This blog post appears in “Chloe’s Cozy Collection” *
Does your dog itch, scratch, and lick all the time? If he does, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common reasons people take their dog to the vet.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in the period 2017-18 ear infections were the top health issue for dogs with skin disorders and allergies coming in third and fourth.
They quote Vetstreet Inc., a provider of marketing and communication services for veterinary practices, as saying that the number of dogs seen by veterinarians for itch increased almost 50% from 2013-18. Now that’s a shocking statistic!
Veterinary dermatologist Dr. Andy Hillier, who works for Zoetis Petcare, says: “The data reflects an increase in the incidence of allergic disease, similar to the situation for humans, and an increase in dog owners bringing in pets for treatment because they realize that itchiness is not the norm and is treatable.”
If itchiness is indeed not the norm, what causes it? And what can we do about it?
Why Do Dogs Itch?
There are several causes for dog itching, let’s break down what they are and then look at how to treat them as naturally as we can.
In a recent blog post we looked at dental care for dogs, and Chloe is excited that we are continuing our journey on dog health and care – she likes the natural remedies, too
What Are the Most Common Types of Allergies in Dogs?
Dogs often itch because they’re allergic to something. The experts over at Vetstreet inform us that the most common types of allergies in pets are caused by:
- parasites – mainly fleas but also ticks, ear mites, sarcoptic mites, and lice
- food – most often beef, chicken, wheat, or soy
- environmental or seasonal triggers
Environmental triggers are inhaled or contact the dog’s skin and cause a reaction that can lead to a skin infection if not treated.
- House dust mites
- Household chemicals
If your dog consumes contaminated water, dairy, feces, or undercooked meat they can end up with a bacterial infection and/or skin infection – a common condition that vets see all the time. As your dog itches like crazy, you may see reddened skin, or a rash, or even pus and crusting.
Yeast is always present on a dog’s skin in small quantities. If an excessive amount arises an infection can occur – and this is another ailment that vets see all the time. Food and environmental allergies are usual causes, along with hormonal problems and diseases that suppress the immune system. Signs of infection include red, itchy skin or ears combined with a sweet, musty-type odor.
Fungi are parasitic, spore-producing organisms that dogs can pick up from soil by inhaling them, eating them, or letting them gain entrance through a wound or sore. A fungal infection is hard to diagnose so a trip to the vet is essential to ensure the right treatment is administered. Ringworms are a type of fungi and highly contagious so swift diagnosis is essential. In addition to itching, a dog with a fungal infection will show other symptoms, such as fever, coughing, and reduced appetite.
Endocrine Diseases and Autoimmune Disorders
While allergies are probably the most likely thing to cause your dog to itch, more serious problems can cause itching, too. Your dog has a hormone-producing endocrine system just like you do. If it goes awry it can create hormone levels that are too high or too low. Skin issues are just one of the symptoms. Thyroid and cortisone imbalances affect the skin the most. This article entitled “Unhappy Hormones” is written by an Australian vet and summarizes this problem in layman’s terms nicely.
Autoimmune diseases are relatively rare in dogs but do exist and can definitely cause itching. The Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) has an in-depth article on autoimmune disorders in dogs. This is not a condition that can be treated at home, so read more about it here.
What Can We Do To Help Our Itchy Dogs?
Some poor dogs can be allergic to more than one thing at a time, and unless you can see the cause such as a flea and/or flea eggs, they can be hard to pinpoint.
The treatments are very different, however, and according to how serious the problem is, can be helped by traditional veterinary medicine, alternative or holistic medicine (see below), or good old home remedies.
Before considering any kind of treatment for your dog’s unrelenting itching, consult your vet to determine what is causing the problem. Then decide how to treat it. Serious conditions that warrant vet care include:
- Parasitic infections such as mange
- Fungal infections such as ringworm
- Bacterial Infections
- Yeast Infections – some natural ways can be considered, see below
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Endocrine Diseases
- Intense itching that has created open wounds
Your vet will test, diagnose, and treat your dog and give you what you need in the form of a prescription, over-the-counter medications, or medicated shampoos.
Dogs can also be tested to see what they’re allergic to. Veterinary dermatologists can then create shots for them. These shots can be highly effective and claim to last from four to eight weeks, but cost is a factor and all those vet appointments can be almost impossible to keep up with.
But for lesser issues such as seasonal or intermittent itching, even flea control, natural remedies can eliminate the problem avoiding the side effects that some drugs can produce.
With spring around the corner, seasonal allergies will hit both humans and dogs so we need to be prepared. If you’ve determined that your dog’s itching can be tackled at home, here are some tried and true natural remedies…
How to Stop a Dog From Itching Naturally
Food Allergies in Dogs
When I adopted my dog Ziggy Stardust he got diarrhea a lot. I was very concerned and took him to the vet who told me that a food allergy was most likely the cause. So I observed what he ate and when he got diarrhea. I rotate the protein my dogs get for variety and it quickly became apparent that Ziggy was allergic to beef. Whenever he got anything at all with beef in it he got diarrhea very quickly. When I cut that protein out of his diet completely, the diarrhea went away. Beef, along with chicken, soy, and wheat are known to cause allergies in many dogs.
Finding out that beef was the cause was an easy fix for me but if your dog is allergic to something harder to pin down, you can try an elimination diet to find the culprit. Find a dog food or diet that has very limited ingredients and once your dog is doing fine on that food, try introducing other ingredients one by one. If he gets a problem after a new food is added you have found out what he’s allergic to.
Ziggy will never eat beef again. It’s sad, but eliminating that food source means I can keep him healthy quite naturally.
Always make sure you feed your dog a balanced diet that includes plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. I give my dogs fish oil in their food every day. These fatty acids help with inflammation, digestion, and healthy skin and hair.
Chloe is also reminding us to review a recent blog post we did on foods that are good and bad for dogs…the bad foods on this list should ALWAYS be avoided.
Can you give a dog Benadryl to stop itching? Yes! Antihistamines (Benadryl) and steroids (Prednisone) are what a vet will prescribe for these allergies. These are effective drugs but come with possible side effects that you might not be comfortable with. Apoquel is a different kind of drug that brings relief but it also has potential side effects. Many people use them with no issues but to avoid them unless necessary, try some of these soothing ways to bring relief to your itchy dog first:
Can Oatmeal Baths Soothe Dry, Itchy Skin on Dogs?
Oatmeal has long been used for our dry, itchy skin but it can also bring relief to your dog. You can buy oatmeal shampoo but it’s better to make your own product. Take some plain, organic oatmeal and grind it to a powder in your blender. Pop your dog into a warm bath sprinkled with the powder and let him soak in it for 10 to 15 minutes to bring soothing relief to angry, inflamed skin.
If your dog hates baths or can’t stay still long enough, make a paste from the powder and spread it on the affected areas. When you rinse it off your dog should feel a lot better and the rinsing action will also remove any allergens that were in his fur.
What is colloidal oatmeal? The experts over at Oat Cosmetics in the UK are often asked this question. They say: “Quite simply colloidal oatmeal refers to whole oat kernels that have been finely milled and processed in order to be used as a skin protectant. Oat flour normally has the bran removed to improve the taste for food applications. Colloidal oatmeal is manufactured with the bran as it contains the important skin soothing actives.” They say that you cannot replicate this at home so if you wish to use the colloidal version you’ll need to buy it.
If your dog’s skin itches all over, another solution would be to try using herbal teas in the bath. Certain herbs are known for their soothing capabilities, including chamomile, calendula, and green tea. This time add several tea bags into the lukewarm water in the bath and let them steep for a few minutes. Soak your dog for five to 10 minutes to achieve maximum benefit from the herbs. If your dog is only itchy in patches, make your tea in a mug using two to three bags, let it cool, apply to the specific areas, do not rinse, and let it dry naturally.
Apple Cider Vinegar
How does apple cider vinegar help dogs with itchy skin? People have used ACV in cooking and medicinally for centuries and you can use it on your dog. I would choose an organic ACV with the “Mother” inside (strands of proteins, enzymes, and friendly bacteria). It will have a murky appearance but can help with itchy skin due to its antifungal and antiseptic nature. Mix it 50-50 with water before applying to avoid stinging. Do not apply on open wounds or sores. Some people even claim you can soak a dog’s paws in it for five minutes to relieve the pain of toxins such as poison ivy, poison oak, or sumac.
Why Is Coconut Oil So Good For Itchy Dog Skin?
The folks at Healthline, the fastest-growing health information site on the web, recently took a look at how coconut oil can help dogs. Their research showed that adding a little coconut oil to your dog’s food (they love the taste), and/or rubbing it into his fur, can help with his itchy skin and improve the look of his fur: “Using coconut oil to treat skin conditions is a common practice with well-known benefits,” they say. “The positive effects are likely due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.”
They also inform us that:
- Many dog owners and veterinarians claim that coconut oil can help treat dry skin and eczema in dogs when applied topically
- The lauric acid in coconut oil has been shown to keep hair healthier than other fatty acids and can be used to improve the health and appearance of your dog’s fur
- Coconut oil may be beneficial for preventing pest infections and treating bites and stings
Their only caution is that some studies have shown that coconut oil can cause high cholesterol in dogs and that due to its high-calorie content, using coconut oil in excess may lead to weight gain. The key is moderation if you are feeding it to him.
Use organic, unrefined, virgin coconut oil whenever possible.
Is Aloe Vera Harmful To Dogs?
No, but use caution! Pure aloe vera gel can soothe, cool, and heal inflamed skin on humans and dogs and can be applied directly to the affected area. Just be cautious with which one you use. There are many varieties of aloe vera and few contain the type of gel that heals. Look for organic aloe vera barbadensis. This variety works like magic on most skin conditions.
You can buy it from health stores or break off a leaf and squeeze out the gel if you grow it – but it must be the right plant. If you buy it, make sure no alcohol is in it as this might burn your dog’s skin. I use Lily of the Desert 99% pure aloe vera gelly on myself and my dogs and I love it. Forever Living products are probably the best, but expensive.
Can you use baking soda to help an itching dog? Yes, you can. A little less-known cure for itching and inflammation is this innocent product most people have in their homes and use for baking. It’s another one where you use a 50-50 ratio baking soda to water – and you can add a touch of coconut oil for extra moisturizing. Combine into a thick paste and apply to the affected areas, let it dry, wait about 20 minutes, then rinse it off.
Does CBD Oil Help Dogs With Itchy Skin?
Relatively new to the health market, CBD oil for dogs can work wonders – and it won’t get your dog high! I have used CBD oil on an elderly dog I once had called Pippin. As he aged, Pippin got arthritis. The vet wanted to put him on one of the usual NSAIDs but I hated the side effects. I researched CBD oil for pets and decided to try it. It worked so well Pip started enjoying his walks again and avoided any possible harmful side effects from the NSAID option.
As well as pain management, which is perhaps what it is mainly known for, CBD oil can also help with a myriad of conditions. Jesse Hartsog of The Golden Almond Health Store in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, has been selling CBD oil for humans and dogs for five and a half years now. He told me that he has had much positive feedback on how CBD oil is helping his customers’ dogs.
“I’m finding that it helps with a multitude of issues,” he said. “Dogs with deteriorating and inflamed hips and joints benefit and I’ve even seen it help pinched nerves. Dogs that cannot walk can be up and about again in a matter of days.”
He said he also recommends it for neurological conditions: “I’ve observed that it helps with seizures and anxiety disorders such as separation anxiety. It promotes a feeling of calmness.”
It can help with allergies, hotspots, rashes, and other skin complaints, too.
Greenwell Pet is a website that’s always on the lookout for alternative, effective, and safe ways to treat our pets naturally. They sell wellness products but also provide useful information for pet owners. They’ve examined CBD oil and say this:
“We all know what it’s like to have a bug bite or rash that starts with a tingling sensation that gradually gets worse as you continue to scratch and focus on it. This is true for dogs, too!
“There are two specific ways CBD can help relieve itchiness or skin problems. It may soothe the skin as well as address the restlessness that comes with itchiness. Unlike other medications, CBD can calm the nerves that come with excessive itchiness.
“CBD may also bring relief by helping to break the vicious cycle of licking or scratching itchy skin, which can cause irritated skin or hotspots that lead to continued scratching and more painful skin reactions. Once your pup is less focused on her skin, she will likely scratch less thus allowing her skin time to heal. This will help remedy one of the biggest problems that come with itchy skin – excessive scratching and licking!”
These are great points.
Sadly, you can’t ask your vet for his or her opinion on CBD oil for dogs because they usually aren’t allowed to discuss it. Yet! Health food stores that sell it are a mine of information and you must only buy it from trusted sources. It’s not something you pick up at your local gas station. I bought mine from a company called Source and loved it. Always buy organic and look to see if the company offers third-party testing and documentation to prove that what they claim to be inside their products is really in there.
Balms, Salves, and Sprays
I’ve noticed an uptick in companies selling natural balms, salves, and sprays to help dogs with itchy skins lately, too. They look promising and something I would consider. The Natural Dog Company has some lovely skin soothers incorporating oils, essential oils, herbs, butters, vitamins, and waxes.
Skout’s Honor has a new line of probiotic skincare sprays and shampoos that they claim will put an end to the “itch, stink, and dryness!”
And Wondercide sells itch sprays and topical oils that offer natural alternatives to think about if you want something quick to try and your dog hates baths! Wondercide also has a line of natural flea and tick repellents.
Essential Oils for Dogs Harmful or Helpful?
Last but not least there are essential oils that can help dogs…and some that are dangerous! And there’s general controversy about whether you should use them on or around dogs at all. If you love essential oils and want to try them I’m passing the baton to Dr. Jodie Gruenstern over at Dogs Naturally Magazine…probably the largest source of alternative health advice for dogs out there. Her post on the 6 Essential Oils For Your Dog’s Allergies covers the basics. Dr. Gruenstern is a vet and she includes the good and the bad points to watch out for when using essential oils on your dog.
The vets over at the Coralville Animal Hospital in Iowa also warn against these specific oils that are toxic to dogs if applied topically or diffused: eucalyptus, tea tree, cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, wintergreen, and ylang ylang. Their article Essential Oil Diffusers and Your Pet goes deeper into the dangers of essential oils. Great reading.
Holistic or Alternative Veterinary Care
If treating your pet holistically interests you, there’s a lot of options. Some vets are trained in holistic care along with traditional and use both methods to treat your dog. This is my favorite kind of vet, but hard to find! Some vet clinics employ holistic vets alongside traditional ones, so you can take your pick all under one roof. That’s great, too.
Chloe wants to cover holistic dog care in future blog posts but in the meantime here’s a list of the main kinds available:
- Chinese Herbal Medicine
- Magnetic Field Therapy
- Flower Essences
To Sum Up Our Story…
As doggie moms and dads we only want the best for our little ones. To see them constantly itching and scratching is very upsetting. While some causes of this widespread issue need the care of a vet, some can be dealt with at home, naturally and safely. Consult your vet before starting any skin care regimen for your dog, and stop the treatment if your dog’s symptoms remain the same or worsen. But don’t be afraid to try home remedies – it’s always good to avoid the side effects of drugs if we can.
Who’s Tried Them?
We’ve looked at many ways to help our dogs from itching naturally – and Chloe would love to know if any of her readers have tried them or have any of their own that they would like to share. Please let her know by commenting below, and share this blog post so others can benefit from it. Thanks!
Wendy Hollandsworth, Dog Copywriter
Photo of dog licking leg: By Winky – Flickr: DSC_6733a, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32823836
Tapeworm graphic courtesy Canna-Pet
Chloe’s Cozy Collection is not affiliated with any of the products on this blog
*Chloe’s Cozy Collection has closed its doors. So sad.