the characteristic kibble shape. The pieces are then dried and often coated with fats or flavourings to enhance palatability.

While kibble offers many advantages, including convenience, long shelf life, and dental benefits (as the crunchy texture can help clean teeth), some dogs may experience issues with this type of food. The question is: can kibble directly cause itchiness in dogs?

The Link Between Diet and Skin Health

To understand whether kibble can make dogs itchy, we need to consider the broader relationship between diet and skin health. A dog's skin is its largest organ and often reflects their overall health status. What a dog eats can significantly impact their skin and coat condition.

Several nutritional factors can affect skin health:

  1. Protein Quality: High-quality, easily digestible proteins are essential for skin and coat health. Inadequate or poor-quality protein can lead to dry, flaky skin and a dull coat.
  2. Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining skin health and reducing inflammation. An imbalance or deficiency can lead to dry, itchy skin.
  3. Vitamins and Minerals: Nutrients like Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Zinc, and Biotin are important for skin health. Deficiencies can lead to various skin issues.
  4. Hydration: While not directly related to kibble, it's worth noting that proper hydration is crucial for skin health. Dogs on a dry food diet may need to drink more water compared to those on a wet food diet.

Given these factors, it's clear that diet can indeed influence a dog's skin health and potentially contribute to itchiness. However, the question remains: is kibble specifically more likely to cause itchiness compared to other types of dog food?

Potential Causes of Itchiness Related to Kibble

While kibble itself isn't inherently itchy-causing, there are several ways in which it could potentially contribute to skin irritation or itchiness in dogs:

1. Food Allergies or Intolerances

Some dogs may develop allergies or intolerances to specific ingredients commonly found in kibble. The most common food allergens for dogs include:

  • Beef
  • Dairy
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat

If a dog is allergic or intolerant to any of these ingredients in their kibble, it could manifest as skin itchiness, among other symptoms. It's important to note that true food allergies are less common than many pet owners believe, accounting for only about 10% of all dog allergies. Testing for these intolerances could be key in discovering what is causing your pup to be uncomfortable. 

2. Ingredient Quality

The quality of ingredients used in kibble can vary widely between brands and even between different lines within the same brand. Lower quality ingredients or those that are harder for dogs to digest might potentially lead to skin issues in some dogs.

For example, some lower-quality kibbles might use meat by-products or meat meals of questionable origin, which could potentially contain allergens or be harder for some dogs to digest. Similarly, certain grains or fillers used in some kibbles might not agree with all dogs.

3. Nutrient Imbalances

While reputable kibble brands formulate their foods to meet nutritional standards, not all kibbles are created equal. Some may have imbalances in crucial nutrients that support skin health. For instance:

  • Insufficient high-quality protein could lead to poor skin and coat condition.
  • An imbalance in the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids could potentially contribute to inflammation and skin issues.
  • Inadequate levels of skin-supporting vitamins and minerals might impact skin health.

4. Processing and Preservatives

The high-heat extrusion process used to make kibble can potentially alter some nutrients. While most reputable manufacturers account for this in their formulations, it's a factor to consider. Additionally, the preservatives used to give kibble its long shelf life might not agree with all dogs, potentially leading to skin irritation in sensitive individuals.

5. Hydration Issues

As mentioned earlier, kibble is a very dry food. If a dog doesn't drink enough water to compensate, it could potentially lead to dehydration, which can affect skin health. Dehydrated skin can become dry, flaky, and itchy.

Signs That Kibble Might Be Making Your Dog Itchy

If you suspect that your dog's kibble might be causing itchiness, look out for these signs:

  1. Increased scratching, especially after meals or at consistent times of day
  2. Redness or inflammation of the skin, particularly on the belly, paws, or ears
  3. Recurrent ear infections
  4. Excessive licking or chewing, especially of the paws
  5. Hair loss or patchy fur
  6. Skin rashes or hives
  7. Gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhoea (often accompanies food allergies)
  8. Changes in behaviour or irritability due to discomfort

Remember, these symptoms can be caused by many factors other than food, including environmental allergies, parasites, or other health conditions. 

Diagnosing Food-Related Itchiness

If you suspect your dog's kibble is causing itchiness, it's crucial to work with a veterinarian to determine the cause. The diagnosis process might include:

  1. Detailed History: Your vet will ask about your dog's diet, symptoms, and when they occur.
  2. Physical Examination: To check for signs of skin irritation, infections, or other issues.
  3. Elimination of Other Causes: Your vet may perform tests to rule out other causes of itchiness, such as parasites or environmental allergies.
  4. Food Trial: This is the gold standard for diagnosing food allergies or intolerances. It involves feeding your dog a prescription hypoallergenic diet for 8-12 weeks, then reintroducing the original diet to see if symptoms return.
  5. Allergy Testing: A simple at-home method of diagnosing, blood or skin tests might be used to check for environmental allergies.

Alternatives and Solutions

If it turns out that kibble is indeed making your dog itchy, there are several potential solutions:

  1. Switch to a Limited Ingredient Diet: These kibbles contain fewer ingredients, making it easier to identify and avoid potential allergens.
  2. Try Grain-Free Kibble: While grain allergies are relatively rare in dogs, some dogs do better on grain-free diets.
  3. Consider Novel Protein Sources: Switching to a kibble with a protein source your dog hasn't had before (like venison or duck) might help.
  4. Explore Wet Food Options: Some dogs do better on wet food diets, which have higher moisture content and often fewer preservatives.
  5. Look into Home-Cooked or Raw Diets: With guidance from a veterinary nutritionist, these diets allow complete control over ingredients.
  6. Supplement with Skin-Supporting Nutrients: Adding fish oil or other supplements might help support skin health (always consult your vet first).
  7. Ensure Proper Hydration: Make sure your dog always has access to fresh water and consider ways to increase water intake.

The Importance of Professional Guidance

While it's tempting to experiment with different diets to solve itchiness, it's crucial to work with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist. They can help ensure that any dietary changes meet all of your dog's nutritional needs and don't inadvertently cause other health issues.

Additionally, because itchiness can be caused by many factors beyond diet, professional guidance is key to accurately diagnosing and addressing the root cause of your dog's discomfort.


So, does kibble make dogs itchy? The answer isn't a simple yes or no. While kibble itself isn't inherently itch-inducing, certain aspects of kibble – such as specific ingredients, quality issues, or nutritional imbalances – could potentially contribute to skin irritation or itchiness in some dogs.

It's important to remember that every dog is unique. What works perfectly for one dog might not suit another. If you suspect your dog's kibble is causing itchiness, the best course of action is to keep a detailed record of their symptoms and diet, and consult with your veterinarian.

With careful observation, professional guidance, and perhaps some dietary adjustments, you can help ensure your dog's diet supports their skin health and overall well-being. Remember, a healthy diet is just one part of keeping your dog happy and itch-free – regular veterinary check-ups, proper grooming, and addressing any underlying health issues are all crucial components of your dog's skin health.

Ultimately, whether you feed your dog kibble, wet food, or any other type of diet, the goal is the same: to provide balanced nutrition that supports all aspects of your dog's health, including their skin. By staying informed and attentive to your dog's needs, you can help them live their most comfortable, itch-free life.