Itchy Dog? No problem. Here are my Top 10 Tips for Itch in Dogs Before the Vet is Called…
So, you have an itchy dog. We get this all the time. In fact, itchy dogs are the number one reason pet owners visit the site (nearly 150,000 visitors last month, 14% of whom land on this article) and it’s the third most likely reason for pet owners to visit the vet. It’s an all too common and entirely avoidable issue in dogs, at least the dry-fed ones. I can even guess where you are at right now: you’re the owner of a pedigree or white-coated dog. His issues began on a cereal-based dry food though you have now tried a variety of brands, possibly even ending up on an obscenely expensive dry food from the vets, maybe even making the leap to raw dog food, all to no avail. You have tried everything, have spent an absolute fortune and are no closer to an answer from your vet. You feel incredibly frustrated that you can’t help your little buddy who now seems worse than ever. The only things that seem to work are the steroids and NSAID tablets and potions such as Apoquel from the vet which you seem to be needing more of them these days and you’ve just read online that a life on these powerful chemicals is highly unadvisable (true).
Tell me I’m wrong?
Luckily for you, we are now specialists at helping dogs in this situation, which is all down to the amount of practice we’ve had at it. The good news is there are lots you can do before you need to see a vet for more of those powerful, expensive and most certainly not harm-free drugs. They are in no particular order after the first.
1. Address Their Diet…Most Important
These days everyone wants the quick fix – what can I put IN to stop this happening? – but that’s just treating the symptoms, not the cause of the issue. With recurring itch what you take OUT is often more important.
At it’s simplest, itch is a pesky side effect of an activated immune system. Like a smoke alarm going off, a recurring itch, certainly one outside of pollen season, should be viewed as a symptom of something going on under the hood. Vets today love symptoms as they can identify and often treat them, in this case with incredible drugs (steroids, NSAID’s) which essentially tell the immune system to quieten down. Short term this mightn’t be a bad idea, giving your dog some much-needed relief. Long-term, however, artificially shutting down the immune system for anything but a transplant patient is not advised. That’s their force field you’re switching off. Like turning off that smoke alarm without investigating as to why it was going off, if you do not address what is antagonising the immune system, the itch will never go away. In fact, it’s destined to get worse.
Think of a man with a peanut allergy that unfortunately loves peanuts. He eats peanuts every day but takes a cocktail of steroids to fight the side effects he would have experienced. Sound smart?!
General itchiness, including nibbling at the toes, scratching with the paw, tearing the skin away at some points, red raw belly (sometimes with pustules), weeping eyes, even sore ears, are all top symptoms of food allergies in dogs. As the article will explain, dry and canned dog food (and all its constituents including wheat, cooked meat and nasty food chemicals) is very often the cause of your dog’s itch and removing dry food in favour of the simple, fresh, hypoallergenic, raw dog food diet described in the article, will help if not cure 7 out of 10 itchy dog cases (not all itch is related to food, needless to say). Studies show raw dog food vastly improves atopy in previously dry-fed dogs. I urge you to take heed of the advice before one more drop of Apoquel goes in.
2. Check for Parasites (Fleas etc) and Treat Naturally but ONLY IF CRITTERS ARE FOUND
Most people reading this with itchy dogs are probably past this point but, just to reiterate, fleas, mites, sand flies etc can be really itchy. We do not recommend nasty chemical preventatives for fleas, ticks or worms, for all the reasons in these articles (unless you walk in an area very prone to ticks), largely as dogs rarely get these parasites. Like head lice in kids, you should treat only when found. Blindly using unnecessary chemical parasite control can actually make their itch worse by exasperating an already beleagured immune system. If you do detect an issue then there lots of ways you can treat them naturally with things around the home. Failing all that a good dust in DeNeem will sort all surface critters (fleas, mites, ticks) out. It is an entirely natural product made up of the crushed remains of marine organisms, almost like talc. It works mechanically, puncturing the bug and then dehydrating it. It contains no chemicals, so it is safe for you and your pet. But again it is unnecessary here in a pet free of parasites.
3. Add Natural Anti-Inflammatory Additions To Their Food
Many owners of itchy dogs realise processed food was the problem and jump to raw dog food. Sadly, it seems some itch issues get so bad that even on the ideal diet some dogs might need a little boost, not to mention the fact there are many other causes of itch in dogs, including environmental issues such as pollen or household chemicals. An excellent anti-inflammatory addition for dogs is cod liver oil (much better than fish oil) as it is great for cooling itchy skin. Studies show fish oil is effective at reducing the steroid need of dogs suffering atopy. This should always be given to dogs suffering atopy and itch in general. Dose according to body size.
You could also try making your own Golden Turmeric Paste for dogs too. A wonderfully effective and easy-to-make treatment this with a lot of solid science behind the active ingredient curcumin. Simply add it to the food.
Another great addition is Calendula which is possibly the strongest natural anti-inflammatory out there for skin (applied topically), available in your local health store.
4. Make This Home Made Spray for Itchy Dogs
Find out how to make a fantastic anti-itch spray made from apple cider vinegar and green tea. It’s easy to make, keeps in the fridge and is pretty effective for many dogs. In fact, apple cider vinegar can be added to their food in small amounts. Many testify to it’s uses for recurring itch, something to do with the life in their guts, which you will learn about later.
5. The Best and Most Effective Product for Itchy Dogs Now Comes With a Money-Back Guarantee – You Can’t Lose by Trying it
This itchy dog article has been on my site for five years now. As I mentioned it gets a lot of traffic. I have only ever recommended two products, historically canine probiotics and colostrum, for reasons highlighted below. But before you buy these separately you can now buy these together with a heap of other cool bits included in the form of Zesty Paws Allergy Bites. As you can see by the reviews on Amazon, they work and are extremely popular as a result. The product comes with a money-back guarantee that will help the itch in your dog.
Canine Probiotics. I am borderline obsessed with the life that exists in our guts, largely as I have a doctorate in behaviour and nutrition and they were central to my work. We are only now starting to realise how important the life in our guts actually is to us and our skin. For instance, ten years ago we found that probiotics can reduce eczema in kids. We have a staggering 1.5kg of life in our guts and treating them right is central to our health. Canine probiotics is a fascinating subject. In very short, dogs today tend to live on a highly processed food substrate, one that is so heavily preserved with chemicals that even mould won’t grow on it after a year. Their treats too. Not a single bit of fresh food. Annecdotally, moving dogs to raw and using suitable canine probiotics, such as Hyperbiotics which are designed to make it past the dog’s digestive juices, to kick start gut normality has been effective at treating itch in dogs (check out the reviews in the link, many specifically mention they have helped with itch).
Colostrum. Colostrum is another fascinating product. It’s the yellowy, fatty liquid that comes out of mammals before breast milk is produced. It has more than 7000 peer-reviewed studies that support it’s use in a great range of maladies, largely of the gut though “allergies and auto-immune issues” is a close second. It’s very effective and would certainly be something I’d recommend in a dog with a stubborn itch issue. Learn more about Colostrum in our article here.
HOWEVER before you go out and buy either Canine Probiotics or Colostrum, or ideally both for a very troubled case, I very strongly recommend you consider Zesty Paws Allergy & Immune Bites. This product has a frankly staggering collection of positive reviews on Amazon, and most of these would be dog owners that are unlikely to have jumped from dry feeding, which makes it all the more impressive. The reason I love this product is two-fold. First off, it’s ingredients are perfect. They include canine pre and probiotics as well as colostrum, so two birds with one stone there, but also a whole raft of bit and pieces that will help a struggling immune system, including EpiCor (a mix of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) which is clinically proven to bolster and balance the dog’s immune system as well as Alaskan salmon oil which will give your dog that boost of omega 3 fatty acids we were talking about earlier. They have essentially put everything that might be useful in a single, peanut butter or lamb flavoured ball of goodness.
But best of all, these guys offer a money-back guarantee on their product. I have never heard of such a thing for an issue as broad as itch and it’s a testament to their confidence. If it doesn’t work you get your money back. In my eyes, a total no-brainer.
6. Human Anti-Histamine Might Relieve Itch in Dogs
If your dog is suffering some form of seasonal pollen allergy (most prevalent between May-September) then human anti-histamines could take the edge off itchy dogs. Zirtec or Piriton for humans works great in dogs and is much cheaper. Remember to dose according to body size. Give it a go. If it doesn’t have a noticeable effect within days, drop it.
7. Seasonal Allergies can be Helped with a Simple Wipe of the Face or Better Still a Bath in Something Soothing…
While the majority of itchiness in dogs is a result of food sensitivity, seasonal allergy can be a problem. Bathing the dog after every walk is preferable but can be very time consuming and not always possible. Thankfully, many dog owners have reported success in reducing problems from contact allergens, by wiping nosey faces down after a walk with a wet towel (maybe put some of the anti-itch spray on it) and bathing the feet (add anti-itch spray to this). Or simply add some green tea and chamomile tea bags to the water.
You can even turn the brilliant homemade anti-itch spray above into a shampoo by mixing it with some pure, organic castille liquid soap (mix in the ratio 1 for 1, available in all healthy stores) and give them a nice, cooling bath. I’d add chamomile and lavender to it at this point (also from local health store) as they’re so effective at soothing itchy skin.
Or you could try an oatmeal bath. The science is strongly behind their anti-itchy qualities. Use in a bath or simply make a thick stodgy poultice and place it on the affected area for as long as they don’t lick it off.
If bathing them, there are loads of natural soap-type products that might help alleviate his itch. They’re popping up all the time, try your local pet store for one. They’re always based on the same principles, the same anti-inflammatory herbs, sometimes oats and are often high in sulfur, which is great for itchy skin. A product you might consider in this repsect is the ever popular SOA ITCH Be Gone. This was originally used in horse circles but it is now also used in dogs. Its effectiveness comes from its high sulfur content which is magic for troubled skin. In our experience, this has a perhaps 50% hit rate (which is great considering most of these pet owners do not understand the implications of feeding their pet the wrong food every day) so it’s well worth a go, but only after you’re tried the homemade bath idea above first. It doesn’t seem to be available in the UK on Amazon, not sure why. The next product that popped up on a review basis was Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe. I haven’t used this prodcut but with hundreds of reviews and 80% 5 star ratings for itch relief, it’s well worth the £16 price tag.
8. Has Your Dog Got a Stubborn Yeast Infection?!
Dogs suffer yeast blooms just like humans. Yeast infections often pop up in warm and moist areas such as ear flaps, between well-licked toes or vaginal areas. You’ll know it’s yeast by the smell which is a horrible, rank cheesy smell. Lovely!
The reason dogs get this issue is because yeast loves sugar. In fact, it needs it to live. Dry and canned pet food is packed full of carbs, which is one simple digestive step from being pure sugar to the body. Carnivores such as dogs do not need any carbs whatsoever in their diet. It’s thought that when dogs are fed dry diets of 50-60% carbs (sugar) yeast issues can ensue. Unfortunately, they can be a little tricky to fix up. Step 1 is starving the yeast infection by removing all the carb-based products and feeding a simple raw dog food diet, one that is void of fruit and sweet veg likes carrots and potatoes etc. Step 2 is following a careful procedure that involves two weeks on Grapefruit Seed Extract and then two weeks on apple cider vinegar. More on yeast in dogs here.
9. Try Some Salt Therapy?
I know, sounds crazy, but we’ve recently I’ve had some success with salt therapy. It’s a really simple process where you offer the dog 4 different waters, 3 of which contain a little high-quality salt, the fourth is plain, distilled water. You allow the dog to choose. It’s a fascinating process, based on an unbalance of electrolytes, your dog will sniff out what he needs. There’s been a lot of good news stories with it. You’ve nothing to lose by trying it yourself! More here on our Facebook page!
10. CBD Oil Might Give Relief to Itchy Dogs
Check out how many studies I found that clinically prove CBD is effective for a great range of neurological conditions, alleviating the many symptoms of the likes of Epilepsy, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, MS, stress, anxiety and even joint swelling and repair. It’s incredible, with none of the side effects of conventional drug therapies. And no, it doesn’t contain THC so your dog won’t get stoned. I have heard this helping with itch and annecodtally you will find online many testimonials verifying this but I can find little studies to back that particular issue up. Also, as it’s $65 for one little bottle (though you will have your answer after this), perhaps put this down the list of what you should try first but DO keep it on the list. Amazing stuff. If you want to learn more about CBD before pulling the trigger, then check out our free online Dogs First Magazine. The March/April 2018 issue had a huge, in-depth write up on CBD. Grab a cup of tea and tuck in.
Itch in Dogs, Conclusion…
We cannot highlight enough how important that all itchy dogs (every dog in fact) should be moved to a fresh, biologically appropriate diet. That is your first step. All the rest is window dressing that should help alleviate their symptoms while you make the transition, most of which will cost you nothing. If you are going to spend money I’d think about the Zesty Paws product above and get my money back if it doesn’t work, though I have every faith it will.
I have spent a lot of time building up my knowledge. From a doctorate in animal behaviour and nutrition to years in guide dogs and the last seven year inside and out of the pet food industry, I have always provided all my information free to the public, articles that I spend a lot of time putting together. While it’s clearly a passion of mine the fact remains, I can’t do this and a steady job at the same time. Without a salary or fancy sponsorship, I am left trying to moentise my site as much as I can without pushing on you horrible adverts for car loans and crap pet products. One way I do this is by tracking some of the links to products I recommend (where Amazon will give me 7% of your first purchase). Now I’m going to put a donation button at the bottom of my longer articles. So, if this helped you in any way and you feel you’d like to give me the price of a cup of coffee (€3), please free to do exactly that. If you’re strapped and can’t afford it, I can totally sympathise, you’re free to read on, no questions asked. We’re glad to have you on board spreading the word regardless.
Many thanks and continued good health to you and your pets.