Itchy dogs are a very common cause of both vet visits and owner frustration.
Unfortunately, there are a large variety of reasons a dog will scratch. In addition, they often occur together. This makes finding the cause and stopping the scratching a challenge.
Some causes can be found with simple tests, however others may require a more involved investigation.
Having said that though, the bulk of our patients fall into 2 main categories -
- Fleas and flea allergy - this has been well covered in other posts but remember:
- Fleas are small and hard to find (even by researchers who study them)
- Fleas make the itch much worse- no matter what the other causes might be.
Flea prevention is a must for any itchy pet.
- Allergic Dermatitis (Atopy) - Simply put atopy results from skin not doing two of its main jobs:
- Keeping water in - keeping the skin and the animal hydrated
- Keeping microscopic things out - allergens and bacteria then come in contact with the sensitive layers beneath the skin, causing the body to react. This is what causes the itch.
Whatever the cause, the itch leads to scratching and biting which can damage the skin further. This allows bacteria and yeast to set up an infection. The infection then makes the itching even worse.
Things to try at home that may help
While many itchy dogs will require veterinary attention from time to time, there are management strategies that can be tried at home.
Short term flares
- Wiping down with a wet cloth to remove microscopic particles
- 10-15 minutes in a cool to tepid bath (longer can do more harm than good)
- Soothing pet shampoos
- Leave-on conditioners and moisturizers
Longer Term Management
- Recognising and avoiding triggers - (eg fleas, parks, new mown grass, carpet, anxiety, heat, wind)
- Protective suits and boots
- Wiping down with a wet cloth after possible exposure - eg walks
- Skin specific diets or supplements
- Daily antihistamines through the allergy period
- Topical creams and conditioners twice daily
- Cool to tepid 10-15 minute baths twice weekly to every fortnight, to decontaminate the skin.