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Nutrition for Pets with Itchy Skin & Other Health Concerns

Authored by: Kristine Stein, B.Sc., MS

Itchy and irritated skin is not just limited to us humans, our pet companions can also have the same skin issues as us, and for similar reasons. Thankfully there is a lot we can do for our furry friends. All it takes is some good nutrition and a little observation to see what works best.

If you have ruled out things like fleas, skin infections, or allergies due to external sources (i.e. laundry detergent, shampoos, chemicals from treated lawns, etc.) being the culprit, then read on about some helpful supplements. And like us, every pet is different. So it is important to keep that in mind when trying new supplements.


One of the top recommended supplements for itchy, irritated skin is omega-3. Omega-3’s is an important group of fatty acids (actually there are 11 different types of omega-3 fatty acids). The three main ones include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both EPA and DHA come from marine sources like fish and seafood. While ALA comes from plant sources like flaxseed. Mammals cannot synthesis Omega-3’s on their own so they need to obtain in through diet.

Benefits of Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids help to moisturize the skin, reduce inflammation, and ease itchiness. The skin becomes healthier, the coat is shinier, and the fatty acids help reduce shedding (that means less hairballs in cats!). Not only are omega-3’s good for skin and coat health, but they also assist in the following issues:

  • Joint problems and injuries: It reduces inflammation and pain, and improves mobility. Omega-3 is especially beneficial for older pets with arthritis.
  • Immune supportOmega-3 may support your pet’s resistance to some ailments. It also helps keep their vision and digestion functioning at their best.
  • Brain health: Fatty acids may improve cognitive function and help to promote a calmer mood. Omega-3 can help pets relax if they tend to be hyper or easily excitable.
  • Heart disease:Vets often recommend omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with congestive heart failure and to protect against irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).
  • Kidney disease: Slows the progression of chronic kidney disease (which is common in older cats).


Even though fish oil is relatively safe, it is always smart to consult with your vet when starting a new supplement. The following daily doses are recommended by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition:


5-10 lbs. 310 mg

10-20 lbs. 520 mg

20-30 lbs. 770 mg

30-40 lbs. 990 mg

40-50 lbs. 1200 mg

*Dogs over 50 lbs. can do up to 1500 mg


Unfortunately dosing for cats is a bit trickier. There is no clear consensus when it comes to how much omega-3 cats should have each day. According to Dr. Catherine Lenox, a veterinary nutritionist, approximately 30 mg of EPA and DHA combined per 2 lbs. of body weight is appropriate for cats.

Cats are obligate carnivores which means they thrive on high protein diets, they do not need carbohydrates like dogs (dogs are omnivores, like us humans). Fatty acids from fish oil will provide the most benefit for your cat (in leu of using omega 3’s from plant oils like flaxseed).

Choosing Fish Oil

Fish oil can be administered directly with a spoon or mixed in with the pet’s food. I find using fish oil in liquid form is easiest to mix with food. If you have capsules, simply poke a hole in the capsule with a safety pin and squirt the oil onto the pet’s food and mix well.

The quality of fish oil that you feed your pet is very important. Cheaper, low-quality brands are prone to contain high levels of heavy metals, rancid oils, or oils that are processed incorrectly which provide little or no nutritional value. It is wise to select brands that use wild caught fish sourced from cold water and conduct purity testing (i.e. testing for levels of heavy metals and testing for adequate levels of EPA and DHA). A few of these brands that are available at Total Health include Standard Process, Carlson’s, Nordic Naturals and Natural Factors. 

Coconut Oil

Yet another oil to consider for pets is coconut oil. Coconut oil is a saturated, stable fat that is great for inflammation. It is also anti-fungal which is very beneficial in cases where skin irritation and itchiness are due to a fungal problem.


Coconut oil can be given to dogs 1-2 times a day with meals. The amount is dependent on size.  Many veterinarians recommend starting with small amounts and building up gradually. A good starting dose is ¼ teaspoon daily for small dogs (dogs 5-30 lbs.) and up to 1 tablespoon daily for larger dogs (dogs over 40 lbs.). However, if you have an overweight dog, it’s suggested that coconut oil be given once a day because of its high fat content. It is a good idea to monitor your pet for weight gain if administering coconut oil.

Again with any new supplement, you should consult with your veterinarian regarding dosage. There can be side effects, such as greasy stools or diarrhea, which can occur if the dose is too large reports Dr. Colleen Smith of the Chattanooga Holistic Animal Institute.


For cats, there is some controversy with coconut oil. Cats can take coconut oil, but it is suggested not to do on a regular basis. Too much can cause an upset stomach or diarrhea. Do not give to a cat if he/she is diabetic, has inflammation of the pancreas, or is overweight according to Dr. Anna Gardner, a holistic veterinarian in Washington. Dr. Gardner says, internally coconut oil can benefit a cat’s immune system, help with hairballs, reduce arthritis inflammation, improve bad breath, and help with a healthy stomach.

For an average-sized cat, Gardner recommends ¼ teaspoon once or twice a day. Other vets recommend starting with as little as 1/8 of a teaspoon daily. Gardner says that cat owners who want to use coconut oil to treat or prevent hairballs can give it less often, such as a few times a week. Overall, she notes that you should start small and adjust amounts as necessary. As for how to get your cat to eat the coconut oil, Gardner says that shouldn’t be a problem unless you have a particularly picky cat: “It can be given directly, as a lot of cats like the taste,” she says. If your cat won’t eat coconut oil on its own, try mixing it with a tablespoon or two of especially pungent, canned cat food.

Keep in Mind

Some pet foods already contain omega-3 fatty acids. Make sure to check the list of ingredients in your pet food. If it contains fish or is fortified with omega-3’s, you should consult with your vet to determine how much fish oil to give your pet as a supplement. Too much fish oil can cause side effects.

Fish oil can help balance out omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. While dogs and cats need some omega-6’s, many conventional pet foods contain a lot of grains, grain-fed proteins, or rancid fats. This is another area to explore if your pet has excessive inflammation or itchiness. Don’t think that cheaper food is better just because it is easier on the pocketbook. An excessive amount of omega-6 can cause chronic inflammation.

Do your research on grain-free pet foods and foods that source wild caught meats and include vegetables instead of grains (for dogs). Because cats are obligate carnivores, they tend to thrive on high protein, grain free diets. Some brands include Wellness, Acana and Taste of the Wild. Raw diets are also very beneficial and worth looking into. 

The benefits of omega-3 and coconut oil are not immediate and can take up to 2-3 weeks to take effect. Make sure to maintain a daily routine to ensure proper benefits. Once you start to see positive effects in your pet, maintain the amount of omega-3. To ensure your pet receives their optimal amount of fatty acids, you may have to change the amounts they consume until you hit that sweet spot that’s right for them. Patience and consistency are key when giving new supplements to your furry friend.


Xu, Elizabeth. (2016, September 1). petMD/Coconut Oil for Cats: Is It a Good Idea?. Retrieved from:

Richman, Olivia. (2021, February 3). Holista Pet/Omega-3 For Cats – 4 Ways To Give Your Feline This Essential Nutrient. Retrieved from:

Bauer, John E. (2011, December 1). Timely Topics in Nutrition/Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. Retrieved from:

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