We all know what it’s like to have itchy skin—and it’s not fun. So when our dogs are itching and scratching like crazy, we feel their pain. We’d do anything to get to the root of the problem and provide relief for our canine companions.
From infections to allergies, there are a number of potential problems that can cause itching in dogs (1). Let’s take a closer look at other reasons your dog may be itchy, how skin issues are diagnosed, and natural ways to help provide itch relief for dogs.
Dog Itchy Skin Causes
“Just like people, there are an immense amount of issues that can cause itchy skin in dogs,” says Dr. Chris Menges, a small animal veterinarian in Texas. “Dogs’ skin and fur are the protective layer that helps protect them from the environment, and all sorts of creepy crawlies try to get on (and possibly onto you!).”
The three most common categories that cause itchy skin in dogs are infections, allergies, and parasites, Menges says.
If you notice that your dog is scratching more than usual, one of these issues could be to blame:
- Dry skin, which can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, mild dehydration, or low humidity in the environment
- Parasite hypersensitivity, which can be brought on most commonly by fleas or mites
- Allergy (from either food or the environment, like pollen)
- Hot spots
- Hormonal issues
- Yeast infection (e.g., Malassezia dermatitis)
- Bacterial infection (e.g., staphylococcal pyoderma)
- Genetic disorder (depending on the breed, some dogs are more susceptible)
If your dog is scratching a specific spot on their body, it may mean the following:
- Itchy ears: Infections are a very common cause of itchy ears, and allergies can also sometimes cause your dog’s ears to itch. There could also be dirt and other materials that cause irritation and discomfort inside your dog’s ears.
- Itchy paws: Paws are most commonly affected when a dog suffers from allergies to food, grass, or pollen. A dog may also have dirty paws or extra moisture on their paw pads, causing them to become itchy in that spot.
- Itchy butt: A dog’s bottom can become itchy for many different reasons, like fleas, ringworm, fecal contamination, allergies, or even impacted anal sacs.
Your veterinarian can help identify what’s causing your dog’s itchy skin. “A trained veterinarian’s eye can quickly find the solution or recommend the testing needed to solve this issue,” Menges says. Keep a record of the spots where your dog is scratching, how long they’ve been scratching for, and any other factors that may be involved, so when you talk to your vet, you can relay your observations.
Dog Itchy Skin Symptoms
Besides the obvious—seeing your dog scratch himself—here are some other signs to watch for that may indicate a bigger problem than just a short-term, no-big-deal, temporary itch:
- Relentless scratching in specific spots
- Constant biting, chewing (of paws), and licking
- Bleeding and redness
- A brownish red saliva stain on the fur
- A skin infection or irritation
- Scaling of the skin
- Oozing pustules
- Hair loss
Menges warns that while there may be a variety of causes for skin itchiness in dogs, the signs of itchy skin can all be the same. “These typically involve the dog repeatedly and consistently scratching at a specific place in the body,” Menges says.
Any such repetitive pattern from the scratching fits can lead to hair loss, reddened or darkened skin, foul odor, or bleeding at the site of the itching, Menges adds. If you notice these signs, contact your veterinarian to ensure the problem doesn’t get worse, he recommends.
Natural Itch Relief for Dogs: 5 Skin Soothers to Try
While there is not always a quick, easy fix to health-related issues in dogs, these natural ingredients may help soothe your dog’s itchy skin or help prevent skin issues from occurring. Keep in mind that soothing the itch alone does not address the underlying cause of the itch:
For centuries, honey has been prized for its potential health benefits and medicinal uses, ranging from healing wounds and burns to helping treat itchy skin issues like dandruff, psoriasis, and eczema (2). Known for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, honey is a common ingredient in pet skin and coat care products, including ointments, spray gels, and shampoos.
One honey in particular, manuka honey, offers ultra-potent antibacterial activity. This carefully refined honey kills bacteria, maintains moisture, and helps the body shed dead tissue while protecting the skin’s natural microbiome (3, 4). We like Silver Honey Hot Spot & Wound Care because it combines the natural power of medical grade MicroSilver(BG) and manuka honey to soothe and rapidly heal wounds and skin conditions.
Colloidal oatmeal has long been used by humans to soothe dry, itchy or otherwise irritated skin, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (5). A high-quality oatmeal shampoo for dogs can help provide itch relief, moisturize skin, and soften your pup’s coat. Look for gentle, hypoallergenic formulas that are pH balanced and free of sulfates, colorants, and other harsh chemicals.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a hugely popular natural ingredient that has worked its way into everything from detox tonics to DIY facial toners, scalp rinses, and bath soaks. Naturally, humans have been investigating how apple cider vinegar can benefit their canine companions as well. Dogs with itchy skin and dandruff may benefit from an apple cider vinegar bath or rinse to help calm irritation and inflammation. Apple cider vinegar can help restore the skin’s pH balance and it has multiple antimicrobial properties (6). However, it must be properly diluted and veterinarians recommend doing a spot test first to see how your dog reacts to it. If you don’t want to go the DIY route, you can always purchase an ACV rinse for dogs.
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which offer numerous potential health benefits, such as reducing inflammation throughout the body and supporting skin and coat health (7). Omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for dogs with skin allergies or food sensitivities that can lead to itchy skin. A high-quality fish oil supplement may help keep your pet’s allergies at bay and avoid skin issues from developing in the first place. Look for a reputable product that is third-party tested for safety, strength, purity, and quality, and make sure to read the label carefully and follow proper dosing instructions.
Another natural ingredient that may help your dog heal from the inside out is turmeric. It may help reduce inflammation and swelling and provide pain relief, among other benefits, thanks to its main active ingredient, curcumin (8). It can be administered topically to help ease itching, mixed into food, or taken as a supplement. When applied topically as a paste, turmeric can be used as a healing tool for chronic skin problems in dogs, such as lick granulomas. However, turmeric may not be the right fit for all pets, so check with your veterinarian if your pet has any pre-existing health conditions or is currently taking any medications.
Other Tips and Advice for Itch Relief in Dogs
While understanding the signs of skin problems in dogs and identifying what the problem may be are paramount to helping your canine companion, these other steps should also be a part of the process:
“Preventing itchy skin starts with every day help,” says Menges. Keeping a regular grooming schedule and using high-quality products that are easy on the skin can go a long way. Make sure you’re not bathing your dog too often either.
“Good nutrition from AAFCO-approved foods … have appropriate nutrition to promote and create a healthy skin barrier to prevent infections,” Menges says. He also suggests giving your dog omega-3 fatty acids (like fish oil mentioned above) to help improve and decrease itchy signs due to allergies.
Keeping your dog on monthly flea control will help stop those biting and itchy fleas dead in their tracks.
If you suspect allergies are to blame, narrowing down the culprit with your veterinarian can help you find the most effective solution.
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