Just as with humans, all kinds of things cause itching in dogs. And, just as with humans, a dog’s occasional itchiness is not a cause for concern.
However, if your dog seems to be obsessively scratching, chewing, or licking himself, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian. It’s important to find out exactly why your dog is itchy so that he can be treated appropriately.
In addition to addressing the immediate cause of itching in dogs, improving the health of your dog’s skin and coat will help him better manage itchiness over the long term.
Healthy skin is the first step to minimizing itchiness and stopping related issues from arising.
Healthy skin is soft, supple, and retains moisture.
Unhealthy skin is dry, flaky, fragile–and itchy.
While healthy skin is less itchy by nature (already a win!), it also serves a protective purpose.
On the other hand, if your dog doesn’t have healthy skin and a thick, healthy coat, excessive scratching, chewing, or biting can more easily damage or break his skin. Open skin can lead to inflammation or infection, which are serious enough on their own, but can also evolve into chronic problems like hot spots.
Itching in Dogs Causes
What exactly causes itching in dogs, and what can you do to help your four-legged companion deal? Read on.
Seasonally Dry Skin
During the winter months, the dry air–caused by forced heat from our furnaces and low humidity levels–can make our own skin, as well as that of our dogs, dry, flaky, and itchy. In most cases, seasonally dry skin is a minor issue, but if it causes your dog to excessively scratch or lick, it can lead to other more serious skin issues.
Patrick Mahaney, VMD points out that dogs can be sensitive to environmental allergens such as tree and grass pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust mites. While these allergens typically cause humans to break out with hay fever (runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes), dogs most often experience atopic dermatitis instead. (Atopic dermatitis is simply itchy skin.)
To relieve the itchiness, dogs will scratch, chew, lick, or scoot. Particularly if the health of the skin and coat isn’t optimal, the scratching and chewing may cause the skin to become inflamed or infected, which can lead to additional problems like hot spots.
On your veterinarian’s advice, symptoms of environmental allergies can be managed with anti-inflammatory medications, topical treatments such as medicated shampoos, antihistamines such as Benadryl, and antibacterial and antifungal medications.
According to Modern Dog magazine, the foods that dogs are most often allergic to are beef, chicken, dairy, and grains (especially wheat). Dogs with food allergies may experience reactions like dry, itchy skin, recurring hot spots, and chronic skin and ear infections.
If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, talk to your veterinarian. Your dog may need to go on an elimination diet to determine which foods he’s allergic to so that those foods can be permanently removed from his diet. A high-quality allergen-free diet is the only long-term solution for food allergies.
While you wait for a final determination about what your dog is allergic to, ask your vet about using the same tools as for managing environmental allergies, such as medicated shampoo and antihistamines, to relieve itchiness.
Flea Bites and Flea Allergies
Flea bites can also cause itching in dogs–and, indeed, in any person or animal that is bitten. However, if a dog is allergic to flea saliva, bites can cause extreme itching.
In fact, if a dog has flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), one single flea bite can cause the dog’s entire body to itch. As T. J. Dunn, Jr, DVM points out in this article on petmd.com, flea bites can cause “itching and scratching, hair loss, infections, scabs, and other skin problems.”
If your dog has fleas, use a flea remover (there are both chemical and natural varieties). And, if your dog has a serious case of FAD, talk to your veterinarian about using the same tools as for other allergies to help your dog manage itchiness.
Itching in dogs can be caused by sarcoptic mange. There are two types of mange: sarcoptic and demodectic. Both are caused by mites. Demodectic mange can cause skin lesions, immune system issues, and hair loss. Sarcoptic mange, as this article at vetstreet.com explains, causes intense itchiness and discomfort, because the mites burrow into the skin.
In addition to causing extreme discomfort, sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and must be treated quickly with medication and medicated shampoos. If you suspect your dog has mange, please consult a veterinarian.
Minimize Itching in Dogs with Healthy Skin and Coat
You know that old saying: prevention is the best medicine. Keeping our dogs as healthy as possible will help them to deal with any illnesses and issues that do occur.
As explained earlier, healthy skin and a full healthy coat offer protection to a dog’s skin when he tries to manage the itchiness by scratching, chewing, or biting. A thick, healthy coat protects the skin against excessive scratching; and strong, healthy skin is more likely to resist breakage, inflammation, and infection.
Nutrients like omega 3, spirulina, and certain bioflavonoids like luteolin, found in many plants, including citrus, can fortify the health of your dog’s skin and coat.
As this article on petmd.com states, omega 3 fatty acids are necessary for “healthy and firm, yet flexible skin.”
Spirulina, microscopic algae, is high in essential fatty acids and also supports skin and coat health.
Citrus bioflavonoids are commonly used as ingredients in anti-aging skin care (for humans!), to help promote cell regeneration.
All three can be found in EverPup, a supplement formulated especially for dogs.
EverPup has a wide range of healthful nutrients. Those nutrients–all human grade–support every organ your dog has (including skin!). Visit the EverPup website to find out more; and talk to your veterinarian about incorporating EverPup into your dog’s diet.