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Has your dog got itchy skin? How to stop them scratching

October 30, 2020

Have you noticed that your dog is scratching more than normal? In this guide, Lynsey Butler from Angell Petco talks about the reasons why dogs get itchy skin, and how a change in diet can help to address the problem. This is a sponsored post. 

Now and then, you’ll notice your dog scratching. Dogs often use their feet and claws, but you might also notice them licking or nibbling their fur with their teeth if they’ve got an itch that’s annoying them.

Most of the time, this is not a cause for concern. Scratching is part of normal dog behaviour and often is the result of unprovoked urges to itch. However, if your dog is itching excessively – or they’ve started to itch compulsively – it’s important to find out the root cause of their discomfort, so they don’t cause themselves any injuries. If dog’s break their skin while itching, the wounds could become infected, leading to further problems.

What makes dogs get itchy skin?

When a dog starts scratching  themselves, it’s often the result of natural, innate urges – everybody needs to have a good scratch from time to time. However, if the scratching becomes more persistent or compulsive, there are numerous factors that could be contributing to this behaviour.

Check your dog over and look for patches of dry skin or red and irritated areas. These might indicate underlying medical conditions, such as bacterial or fungal infections or untreated allergies. It’s important to speak to your vet if your dog develops compulsive itching. They can advise you on the causes of your dog’s scratching and what to do about it.

Psychological conditions leading to excessive itching

While it may seem like the problem is with your dog’s skin, conditions such as boredom, anxiety or depression can lead your dog to excessive scratching, itching, biting and licking. If your dog isn’t walked enough or has experienced trauma in their past, they may exhibit physical responses to psychological upset.

Poor quality food and lack of nutrition

Some commercial pet foods don’t contain enough of the necessary nutrients – including Omega-3 and oils – to promote healthy skin and coats. Be sure to check the ingredients of your dog’s food and consider its nutritional value if your dog has dry, itchy skin and make sure you research how your dog’s food has been prepared before making a purchase. Heavily processed food may not retain as much nutritional value as freshly produced food.

Some dogs are sensitive or intolerant to some ingredients found in regular dog food, which can exacerbate their allergies. While they may be itching, other indicators of food sensitivities or intolerances might include loose stools (diarrhoea), flatulence and even sickness or vomiting.

Dog breeds that are prone to allergies

Some breeds are more prone to allergies than others, which will increase the likelihood of excessive itching. Breeds such as Bichon Frise, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Boxers and Retrievers are most likely to experience itchy skin due to their genetics. If you have one of these breeds, keep an eye out for compulsive itching, as this may be an indicator of your dog’s inherent likelihood to suffer from a multitude of skin conditions.

Environmental factors that contribute to itchy skin

Where a dog lives can also influence the amount they itch. If they’re regularly exposed to dry, dusty environments or areas with a high pollen count, they’re more likely to have allergic reactions or experience irritation as a result of their surroundings. If they’re not groomed regularly, their itching can become much worse over time.

Skin conditions and diseases

Some dogs develop a skin irritation called contact dermatitis, which can cause itching if they come into contact with substances like pesticides or soap. If your dog appears to be itching more vigorously and more often, think about the chemicals that are in the cleaning products you use around your home or your perfume, as these can all irritate  your dog’s skin.

What to do if your dog has itchy skin

1. Improve your dog’s diet

Consider changing your dog’s food. Conduct food elimination trials and take note of specific ingredients that could be causing your dog to become uncomfortable or unwell. While your dog may have an intolerance for life, you can manage what food they’re given to help improve their quality of life. Fish-based dog food contains high levels of Omega-3 and other nutrients essential for maintaining healthy skin and a glossy coat, so this might be a good option if your dog is struggling with dry skin. 

2. Use supplements to promote a healthy coat

Supplements such as salmon oil and other fish oils can make a significant difference to your dog’s wellbeing. It can both address the cause of your dog’s discomfort and manage their symptoms. 

Simply adding a few drops to their food can promote healthy skin and a silky coat. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are two compounds found in fish oil. Both have anti-inflammatory effects, reducing the likelihood of irritation by protecting a dog’s coat and moisturising their skin.

3. Control your dog’s environment

Is there a particularly dusty section on  your dog’s daily walks? Try avoiding these areas by taking them on a different route to minimise your dog’s exposure to irritant-filled locations. If you usually take your dog on a nature-filled walk, check the pollen count and consider taking them on an alternative route to avoid exposure to excess allergens.

4. Avoid using chemical filled soaps or shampoos

Bathing your dog will help remove any dust and pollen from their coats, but certain dog shampoos can irritate your dog’s skin. Using chemical-filled shampoos on your dog can lead to more discomfort and itching, leaving their skin further exposed to irritation from various irritants and allergens.

Bath your dog in warm (but not hot) water with no soap, being sure to groom their coats and dry them using a warm blower –– ensure that it doesn’t get too hot for your dog, as this will cause further irritation. If their symptoms persist, consider using a natural, moisturising shampoo free from chemicals to help promote a healthy coat.

Conclusion: how to treat your dog’s itchy skin

It’s not always obvious why your dog starts itching compulsively, so it’s best practice to speak to your vet so they can assess your dog’s health and wellbeing. They’ll be able to perform tests and diagnose underlying conditions, as well as help to provide solutions to your dog’s itchy skin. 

In the meantime, do things that will help your dog stay comfortable and healthy: 

  • Take them on nice walks
  • Give them nutritious, well-produced food that’s high in Omega-3
  • Use supplements – such as salmon oil – to promote healthy skin
  • Avoid the use of chemicals around the house as much as possible.

Lynsey Butler runs Angell Petco with her husband, Phil Butler. Their mission is to make dogs in the UK the world’s healthiest and happiest at the best possible price for their owners.