One of the most frustrating things to manage in our canine companions is itchiness. Though the occasional scratch at the ears or collar is very normal for dogs, truly itchy dogs will scratch and lick constantly. This behavior is not only annoying for both dog and pet parent, but it can lead to painful skin infections and hot spots if allowed to continue.
Itchiness (also called pruritus) has many potential causes. Most commonly, itchy dogs are allergic to something in their environment or food. Parasites like fleas, ticks, and mites (mange) can also make pets very itchy. Some dogs may be born with dry, flaky skin, which can lead to mild pruritus.
If your dog’s skin is itchy, some at-home treatments may help. But consult your veterinarian if your pup’s skin doesn’t start to feel better, as treating skin disease can get quite complicated.
1. Flea and Tick Control
The most common reason that dogs go to the vet for itchy skin is because of parasites. Fleas aren’t just itchy when they are crawling through the skin—many dogs are allergic to flea saliva and can have an allergic skin reaction after just one bite.
For itchy skin on a dog, the first step is to make sure they (and all of their furry housemates) are current on their flea and tick preventatives. Fleas and mites prefer clean, healthy haircoats, so grooming is not adequate prevention!
Topical prevention like Advantix II™ and Seresto® collars may be best at repelling fleas for allergic dogs. Longer-acting products like Bravecto® chews will help make sure there is no break in prevention during the flea lifecycle. Bravecto® and other isoxazoline products have the added benefit of treating demodectic and sarcoptic mange.
Always talk to your veterinarian about which method is best for your dog.
2. Fish Oil
Fish oils are the best source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve skin health and reduce inflammation in certain canine skin diseases. While most pet foods already contain omega-6 fatty acids like linoleic acid and arachidonic acid, there is no requirement for commercial dog food to contain omega-3 fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Most veterinarians recommend finding a fish oil product made from anchovies or sardines. Farmed salmon have poor-quality oils, and other sources are not easily renewable. If you find giving capsules to your dog difficult, some products can be mixed directly with their food.
Use caution with higher doses of fish oils or with pets who have a sensitive stomach, as gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis can occur.
3. Oatmeal Shampoo
Oatmeal has been shown to possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in both human and veterinary products. Used topically, it helps improve the skin barrier, moisturizes, and may even have UV-protective and antifungal activity. Colloidal oatmeal is produced by finely grinding oats and then boiling them to isolate useful compounds. It can be a great home remedy for an itchy dog.
The most effective oatmeal products for dogs are shampoos. It is best to use products formulated specifically for dogs; products made for people may irritate your dog’s skin further.
4. Non-Shampoo Topicals
There are also great products for itchy dogs that are a little harder to bathe regularly. For example, a mousse product can be helpful in maintaining your dog’s skin barrier without a lot of tub time. These products can be applied all over their body or just to problem areas, such as the armpits and lower belly.
Many veterinary dermatologists also recommend spot-on therapies like Dermoscent® to moisturize dry, flaky skin and help prevent bacterial infections.
5. Special Diet
Skin health is closely linked to nutrition. Make sure your pet’s food is well-balanced and meets the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), as missing vitamins and nutrients can lead to many skin issues.
For dogs already eating a well-balanced diet that still need extra support, look for a sensitive skin and sensitive stomach diet. These often have a higher omega-3 fatty acid content and antioxidants to boost skin health.
Sometimes, itchy skin on a dog can be linked to food allergies. The most common dog food allergies are protein-based (chicken, beef, pork, etc.). You may have success finding a limited-ingredient or single-protein source diet. Try to choose a protein your dog has not had before.
When To Call the Vet About Itchy Skin on a Dog
Unfortunately, most home remedies for itchy dogs work best as prevention. In cases where your dog’s skin is already red, scabby, smelly, or painful, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. These are signs of a bacterial or yeast infection, and antibiotics or antifungals may be necessary to help alleviate symptoms and address the underlying cause.
Severely itchy dogs may also benefit from systemic medications to help decrease inflammation and allow the skin to heal properly. Steroids, Apoquel®, or Cytopoint® may be prescribed by your veterinarian to provide your itchy dog relief.
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