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Vet Advice: Relief for Your Dog's Itchy Skin
Addressing the second most common problem on the vet hit parade


Question: Recently, my dog's nighttime scratching is keeping both of us awake. Her fur seems dry and a bit dandruffy, and she also seems to be shedding more than usual. What can I do to help her?

Answer: Dogs itch for many different reasons, and sometimes, for no reason, and it’s not uncommon for the scratching to seem worse at night, when the house is quiet. Every dog’s gotta scratch some time, and that’s completely normal. But when a dog is incessantly licking, scratching, biting and chewing to the point of wounding herself, then scratching becomes a symptom of an underlying pathology.

The medical term for scratching related to excessive itching is pruritus. This is the second most common reason people take their dogs to the vet (gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea top the list). The causes of pruritus can be quite complex, but there are two main reasons why dogs itch. The first has to do with the condition of the skin itself: Is it infected? Is it too oily? Is it too dry? Of these three, dry skin is a frequent occurrence. The second major cause of pruritus is allergies.


Is It Dry Skin?
One common cause of itching is dry skin. If you live in a region with low humidity, it’s more likely that your dog will have dry skin, which is fairly easy to recognize. When you part your dog’s hair, you see flakes of dandruff in the undercoat, and the skin itself may be cracked and tough. The slightest stimulation of the skin—your gentlest touch—can provoke your dog to scratch violently.

Dry skin can be influenced not only by environmental factors, but also by diet. Commercial pet foods process out the good oils that contribute to healthy skin and a lustrous haircoat. Dry pet foods have an even more dehydrating effect on skin and hair and also stimulate increased thirst, which only partially compensates for the drying nature of these diets.

If you must feed dry foods, then by all means add digestive enzymes to your dog’s meals. In fact, digestive enzymes are good to use with any type of food. Enzymes improve the release of nutrients, and beneficial probiotic bacteria also assist in the digestive process. (Probiotics also help with allergies, as noted below.) A healthy digestive system absorbs fluids more readily from the food your dog eats, thus improving hydration and increasing the moisture levels of the skin and haircoat.


Or Allergies?
Another common cause of itchy skin is allergies. Allergies may make your dog’s skin dry, greasy, or slightly dry and oily, and are accompanied by frequent scratching, licking or chewing. We are seeing significantly more cases of allergic dogs than we have in the past; many veterinarians believe that we are experiencing an “allergy epidemic.” While the reasons for this allergy epidemic are uncertain, some of the theories put forth include the aggressive vaccination protocols that many dogs have been subjected to, poor breeding practices and the feeding of processed pet foods.

Whatever the cause, allergies are difficult to address. In the worst cases, afflicted dogs require strong (and potentially toxic) pharmaceuticals just to get some relief. Though allergies are rarely cured, early identification and intervention can keep them under control, and in some cases, can substantially diminish them.

Clinical research has shown that one important way to reduce the likelihood that dogs will develop allergies is to give them high-potency cultures of beneficial probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus when they are very young. Probiotics are relatively inexpensive, absolutely safe to use, and can save both dog and the owner tons of grief—and visits to the vet—later in life.

Regardless of age, many dogs’ allergies are controlled by improving the quality of their diet, giving them high potency acidophilus cultures and high doses of fish oils; adding freshly milled flax seed; and, in some cases, giving them antihistamines. (It can take up to three months for this regimen to take effect; see sidebar for details and dosages.)



CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Cara | May 18 2014 |

Our 8 yr old mini schnauzer developed allergies at a little over 1 yrs old. Nothing helped except for steroids periodically. I finally began researching grain free foods & treats and she has cleared up considerably. Dick Van Pattan's dry fish & sweet potato works well at petco..however a tad expensive. She does still get some minor breakouts but nothing like she was getting. Bathing them in a mild calm shampoo helps with all this too. If you have a bad back like me, recently I bought unscented/no alcohol aloe & vit e baby wipes from walmart, seems to work very good. Sometimes when you are wiping them down run a cheap little flea comb through to catch any bugs that may be present. My dog Angel loves the rub down! Best of luck to all of you, I know it can be very difficult getting their allergies to calm. Also...diphenhydramine 25 mg is the exact same thing as benydryl...so I can get a bottle of 100 generic diphenhyramine at walmart for $4.99 for once in a while break-outs. Try not to give your dogs benydryl often as it can cause their blood pressure to spike and that you don't really want. But I suppose once in a while is ok. I also got tablets of plain white melatonin tablets to help calm her...she is 20 lbs. and 1 mg works fine for her. It helps to calms her and helps her to get some rest...best of luck to you all.

Submitted by DJ Sheehan | May 30 2014 |

My Yorkie, too. She is allergic to many, many things, including chicken, lamb and rice. She eats a Royal Canin venison and potato diet (wet food; they also sell dry kibble). She is allergic to trees, grass, pollen, dust, Get from your vet "Pyoben," a prescription shampoo and give your dog a bath once a week. Also try Keto Chlor, another prescription shampoo. Use creme rinse (I like Aloe & Oatmeal shampoo and creme rinse by Sogeval. She is also on an anti-allergin regime. We used to do the injections, but it now comes in a serum in a small bottle with a pump top. You pump two squirts between her teeth and gum, or under her tongue, twice a day, and it helps a lot. You will have to do this for the life of your dog. Two little bottles were $300 and last maybe 6 months. This does not include the expensive testing. Each serum is particular to your dog's allergies. The company who makes it is Heska and is called "Allercept Therapy Drops - Allergenic Extract Prescription Product. Since we moved to AZ in March, she has been scratching much, much more than usual. In southern AZ, it is very dusty (you have heard about the dust storms, no doubt) and it is really aggrevating her allergies. She is now on a relatively new drug called Apoquel. Works like a steroid, but without the bad side effects, but also is not meant for long-term use. Also on Benadryl, but basically useless. Hope some of this helps!

Submitted by Angie | June 16 2014 |

This sounds a lot like my D.O.G. She was so itchy & started to smell yeasty even after baths.i put her on taste of the wild grain free lamb which is a single protein food. I don't give anything with fish, chicken, pork or grain.She gets a bath every 3rd day using a medicated tee tree oil & aloe dog shampoo.My vet has also treated her with an antibiotic and med for dermedex mites which has made a huge difference. We have been living with this since she was 1yr old she is now 2 1/2. Just started the mite treatment 4 days ago & this is the best she has been

Submitted by Elyssa Doub | July 22 2014 |

If the dog is yeasty doesn't she have a yeast infection? Once this is in the human system more than just a basic infection it can take a while to treat with nystatin and avoiding sugar and certain foods. I wonder if this is true for dogs.

Submitted by Sonja Walker | January 28 2014 |

Thanks. Your comment sounded close to mine. I have a 12 yr old Dandie Dinmont and he is biting, scratching himself to death. I give him a bath once a week with oatmeal but at night it's the worst. It seems like he has OCD bc when he's itchy he's a bit of a drama queen. I was told giving him Zyrtec is ok. Should I switch to Bendryl? What about oils for his food? He's 30 Lbs with soft type of hair. So if I add anything to his fur it looks really greasy. We currently live in Dallas Tx but are moving to wine country area in California. I'm hoping that helps with both of us.

Submitted by April | April 28 2014 |

Sonja, From what I understand, oatmeal is not desirable as it promotes excess yeast. Check out Dr. Karen Becker's videos on YouTube, especially those on allergies, yeast, and baths. I think she would also suggest adding coconut oil to his diet. She has so much helpful information there! Good luck with your Dandie Dinmont!

Submitted by Leigh | August 22 2014 |

I had a pit bull with severe allergies for several years. She was so itchy all the time and had absolutely no hair on her belly. Her feet were constantly red and raw. We tried prednisone for a while, which helped a little, but since we didn't want her to develop cushings disease, we asked our vet for other options. We started her on personalized allergy injections that my vet ordered from Heska. They were pricey at first because you have to start with a minimal dose a few times a week and start building up the dose and spacing the injections further apart. Eventually she only needed the shots every three weeks. One vial of the injectable cost about $100 but lasted a few months when she reached the maintenance level of every three weeks. Unfortunately for us, they can only treat I think 20 allergens in one injectable solution and she was allergic to EVERYTHING so we had two vials. I hope that's helpful.

Submitted by gloria | August 16 2013 |

is it ok to give my dog benedryl

Submitted by Melissa | August 22 2013 |

Yes, after seeing vets in several states due to frequent moves, a vet in Texas finally recommended Benadryl twice a day for our golden who licked his paws incessantly. It worked like a dream and is an inexpensive remedy.

Submitted by erwin | February 3 2014 |

Yes it is ok to give a dog benedryl. 1/2 tablet up to 10 pounds. 1 tablet up to 25 lbs and 2 tablets over 25 pounds. this can be given twice a day

Submitted by Darren White | February 6 2014 |

Careful, our vet recommended benedryl to help our lab's itching, and I followed the treatment for a couple years. However eventually the anti histamine did little and the higher doses made her lethargic. The itching became serious and I really wanted to avoid the vets next step of steroids, which I heard would cause more weight gain and less energy. I finally visited a vet specializing in nutrition and discovered the benedryl had been masking the underlining problem that was progressively getting worse. Under our vets guidance I started feeding a supplement I've seen commented on here a few times called VitaHound, their formulation matched our vets list of ingredients for both her food and probiotic supplement. After a couple months her itching disappeared and her energy returned. Its heart breaking to see your dog suffer and I encourage people don't give up on your dog's health, I thought I would never see our dog act like the puppy our family fell in love with. I really appreciate the comments on Bark they help me discover a remedy for our dog.

Submitted by shawna | August 20 2014 |

I have a black lab an I give her benadryl 2 times a day along with fish oil pills : )

Submitted by Anonymous | October 31 2012 |

could you give a small dog benadryl?

Submitted by Anonymous | November 3 2012 |

Yes but you should contact your vet to find out the right dose

Submitted by Anonymous | December 18 2012 |

I have a maltese mix and my vet said 1 a day didn't work

Submitted by Virginia | December 26 2012 |

General rule of thumb for benedryl in dogs is 5mg of diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in benedryl) per 5lbs of body weight. I give my Cavalier King Charles Spaniels one capsule, twice a day (normal capsules are 25mg) & I use the walmart "Equate" version, which is about $4 for 60 count. I actually found "Tinactin", the athlete-foot antifungal powder, works wonderfully as a topical anti-itch when applied to the spot where they've chewed raw-and it dries the sore out nicely. NEVER give Ibuprofen or Acetemenophin to dogs as it can lead to liver failure & don't use Neosporin unless you have an elizabethan collar to keep 'em from licking it!

Submitted by Irish | May 22 2013 |

acetaminaphen is what is toxic .........aspirin and ibuprofen (either one) is ok at the correct dose for your dog. when my dog was neutered, the vet gave him a prescription for ibuprofen. Obviously the dosage is way smaller than for humans, though. Lots of people use baby aspirin (just one or part of one)for their dog.

Submitted by Tracey | August 6 2013 |

BUFFERED aspirin only for ingestion. Regular aspirin is terrible for dogs stomach linings. I been told to dissolve aspirin in chamomile tea and rinse my itchy dog w that.

Submitted by Nicole | May 30 2013 |

I used regular gold bond on my dogs hot spots. He's a chihuahua wiener dog mix, low to the ground and allergic to everything that touches his skin. Poor little buddy. Vet is no help. He's been on steroids and antibiotics and it just flares up every year. Last time a took him the vet suggested a onsie on him! Just not an option for my baby. Also bathe him using dish soap first then a special shampoo from the vet. Hope this helps someone! Anyone else with ideas for at home itch relief please reply!

Submitted by Paul Wharf | August 15 2013 |

What type of shampoo is best for irchy dogs? No dandruff but always itches. Any help would be appreciated.

Submitted by rhonda lee | February 10 2014 |

I have a king Charles and he is constantly scratching and has sores on him as a result any suggestions I have tried allergy shampoos but he is getting worse

Submitted by Sophia | August 18 2013 |

OMG. Gold bond is fantastic! My poor 5 pound yorkie is in misery with hot spots and now an all over body rash. My remedies have not worked and we have an appt tomorrow with the vet. I saw your post about Gold Bond. It's fantastic! I dusted her everywhere, gave her a smooth body rub and she has not scratched for over an hour! I feel better, she feels better. Thanks for the advice, you gave US so much needed relief!,,,,,

Submitted by olivia | September 11 2013 |

we just got a Jack Russell terrier and he keep scratching his tummy , do you use the Gold Bond lotion or powder ??? And did this worked on your dog ?

Submitted by Ada | January 5 2014 |

What did the vet say? My Yorkie has the same problem.

Submitted by carol | June 23 2014 |

i too have tried the medicated gold bond. my chocolate lab i believe has allergies. every year at this time he gets small little red marks that grow into welts and then scab over and fall off. it looks red and irritated. i tried the gold bond and after about a week noticed a remarkable difference. i have put it on his paws too and he does not lick it i guess cause of the smell but it does work. i recommend everyone to try it it is very soothing to them and will clear some issues up. trust me it looked really bad but looks great now.

Submitted by sharon | August 18 2013 |

want to know if I use that foot fungi.stuff if I had to put a collar on him so he want lick it.

Submitted by Laurie | January 21 2013 |

My vet ALWAYS gives benedryl before she gives my dogs their annual vacination. It's the pink pills us humans use. She does a calculation based on their weights...not sure if it would be the same as humans, yet I'd go light. I'm going to ask her for sure this year!

Submitted by shudson | March 11 2013 |

I have am 8lb cockapoo, my vet had me give her a half of tablet of Childrens Benedryl.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 4 2013 |

did it work?

Submitted by Don | December 9 2012 |

Two dogs.Male Golden developed itch , for six weeks before seeing vet,on his stomach, elbows & groin area, on prednisone for final week of month regime, no relief. Vet found no fleas, says allergy. Now our lab exhibiting an itch for past couple days in same area of her body. Both 8 yrs old.
No new flooring/cleaners used.
We bought lamb and rice dry food today, to try.

What's going on?

Submitted by Dee | May 4 2013 |

I think that bird lice (malaphoca - sp?) can mutate to dogs and humans. Oils kill them.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 18 2013 |

Something that many people do not know is that dog food is often times the culprit for many dog health issues. Dry and wet dog food are processed in a way that is not natural for dogs. Feeding a diet of raw meats and vegetables and fruits is the most natural and healthy food for your dog and can help clear up many allergy and skin issues. Please be careful to research the correct procedure to introduce this food to your dog as every dog is different and needs different accommodations.

I have a Pit Bull/Great Dane mix (Pit Bulls are prone to skin and allergy issues) who had severe allergies so I tried many different types of dog food trials, antibiotics, and cleaning to no avail. I did a ton of research on what the reason for his allergies could be. Finally I came across the raw food diet and for the past year now he has been on only raw meat and a veggie/fruit mix that has done wonders for his skin. He has not had any allergic breakouts or been sick since he has been on this diet! And buying "real" food costs about the same as dog food if you find sales.

I hope this information helps someone out there!

Submitted by Debbie | May 13 2013 |

I would love to know what you feed and how much. I really want to do the best for my four legged babies. I currently feed Fromm dry dog food and use fish oil. I give them frozen green beans and carrots as treats and they love those. Can't wait til I get your reply.

Submitted by Willey | August 11 2013 |

Where do you get the raw food diet and veggie stuff at that you are talking about?

Submitted by Carol Slaten | February 11 2014 |

A couple of sites that have some good information for itching, yeast infections, etc., are dogaware.com and greatdanelady.com. Both of these ladies have information about food and products for allergies. I have used some of the remedies and they worked. From my experience with dogs suffering from allergies the best place to start is with what you have in your house that your dog comes in contact with. I got rid of my carpet. Seems to have helped me as well. It is the worst for harboring dust mites. The dogs are in much closer contact with the flooring than we are, which make them more susceptible to whatever is on the floor or in the carpet. I have rugs that I can take out and clean and I clean them frequently. With those that suffer from inhalant allergies, dogs could be sensitive to just about anything like household cleaners, detergents, carpet shampoo, scented candles, air fresheners, etc. Another consideration equally as important is your dog's diet. Just because something claims to be "natural" does not mean your dog won't be allergic to it. I just cringe whenever I see someone with a bag of Pedigree or Ole Roy. My vet said he thinks there are more cases of allergic reactions now than there used to be is because dog foods are including so many ingredients now. I counted 32 ingredients on a bag of Fromm's Beef Fritatta. It might even be something like calcium carbonate or a brand of the vitamins causing a reaction. It could even be a preservative that was used in the food. There are so many things that could be irritating. Best to stay simple. Just that less to have to rule out.

Submitted by John | November 5 2013 |

I saw your post and was intrigued. I did a fresh veggie diet and it worked fairly well. You did raw meat which helps the protein for sure. I am a bit skeptical about the raw meat tho. I dont know why as that how canines survive in the wild. Do you offer all meats chicken, steak, ground beef, lamb,chicken, deer? Would it help to cook? Your advice is appreciated@


Submitted by Shan | January 26 2014 |

I have a German Shepherd and we have struggled with his allergies…….the vet thinks it's environmental and also food related. We paid big dollars for an allergy test that came out negative and have put out so much money for all the food trials we have done and meds we have tried. Nothing seems to be working, he just scratches and scratches. I would love to know what your recipe for raw is?

Submitted by Linda | March 4 2013 |

I just took my pit bull to the vet for the same thing. I already knew that my dog had flea allergies and I got that under control by using Adams flea and tick mist. For the dry skin he suggested either foods that are high in Omega or Omega vitamins. I got (Fish, Flaxseed, Borage Oil with Omega 3,6,9) at Walmart for $6.00 for 120 softgels. He suggested 1,800mg a day for a 70lb dog. He also said that Frequent bathing is good using shampoos that are the correct pH for dogs low in detergents "detergents dry the skin". I told him that I had been using benedryl, and he said that "all that does is makes the dog sleep and forget about the itching, not remedy the problem" Another suggestion he had for the dry skin was "Avon skin so soft" on the skin to help soften the skin.
Hope the suggestions help. :-)

Submitted by Amanda Roberts | March 8 2013 |

I was curious how many of the soft gels you give your 70# dog? I just bought some for my lab that is itching like crazy and flakey skin no fleas I started with 1 just because it doesn't say how many milligrams the soft gels are.. Thanks

Submitted by crystal | May 3 2013 |

I have a 70lb lab (10m) and the dose the vet had us give him was 2 of the 25mg pills every 12 hours.

Submitted by Jessica | June 4 2013 |

Avon Skin so Soft has chemicals in it- as do most soaps and moisturizers. Pure organic coconut oil should be the only thing you use as this is all natural with no chemicals at all. Give this a try. :)

Submitted by Ellen B | July 30 2013 |

Wow Linda, our new vet recommended identical dosages, however they warned us about pills. Our lab suffered from sever allergies and for the past 3 years she has been treated with prednisone. Her condition worsened and we gave up on the steroids. I was recommended to a clinic that specialized in canine allergies. Their recommendation was the 1,800mg of omegas added to the diet via flaxseed. Apparently the acids and short digestive tract of dogs passes fish oil pills without absorbing the omegas. I found the VitaHound supplement, I discovered it in another Bark article, our dog's allergies have lessened dramatically. I have found both the Bark publication and the readers comments irreplaceable in my ongoing efforts to help our dogs live longer.

Submitted by Becky | March 17 2013 |

My dog has itchy skin and I want to know if vitamin D3 (1000iu) would help or hurt him.
A lady told me to try Vitamin D as a liquid, one drop a day.
I want to know if this is safe to try before I give him any.

Submitted by lynne | April 6 2013 |

my dog suffered an eye injury by scratching from this time he has worsened into constantly biting he has been given constant antibiotics, steroids for scratching etc. is infecting the skin and his eyes. he has had blood tests which prove he has allergies, his skin and hair is very greasy. we have changed his dry food hypoallergenic to wet food. we are very worried and steroids has developed cushings condition can you help, all the vets want to continue with the medication. would a holistic approach seem favourable?

Submitted by Anonymous | April 11 2013 |


Our dog is the same but we have found these products http://www.aromesse.com/ have brought massive relief.

Yumove oil for dogs with sensitive skin also helped.

Hope it helps you


Submitted by Melanie | November 23 2013 |

Stay away from the steroids, that is the cause of cushings, as well they also cause yeast infections. I know cause i just went through all of this. If your dog'S hair is greasy then get nizorol shampoo and bath him once a week. Also the vet has pills for yeast infection, however it took my vet a long time before she believed me that my dog had a yeast infection.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 11 2013 |

The shampoo bar and cream has really helped our dog.

Submitted by Cindy | April 18 2013 |

Hi. I have a 17 year old dog that really suffers from itching. could you please specify which shampoo bar and cream you are talking about? Thank you.

Submitted by Nora | May 19 2013 |

What is the brand name of the shampoo bar and cream. I also am having problems with our golden. Scratching all day and biting is legs. He has no fleas. I am wondering if the shampoo is the problem? We use the best and most expensive thinking that would help. But I guess the most expensive is not always the right way to go.

Submitted by Priscilla vance | June 18 2013 |

Well my dog was fine until we used a different shampoo 2 days ago and now he has itching, bitting and raw its so bad it's breaking my heart but I have been using main and tail shampoo and conditionor for last 2 yrs and never had this problem... I am gonna try this evening to bath him in it and see if it helps any suggestions or advise to help him stop itching greatly appreciated but I do think the shampoo caused it...

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