Dog itching is a common complaint among pet parents. You might think it's just a normal occurrence shared by all dogs. But dog itching can be an indication of medical conditions or just a side effect of a medication. So how do you stop dog itching? The first thing you should do is have your dog examined by a veterinarian, who will help determine if there's anything serious going on.
Itching Is a Sign of a Dog Health Condition
When your dog scratches obsessively, it's a symptom of some underlying issue.
There are lots of reasons a dog may have pruritus, aka itchy skin. The action of scratching might indicate there's something on the dog's skin (such as a parasite) or the itch could be caused by something happening inside of your dog (such as an allergic reaction or fungus).
Whatever the stimulus for the itch, to begin with, it results in your dog scratching and feeling uncomfortable. A little sleuthing as to the cause of the itching can help you figure out how to get your dog the proper treatment.
Usually, itching can be traced to one of four major culprits: parasites, dry skin, allergies, or skin infections.
Parasite - One of the Causes of Dog Itchiness
Several parasites are eager to make a meal for your dog, making him feel itchy and uncomfortable.
Just hearing this word sends fear into the hearts of most pet owners.
That's because once established, these tiny blackish-brown blood-sucking pests (adults measure about an eighth of an inch long) can quickly reproduce and make your dog's life miserable. (They also bite humans and can infest your home!) What's even more disturbing is that a flea can bite your dog up to 400 times a day.
Each flea has a lifespan of 100 days. Flea bites hurt, plus their salivary glands give off a substance that's irritating to many dogs. That's why you'll notice a pet with fleas violently scratching various parts of its body.
To add insult to injury, Fulmer says, "some dogs are also allergic to flea bites and will begin to develop bare spots (flea dermatitis)." You can also spot visible evidence of fleas, Fulmer says. "Flea dirt looks like dirt and is the feces of fleas. It's digested blood," he says. The first step for getting rid of fleas on your dog is probably a visit with the veterinarian.
These insidious little bloodsuckers hitch a ride on your dog when he's wandering around outdoors then settle in for a meal of blood.
Gross, right? There are several types of ticks, and most are large enough to see; deer ticks are very small and look like flecks of dirt—until you see them crawling.
Ticks attach to your dog's skin, then begin to suck your dogs' blood until they become engorged, after which they drop off your dog. "You might just find the attachment sites from ticks," Fulmer says. A tick leaves behind a red, itchy mark on your dog's skin.
Ticks can also carry several diseases like Lyme disease, so they must be removed and treated as soon as possible.
Mites are teeny tiny—measuring less than a millimeter long. Like ticks, they are not insects (as fleas are), but are related to spiders (arachnids) and have eight legs. Mites can cause itching conditions that result in dry skin and hair loss. Mites cause the disease called mange, which results in patchy areas of hair loss. There two common types of mange (caused by two different types of mites): sarcoptic and demodectic.
Sarcoptic mange (also known as scabies) causes intense itchiness which makes dogs scratch for relief, resulting in coat damage, skin inflammation, and scabs. Sarcoptic mange can also affect humans.
Demodectic mange (also known as red mange or Demodex) causes hair loss, red areas with scaling and crusting, and lesions.
If your dog is concentrating on scratching his ears or shaking his head, he may have ear mites. All mite-caused conditions require a veterinarian's care.
Intestinal parasites in dogs
Considered an internal parasite, intestinal parasites are usually ingested by dogs and affect a dog’s gastrointestinal tract. The most common types of intestinal parasites in dogs are roundworms and hookworms, says Rossman.
“Roundworms are primarily transmitted through the fecal-oral route, meaning they are transmitted through ingestion of fecal material,” she says. “Hookworms are often transmitted to puppies in their mother's milk. Hookworms can also be transmitted through an infected environment or contact with fecal material.”
Both of these intestinal parasites in dogs can cause serious side effects, and pet parents shouldn’t put off or delay treatment. “Anemia, blindness, and possible death are just a few outcomes of parasitic infestation,” says Rossman.
Other types of intestinal parasites in dogs include:
Intestinal parasites say, Rossman, is typically transmitted when a dog unknowingly ingests parasite eggs or spores in contaminated food, animal feces, water, or soil. Some intestinal parasites, including hookworms and roundworms, can also be transmitted to people and cause illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises, “Avoiding skin contact with sand or soil, and regular veterinary care for your pets—including deworming—will help ensure healthy pets and healthy people.”
Heartworms are another type of internal parasite and are transmitted to dogs through mosquito bites. Adult heartworm produces larvae in a dog’s bloodstream, and these worms grow and eventually affect a pet’s heart and lungs, potentially leading to congestive heart failure and death.
According to the FDA, heartworms can live inside a dog for five to seven years and grow from 4 to 12 inches in length.
Treatment and prevention of parasites in dogs
Preventing a parasite problem before it starts is always ideal. By having your pet on a method that protects from heartworm, fleas & ticks, you can keep them out of harm's way and avoid any larger issues later on.
Treatment for parasites will depend on the type of parasite infection, and pet parents should consult their veterinarian to identify the right treatment option for their dogs.
For internal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms, your veterinarian may prescribe a deworming product. Many dewormers can be administered orally and are prescribed by veterinarians or found over the counter, without a prescription.
Treatment for heartworms is more complex and often involves a stabilizing period of steroids, heartworm preventive, and antibiotics before actual treatment to kill the worms begins.
There is one FDA-approved treatment that kills heartworms and it is administered to dogs via injection. Dogs are often given three rounds of the injection during treatment, which could last 30 to 60 days.
Dogs being treated for heartworm need to be closely monitored at a veterinary office or hospital while undergoing treatment. Following treatment, dogs require exercise restriction.
In severe cases of heartworm disease, surgery may be recommended by your veterinarian. Because of the very involved, and often expensive, treatment of heartworm, it is very important for pet parents to consult their veterinarian about the appropriate heartworm preventive for their dog to be on.
Flea & tick preventive medications are the best way to protect your pet as they are effective at treating certain intestinal parasite infections in dogs once administered.
These medications can be given orally, applied topically, or administered through collar-like products. By administering ongoing prevention medication, you can keep your pet safe as well as avoid potentially very costly deworming treatments.
Regular veterinary checkups can catch parasites early and even potentially help prevent parasite infections in dogs.
“It is very important to have your veterinarian evaluate the dog’s stool sample one to two times per calendar year,” says Rossman. “Heartworm testing should also be done every year, and more often if there are any breaks in prevention. It is always better to catch a parasitic infection early before it starts to cause clinical signs.”
If your dog is showing signs of a parasite or it’s time to schedule its annual exam, consult your veterinarian today.
Your Dog Itch might be Because of Dry Skin
Drier air in winter may cause your dog's skin to become dry and itchy or, if your dog swims in your pool in summer, the pool chemicals may affect his skin as well as dull his coat.
Some shampoos and soaps may also cause dryness—while some dog shampoos specifically for dry, itchy skin can help moisturize and alleviate discomfort.
Treating Dry Skin on Dogs
Treatment of your dog’s dry skin depends on the cause, so the first step is a diagnosis.
While the Internet is full of valuable resources about canine health, consulting your veterinarian is the best way to determine the cause of your dog’s skin problems.
In some cases, dry skin might be a symptom of a larger cause, in which case your vet will treat both the dry skin and the condition.
Demadex mange (secondary demodicosis) is often associated with Cushing’s disease, which means your vet will need to treat both the mange and Cushing’s. Treatments and testing for these diseases vary, but most can be controlled with medication.
Treating allergies that cause dry skin on dogs can get tricky. For canine food allergies, your veterinarian might prescribe an elimination diet, as there is no reliable diagnostic test for diagnosing food allergens.
The most common ingredients that cause food allergies in dogs are beef, soy, corn, wheat, dairy, chicken, and eggs.
Environmental allergies can be tested for, but there is no cure. The three common treatment options for allergies are:
- avoidance of the allergen
- controlling the symptoms (itching, dry skin, etc.)
- immunotherapy options, such as allergy shots
Usually, veterinarians use a combination of these treatment options to control canine allergies.
Some factors, like excessive bathing, are easy to control.
Purchasing a humidifier to use when the weather is cold and dry, using a veterinarian-approved shampoo, and reducing the frequency of baths usually resolves dry skin on dogs, as long as those factors are the cause.
Switching to a high-quality diet provides the necessary nutrients your dog needs for a healthy coat and skin, so talk with your veterinarian about a nutrition plan, along with any supplements, that he recommends.
Preventing Dry Skin on Dogs
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, the saying goes, and it proves true when it comes to skin conditions in dogs. While some breeds are more prone to dry skin than others, there are a few things you can do to prevent dry skin on dogs:
- Feed a high-quality, balanced diet from puppyhood
- Prevent parasites by keeping up-to-date on preventatives
- Groom your dog regularly to prevent the buildup of dirt and debris
- Give supplements when necessary as prescribed by your veterinarian
- Schedule regular veterinary checkups to monitor your dog’s overall health
- Keep facial skin folds clean in breeds with folds
- Research your breed to discover what skin conditions they are predisposed to and how to prevent them
The best way to prevent dry skin in dogs is to ensure that your pet leads a happy, healthy life.
Some skin conditions cannot be prevented, but by being a conscientious owner who regularly examines her dogs, you can catch your dog’s dry skin before it gets out of hand.
Your Dog Itchiness might be Because of Allergies
If your dog doesn't have parasites, then allergies are the most common itching culprit.
Allergies in pets are similar to those in humans. Fulmer says that dogs can be allergic to the same things that humans can be, "and instead of getting hay fever or asthma, allergies make dogs' skin breakout and itch."
An itchy skin condition called atopic dermatitis can be caused by a reaction to food or medication. Allergens from the environment, such as pollen, dust, or mold, can also start an itch.
Another itch-inducing problem, called contact dermatitis can be caused by coming in direct contact with something that causes an allergic reaction (think a flea bite or a rash from poison ivy).
Your Dog May Itch Because of Skin Infection
According to Fulmer, itching can also occur as a response to skin infections.
"Bacterial, yeast, and fungal infections can all cause itchiness," he says. Bacterial infections can cause hot spots, (also known as pyotraumatic dermatitis) which make your dog scratch, lick and bite an area of skin. Ringworm (dermatophytosis), which is a fungus, not a parasite, shows up on dogs as round hairless patches with pink, scaly sores; while ringworm does not typically cause itchiness, your dog may still scratch at the area. Yeast infections in dogs are less common.
All skin infections are best diagnosed by a veterinarian who will prescribe the appropriate medication for the type of infection.
5 Easy Home Remedies To Your Dog’s Itchy Skin
Take your favorite cooking oil and add it to your dog’s food! Olive oil is great to use when cooking, but it’s also loaded with antioxidants and vitamins E & K that can replenish your dog’s fur coat. Two to three times a week, try incorporating one tablespoon of olive oil in your dog’s food.
This addition can help soothe the problem of your dog constantly scratching, while also helping his or her fur grow thick and shiny.
Before you start feeding your itchy dog yogurt, please make sure that it is plain yogurt with no sugar or additives.
Plain and probiotic yogurt keeps good bacteria in your dog’s tummy. This home remedy can help their immune system and protect them from skin infections and yeast infections.
We recommend an oral supplement of 1 teaspoon of yogurt for small dogs and 2 teaspoons for big dogs, a few times a week. You can also mix it into their food if you would like.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has many benefits for you, but did you know it can help your dog, too?
This is an easy way to relieve your dog’s itchy skin. Mix a 50/50 solution of apple cider vinegar and water to put on your dog’s skin.
A spray bottle or a sponge works well, but be careful to avoid getting the solution on any wounds or raw skin because it will sting your pup. If your dog is constantly scratching, you can use this method daily until the itch goes away.
Itchy paws? No problem. You can soak your dog’s paws in the 50/50 solution for up to 5 minutes.
If you don’t already have coconut oil in your home, get some! You and your itchy dog will benefit from it.
Coconut oil is a great moisturizer when applied topically, but it can also be given orally to help boost your dog’s immune system.
To relieve the itching, you can apply coconut oil directly to your dog’s skin. This will help moisturize and soothe your dog’s skin.
This remedy takes a little longer, but the benefits are worth it! With use, this remedy can keep your dog from constantly scratching.
If nothing else is working for your itchy dog, we hope this oatmeal bath can resolve all your problems. An oatmeal bath can help relieve itching and soothe your dog’s skin.
To make an oatmeal bath, grind up the oatmeal into a powder using a blender or a coffee grinder. Put the mixture in a tub full of warm water and try to soak your dog for 15 minutes.
We hope these home remedies can relieve your dog’s itchy skin and make them more comfortable.