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This post about stopping my dog from itching was originally published in December 2014; it has been updated with new information. Please keep in mind that I'm not a veterinarian. If your dog is sick, call your vet STAT!
Whenever someone reaches out to me about a dog that won't stop itching, I groan because this is such a hard topic. There isn't an easy answer for everyone. All we can do is collect as much information as possible and pray that some of that information applies to our dog. So, this is my story.
My love of dogs started when I was a child. And my pet parent journey started nearly 11-1/2 years ago when we adopted a pair of littermates. Rodrigo and Sydney were itchy dogs and I was told that it was just part of being a dog – this was normal. Ummm, I don't think this is true and our first vet wasn't the right vet for me.
My dogs didn't have fleas, I thought the kibble I was feeding was top of the line, and I thought the shampoo I was using was great too. And while Sydney would itch a lot, Rodrigo would itch like crazy and lick his paws until they were red and sore.
I had to find a solution and I did. Spoiler Alert for those who don't have time to read this entire blog post, a big part of the solution was switching from kibble to raw.
Why Dogs Itch?
There are a lot of reasons why dogs might start itching. And I'm not referring to a random ear scratch or that fast nibbling on the tail that they do – I'm talking about itching that has me concerned because it's none stop. Here are a few causes…
- fleas and other biting insects
- dry skin
- food sensitivities
- environmental allergies
- mites (I haven't experienced mites – please contact your veterinarian)
- skin came into contact with an irritant
And this is the time that I remind you that I'm not a veterinarian. I'm a pet parent like you who is trying to figure out how to raise healthy, happy dogs. Read on…
How to Relieve Your Dog's Itchiness
I haven't experienced the list of causes noted above, but I have come into contact with five of them; five out of six ain't bad. I hope this helps you out.
Promoting Gut Health: Healthy Gut, Healthy Dog
First things first…what are you doing to promote your dog's gut health? If your answer is “nothing,” then this may be an effective first step. When Rodrigo was young, his gut was for crap. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back I can tie so many of his health issues to an unhealthy gut. Switching to raw dog food helped a lot because one of the many benefits of feed fresh food (raw, home-cooked, freeze-dried, dehydrated) is that it's fantastic for the gut. Fresh food is easy to digest, the nutrients are more bioavailable, and it's made with fresh, human-grade ingredients.
Today, I add the following foods to my dogs' diet that also support gut health:
- raw goat's milk
- fermented fish stock
- fermented vegetables
- fermented seeds
- pureed vegetables (a natural source of fiber)
- FullBucket digestive supplement
Not only did these foods help improve gut health, but they also decreased environmental allergies and food sensitivities. But there is a caveat about the fermented foods – they are higher in histamines and will aggravate allergies in some dogs. I used to ferment all of my veggie mixes, but now I only puree and I stick with fermented fish stock and kefir for Rodrigo's sake.
Repelling Fleas and Other Biting Insects
I'm one of those fortunate people who can use natural flea repellents successfully. I think it's because of where we live. I thought feeding raw would repel fleas but I have friends who feed raw and their summers rapidly turn into a flea-pocalypse. And they're forced to use the chemical repellents to give their dogs some relief.
There is a lot of judgment when it comes to using chemical flea repellents. We're all doing the best we can to raise healthy dogs and if I had a dog that was allergic to fleas (actually, it's the flea saliva that causes a reaction), and natural repellents didn't work, I'd be reaching for the Frontline.
That being said, this is what I'm using for my dogs…
- Kin+Kind Flea and Tick Repellent – very effective, smells great, all natural
- CocoTherapy Coconut Oil – I use to freshen their coat and – BONUS – coconut oil smoothers fleas
- AnimalEO Essential Oils – Away, Evict, and Oust all work to repel fleas and other biting insects
Other natural flea and tick repellents that I've used in the past are Wondercide and Cedarcide. Wondercide had an ingredient change a few years ago that got people all up in arms and that's when I started using Kin+Kind after reading so many positive reviews.
The only essential oils I use ON my dogs are from AnimalEO, which are formulated by Dr. Melissa Shelton. I also have her book on essential oils that is invaluable.
If Natural Flea Repellents Don't Work for You
If you've tried every natural flea repellent on the market and you're still jousting with these biting bastards, then I want to pass on advice that I received years ago that worked.
Use Less of the Frontline
At the time, we had three dogs, and a friend told me to split a Frontline tube between all three dogs instead of using three full tubes. She then said to use the natural repellents the rest of the time.
Protect Your Dog's Liver
And, thanks to years of reading about dog nutrition and health, I can confidently recommend the addition of milk thistle to the diet. Start adding it before you start using the chemical flea repellent (a couple of weeks prior) to help the liver stay strong as it clears the toxins from your dog's system.
Clearing Up Dry Skin in Dogs
Sydney used to have dry, flaky skin at times and I treated her skin internally and externally. This wasn't a serious health issue, so veterinary intervention wasn't necessary.
External Changes: Grooming Products
I started by changing the shampoo that I used, switching to something that was mild and natural. Today, I alternate between 4-Legger and Skout's Honor. Both brands offer several shampoos and coat conditioners. Skout's Honor also has a line of probiotic grooming products that are amazing. The following are the products I keep on hand:
- 4-Legger Unscented Shampoo – there are scented options too, but the scent is too strong for one of my dogs so I go with the unscented. 4-Legger also offers coat conditioners, including one with apple cider vinegar which is a conditioning coat rinse that soothes itchy skin.
- Skout's Honor carries an extensive line of grooming products including the probiotic line I mentioned above. I alternate between the honeysuckle, lavender, and the dog in the woods. All mild scents. I use both the shampoo and the deodorizing spray.
Kin+Kind, the brand that produces my favorite flea repellent, also offers grooming and household cleaning products.
Internal Changes: Diet and Supplementation
Yes, raw feeding helped us out here too. It's the Omega 3 fatty acids that really did the job for Sydney. When my dogs were eating kibble, I trusted that the kibble would give them everything they needed – it is “complete and balanced.” I didn't know about the sourcing and processing of commercial pet food – check out the documentary Pet Fooled to learn more about how pet food is made.
There are many great fish oils on the market, but I prefer to alternate between several fish options including canned sardines, fresh sardines, fresh mackerel, canned oysters, raw trout, and more. Omega 3 fatty acids not only support skin and coat health, but they also stimulate the body's anti-inflammatory response and more.
Curing Food Sensitivities
The combination of feeding my dogs a fresh food diet and focusing on promoting their gut health reduced the food sensitivities. Rodrigo had a long list of food sensitivities when I started feeding raw; today, the list has been narrowed down to chicken, turkey, and pheasant. He can eat these proteins if I cook them.
Prior to switching my dogs to raw, Rodrigo itched like crazy, had digestive issues, and recurring skin rashes and ear infections. A week after I switched Rodrigo to a raw food diet, his skin issues vanished and he's never had another ear infection.
Fresh food works.
Skin Came into Contact with Something
Dogs can be sensitive to common things in the home like laundry detergent, fabric sheets, air fresheners, or household cleaning products. Today, there are natural alternatives to many things that could irritate our dogs' skin:
- laundry detergent and fabric sheets – there are cleaner options on stores shelves nowadays
- air freshners – I diffuse essential oils from Plant Therapy; I also burn Pet House Candles.
- cleaning products – I mix water with vinegar; sometimes I add a few drops of essential oils to the mix
I've been lucky because my dogs haven't had any skin reactions to their environment.
If Your Dog is Still Itching
If after reading my story, you realize that you've done all of these things and your dog is still itching, then I suggest that you consider CBD oil and working with an integrative vet.
CBD Oil for Dogs
CBD oil works to reset the system, putting things back into proper working order. Rodrigo (senior dog) and Scout (cancer survivor) get CBD oil two to three times daily. I want it to always be working in their system. Zoey and Apollo get CBD oil once or twice daily for the same reasons; because they don't have any health challenges, I don't give as much CBD oil to them.
There are a few brands that I recommend, however, for skin issues, I recommend the following:
- CBD Dog Health HEAL – this is great for autoimmune disease and cancer
- CBD Dog Health EASE – this is great for allergies, arthritis, and joint pain
I follow the dosing instructions and then adjust based on what is working for each dog. The three best ways to give CBD oil to dogs are:
- put the CBD oil directly on their gums
- allow the dogs to lick the CBD oil from my palm
- apply the CBD oil to their ears (not into their ear canal)
CBD treats are great, but I don't find them to be effective when dealing with health issues. And I don't think that CBD oil works when added to food.
Why an Integrative Vet?
Yeah, I said integrative and not holistic – WHY???
I switched to an integrative vet several years ago and it was the best decision I've made. The clinic that sees my dogs uses both traditional and holistic medicine, which is important to me because I want to use the entire arsenal when it comes to caring for my dogs.
An integrative vet can work with you on diet, supplementation, environment, and more. There may be something going on with your dog that a diet change won't completely resolve. And if you're lucky enough to have a veterinarian who is also knowledgable about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), even better. A veterinarian who is knowledgeable about TCM can help with food energetics, which explains that various foods have different temperatures and they can cure or exacerbate a health issue.
What About Allergy Tests?
I find allergy tests interesting, but I'm not 100% convinced that they narrow down the allergens appropriately because, in my experience, if there is a food that's featured heavily in your dog's diet, then it may pop up as an issue. I tested Rodrigo using Glacier Peak Holistics and he tested positive for things that I knew he could eat with no problems. Despite the results, I still found the test informative, and the consultation to explain the results and answer questions was very beneficial.
Food Sensitivity Tests for Dogs:
- Pet Wellness Life Stress Scan (Glacier Peak Holistics) – $130
- Nutriscan by HemoPet (Dr. Jean Dodds) – $300
Have You Tried Air Purifiers
If the reason your dog is itchy is environmental, have you considered adding an air purifier to the home?
I purchased three air purifiers a few years ago and they turned out to be great investments. I began looking into them because my partner developed allergies within the past 5-7 years. And although my allergies (which I've had since childhood) were improving, they were still a pain in the spring and fall. However, this changed with the addition of air purifiers.
Not only do they suck allergens out of the air, they're also taking care of any toxins floating around too (or maybe the allergens ARE the toxins). So, we feel great and I believe that our dogs are benefiting from the improved indoor air quality too. And the house smells great, even during the rainy months. #NoWetDogSmell
If you've reached the end of this blog post and you don't see a viable solution, then it's time to contact your vet or seek a new vet for a second opinion.