Featured Pet Care

7 Reasons Dogs Have Itchy Skin

April 23, 2020

Often when we see our dogs scratching more than usual we jump to a quick conclusion that they have fleas or other parasites. There are a number of reasons why our dogs may have itchy skin. The causes range from environmental to physiological and even psychological. Examining the potential causes and eliminating the ones you know are not problematic will help you to narrow things down. If the problem is more serious, visiting a professional such as a veterinarian or dog behaviourist may be of help for you to determine the cause and cure.

1. Allergies

This is a huge topic on its own. In recent years, veterinarians are seeing an increase of dog allergies. This has a number of possible causes including poor quality food, poor breeding practice, over-vaccination, plant material and dust. Allergies are very difficult to diagnose and treat.

 “Food, carpeting, blankets, dust mites, mold spores in the air, pollen, plastic food dishes, furniture stuffing and ornamental plants all have the potential to trigger an allergic reaction in your dog.”
T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
PetMD.com

What to do if allergies are the primary suspect of your dog’s itchy skin:

  • Soothing baths (hypo-allergenic, moisturizing shampoo)
  • Prebiotic supplements (Milled flax seed)
  • Supplement with Essential Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids with DHA and EPA
  • Natural and traditional antihistamines and/or topical treatments from your veterinarian if required

2. Nutritional Deficiencies

Poor food quality equals poor nutrition for dogs which affects the health of their skin. Most commercial pet foods have essential fats processed out by cooking or improper storage. Dry dog food (kibble) also has a dehydrating effect on dogs.  All of this may lead to dry skin and itching (and that’s just the surface of the issue…so to speak.)

Thankfully, improving your dog’s nutrition is one of the simplest things you can do.

What to do if poor nutrition is the primary suspect of your dog’s itchy skin:

  • Supplement with Essential Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids with DHA and EPA
  • Give you dog a meat-based diet
  • Add digestive enzymes to your dog’s food

3. Parasites

When you see your dog scratching furiously, the first thought is often, “He/she must have fleas.” As we are discovering in this article, there are many causes of itching but fleas or ticks (or other parasites) are certainly one of the more well-known causes. If you can spot those little wingless, copper colored fleas flitting about in your dog’s fur, then you have likely found your culprit. One point to mention is that flea bites, aside from causing itching, also can trigger allergic reactions from the flea saliva.

While fleas and ticks are quite common and sometimes problematic if untreated, other pests such as chiggers and no-see-ums are more of a short-term bother.

What to do if parasites are the primary suspect of your dog’s itchy skin:

  • Quality flea/tick product (See your veterinarian for diagnosis and prescription)
  • Baking soda or diatomaceous earth rubbed into your dog’s coat and into carpets can sometimes be remarkably effective in dealing with fleas. As a plus, it will simultaneously help with odor removal.

4. Environmental Conditions

There are a number of environmental factors that may cause itching with your dog’s skin.

  • Areas of low humidity can cause dry skin. In colder climates, the use of forced air heating dries the air and may impact your dog’s skin.
  • Specific types of grass may be an irritant for some dogs
  • Moist eczema can be caused by an accumulation of moisture from rain, or from your dog swimming in a lake or pond. Dogs with thick coats especially accumulate moisture, breeding bacteria which causes itching

What to do if environmental conditions are the primary suspect of your dog’s itchy skin:

  • Being observant to your dog’s environment goes a long way to helping. Being mindful of where your dog has been, such as a new field that you have taken him for a walk, can help you to isolate the source of the problem. Pay attention to any new element added or changed. Something as simple as too high a heat on your groomer’s blow dryer may even trigger dry skin and itching.

5. Infections

Bacterial, fungal and yeast infections present a possible cause of your dog’s itching that is often overlooked. While yeast naturally resides in the digestive system, due to an overload of carbohydrates in many dog’s diets, an excess of yeast will present symptoms that will cause grief for you dog as its body attempts to rid itself of the fungus.

Here is a more detailed discussion of this issue, including symptoms and remedies.

What to do if yeast or other infections are the primary suspect of your dog’s itchy skin:

  • Feed your dog quality food that is lower in carbs (which turn into sugar and feed yeast)
  • Supplement with prebiotics, probiotics and immune boosters

6. Neurological/Psychological Issues

At times the cause of a dog impulsively licking or gnawing at an area, such as its paw or leg, is psychological. Boredom, separation anxiety or confinement may trigger your dog to act out in a way which can do increasing physical harm if not detected and the cause addressed. Think of this as “doggie obsessive compulsive disorder.”

What to do if a neurological/psychological issue is the primary suspect of your dog’s itchy skin:

  • Being a keen observer is key to noticing problematic behaviors
  • Don’t simply blame the dog for its behavior. Be empathetic and understanding.
  • Engage with your dog with lots of exercise and “quality time”
  • Discuss the behavior with a dog behaviorist

7. Not Enough Grooming

When a dog is groomed, dead hair/fur and flakes of skin get brushed and washed away. Regular grooming is even more important with dogs that have extra thick, long or double coats.

What to do if a lack of grooming is the primary suspect of your dog’s itchy skin:

  • Brush your dog’s coat more often (daily or at least 3-4 times per week)
  • Have your dog washed and groomed more often

In Summary…

It may seem overwhelming to clearly understand the root cause of your dog’s itching. You know your dog best, including the environment it lives in. Exercise, grooming and balanced nutrition will help your dog under any circumstance. And having some understanding of the numerous reasons why your dog has skin issues will help you to investigate and solve the mystery.

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