Incessant itching and scratching is one of the top reasons guardians take their dogs to the veterinarian. Many complain the itching is so bad, the dog is keeping them up at night. So if your pup’s itching is driving you nuts – think about what it must doing to her. Time to figure out the itch!
The most common reasons for dogs to scratch are:
- Dry Skin
- Food Allergies
- Environmental Allergies
- Skin Infections
The most likely culprit, of course, is fleas. So step one in investigating any itchy skin problem is to do the flea test:
- First detangle your pet’s fur with a brush. Over the hips near the base of the tail is a good place to test.
- Run the flea comb through your pet’s hair and gather a bit of hair & “dirt”.
- Then put this between two damp white paper towels and press them together – if the “dirt” creates rusty looking spots on the paper towel, then there is a flea somewhere – most likely a family of fleas – on your companion.
- If you persist with combing, you will likely trap some of them in the comb. Drown them in SOAPY water – fleas have been known to jump out of plain water.
No fleas? Other parasitic possibilities are mange and ticks. If you see bald patches where your dog has been itching, take them to the veterinarian for skin tests to rule out mange. Tick bites will generally go away on their own unless the tick was infected with Lyme disease – in which case a trip to the veterinarian is definitely in order.
If you have ruled out parasites, take a look at your dog’s skin – does it flake when you brush him? Does his coat appear dull? Many dogs suffer from dry skin in the winter months when the heat is up indoors and the air is dry.
Add Essential Fatty Acids to their diet through the use of fish oil, flax or sardines. The essential fatty acids DHA and EPA nourish and add moisture to the skin and coat. Feed up to twice the recommended dose on a bottle of fish oil to give your companion a therapeutic effect. If you see loose stools, reduce the dose a bit.
Another beneficial fatty acid to help improve skin elasticity is GLA – found in Black Current Seed Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Borage Oil.
With generations of dogs growing up on chicken, grain and beef based diets we are seeing an ever-increasing number of food allergies. There are three essential steps to treating food allergies and sensitivities:
- Switch to a grain-free diet or an allergy formula diet. Avoid chicken and beef as protein sources in favor of duck, venison or fish. Chicken and beef are the most common protein allergies in dogs. It’s a good idea to stick with one protein source when you begin the new diet, and then switch to another if symptoms do not begin to subside after 10 – 14 days.
- Add digestive enzymes and probiotics to every meal. Enzymes improve the breakdown and release of nutrients from the food and reduce the likelyhood of too-large molecules being absorbed and setting off an allergic reaction. Probiotics improve digestion and provide the first line of defense for the immune system.
- Add Essential Fatty Acids to their diet through the use of fish oil, flax or sardines. EFA’s reduce inflammation (allergies are an inflammatory response), nourish the skin and coat, and help heal the digestive tract and improve digestion. .
- Help their detoxify and calm their system with herbs. Herbs such as Nettle, Burdock, Red Clover, Licorice and others support the organs and immune system to modulate allergic reactions.
While dust mite and grass allergies may make humans sneeze and wheeze, they often make dogs feel itchy. Their coat may seem dry or can be oily or greasy.
Clinical research has shown that high-potency probiotics given to puppies can help prevent allergies from developing as the dog matures. Valuable insurance against expensive vet bills down the road! However, if your mature dog is itching it is not too late. Probiotics can still help – though you will likely need to continue giving them for the long-term.
The treatment for Environmental Allergies begins with the same steps as those for treating food allergies:
- Switch to a high-quality grain-free diet
- Add digestive enzymes & high potency probiotics
- Add Essential Fatty Acids
- Provide additional support with herbs and supplements to reduce inflammation and allergic reactions
- Homeopathic remedies including sulphur, rhus tox, and uritica urens can help reduce symptoms (see Homeopet remedies for allergies)
- Antioxidants such as vitamin E and B vitamins are also helpful.
Bacterial, yeast and fungal infections can all cause itching and scratching in dogs. If you see lesions of any sort on your dog’s skin – suspect and infection of some type and take action quickly. In our next post we will be discussing the different types of skin infection, how to recognize them and how to help your companion heal.