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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.)



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Submitted by BRIAN SMITH | August 21 2012 |

Have you heard of or used the brand GALPHARM (10mg) Hayfever & Allergy Relief tablets on their dog for treating a skin allergy. My vet recommended PIRITON but our Chemist was sold out and gave me GALPHARM brand as an alternative. I need to know if this is a safe antihestamine to give him.

Submitted by Cynthia | July 12 2013 |

Hi Brian I saw your question about medicine for hayfever and allergy relief.. Are you still struggling with this issue? If so, I can reply to you here or faster via email if you still need help, at answers@immuneiq(com) - Cynthia

Submitted by dafna | July 13 2013 |

just adopted a 2 year old boxer-terrier mix....was recently spayed but has horrible itchy stomach and inside her legs too....what over the counter medication is safe to give her...she is about 45 pounds....we live on Long Island, lots of humidty

Submitted by Deb | July 27 2013 |

....sounds like this might be a yeast infection. I had a Lab with identical symptoms...bathed her regularly with a anti-dandruff shampoo containing selenium..I think the brand name was Selsun Blue.

Submitted by hamza gul | May 14 2014 |

my dog had skin problem he is itching becouse of blood sucking insect but i romoved them,and he was very ill, becouse of itching he had cuts in his all body, pleas help me . tell me medicines that i found in pakistan

Submitted by julia | January 24 2014 |

my dog seems to have the same rash going on around his belly button and inside his back legs did you find something that helps please let me know!

Submitted by Dr Williams | February 12 2014 |

If he's very ichy another potential cause is Demodex mites.

Submitted by Betty St.John | August 7 2014 |

We have the same problem, but do not see your reply. I feel so bad for our pet, she is in such miserable itching. We have tried so much with no help. So, can you please help us as to what over the counter meds are available.

Submitted by gary | September 4 2014 |

dog licks and bites and digs all areas of her skin.
What is the solution

Submitted by Jessica | September 6 2014 |

My dog had that same problem. Have you found a solution. Without going to an veterinarian

Submitted by eric | May 21 2014 |

I would not reccomend shampoos for humans containing sellenium sulfide or ascylacylic acid as they seem to leave my dog more dry and itchy. Pet shampoos w oatmeal work best for me but don't over bathe. Remember that some breeds will never b cured, we just try for better. Best of luck and if u find the wonder cure my email is e.j.asatru@gmail.com

Submitted by eric | May 21 2014 |

Don't look at the name of the meds but the active ingredience. Antihistamines are dif. And most human meds have minimal effect on dogs. I have an american bulldog and he has skin allergies. Very common in the breed. I give him 1/2 of a benadryl, which is diphenhydramine. It helps a lot but takes a week or so to really kick in. I spoil him w treats containing fish oil and have seen little change. Only the benadryll seems to help. Best of luck to you and make sure not to over medicate. 1/2 a pill for 5 days should show improvement. Cycle on cycle off. Maybe two weeks on one off. Only if first cycle helps

Submitted by CM | August 22 2014 |

Benadryl is a great way to control itching. However, you MUST contact your vet to get the right dose needed. It goes by weight! And it should start working right away not after a day or two. Make sure that it is allergies and not something else. I have a Dog that is 110 pounds and has allergies really bad. Due to his weight he has to more Benadryl in order to help him. PLEASE contact a vet first and then get the right dose amount for your pet.This should help him/her much faster. :)

Submitted by artistsin | August 29 2014 |

My vet said to give 1mg Benedryl per pound of dog every 12 hours. So for my beagle mix who weighs 30 lbs I can give one capsule (25mg) of Benedryl 2x per day (every 12 hours).

Submitted by kerflugully | August 28 2014 |

Most people would concur that you can give one 25mg tablet per 20 lbs of dog. I use a tablet in cheese for my 50 lb dog. He sleeps more, but scratches less. One of the safest OTC drug on the market. I give my boy 3 or 4 pills over spread out in 24 hrs. No more than I take for allergies myself. Nothing but benedryl... Other OTC meds are not proven safe enough for my peace of mind.

Submitted by Keith | October 2 2012 |

I have used the smallest dose possible of any generic antihistimine for my dog when he has flare ups. He has all sorts of allergies to nuts, soy etc, so i monitor his diet accordingly. The generic ones from the pharmacy are fine, and cheap!

Submitted by Genny | October 18 2012 |

What about Skin + Coat chews by Pet Naturals? Have you tried those? They have a lot of the ingredients this blog talks about. And PN also has some cool probiotic and enzyme chews to add into the regimen so you can do everything possible to make your dog comfy and healthy like the blog says. The chews are really popular around where I live! Definitely worth giving a shot!


Submitted by Anonymous | October 31 2012 |

could you use benedryl?

Submitted by A.Heese | December 27 2012 |

I have been giving my pitbull Diesel benedryl 2x a day for the past fours years. It does help some..it's worse if he gows off it. It is also the safest for long term use. I have to keep my coned so he does lick/bite himself to death. He itches and bites so badly that he chews his own paddings off his paws. I have tryed seeing an allergin specialists and they say he's allergic to over 78 different bugs, plants and danders. Even their own homemade remedy did not work for him and he was on it a year. Tryed fish oil pill, and he threw it up. He tends to better when it's humid out, so I am going to try getting a humidifier. Hydrocortisone cream works great! Only catch is keeping him from licking it. So he wares the cone. Rinse affected area with warm water and apply. Hope this helps and if anyone else has anymore ideas...

Submitted by Anonymous | April 24 2013 |

about 3 yrs ago our then 12 yr old part Australian Shepherd had a terrible yeast infection in ears and smelly flaking skin. The vet only gave drops, benedryl for itch so I began to research...the dry foods are killing our pets..mosly wheat and by products so I started to buy chicken, beef and canned fish. I usually cook the chicken but the meat is raw, I add some rice, veggies (carrots, beans or peas, sweet potatoes and I add dry food but its all natural. I also make treats with applesauce, sweet potatoes oats and some whole wheat and All dogs love this..Please, look at what your feeding your pets because that is what is causing most of the problems!

Submitted by Patti | August 17 2014 |

I do agree with you about the food. Although I gave my dog grain free food for 1 year with little to no relief of his itching. I have tried everything that was recommended with no help As a last resort I rubbed him down with baby oil and he had instant relief. He stopped chewing, licking and scratching. So I rub him down once a day or more if he begins to itch again. He seems so much happier. Hope this helps someone's baby.

Submitted by Kathryn Knight | August 27 2014 |

when you use the baby oil, he doesn't lick it off before it can get to his skin and start relieving the itching?

Submitted by kerflugully | August 28 2014 |

I've been giving my boy Sam Houston diphenhydramine (generic Benedryl) and it helps. You can give one 25mg pill (he gets his in a piece of cheese) per 20 lbs of dog. It had been on the market for many many years and has no real side effects other than sleepiness... which is why it is the also used for most otc sleeping pills. And Sam sure doesn't mind sleeping! Unlike the person who give one ever week, i find he gets more effective and continuous relief with 2 or three doses a day... He sleeps more comfortably and so do I and he doesn't seem dopey from it. The oil idea is good, but it might be better to use a more food grade oil with a few drops of essential oils like peppermint oil (cooling effect) and chamomile and lavender essential oil (very calming). That way when he licks it off, it will actually be good for him. Think I'll try a combo of coconut & jojoba. Baby oil feels nice, too, but may cause diahrea because it is mineral oil and mineral oil is used for constipation! Good luck to all of you... It breaks my heart to see my baby so miserable. BTW, stop all food containing grains. They aren't cows! I mix raw hamburger or cooked chicken into a small cup of the best grain-free dry food I can afford. My dogs are very very happy and love their food and never go to the vet. Also you need to stop feeding them poison like Triflexa or once a month poison drops on their necks to stop fleas and ticks... If poison kills the bugs, it's killing your dog, too. There are lots of natural ways to keep them from getting those critters. Research! I order a cedar oil spray from Buzz Off on line. It smells great and I haven't seen a bit or critter in my dog since I started using 2 years ago. :-)

Submitted by Keneya | September 5 2014 |

I agree with your assertion about poisons such as Triflexa. My pug had a negative reaction to it. I've been researching natural flea & tick prevention methods -began using Vet's Best which has many of the natural oils that you mention. I even sprayed it on my hardwood floors. I read some place that one should beware because natural oils BE the cause of allergic reactions.

Submitted by Jessica Lua | May 20 2013 |

This might help you I just started using " I and love and you" my skins itchy. That is the name of it I bought it at petco it a bit pricey but it worked quick on my English bull dog. He was rubbing his face on everything and chewing his paws. And after one day it has stopped .

Submitted by lisa | July 16 2013 |

what is it called my dog is doing the same thing she rubs her face and chews her paws also...

Submitted by robin | February 13 2014 |

It's a stupid name, but that is really the name"

and I and love and you
or whatever...

Submitted by Linda | September 30 2013 |

My dog suddenly went into an itching frenzy! Chewing his feet rubbing his face on the carpet! Going crazy! I was in tears! I read that a great home remedy was 1/2 water and 1/2 apple cider vinegar. I sprayed him down. He is sound asleep for the first time tonight!

Submitted by Amy | October 13 2013 |

I just wanted to let you know that I had a dog on steroid treatment for allergies, in the end the steroids caused her to have cushings disease and kidney failure. We had to put her down. Talk to your vet about extended use of steroid treatments.

Submitted by JSinFLA | November 14 2013 |

Do you rinse it off or does the dog smell like vinegar? My dog has suddenly started itching like crazy and I am desperate for a solution!

Submitted by Tiffany | July 13 2014 |

Do not rinse off it absorbs in the skin ripping it will just remove it completley it does work. My 2 yr old american bully which is part bull dog part pit has been itching hetself so much that she has created sores spraying this half apple cidar half water does relieve the itching and helps the healing process i also use aloe vera gel and A&D ointment its seeming to help but u cant br lazy with it u must use everyday

Submitted by Tom Henson | January 7 2014 |

I want to thank you for this remedy of apple cider & vinegar, my sharpei has been scratching and gnawing her hind area & tail until it bleeds, I didn't want to buy any chemicals and have become so desperate to ease her suffering, so I happened to see your post, and I am SO grateful, finally a remedy that helps AND it was something that I had plenty of, so THANK YOU!!!

Submitted by Regina | February 12 2014 |

Hi, so the vinegar & Apple cider helped how did u try orally or on skin? Please my Pitt mix is getting worse its really sad!

Submitted by Donna Page | September 21 2014 |

Hi..I tried the half Apple cider vinegar half water solution on my Jack Russell skin and gave him instant relief. I'd stay away from meds. Just lost my other JR to Cushings disease due to that!!!

Submitted by Mandy van der Merwe | January 20 2014 |

I tried the vinegar remedy and already it seems to work. Another oldie for white dogs is to make a paste from olive oil and flowers of sulpher powder (ask your chemist). Rub onto trouble spots - also calms them down.

Submitted by Ali | June 9 2014 |

The best thing I use is pure aloe Vera plant gel. Use only fresh cut leave, open up leaf, spoon out gel and mix with approx two table spoons blood temp water and two table spoons of witch hazel. Massage deep into affected fur and let dry. After a few days re apply. Do not get dog wet or sandy on days you apply mixture. After a few weeks the skin repairs and the itching stops almost completely . Use pure aloe Vera on short hair areas to use as after sun . It helps dog feel relieved.

Submitted by Kim Gerulatt | July 23 2014 |

What is the name of the product you gave your dog for itching?

Submitted by Pat | August 17 2013 |

I have a cat who lost nearly all his fur. after allergy testing he was allergic to 72 irritants, pollen carpets etc etc. The vet put him on a steroid injection once aa month, and it worked 100% all his fur grew back and he stopped itching.

Submitted by T Laye | December 11 2013 |

Hi Pat, I saw your message about your cat, and was wondering if he/she put on weight with the steroid treatment once a month. I have a jack rusell cross cairn terrier, he started to loose his fur round his back when he was two years old,it was only in the months of November to January,but he put on weight so the vet stopped the steroids,but now he has a problem of sitting on his bottom and turning round, and round,and rolling on his back to stop the itching,he is on antibiotics now, along with steroid tablets, I read in one comment that some one had a dog on steroids but it caused cushings and kidney failure, did your vet tell you any thing about this, thank you for taking the time to read this, it is I am just curios as why my dog does not respond to any treatment, Tricia.

Submitted by Jenna | December 16 2013 |

I have a jack Russell that used to be on steroids and since they are not good to stay on long term the vet switched him to Atopica. This education has been a life saver, he now has all his hair back, is less itchy and is on a much safer long term medication for him allergies. He also eats grain free foods. We discovered his allergies at 2 years old and tried everything from daily allergy shots to daily steroids. He's been on Atopica for about 6 years now and is doing great. The winters are harder on him so I increase his dosage to daily but in the summer can get away with a pill every other day.

Submitted by Sharon Rexrode | June 3 2014 |

Please tell me how you get your Jack Russell to take Atopica. My ShihTzu was prescribed Atopica but the capsule is so large I can't get it in her....she finds a way to spit it out! Do you have any suggestions? Thanks, Sharon

Submitted by Mandy | June 26 2014 |

I have a toy Chihuahua and a Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix myself. The JR/C takes her meds like a champ but the Chi has to be tricked and forced lol. Try crushing the pill and mixing it into peanut butter-the kind with the honey is so sweet that it seems to cover the bitter pill taste. You could also get a medicine syringe and dissolve the pill in some water or liquid "puppy-nol" (aspirin) and use the syringe to administer the meds. Lol I swear it's just like when my daughters were little!

Submitted by Sharmeen | August 19 2014 |

Never give your dog atopia it's very dangerous read about it before you do this it's not good

Submitted by Mandy | June 26 2014 |

I have 2 "girls" (aka my dogters, lame I know!) They are about a year and a half apart in age and the oldest is almost 5, a toy Chihuahua. My youngest, the Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix, tends to suffer from itching and hair loss from eating dry dog food, but once we put them on the raw meat/chicken/natural foods diet her hair came back and was so soft and shiny.
Now all of a sudden both girls are itching like crazy. Flea season wasn't under way yet before I began flea control, and I did miss a month with it but neither dog has a single flea to be seen. I started the needs back up anyways to no avail, ac vinegar didn't work, nor did dandruff or oatmeal shampoo. I see tiny black specs on their tummies and inner thighs and thought it was scabs, tho it looks more like TN chiggers here in MI. Generic benadryl barely soothes the scratching for long at all, and since it's both girls I know it's not just food allergies. The youngest odds also suffering GI upset (if u catch my meaning) even though she's diligent about eating her grass every time she goes out.
I'm at a very frustrated and anxious loss for what to do or try now, these are my babies and I can't stand seeing them suffer. Please help!

Submitted by Gary | November 12 2013 |

Hello. My 13 year corgi. Was about to iche a hole on her stomach. I read about this on the net. Red apple cider and a washcloth. I put both in a ziplock bag. I sqeezed the washcloth as i pulled it out of the ziplock and dabbed it all over her stomach. That and 2 benadril. Worked fast and she was happy If the dog has sores delute it with water. Good luck. Let me know. !!!!!!!

Submitted by L. Newman | November 19 2013 |

Wow, your Diesel sounds just like our Tango. I know it's been over a year since you posted your comment, but your story sounds so much like ours. Tango, out four year old Australian cattle dog mix has suffered with allergies for about three years now. We do Benadryl, but it doesn't make too much of a difference. Steroids (like Temaril and Prednisone) helped tremendously, but they aren't safe in the long term (and the excessive peeing was very difficult to live with - several times in the middle of the night, poor guy, we're talking full on sprints to the back door and trickling pee along the way). We saw an allergist for a year who did testing and out us on a Tango-specific allergy shot routine. We gave him shots weekly for a year - no difference at all (and over $100 a month!). Poor Tango basically lives in a cone - like your Diesel, Tango licks, bites, and chews his paws so bad that he harms himself. He rips fur and skin from his paws (mostly the pads and nail beds) and tail so bad that we have to cone him constantly. We've tried holistic remedies, like reiki and acupuncture, fish oil, diluted apple cider vinegar (the natural stuff from the health food store) but nothing helps. He has dry, flaky skin that is somehow also greasy and smells faintly like yeast. We bathe him weekly with room temp water and have tried all different special shampoos. Tango eats Wellness brand dry ocean fish formula food (all natural, no grains). We do behavioral training too because we think part of it has become Tango's obsession. I am so hoping that in the year since you posted about Diesel that you have found something, anything that has offered you pup (and your family!) some relief.

Submitted by Mary Bean | December 31 2013 |

Have you tried feeding grass fed meat and organic fruits and vegetables? You have to do some research to include everything your dog needs. Our dog appears to have food and environmental allergies and we'll start shots next month for an extreme dust mite allergy. I hope it works better than the shot regimen you tried with your dog. I sympathize with you as it's incredibly painful to watch your dog suffering like this. I've been bathing our dog with Dermagic shampoo and it seems to help relieve some of the itching. The Dermagic lotion and salve is very good for spot applications to feet and raw areas. However, it makes everything in your house smell like sulphur. We put up with it to see our dog happier. When Lexi was chewing her feet raw I would do iodine soaks. I would put enough water in a pan in the sink (she's a Yorkie) to cover her feet then squirt in enough iodine (povidone iodine 10%) into the water to make it look like ice tea. I'd set her in, making sure her feet were covered then massage the iodine water into her feet for a few minutes. I didn't rinse her feet after, just towel dried. It will stain the fur and you have to be careful not to get it hear the dog's eyes or mouth. I did it three times a day when Lexi's feet were bad. It helped immensely! You can do some online research on the iodine. I also purchased a bottle of Vetericyn spray gel which seems to give some relief when the itching gets bad. Our Lexi does a lot of face scratching and that is the tough one for us. What to apply to her face so close to her mouth and eyes? Non alcohol witch hazel seems to help some. These are all just suggestions. Ask your vet if any of these ideas could help your dog.

Submitted by Gwen | January 9 2014 |

We had the same issue. If it smells like yeast, it is a systemic yeast infection. Meds for 2 weeks and cleared up.

Submitted by chenoa | May 10 2014 |

Try raw food, there is a brand called steves raw food and it works wonders it not cheap but well worth the price

Submitted by Nancy | May 14 2014 |

My American Eskimo had the same problem. She had an autoimmune deficiency. Also mites in the hair follicles in her feet that continued to multiply unlike most dogs. We live in Florida also I think a lot of the problem started from flea dermatitis. She was extremely allergic to fleas. Not only did I give her the flea medication, but had to spray the yard and inside of the house regularly. Avoid prescriptions such as steroids, because they caused her to have serious medical problems internally. I lost her at age 12. Still feel guilty.

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