Ask Google to search for information on how to help an itchy dog stop scratching and you’ll get about 1.98 million results. Obviously, there are A LOT of pet owners with uncomfortable canine companions.
Before you try one of the all-natural home remedies that pop up in your search results, it might first be helpful to figure out why your pooch is scratching in the first place. That’s the key to appropriate and effective treatment. The reasons dogs scratch, lick and chew vary widely, as do the recommended treatments. So your next step should be to schedule an appointment for your pup with your veterinarian.
Why dogs scratch, rub, lick and chew their skin
Excessive itchiness — the type that keeps you and your dog awake at night — is a symptom of a problem, not a disease. The cause could be related to the condition of your dog’s skin itself: Is it too dry? Is it too oily? Is it infected? Dry skin is a common cause of itching, and it’s fairly easy to identify. When you part your dog’s hair, you’ll see dandruff in their undercoat.
Another common reason your dog could be itchy is allergies. The list of things a dog can be allergic to is daunting — everything from pollen, mold spores, dust mites and grass to flea bites, medications, vaccines and pet food ingredients.
With so many potential causes for your dog’s itchiness, your best bet is to work with your veterinarian to determine the underlying reason. Then your veterinarian will be able to recommend an appropriate treatment plan. But until your dog can be evaluated, here are some tips for soothing your itchy best friend. Your veterinarian will likely have additional recommendations.
Tips to ditch the itch
#1 Eliminate fleas
Fleas are one of the most common reasons for irritated skin and scratching in dogs. If your dog suffers from flea allergy dermatitis, one bite may be all it takes to make him or her miserable. Fleas often go unnoticed until there’s a large number present, so don’t assume your dog doesn’t have fleas just because you can’t see them. If you’re not already treating your dog with a flea control product, you’ll want to do so. Check with your veterinarian for the most effective option — which could be a topical solution, oral tablet or collar — for your pet and the area where you live.
#2 Bathe your dog regularly
Dogs can be bathed weekly with a gentle or hypoallergenic shampoo that’s specifically formulated for dogs. (Never use human shampoo on dogs, as their skin pH and thickness are quite different from ours!) Frequent baths wash away allergens and help remove dandruff. You may also want to consider wiping your dog’s paws with a damp washcloth whenever he or she comes in from outside, especially if they are allergic to grasses.
For really itchy dogs, cool (but not cold) baths with a pet-specific oatmeal shampoo are soothing. Your veterinarian may also prescribe a medicated shampoo to help ease itching and manage any secondary skin infections. There are even cream rinses and conditioners to help temporarily relieve itching, flaking and irritation.
#3 Switch foods
Your dog could have a food allergy, and switching their diet to a specially formulated food may help — just talk with your veterinarian first. If food allergies are making your dog itch, eliminating potential trigger ingredients can make a big difference. A dog food that contains a limited number of ingredients and the appropriate ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids can help benefit both skin and coat health.
#4 Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can help decrease skin itchiness, self-trauma (from constant scratching) and coat quality. You’ll want to talk with your veterinarian about the correct dose for your dog first, and be aware that it can take up to six weeks to see the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
#5 Use medications, but only as directed by your veterinarian
Depending on the underlying health issue that’s making your dog itchy, your veterinarian may prescribe medication such as Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) or another antihistamine, Apoquel® (oclacitinib), Atopica® (cyclosporine), prednisone or even a topical anti-itch product to help stop the itch. In addition, your veterinarian may prescribe medications such as topical or oral antibiotics or antifungals to treat existing hot spots or skin infections.
If your dog has sensitive, itchy skin, there are a number of ways you can help him or her ditch the itch. Be sure to check with your veterinarian at the first sign of a problem so that, working together, you can help your best friend be more comfortable.