Will Adding Oil to My Dog's Diet Cure His Itching?

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Q. My dog seems to be scratching himself more. He's already on lamb-and-rice food. Will adding oil to his diet help?

A. Adding a veterinarian is the only thing that can truly help. Your dog may be suffering from fleas, inhalant allergies or, yes, food allergies. But you cannot treat a problem effectively without a spot-on diagnosis, and that’s why you need your veterinarian.

First steps. When a food allergy is suspected, a “feeding trial” is started to pinpoint the problem ingredient. This often requires the use of a “novel protein,” one that the animal has never eaten before. Years — as in decades — ago, the lamb-rice combination was something a veterinarian could reliably count on as novel. But then people got the idea that feeding lamb-and-rice was a cure-all for skin problems, and pet food companies started making and promoting lamb-and-rice to meet the demand. That effectively meant the end of lamb-and-rice as part of the protocol for investigating food allergies. These days, meats as exotic as ostrich and kangaroo have been brought into the mix to help veterinarians solve a food-allergy mystery.

Adding oil is another “easy fix” that doesn’t help unless there's a dietary insufficiency that's accidentally addressed by the addition. If you’re feeding something your veterinarian has recommended or approved of as appropriate for your dog, you shouldn’t have to add anything — at least not until your veterinarian suggests doing so, such as adding omega-3 oils and glucosamine to help in treating arthritis in older dogs.

The big take-away point is this: “Itchy” is a symptom, not a disease, and it’s a symptom that’s common to more than one problem (and your dog could very well have more than one problem).

Other options. The one thing I can recommend that could help — and won’t hurt, certainly — is more frequent bathing with a shampoo recommended by your veterinarian. This approach has been clinically shown to help dogs with skin problems.

But really, you need help — specifically, your veterinarian’s help, and soon. If you’ve ever had a persistent itch, you know how miserable it can be. The sooner your veterinarian can diagnose and treat the problem, the more comfortable your dog will be.

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