In this article:
As humans, the itchiest we often get is from a bothersome mosquito bite in Summertime. But for our four-legged companions, itchy skin is something much more common, although we can safely assume it’s just as irritating! If you notice your dog is itchy, read on to find out the causes of an itchy dog, how you can prevent it and treat it in the future.
Dogs can get itchy for many reasons:
Your dog's breed can make them more prone to skin issues
There are a range of dog breeds that are prone to skin issues which cause them to rub, lick, bite or scratch more than others, including:
- Dogs prone to skin issues like West Highland White Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers
- Dogs with double coats like German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Siberian Huskies
- Dogs with skin folds including Shar Peis, English Bulldogs and Pugs
- Dogs with long coats like Afghan Hounds, Shih Tzus and Bearded Collies
For these breeds, it’s important that pet parents take good preventative steps with their pet’s diet and care to help minimise skin and coat problems, but also get treatment for them quickly when they do arise.
Dogs can have seasonal allergies such as hayfever
While humans can suffer from hay fever in Spring, dogs can also experience atopy – essentially hay fever for dogs. This is often caused by higher pollen counts but also dust mites and mould spores. Dogs with seasonal allergies will often present with all-over itching, ear infections and licking, chewing or rubbing at their feet, ears and mouth more than usual.
Food allergies and intolerances could be the reason for your dog's itch
Dogs with food allergies could be sensitive to chicken, beef, wheat, dairy, egg, soy or any other common ingredient. After ingesting a food that doesn’t agree with them, a dog may experience itchy skin, paws and ears and rarely may vomit or have diarrhoea. If ingesting an allergen over the long term, your pet might be more lethargic and lose weight or even be more aggressive or hyperactive than usual.
Contact with grasses and plants can cause your dog's sensitive skin
Some dogs’ skin is sensitive when coming into contact with certain types of plants or grasses, and also things found around the home like gardening supplies, creams and lotions, household cleaning supplies and sometimes even wool carpets. After contact with an allergen, your dog will likely become itchy, with the skin becoming red and inflamed by your dog scratching at the irritation.
Symptoms of skin problems from itching
More shedding than usual
If you’ve noticed your dog is itchy and losing hair more than usual, this could be a sign of an underlying skin issue particularly if it results in bald patches. When skin is irritated or damaged, this can affect the hair follicle, making it difficult for the coat to grow, or even fall out at a faster rate than usual.
If the skin appears red, this could be a sign of inflammation due to an allergy or some other skin irritation.
Inflamed skin is often warm to touch. Reducing the inflammation will reduce this warmth.
Pustules or dry, flaky skin
Pustules or dry, flaky skin can indicate a secondary bacterial skin infection. If the dog is constantly licking, rubbing, chewing or scratching itself it damages the skin barrier introducing bacteria into the skin.
For any dog breed, not just those prone to skin conditions, there are some great steps you can take to prevent your dog being itchy and scratchy.
Keep up to date with flea treatments
When a dog has fleas, you’ll notice them itching more than usual and even biting at their skin usually at the base of their tail or in their armpits and groin areas. This can lead to red, irritated and inflamed skin and even fur loss. By keeping up to date with flea treatment, you can easily eliminate fleas as the cause of your pooch’s itching. If your dog is itchy but doesn’t have fleas, there are more steps you can take.
Groom your dog regularly to remove debris and check for parasites
Brushing your dog daily is the easiest way to keep an eye on any potential skin challenges whilst removing loose hairs, dead skin cells, dirt and checking for parasites like ticks. It also helps to spread natural oils throughout the coat.
Keep in mind not to over-wash your dog – bathing too regularly can dry out and irritate your dog’s skin, leading to more scratching. As a general rule, it’s time to head to the bathtub just when your dog is starting to smell or has a dirty and/or muddy coat. A mild and gentle shampoo formulated specially for dogs is recommended for healthy coats and skin, whilst your vet is best to advise on the most suitable products to manage or treat specific skin conditions.
Strengthen gut health with probiotics
A probiotic for dogs may be beneficial to help prevent itching and scratching. Probiotics will help balance the gut microbiome allowing the immune system to work more effectively thereby fighting off minor skin irritations without the need for intervention.
Maintain a good skin barrier
Skin issues can arise once the skin barrier is broken, which not only allows bacteria inside but also irritates the skin, causing itching. When your best friend is constantly scratching, this doesn’t let the skin heal, which can lead to hot spots or dog pyoderma, a painful bacterial skin infection.
For dogs prone to skin issues, a supplement may help maintain the skin barrier, the first line of defence against skin infection. ZamiPet Skin, Coat & Nails has been specially formulated to support the skin health of dogs prone to skin issues. It features an all-star cast of ingredients for protecting the skin so it’s less likely to become inflamed and itchy when exposed to allergens. These ingredients include:
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): An antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound which has been shown to improve skin quality and texture
- Turmeric: Curcumin, the active ingredient in Turmeric, is a natural ingredient which exhibits antioxidant and anti-allergenic activity (supporting dogs suffering from seasonal allergies)
- Inulin (a prebiotic):Important source of non-digestible fibre that good gut bacteria feed on, positively affecting the gut microbiome. Research has shown the health of the microbiome can impact the development of some skin conditions
- Omega-6: A rich source of linoleic acid, which is incorporated into the membranes of the skin cells, helping to maintain a healthy skin barrier by stimulating skin and hair growth and promoting a healthy immune system
- Manuka Honey: Known for its wound healing, antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties
- Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant protecting cells from the harmful effects of free radicals to support skin health.
- Biotin: B vitamin which plays a key role in maintaining healthy skin, hair and nails for dogs
ZamiPet Skin, Coat & Nails is also hypo-allergenic, containing no allergens like beef, chicken, wheat, dairy or soy – only locally sourced salmon as the protein, so it’s also gentle on sensitive stomachs.
If your dog is itching constantly, there are lots of ways you can help provide relief from the endless tickle that causes them to scratch. The aim of treatment for an itchy dog is to initially remove or reduce the irritant (allergen, parasite or food) to break the itch-and-scratch cycle. Then soothe the itchiness to stop the dog scratching or biting preventing further damage to the skin. If you’re looking for an itchy dog treatment, here are some options.
See your vet
With any skin issue, the first step is to see your vet to determine the cause of your dog’s itchiness. Your vet will complete a physical exam of your pet and also a range of tests to rule in or out other causes of irritation like fleas, ticks, mites, ringworm or food allergies. Once the cause is clear, your vet will put together a treatment plan which may include some of the following steps.
Medicated dog shampoo
Your vet may recommend a medicated shampoo formulated specifically for dogs to treat their skin condition. A medicated shampoo will be gentle enough for dog skin and fur, while also helping to treat a specific diagnosed problem.
If your vet suspects your dog has a food allergy, they may set your dog up on an elimination diet to determine what ingredient (often protein or carbohydrate) they are allergic to. They will recommend a specific veterinary diet containing hydrolysed protein or feeding your dog a completely new kind of protein, for example, kangaroo in place of beef. After around 8-12 weeks, your vet will be able to conclude if a food allergy is the cause of the itchiness They will then work with you to determine an alternative diet that your dog won’t be allergic to.
Antihistamines may be prescribed to help give your pet relief from the itching sensation, which gives the skin a chance to begin healing. Anti-inflammatories may also be prescribed – this helps to sooth irritation in damaged skin, further allowing it to heal. If your vet has identified a skin infection, antibiotics may also be prescribed.
If medication is part of your pet’s treatment, it’s vital that you follow the complete course set out by your vet, even if your dog is looking well again. Stopping treatment early may not entirely fix the problem your pet faces, meaning it may arise again soon after.
What about home remedies for itchy dogs?
While it might be tempting to find a home remedy for an itchy dog, the first and best place to go is to your vet. Your vet will be able to quickly determine the true cause of your dog’s itching and advise you on the best course of treatment. As itching of irritated and broken skin can be very painful for your dog, it’s important that any skin condition is treated quickly so they’re not in any discomfort and any serious illness, like infection, doesn’t progress any further.
The information in this article was checked by ZamiPet Veterinarian and General Manager Dr Andrew McKay, BVSc, University of Melbourne, 2000. Vet Registration No: V3985
Disclaimer: This information is general advice only. Before starting any treatment or supplement with your pet, please consult your vet first for the best approach to getting your pet back to their best health.