A dehydrated fish based diet was fed to dogs identified by their owners to be 5 out of 10 or less on a Pruritus (standard itch, appendix 1) Scale for 12 weeks in order to determine if the condition of skin and coat improved and itching was abated. Eight of the eleven participants’ (73%) skin issues improved, with three (27%) out of those eight’s symptoms resolving completely, as well as several additional, unexpected positive physiological or behavioral findings in a total of nine (81%) of participants.


Dermatologic disease is one of the most common reasons dogs are relinquished to animal shelters nation wide. This case series was designed to be a preliminary exploration into the use of a minimally processed, high-moisture diet made from novel protein (fish) and free from by-products, chemicals, fillers, gluten, and white potatoes, in reducing itching and improving dermatologic disease perceived by owners to be problematic.

Extruded dry food diets are known to have undergone certain biochemical changes during processing that results in pro inflammatory glycosylated end products. Foods that are gently dehydrated at temperatures of 104°F to 165°F, rather than extruded under extreme heat and pressure, undergo minimal biochemical change, resulting in an overall diet that does not promote inflammation.


Participants were identified by employees/owners of participating pet food retail outlets using general guidelines for inclusion in the cohort. Prior to commencement of the study owners were to fill out a pre-requisite medical history, provide supporting medical records, and sign informed consent / waivers of liability to the pet shop owners, the honest kitchen, and veterinarians involved. Owners were required to commit to the feeding regime for 12 weeks including the 14 day food transition, completion of a journal to record observations and an exam schedule at 0, 14, 42, and 70 days. After all these requirements are fulfilled, the participants and their owners met with representatives of The Honest Kitchen and supporting veterinary staff at the chosen locations for initial exam, and instructions.

Day 0
Participants received a skin and ear exam by a licensed veterinarian.
This exam included photographic documentation of 6 key areas of the skin:

  • Dorsum from withers to tail base
  • Ventral neck
  • Inguinal area
  • Axillary area
  • Interior of both ear pinna
  • Urogenital area

Participants were weighted and measured. Areas measured include:

  • Neck circumference
  • Chest circumference behind the axillary area
  • Waist circumference in front of the inguinal area

Owners were counseled on proper use of the canine pruritus scale (see appendix 1), and given a journal to keep track of their subjective findings at home on a weekly basis. This journal also included areas for notation of the dates of any topical skin or ear treatments given at home. Owners were counseled on proper food transitioning (see appendix 2) and provided with instructions for correct completion of findings in the Journal (see appendix 3).

In order to avoid any digestive upset the food transition was over a 2-week period. Owners were counseled on allowable topical skin and ear cleaning during the duration of the study period (see appendix 3). Participants will be given written instruction on proper ear cleaning methods. Owners presented all shampoos and ear cleaning products currently in use for approval. Bathing and ear care products could not contain benzoil peroxide, chlorhexidine, hydrocortisone or other steroid, lidocaine or other topical anesthetic, or miconazole or other antifungal.

Day 14

  • This is true day 0 of the study, as participants were transitioned to 100% novel diet today.
  • Participants were photographed, weighed, measured, and examined as on day 0. Owners journals will be reviewed and their general impression of skin health noted.

Day 42

  • Participants will be photographed, weighed, measured, and examined as on day 0. Owners journals will be reviewed and their general impression of skin health noted.

Day 70

  • This day concludes the trial. Participants will be photographed, weighed, measured, and examined as on day 0. Owners journals will be reviewed and their general impression of skin health noted.

The diet chosen was Zeal, manufactured by The Honest Kitchen. Owners were advised to rehydrate the food in accordance with instructions in the journal, and a volume per animal weight chart was included.

General Cohort requirements were as follows:

  • Dogs who were considered by their owners to be itchy, malodorous, have red skin or bumps of any kind, previous or current ear infections.
  • Dogs greater than 1 year of age – either gender
  • Dogs who have been fed exclusively dry food diet for the preceding 6 months
  • Dogs with no confirmed allergies to any of the ingredients in the novel diet.
  • Dogs who’s level of discomfort does not exceed 5 on the canine pruritus scale (see addendum 1)
  • Dogs not receiving any veterinary medical intervention for their skin condition in the past 6 months
  • Dogs of known normal thyroid status, not receiving thyroid replacement
  • Dogs on consistent monthly flea control via their veterinarian’s recommendations
  • Dogs must be amenable to physical exam including otoscopic exam without physical restraint
  • Dogs may not have history of ruptured tympanic membranes
  • Dogs may not have received a vaccination in 30 days preceding the commencement of study, or receive a vaccination for the duration of the study.

Participants were removed from the study for the following criteria: Loss of more than 15% body weight from any prior weigh in during the study. Pruritus exceeding 5 on the itch scale as determined by either the owner or examining veterinarian. These participants were advised to seek veterinary intervention. Any participant who requires veterinary intervention of any kind, not necessarily related to dermatologic issues.

Owners agreed to feed the participant dog the trial food for the 12 weeks of the study, journal their subjective findings weekly, and present participant to veterinary check ins on days 0, 14, 42, and 70.


Owner’s weekly journaling tracked itch level on provided standard scale, and most owners provided additional impressions about the participant’s particular area of concern.

Over the 70 days of participation, a total of eight (73%) out of eleven owners reported some or complete improvement in the dog’s itching. Five of those owners recorded a reduction in participant’s itch, and three of those owners recorded complete elimination of participant’s itch.

Three owners recoded no improvement in participant’s itch, and no owners recorded increase in participant’s itch. Negative impressions included two out of eleven owners reporting participant’s increased gas, two owners reporting significant increase in number of participant’s bowel movements per day, and 1/11 owner reported diet preparation to be inconvenient.

Unexpected additional positive findings of note include: two out of eleven owners reported complete elimination of dog’s reverse sneezing, two owners noted improvement in dog’s limping and general mobility, three owners report significant increase in dog’s energy, one owner reports positive personality change with dog’s typically shy and fearful demeanor becoming one of engagement with family and friends, and one owner reported resolution of dog’s described habitual air licking.

Although not a focus of this case series, two thirds of the participants experienced needed weight loss. Five out of eleven participants experienced no weight loss, with the remaining six experiencing from 3.8% to 10% overall, needed, body weight loss in the 70 days on the novel diet.

One participant was removed from the study for greater than 15% weight loss between rechecks, and three dogs were removed for failure to report for rechecks.


The majority of owners’ impressions were that of improvement in participant’s itch level and improvement or resolution of dermatologic disease in one or more specific anatomic areas of concern. Although further study with larger cohorts is needed, these preliminary findings are encouraging for improving the comfort and quality of life for dogs that suffer from diet related dermatologic issues.

Click here to download a PDF of the study

Click here to download appendix 1

Click here to download appendix 2

Click here to download appendix 3

The study was conducted by Diana D. Drumm, DVM, CVA, CVCP:
Dr. Diana Drumm practices at the Animal Healing Center in San Diego, CA. She provides compassionate holistic care for individuals’ and families’ four legged companions to enhance the well being at both ends of the leash.