Itch in dogs stands as the third most likely reason for pet owners to consult the vet. An itchy pet is one of the most challenging problems to evaluate in veterinary medicine. The medical term for itching is ‘Pruritus’. It is usually seen in many types of skin disorders. Scratching and itching are commonly linked with flea allergy dermatitis and other allergic skin diseases. It is hard to find the underlying cause of itching and even when found, the itch can require lifelong therapy for your dog.
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Is Itching Common for Dogs?
Yes, Pruritus is a usual clinical sign of many skin disorders causing red, inflamed skin areas and may lead to a skin infection called Pyoderma in dogs. If the condition is severe enough, the dog might develop hair loss, scabs, and raw/bleeding skin from self-trauma.
Causes of Dog Itch:
A dog can scratch, lick, or chew for various reasons, ranging from Flea allergy dermatitis, seasonal allergies or atopy, food allergies, (microbial infection, allergens in the environment, insect bites), contact dermatitis (e.g., soaps and perfumes), and sarcoptic mange (mites) are few causes of pruritus in dogs.
- Allergies: When dog scratching gets extreme, it is mostly the result of allergies to food or environmental changes, including mold and pollen. Food allergens can be dairy products, meat, soy, eggs, and gluten found in wheat. Dogs can also develop a skin irritation referred to as contact dermatitis once they material substances like pesticides or soap. Allergies are difficult to cure so, identifying and treating allergies at an early stage can keep them under control. Dog allergies can be reduced by adding probiotics, fish oils, fresh grounded flax seeds, Lecithin granules, nutritional yeast, kelp powder alfalfa, nettles, and spirulina to their diet.
- Dry Skin: When the hair of a dog with dry skin is parted, the skin will appear cracked, and dandruff flakes can be seen in the undercoat. A range of factors, including winter weather, diet, and carboxylic acid deficiencies, can cause dry skin in dogs. Dry skin can cause itching and the dog will try to lessen the discomfort by scratching or licking at its skin or fur.
- Staph/ Yeast Infections: Dogs with atopic dermatitis tend to have more Staph and yeast on the skin because of a disruption in their protective skin barrier. Symptoms of staph infections include skin redness, crusts/scabs, rash, and pimples. Treatment could be oral, injectable, or topical medications.
- Boredom or Anxiety: Just as humans with anxiety would possibly bite their nails or twirl their hair, dogs will have physical responses to psychological upset, too. In fact, some dogs develop a condition similar to human psychoneurotic disorder and human psychoneurotic disorder. The dogs will indulge in scratching, licking, or chewing behaviors that may cause severe harm.
- Hormonal Imbalances: Dogs with insufficient stimulation of thyroid hormone or high production of the hormone cortisol are prone to skin infections. There will be bald spots on the coat, and the dog will scratch or lick like those affected with allergies.
- Pain: Physical discomfort can also trigger licking or chewing in dogs. For example, if a dog is often biting its paw, there could be a thorn or stone stuck in their footpad. Orthopedic problems like hip dysplasia and arthritis can also be a possible reason for a dog’s excessive licking.
- Parasites: The most common causes of dog itching are fleas, bacteria, mites, and ticks. Ticks are visible to the naked eye, and mites are microscopic. Fleas are often difficult to identify until there is a large infestation so dogs can suffer from parasites even if they are not visible.
- Dry Dog Food: Dry dog foods lack water content in their texture. Store-bought dog foods don’t contain the good oils that contribute to healthy skin and lustrous coats. Dogs consuming these foods for long periods tend to itch as their skin becomes dry. Providing adequate drinking water or avoiding dry foods can reduce itching. If you want to feed dry food to your dog, it is advisable to add digestive enzymes like amylase, lipases, and proteases to your dog’s diet.
Home Remedies to Treat a Dog’s Itch
Treatment for a dog’s itch depends upon the cause of the itching. Mostly, itchy dogs respond well to relatively simple treatments. Some dogs might require occasional treatment for the rest of their lives. If the itching is severe, consult a vet to identify the root cause and get suitable medication and bathing products to control itching. If the itching is less severe or reoccurs seasonally, the following home remedies can relieve itching in dogs.
- Golden Turmeric Paste:
The Golden Turmeric Paste is the most potent homemade anti-inflammatories for itchy dogs. It is easy to make and the effects of curcumin are supported by scientific evidence.
To prepare the Golden Turmeric Paste, add some turmeric in good quality coconut oil with some ground black pepper and mix it with the dog’s food. While using this paste, be mindful of its effectiveness as it can conflict with any other anti-inflammatories your dog might be on.
- Chamomile & Herbal Tea Soaks:
The soothing properties of chamomile, calendula, and green tea can calm irritated skin and reduce itching. These tea soaks are best for dogs with hot, itchy patches of skin and are at risk of getting rubbed when raw. If the dog has itching all over the body, start this treatment by filling up your sink or tub with warm water and letting a few herbal tea bags steep for a few minutes. Remove the tea bags and allow your dog to soak in the bath for at least five minutes. Alternatively, for tiny itchy patches, steep one or two tea bags in two cups of warm water, pour the cooled tea on your dog’s skin as a quick fix, and let it drip dry without rinsing.
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- Oatmeal Bath:
Oatmeal is an ancient remedy for dry, itchy skin in humans and that happens to be safe for use on dogs, too. Most dog hypoallergenic shampoos include oatmeal as a primary ingredient to soothe and avoid irritation. Start the process by grinding plain oatmeal into a powder and add it to your dog’s warm bath. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the oatmeal bath will cool down the red, irritated skin no matter the cause. It is non-toxic, so it is okay if the dog consumes some of it during its long bath.
An Alternative option to avoid a full-on bath is to make an oatmeal paste. Mix ground oatmeal with a little bit of water to form a paste of spreadable consistency. Apply this paste on irritated skin and make sure the paste contacts the skin on longer-haired dogs to attain maximum relief.
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- 50/50 Apple Cider Vinegar Water Spray:
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a safe natural remedy for dry, itchy skin. The antifungal and antiseptic nature makes the apple cider vinegar a great relief from poison ivy but it should not be applied on raw or opened skin. To avoid getting vinegar in any open wounds, fill a spray bottle with 50% water and 50% ACV and spray it only on the affected areas. If your dog walked through a patch of poison ivy, oak, or sumac, soak their paws in the Apple Cider Vinegar Water solution for five minutes.
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- Plain, Sugar-Free Yogurt:
There are many health benefits in feeding plain, unsweetened yogurt to dogs. Some yeast infections and skin irritations can arise from a dog’s digestive system. Feeding one spoon of yogurt to small dogs and two spoons of yogurt to big dogs will increase abdomen health and cure certain rashes, hives, and allergies. Yogurt can either be mixed with food or fed directly to dogs.
- Coconut Oil:
The antifungal and antibacterial properties of coconut oil are effective in treating eczema, yeast infections, allergies, and even insect bites and stings. Coconut oil is also an excellent moisturizer and improves the dog’s coat as the oil can seep through the fur to the skin. For immediate relief from itching, massage the oil directly to the affected areas.
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- Aloe Vera:
Aloe vera is a naturally available powerful healing agent that can reduce redness and soothes the skin. Aloe vera can be applied directly to the affected spots as a pain reliever. Aloe vera is easily available at most grocery and drug stores or you can also grow an aloe vera plant at your home.
- Baking Soda:
Baking soda is good for the skin and helps to dry out rashes, relieve itching, and reduce redness and inflammation. To start the treatment, combine 50 percent baking soda with 50 percent water to make a thick paste and apply it to the affected areas of the skin. Leave it for about 20 minutes and rinse the paste thoroughly. Coconut oil can also be added as a moisturizer. Small portions of baking soda can be added to the dog’s bath if it has itching all over the body.
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- Anti-itching spray:
Anti-itching spray made from five simple ingredients can reduce itching, and inflammation and soothe the skin. Mix equal parts of apple cider vinegar and cooled green tea. To half a cup of this mixture, add one cup of distilled water, aloe vera, and peppermint. Store the spray in the fridge and spray it on the affected areas.
Zesty Paws Aller- Immune bites:
The product contains omega 3’s, colostrum, pre and probiotics, and various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Zesty Paws Aller Immune Bites is a successful kitchen sink approach to itch in dogs. The product has 7000 peer-reviewed studies to support its use for many disorders including allergies and auto-immune issues.
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- Calendula Oil:
Calendula oil is a potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal, that controls many infections from developing on the dog’s damaged skin. The oil can be applied directly or a cooled good quality calendula tea bag can be placed on the infected spots. The effectiveness of calendula oil is also supported by science.
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Quercetin is a naturally occurring polyphenol flavonoid (antioxidant) found in apples, onions, and broccoli. Scientists found that quercetin in isolation effectively reduces allergy symptoms by suppressing histamine production. Studies confirm that Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple flesh, helps in controlling swelling and inflammation.
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- Well-Balanced Diet:
Many dogs are allergic to cooked chicken, beef, or turkey-based dog foods, wheat. A well-balanced diet including fish-based foods, sweet potatoes, and omega-3 capsules can reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and promote skin health. It is recommended to consult a veterinarian before adding or changing your dog’s diet.
- Salt Therapy:
In salt therapy, the dog will be offered four different glasses of water among which three glasses of water will have dissolved high-quality salt and the fourth water will be plain distilled water. The dog will sniff out one water based on unbalanced electrolytes according to its needs. Many studies have proven the successful effects of salt therapy.
Is Dog Itch a Complicated Issue?
No, dog itch is not a complicated issue. In most dogs, itching is seasonal, and the most common causes of itching are inhalant allergies (e.g., pollens and molds), flea bites, and food allergies.
Are Some Breeds More Prone to Itching?
Any dog is susceptible to skin allergies or itching. Many purebred dogs like Cocker Spaniels, French Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, and Retrievers are more prone to skin disorders due to family histories.
Diagnostic Tests to Determine the Causes of Dog’s Itching
Some standard diagnostic tests can detect skin itching causes. A Complete Blood Count (CBC) and chemistry profile detect systemic disease and infections. It can also give clues to endocrine disorders that can cause skin diseases, such as hyperadrenocorticism, and overactive adrenal glands, and may point to further testing. A thyroid level test can determine if a dog has a low thyroid (hypothyroidism), a common cause of skin conditions in dogs. Performing skin scrapings to look for mites is essential, as is testing for ringworms in suspicious cases.
Allergy Tests for Dog Itching
Dogs can be allergic to foods, but they can also be allergic to external elements, such as pollen, grasses, trees, mites, and more. Veterinarians will perform allergy tests to identify the allergen.
There are two ways of testing for allergens in dogs. The first is a blood test that analyzes antigen levels of common allergens. This is a relatively simple test that most veterinarians prefer.
The other way is to do intradermal skin testing by giving allergens injections under the skin and measuring the response. Most veterinarians can’t do this test but it is mostly done by veterinary dermatologists. If causative allergens are diagnosed, the treatment is to give hyposensitization injections (allergy shots), which are typically given for the rest of the animal’s life. However, they can be expensive and difficult for some people to give. Allergy testing and intradermal skin testing are also used to indicate antigen exposure patterns. A Diet trial that includes feeding new foods and ingredients for six weeks will also help identify possible food allergens.
Treatment and Side-effects
Any successful treatment depends on the identification of the underlying cause of the disease. Dogs whose itching cause isn’t identified, or those in which the underlying disease treatment does not reduce the itching require medical management for pruritus(itching). Commonly prescribed anti-itching medications comprise glucocorticoids, cyclosporine, essential fatty acids, and oclacitinib.
Treating itchiness with antihistamines is quite common, but the effectiveness is highly unsteady. Current research doesn’t support the use of antihistamines for itch relief in pets. Glucocorticoids are anti-inflammatory steroids that are often considered the most effective in controlling itching. However, these drugs can cause unfavorable side effects, including excessive hunger, thirst, and urination. These drugs also suppress the adrenal glands’ function and boost the risk of diabetes and secondary urinary tract infections so they are prescribed only in limited circumstances.
Topical sprays that contain glucocorticoids may serve as an effective alternative to pills, as long as they are taken appropriately. The usage of glucocorticoids to treat itching caused by infections is inappropriate. Modified cyclosporine and oclacitinib are additional drugs used to manage the itch. It is always recommended to consult a veterinarian for proper medication that is appropriate to restrict your dog’s itching. There is a novel medication called Apoquel to help with allergies and may have fewer side effects. Essential fatty acids are rarely beneficial as sole anti-itch agents; however, they might give good results when used long-term.