Does your dog suffer the misery of itchy skin?
Indeed, it’s likely an itchy dog makes you miserable too because there is an unwritten rule that dogs are worst at 3am (because there’s nothing to distract them). As a pet parent this means being woken by the steady slurp of a licking tongue or the thump, thump of a hind-paw against the dog’s itchy ear.
Treatment can be frustrating and expensive, so let’s take a logical look at what you can do and why the vet takes the steps she does.
What Causes Itchy Dog Skin?
Key to soothing that itch is to ask, “Why’s my dog itchy?” and cut the itch off at root cause.
The causes are relatively straightforward and include:
- Infections: Bacterial or fungal
- Parasites: Such as fleas, fox mange mites, ear mites, walking dandruff mites, or lice.
- Allergies: Environmental, contact, and food allergies
“Dogs typically do not suffer from the same allergy symptoms as people – such as sneezing, watery eyes, and sinus trouble – they develop itchy, inflamed skin.” Dr Corynn Johnson
In an ideal world you’d hand this headache over to the vet, but here’s a logical way to make a start…
Step 1: Parasite Protection
You’ve checked your dog and he doesn’t have fleas, so skip to step two….STOP…Only joking. It’s essential that ALL itchy dogs receive regular monthly parasite treatments whether you see visitors or not.
Here are the reasons this is an essential step.
- More than fleas: Fox mange mites are common and easy to catch, plus they are too small with the naked eye. Why spend out money on shampoos and supplements when you haven’t ruled out a common problem?
- Fleas are sneaky: Fleas feed on the dog but hop off in-between times. For every one flea you see, there are 20 you don’t spot.
- Vet step: This is the first thing your vet will do so, why not get ahead of the game?
Step 2: Dog Shampoo
If you’ve ever had athlete’s foot, you’ll appreciate how excruciatingly itchy it is. Dogs can get the canine equivalent (athlete’s paw?) with an overgrowth of a yeast called malassezia. Also, a dirty skin with a heavy bacterial load is a big cause of itchy dog skin. And the good news is that shampooing allergic dogs washes the allergens away from the skin and reduces itching.
So, which is the best dog shampoo for itchy skin?
Start with a moisturizing dog shampoo containing oatmeal, which is gently soothing. Don’t be afraid to use a moisturizing product (free from perfumes and colours) every three days, to lower the allergen burden.
Step 3: Skin Supplements
Omega oils and vitamin E are buzz words amongst veterinary dermatologists. The reason is they nourish baby skin cells and strengthen the protective barrier that is the skin. Expect your dog to take a supplement for at least four weeks before seeing any difference, but it should lower his itch and give a nice glossy coat.
Step 4: Anti-histamines
The effect can be disappointing in dogs, but there’s little to be lost by trying. Pick two different antihistamines and commit to giving one for two weeks, and then the other. While the dog is taking the tablets, decide on an itch score (out of ten, where 10/10 is scratching himself raw) each day and write it down. At the end of the four weeks, see if the antihistamine helped and which worked best.
Options to try include:
- Diphenhydramine : 1 x 25 mg tablet for a 12.5 – 25 kg dog, twice a day (May cause sedation)
- Chlorphenamine (Piriton): Half x 4mg tablet for a small / medium sized dog, 1 x 4mg tablet for medium to large dogs.
NOTE: Antihistamines may not be safe in combination with certain drugs or certain medical conditions. Please check with your vet before dosing your dog.
Step 5: Dietary Trial
A significant number of dogs have food allergy which shows itself as itchy skin. By putting the dog on a strict hypoallergenic diet for 8 – 12 weeks, this allows allergens to clear the system. If the symptoms go away during this period, then you have a diagnosis of food allergy.
The trick is to feed a diet that consists of one protein source and one carbohydrate that the dog has never eaten before (such as venison and pea or salmon and potato), and feed this exclusively for three months. A diet used by vets that’s highly recommended is Purina HA.
Step 6: Immunotherapy Vaccines
If you’ve done steps 1 – 5 and the dog is still scratching then it’s definitely time to involve the vet. If you want to avoid drugs unless essential, then talk to your vet about developing a bespoke immunotherapy vaccine.
These desensitise the immune system so it reacts less strongly to allergens such as pollens. It’s not a quick fix but for around 4 / 10 itchy dogs this is the answer, for 3 / 10 it reduces the dose of drugs they need, but sadly for around 3 /10 it makes no difference.
Step 7: Medical Therapy
For the dog that’s chewing himself to pieces then swift relief is needed. Your vet now has an impressive array of medical options available including:
- Apoquel: A new ‘wonder’ drug with few side effects and an impressive anti-itch action. The demand from owners was so great that at first the manufacturer struggled to keep up with demand. Apoquel datasheet. NOAH
- Atopica: An effective anti-itch drug developed on the back of organ transplant research. Atopica datasheet. NOAH
- Steroids: Effective and cheap, but with a higher risk of side effects such as thirst, weight gain, diabetes, and Cushing’s disease.
Do you have an itchy dog?
Please share your experiences with the DDT community by leaving a comment below.