July 31, 2020 5 min read

It can be very frustrating to have an itchy pet. Itchy animals will lick, chew, scratch, and shake themselves so often that it might keep both of you awake at night! In order to fix the itch, it is important to find the cause and remove it. Knowing the cause is the first step towards getting your dog some relief.   

Why Is My Dog Itching?

There are numerous causes for itching in dogs. Fleas are one of the most common and can be easily identifiable. If you see small black bugs moving and jumping on your dog, then you are likely seeing fleas. When they bite your dog, it can cause intense itching, and dogs with flea allergies can develop terrible skin infections from just one flea bite! 

If your dog is scratching a lot and chewing the fur over his lower back just above his tail, then he may have fleas. Ticks and mosquitoes are examples of other bugs that can cause itching when they bite.

Allergies are also one of the most common causes of itching. Dogs can have environmental and food allergies just like people. With food allergies, your dog may be itchy all over. This includes his ears, and you may notice your dog shake his head and scratch his ears very often if he has an ear infection. 

Dogs can be allergic to things in the environment like grass, pollen, weeds, and trees. This results in itching and inflammation in areas that contact these allergens. This is called eczema in people but is known as atopic dermatitis in dogs. Toxic plants like poison ivy and poison oak can also cause contact allergies.

Dogs that are stressed or anxious might lick their legs or their feet, but they might not actually be itchy. Licking can be a nervous habit, and it is important to find a cause for the dog’s anxiety because excessive licking can cause hair loss and infection.

How to Tell The Causes of Itching in Dogs 

Your veterinarian is the best person to help you determine the cause of your dog’s itching. When your vet performs a full physical exam, she may find signs of fleas or skin infection. If your dog is losing hair or has red, inflamed skin, then she may determine that your dog has a skin infection. If she finds hives, then your dog might be itching due to an allergic reaction. 

Your vet may also recommend testing to rule out mange (skin mites) or ringworm (a type of fungal infection), and in some cases, she may recommend allergy testing to look for environmental causes. 

If no cause is identified and your dog is chronically itchy, then a skin punch biopsy may be necessary. This test involves taking a small tissue sample from your dog’s skin which is then sent to a lab for analysis with a special microscope. Biopsies can help diagnose immune-mediated skin diseases like pemphigus.

How To Help Relieve Itching In Dogs 

Many of the treatments prescribed by your veterinarian can be very effective. Dogs with mild itching can benefit from antihistamines like Benadryl, and more intense itching can be managed with a newer medication called Apoquel, which targets one of the components of the immune system that causes itching. Apoquel has fewer side effects than steroid medications like prednisone, which your vet may prescribe in cases of severe itching and inflammation. However, long term use of steroids can be very dangerous and cause problems like Cushing’s disease and diabetes.

Your veterinarian may also recommend year-round flea prevention, especially if your dog has flea allergies. These products are available in topical and oral forms. Topical medications like sprays and shampoos are also effective for itching, inflammation, and infection. Ear infections are treated with topical medications and ear cleaning solutions that are placed directly in your dog’s ear canals.

If you cannot get to your veterinarian right away, then there are some things that you can do at home for your itchy dog.

1. Tea soaks

Chamomile and herbals teas are naturally soothing. Use several tea bags and allow them to steep in a tub of water for three to five minutes. Then, let your dog soak in the tub for five to ten minutes. You can also take one tea bag soaked in cool water and apply it directly to the itchy spot.

2. Apple cider vinegar and water spray

You can mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water in a bottle and then spray it onto the dry, itchy spot. Vinegar is a natural antiseptic but can be very stinging on open wounds. Therefore, do not use this spray on open or moist wounds.

3. Coconut oil

Coconut oil is used in many beauty products because of its antibacterial and moisturizing properties. Coconut oil for dogs can help if they have dry, itchy skin. If this is the case then he may benefit from having coconut oil applied directly to the itchy area. 

You only need to apply a thin amount, and it is safe if your dog accidentally licks some of it. However, your dog may have some gastrointestinal upset if he eats a large amount of it from the jar!

Coconut oil is good for dogs and can help aid your pets' digestion, improve their coats, help prevent infection and more. But please note, it is important to follow the proper guidelines. As with most things, too much of even a good thing can end up having negative effects.

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4. Oatmeal baths

Oatmeal baths for your dog are a safe way to help soothe dry, itchy skin but require at least ten to fifteen minutes of soaking for maximum results. Instead, you may consider using an oatmeal-containing shampoo for bathing your dog.

5. Aloe vera

Aloe vera for dogs is commonly used for itching and sunburns in humans. Topical aloe plant products for dogs are safe as long as they are alcohol-free, and many of the anti-itch shampoos that are available for dogs contain a combination of oatmeal and aloe. TheAloe vera plant, however, can be toxic for dogs and should be avoided. Ingesting parts of the plant may cause vomiting and diarrhea.

6. Baking soda

Baking soda for dogs can be used in a bath soak for itchy, dry skin. It can also be used in combination with oatmeal for bathing.

7. CBD oil

CBD oil is derived from the hemp plant and has a wide variety of uses in veterinary medicine. There is active research investigating how CBD oil for dogs can help pets with a numerous amount of health benefits such as seizures, anxiety, pain, and inflammation.

Since allergies and itching affect any number of inflammatory pathways in the body, CBD oil may be helpful for itchy pets. Dog owners can buy CBD in an oil form to be applied topically or put in food, it can also be bought as a CBD treat.

Itchy skin can be caused by many things, and not every method for relief will be effective unless the cause for itching is identified. Your veterinarian will be able to help you with diagnosing and treating your dog, and there are many methods for helping your dog’s itching at home. The sooner you find the cause, the sooner you can fix the itch, and then you and your furry friend will be able to sleep much better at night!  

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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