Owners often look to a dog’s diet as the cause and/or solution to skin and coat problems. While this approach is sometimes valid, pet food manufacturers tend to overemphasize this link. A recent study evaluated the “marketing terms, ingredients, and nutrient profiles of OTC [over-the-counter] diets marketed for skin and coat health of dogs to gain a better understanding of common marketing strategies and identify patterns of ingredients and nutrient concentrations.”
Eleven brands consisting of 15 dry and 9 canned diets marketed for skin and coat health were included in the study. The authors found:
Although all 24 diets had the term skin, coat, or other descriptors of skin and coat appearance in the diet name, a variety of other marketing terms were also included on the diet packaging and websites.
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The researchers also looked at the number and type of ingredients included in the diets, since over-the-counter limited diets or novel ingredient diets (e.g., lamb, kangaroo) are often marketed for the management of food allergies in dogs. They found:
Median number of unique major ingredients in each diet was 5.5 (range, 3 to 8), with a median of 2 animal-based ingredients (range, 0 to 5) and 3 plant-based ingredients (range, 1 to 5). Median total number of unique ingredients in each diet was 38 (range, 28 to 68). The most common animal-based ingredients were fish (n = 11), egg (7), and chicken (6), with smaller numbers of other animal-based ingredients (venison , dairy , animal digest , duck , lamb , turkey , beef , and pork ). The most common plant-based ingredients were rice (n = 17), potato (12), oat (11), pea (10), and barley (9), with smaller numbers of other plant-based ingredients (sorghum , soy , millet , corn , quinoa , sweet potato , canola , lentil , tapioca , and wheat ).
Concentrations of nutrients associated with skin and coat condition also differed widely.
While this is not the most comprehensive paper I’ve ever read with regards to shortcomings of over-the-counter diets that claim to improve the health of dogs (they can’t legally claim to cure, treat, or prevent disease without being regulated like drugs), it does do a good job of reinforcing the old adage "buyer beware."
If your dog suffers from a disorder of the skin or coat and switching to a couple of different foods hasn’t helped, please make an appointment as soon a spossible with your veterinarian.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Evaluation of marketing claims, ingredients, and nutrient profiles of over-the-counter diets marketed for skin and coat health of dogs. Johnson LN, Heinze CR, Linder DE, Freeman LM. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2015 Jun 15;246(12):1334-8.
Image: David Baileys / Shutterstock