The skin is the largest organ in your dog’s body, responsible for providing a natural barrier against harmful germs. As one of the first lines of defence against infection, it’s really important it stays healthy and intact. Did you know that dog skin is much thinner than ours? This makes them prone to skin conditions, so it comes as no surprise that skin troubles are one of the top reasons for a dog to visit the vet. Healthy dog skin is smooth (not scaly) and free of crusty areas or hot spots (places where the skin is red, moist and sore). The odd bit of scratching is perfectly normal but when a dog starts to scratch or lick excessively this signals an itchy or sensitive skin, which isn’t necessarily a skin-deep problem. Not only will the scratching drive your pooch round the twist, but it’s also distressing for owners to watch. Read on to find out more about itchy skin in dogs and how it can be treated.
What causes itchy skin in dogs?
Whilst itchy skin is sometimes a sign of an infestation of fleas, mites or ticks, it can also suggest an allergy. An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to certain things in the environment (known as ‘allergens’). The most common environmental allergens that can set off dog skin problems are fleabites (it’s the flea saliva they are allergic to), moulds, pollens, house dust, and irritating chemicals such as those found in flea collars, detergents or cleaning sprays.
If the itching is persistent and present all year round, your dog may have a sensitive stomach or be allergic to their diet. Grains and certain protein sources such as beef, chicken, wheat, corn, milk and eggs have all been known to cause an allergic reaction in dogs. Some dogs are allergic to multiple ingredients so it isn’t always easy to pinpoint the culprit.
Other causes of itchy skin include boredom or anxiety, which can lead to compulsive scratching or nibbling of the skin. Scratching can also be brought on by dehydrated skin in the winter months when homes are artificially heated and humidity is low. Insufficient omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in the diet can also lead to loss of skin hydration and condition.
Signs and symptoms of itchy skin in dogs
If your dog is scratching excessively, particularly around the tummy, hips and ears and they are pawing at their face or chewing their itchy paws, this is a sign they are experiencing skin irritation. Appearance of excessive dandruff (flaky skin) in their fur suggests dry and probably itchy skin too. Look out for areas of inflamed (red and sore) skin, scabs and bald patches. If the itching (and scratching) continues, your dog may break the skin and get an infection, resulting in a weeping and smelly wound that needs veterinary attention. Chronic itching can lead to darkening and thickening of the skin. In lighter coloured dogs, you may notice reddish-brown staining under their eyes or around their mouth, which are an indication of skin irritation.
How to treat symptoms of itchy skin in dogs
So let’s assume your dog is tick, mite and flea-free but they’re still scratching like mad: what next? The good news is that there will be a solution. Don’t be tempted to over-do the shampoo treatments - too much scrubbing with harsh chemicals can strip their skin of sebum, the natural protective oil that keeps their skin supple. Once you have ruled out scenarios such as a change in washing powder or exposure of your dog to a field full of pollen they’ve not experienced before, take them along to your vet who will investigate the root of their troublesome tickling. They will want to know details of their diet, their environment and daily routine to give them as much information as possible to get to the bottom of the problem. If it turns out that the diet is making their skin crawl, switching to a natural diet made from limited ingredients can help. Some dogs are sensitive to grains in their diet: these can set off an inflammatory reaction, triggering itchy and sore skin so it may be worth steering clear of grains too. So what can you feed to your sensitive dog?
At Pure Pet Food, we are proud to say that our ingredients lists are natural and very, very short. We don’t use chemical preservatives, fillers or additives of any kind so you won’t find any nasties lurking in our meals. With minimal processing involved before it hits the dog dish, our food is packed full of honest goodness. It’s like a homemade diet without all the trouble because we’ve prepared it for you, complete with a guarantee that it’s nutritionally complete and balanced. And just to mention, our diets are grain-free, taste really good and are rich in skin-pampering nutrients such as omega-3, omega-6 and zinc. Try our Turkey Terrific, Duck Delight or Chicken Dinner recipes and see if they soothe your dog’s sensitive skin. Remember that it can take a couple of weeks for the new diet to start taking effect.
Want a bit of instant relief for your dog’s itchy skin? Coconut oil works wonders - rub a very small amount between your hands and apply to the fur, massaging down into the skin. It’s perfectly safe so if your dog has a little lick of it, there’s no need to worry. Packed with beneficial fatty acids and vitamin E, coconut oil is known for its ability to soothe and moisturise inflamed dry skin. For a tasty treatment, try our Meaty Sweetie treats containing coconut oil to nourish and hydrate that flaky skin.
Other dogs’ stories
We’ve received some great feedback from dog owners who’ve relieved the frustrations of their fidgeting friends, thanks to our diets. From being driven mad by perpetual scratching and licking to being comfortable in their own skin, these dogs have benefitted from our simple and natural recipes. Discover our Success Stories for yourself and see how others have dealt with their itchy dog.