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19th Aug 2020

Could Diet Help Your Westie's Problem Skin?

by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

Elimination diets and the natural approach to supporting your Westie’s health

If you are a Westie owner you’ll be well aware of the array of skin complaints that are associated with the breed. While they are unfortunately predisposed to some skin conditions such as Atopic Dermatitis, it may be that your dog has a milder condition that can be treated, or at least alleviated with a suitable diet.

Even if your vet suspects Atopic Dermatitis, they will usually need to rule out a food intolerance or allergy before they can proceed with a diagnosis, as the clinical signs of the two are indistinguishable. They will likely recommend an elimination diet, which is the only true way to diagnose a food sensitivity in your pet. Although a blood test is available, it is widely agreed that this is not a reliable option.

Before you begin an elimination diet it is vital than any infections or infestations are treated, so you can properly assess any difference the diet may be making.

An elimination diet involves sticking strictly to one food source for at least 8 weeks – that means cutting out the extras too! Foods composed of a ‘novel’ protein and carbohydrate source, selected based on your dogs’ dietary history (choosing ingredients they have never had before), and that have a limited list of ingredients are vital for this approach.

Burns Pet Nutrition was created by vet John Burns 27 years ago, after he regularly saw recurring problems such as itchy skin. John Burns created our diets with this in mind and even to this day we follow our original principals of simple recipes with natural ingredients that allow the body to function as it should. Our Sensitive range offers diets such as Pork & Potato and Fish & Wholegrain Maize, which are designed to provide novel ingredients. It is strongly advisable to avoid common allergens such as beef, wheat and dairy, which account for up to 70% of intolerances in dogs!

If, after the 8+ weeks, your dog’s skin troubles have improved, they ideally need to be ‘re-challenged’ with the ingredients from their original diet. Skin conditions can wax and wane naturally, so by reintroducing the ingredients you will be able to confirm whether the reaction is diet related. If they start presenting with an adverse reaction again, you would stop the old diet immediately and can continue with the novel diet going forward.

There are other aspects that can cause a dog to present with itchy skin – especially in breeds such as the Westie where the predisposition is already there. Excesses, especially excess protein, can cause flare ups. Getting the feeding amounts correct is important, and we often forget that treats and extras need to be taken into consideration too!

Things such as dental chews are high in calories and can be equivalent to about 35g of our foods, which for a small breed is a considerable amount of their daily needs. Vegetables are a great, low calorie alternative if your dog likes them. Have you tried our Carrot Treats – we know dogs really love them!

Even if your dog has been diagnosed with a skin condition unrelated to food, keeping them healthy from the inside out can make a big difference in the severity of the symptoms. Dogs’ anti-inflammatory white blood cells are highly concentrated under their skin, so keeping things simple, natural, and free from common allergens will help to avoid any unnecessary aggravation.

Promoting all round holistic health, starting with your dogs’ diet, can make a great difference to current conditions whilst setting them up for a healthy future.

If you would like any further information or specific advice on your dog, please contact the Burns free Nutrition Helpline. We are a team of experienced Nutritional Advisors who can look at each dog on a case by case basis and help you to decide which diet to choose, as well as suggested feeding amounts. You can call us on 0800 083 6696, email on or contact us via live chat on our website at


by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

I studied Applied Medical Sciences at Swansea University and have a keen interest in veterinary science and hope to be able to do more research in the future. No two days are the same at Burns and not only does this job allow me to continuously learn about animal nutrition but also means I get to talk about dogs all day!