What Deficiency Causes Itching in Dogs?

What Deficiency Causes Itching in Dogs?

When a dog starts scratching incessantly, it's natural for owners to become concerned. While there are many potential causes of itching in dogs, including allergies (which you can test for), parasites, and skin infections, nutritional deficiencies can also play a significant role. Here, we explore the various nutritional deficiencies that can cause itching in dogs, how these deficiencies occur, and what can be done to address them.

Understanding Canine Skin Health and Nutrition

Before looking at specific deficiencies, it's good to understand the relationship between nutrition and skin health in dogs. A dog's skin is its largest organ and often serves as a reflection of their overall health status. The skin acts as a barrier against environmental threats, helps regulate body temperature, and plays a role in vitamin D synthesis.

Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining healthy skin and coat in dogs. The skin is in a constant state of renewal, with new cells being produced and old ones being shed. This process requires a steady supply of nutrients. When there's a deficiency in certain nutrients, it can disrupt this renewal process, leading to various skin issues, including itching.



Nutritional Deficiencies That Can Cause Itching in Dogs

Several nutritional deficiencies can potentially lead to itching in dogs. Let's explore each of these in detail:

1. Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

One of the most common nutritional deficiencies associated with itching in dogs is a lack of essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Role in Skin Health: Essential fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining the skin barrier function, reducing inflammation, and promoting a healthy, shiny coat. They're components of cell membranes and help keep the skin hydrated and supple.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Dogs with essential fatty acid deficiencies may experience:

  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Dull, brittle coat
  • Increased shedding
  • Itching and scratching
  • Slow wound healing
  • Increased susceptibility to skin infections

Causes of Deficiency: Essential fatty acid deficiencies can occur due to:

  • Poor quality diet lacking in these nutrients
  • Increased need during pregnancy, lactation, or growth periods
  • Certain health conditions that affect fat absorption

Sources: Good sources of essential fatty acids for dogs include fish oil, flaxseed oil, and certain types of fish like salmon and sardines. Many high-quality commercial dog foods are also supplemented with these fatty acids.

2. Zinc Deficiency

Zinc is an important mineral that plays a vital role in skin health and overall immune function in dogs.

Role in Skin Health: Zinc is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions in the body, including those related to skin cell production and turnover. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and supports immune function in the skin.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Dogs with zinc deficiency may exhibit:

  • Red, inflamed skin, especially around the eyes, mouth, and ears
  • Hair loss
  • Crusty, scaly skin lesions
  • Itching and scratching
  • Slow wound healing
  • Increased susceptibility to skin infections

Causes of Deficiency: Zinc deficiency can occur due to:

  • Insufficient dietary intake
  • Poor absorption due to certain gastrointestinal conditions
  • Increased needs during growth, pregnancy, or lactation
  • Genetic factors in certain breeds (like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes) that affect zinc absorption

Sources: Good dietary sources of zinc for dogs include meat, liver, eggs, and seafood. Many commercial dog foods are also fortified with zinc.

3. Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for maintaining healthy skin and mucous membranes in dogs.

Role in Skin Health: Vitamin A is crucial for skin cell differentiation and growth. It helps regulate sebum production, which keeps the skin and coat healthy and hydrated.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Dogs deficient in Vitamin A may experience:

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Itching and scratching
  • Poor coat quality
  • Increased susceptibility to skin infections
  • Night blindness (in severe cases)

Causes of Deficiency: Vitamin A deficiency is rare in dogs fed commercial diets but can occur due to:

  • Long-term consumption of poor-quality or imbalanced homemade diets
  • Certain liver diseases that affect Vitamin A storage
  • Malabsorption disorders

Sources: Good sources of Vitamin A for dogs include liver, fish liver oils, egg yolks, and dairy products. Many commercial dog foods are fortified with Vitamin A.

4. Vitamin E Deficiency

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that plays a crucial role in protecting skin cells from oxidative damage.

Role in Skin Health: Vitamin E helps protect cell membranes from oxidative stress, supports immune function, and works synergistically with selenium to maintain skin health.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Dogs with Vitamin E deficiency may show:

  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Itching and scratching
  • Dull coat
  • Increased susceptibility to skin infections
  • In severe cases, muscle weakness and reproductive issues

Causes of Deficiency: Vitamin E deficiency can occur due to:

  • Diets low in Vitamin E
  • Diets high in polyunsaturated fats without adequate Vitamin E supplementation
  • Certain fat malabsorption disorders

Sources: Good sources of Vitamin E for dogs include vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Many commercial dog foods are fortified with Vitamin E.

5. B-Complex Vitamin Deficiencies

The B-complex vitamins, including biotin (Vitamin B7), play important roles in skin health.

Role in Skin Health: B vitamins, especially biotin, are crucial for fatty acid metabolism and protein synthesis, both of which are essential for healthy skin and coat.

Symptoms of Deficiency: Dogs deficient in B vitamins, particularly biotin, may experience:

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Itching and scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Dull, brittle coat
  • In severe cases, dermatitis around the face and paws

Causes of Deficiency: B vitamin deficiencies can occur due to:

  • Poor quality diets
  • Certain intestinal disorders that affect absorption
  • Overconsumption of raw egg whites (which contain a protein that binds biotin)

Sources: Good sources of B vitamins for dogs include meat, liver, eggs (cooked), and certain vegetables. Many commercial dog foods are fortified with B vitamins.

We offer a comprehensive dog multivitamin that covers all of the above.

Diagnosing Nutritional Deficiencies in Dogs

Identifying a specific nutritional deficiency as the cause of a dog's itching can be challenging, as symptoms often overlap with other skin conditions. Here's how veterinarians typically approach diagnosis:

  1. Thorough History: Your vet will ask about your dog's diet, including any recent changes, supplements, and treats.
  2. Physical Examination: A comprehensive skin and coat examination can reveal signs that might point to specific deficiencies.
  3. Elimination of Other Causes: Your vet will likely rule out other common causes of itching, such as parasites, allergies, or infections.
  4. Blood Tests: Certain blood tests can help identify some nutritional deficiencies, although they're not always definitive.
  5. Skin Scrapings or Biopsies: In some cases, these tests might be necessary to rule out other skin conditions.
  6. Diet Trial: Your vet might recommend a diet change to see if symptoms improve.
  7. Response to Supplementation: In some cases, a tentative diagnosis might be made based on the dog's response to specific nutrient supplementation.

Preventing and Treating Nutritional Deficiencies

Preventing and treating nutritional deficiencies that cause itching in dogs typically involves a combination of dietary changes and, in some cases, supplementation:

  1. Balanced Diet: Feeding a high-quality, balanced commercial dog food appropriate for your dog's life stage is the best way to prevent most nutritional deficiencies.
  2. Homemade Diets: If you feed a homemade diet, work with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure it's balanced and meets all your dog's nutritional needs.
  3. Supplementation: In some cases, your vet might recommend specific supplements to address deficiencies. Never supplement your dog's diet without veterinary guidance, as over-supplementation can be harmful.
  4. Regular Check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups can help catch and address nutritional issues before they cause significant problems.
  5. Special Considerations: Be aware of any breed-specific nutritional needs or health conditions that might affect your dog's nutritional requirements.

The Importance of Professional Guidance

While it's tempting to try and diagnose and treat your dog's itching at home, it's crucial to work with a veterinarian. Nutritional deficiencies can have similar symptoms to many other health conditions, and only a professional can accurately diagnose the issue.

Moreover, addressing nutritional deficiencies requires a careful approach. Over-supplementation of certain nutrients can be just as harmful as deficiencies. A veterinarian can help you develop a safe and effective plan to address your dog's specific needs.


Nutritional deficiencies can indeed cause itching in dogs, with essential fatty acids, zinc, and vitamins A, E, and B complex being the most common culprits. However, it's important to remember that itching can be caused by numerous factors, and nutritional deficiencies are just one possibility.

If your dog is experiencing persistent itching, the best course of action is to consult with a veterinarian. They can help determine whether a nutritional deficiency is at play and guide you in addressing the issue safely and effectively.

Remember, prevention is always better than cure. Feeding your dog a balanced, high-quality diet appropriate for their life stage and health status is the best way to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Regular veterinary check-ups can also help catch any potential issues early, ensuring your furry friend stays healthy, comfortable, and itch-free.