If your dog is constantly itching, nibbling and biting himself, rubbing his face along the floor, or anything in between, then this complete guide will help you solve the issue.
Itch in dogs is the third most likely reason for pet owners to see a vet. In fact, itchy dog owners are the top visitors of this site!
While dogs scratching themselves is a very common issue, the good news is it is easily treated without vets or powerful drugs, for the most part without any products at all!
We will discuss:
- What is Pruritus?
- What is Canine Atopic Dermatitis?
- How Much Scratching is Normal for a Dog?
- Symptoms of Itchy Dogs (and Their Owners!)
- Are Some Dogs More Prone to Itchy Skin Than Others?
- Why are There Black Spots on My Dog Itchy Skin
- What Causes Dogs to Itch?
- Top 8 Home Remedy Tips for Itchy Dogs
- Top 5 Natural Products for Itchy Dogs – My Recommendation
- Has Your Itchy Dog got a Stubborn Yeast Infection?!
- Frequently Asked Questions by Itchy Dogs Owners
So let’s get started…
What is Pruritus?
Pruritus is a medical term for Itching. Itching is a pesky side effect of an activated immune system. In this way, a recurringly itchy dog, certainly one outside of pollen season, should be viewed as a symptom of an inflamed dog.
When I see a dog with a terrible, recurring itch I see a little house on fire. The skin condition is the smoke coming out the windows and the itch is the smoke alarm screaming at us all is not well. Rather than focus on the smoke, we get the hose inside the burning house. That is the secret to our success.
What is Canine Atopic Dermatitis?
Canine Atopic Dermatitis (CAD) is a common diagnosis in dogs today. It is defined as a genetically predisposed inflammatory and itchy skin disease associated most commonly with an allergic response (IgE antibodies) to environmental allergens, be they food or plant or any other.
The problem we have with a CAD diagnosis in dogs is threefold:
- First off, CAD is on the march in dogs today. It is thought to have increased 2-3 fold over the last few decades in dogs, just as it has in humans. If it were simply a genetic mishap, this would not be case, as such diseases rarely peak or trough (as it requires selective breeding).
- CAD is a term used by vets today when they are not sure what is causing your dogs itch. Any mention of “genetic” can stop people looking for the cause for the dog scratching and set the poor animal up for monthly medical treatments and “prescription” dry foods for as long as his kidneys can take it.
- Among the most common causes of canine allergic dermatitis, apparently, are environmental allergens such as flea and mite allergy as well as inhalant or contact allergies to pollen or dust. However, if this was a true allergy (a genetic flaw that cannot be fixed in the patient) to these contaminants, we would not be able to rectify them in your pet with a simple change in diet and some natural additions…but we can. This tells us it was another kind of sensitivity, one that popped up for a reason and one we can thus we can hopefully put back in the box.
- We know it’s largely caused by dry food.
How Much Scratching is Normal for a Dog?
Every dog scratches now and again. Who doesn’t love a good scratch? Ask any man with a beard, having a good scratch is near vital at times. How much scratching is normal for your dog is the question.
An occasional scratch might happen once or twice a day. It won’t go on for long and normally involves a hind leg behind the ears or the likes. They can make a little contended groad noise now and again “oommmffff” as he hits the spot. All very normal.
What is not normal is a dog scratching incessantly all the time. Nor is any sort of damage to the skin. This includes a reddening of the skin, lacerations, blood or hair loss. If he whimpers or whines when he does it, this is surely an indicator it may be uncomfortable for him. Any of these scenarios indicate you need to take action.
[A video showing a dog with the issue would have been much helpful. Or at least an image that shows how red their skin becomes for constant scratching]
Symptoms of Itchy Dogs (and Their Owners!)
Let’s see if this list of symptoms describes you and your dog right now:
- you’re the owner of a pedigree or white-coated dog.
- he is constantly scratching.
- he might have a big red stomach and if allowed to develop he may have some lesions or hair loss.
- his skin might even be turning black from the damage he is doing to himself.
- he’s restless.
- he’s at his ears or nibbling his toes and it’s often accompanied by weepy eyes and nose.
- his issues began on a cereal-based dry food though you have now tried a variety of brands, possibly even ending up on an obscenely expensive prescription diet from the vets, maybe even making the leap to raw dog food, but all to no avail.
- you have spent an absolute fortune and are no closer to an answer from your vet on how to stop your dog scratching himself raw.
- you feel incredibly frustrated that you can’t help your little buddy who now seems worse than ever.
- the only things that seem to work for an itchy dog are the incredibly powerful, very expensive but seemingly effective steroids and NSAID treatments such as Apoquel or cytopoint injection, which you seem to be needing more and more of these days.
Are Some Dogs More Prone to Itchy Skin Than Others?
Any dog can be affected by chronic itch. However, veterinary reports reveal the same breeds of dogs are turning up with chronic itch more often than others. While some of these are a numbers game (there are more golden retrievers in the US than any other dog, so they dominate many health lists) it’s fact that white coated breeds are over-represented.
For instance, westies and Bijons and white coated poodles, shepherds or boxers tend to suffer chronic itch more than the others (perhaps indicative of the tight genetic bottle necks they have gone through).
Still, it seems the breeds more prone to itchy skin are:
- West Highland White Terriers (very sensitive to wheat gluten)
- Red setters (the coeliacs of the dog family)
- Golden and Labrador Retrievers (the fairer the coat the more they are affected)
- Lhasa Apsos
Why are There Black Spots on My Dog Itchy Skin
If your dog has been itching constantly, you might find some of his skin turning black. This is easiest spotted in white coated breeds. This is called pruritus-induced hyperpigmentation. It is a natural process where repetitively damaged skin is pumped full of melanin. It can be all over the body or in small patches.
What Causes Dogs to Itch?
The most common causes of dogs’ itchiness include food allergies (or, more correctly, food “sensitivities” as most reactions are not true food allergies), followed by flea allergy dermatitis, seasonal allergies and contact dermatitis (for example soaps and perfumes).
As opposed to a vague diagnosis of “atopic dermatitis” which may result in the poor dog being on immune supressants for the rest of his life, you want to know what is causing my dog to scratch. If you can identify that, you stop your dog itching. Simple.
We do not recommend you conduct allergy tests to determine this, at least not at first. These tests suffer issues and are very far from accurate, even the blood tests. Studies show if a protien is on the list it may be as little as 20% accurate. It’s slighlty better if it’s NOT on the list (up to 80%) but even then, we want definites if a normal life is the aim (saliva tests etc are not recommended).
The most common causes of itch in dogs are:
1. Dry, Ultra-processed Pet Food is the Chief Suspect for Most Itchy Dogs
We get a LOT of itchy dogs at Dogs First so we can with some confidence say that the number one cause of itchy dogs is the wrong food. The problem is studies show dry food is highly inflammatory and has many issues including:
- It contains highly antigenic ultra-processed proteins,
- contains poor quality fast,
- is chemically preserved
We’ve already described why dry food fuels itch in dogs.
Hence, in our experience, simply cutting out the kibble and moving your dog to a simple raw dog food diet, resolves much of the stubborn itch in dogs. It’s certainly the first and easiest place to look.
Think of a man with a peanut allergy that unfortunately loves peanuts. He eats peanuts every day but takes a cocktail of steroids to fight the side effects he would have experienced. Sound smart?!
2. Parasites (fleas etc) are Another Common Cause of Dog Itchiness
Parasites seem to be one of the less likely reasons your dog is scratching but, just to reiterate, a flea, mite, sand fly infestation will be really itchy. We do not recommend nasty chemical preventatives for fleas, ticks or worms, for all the reasons in these articles (unless you walk in an area very prone to ticks and even then I would go natural first), largely as dogs rarely get these parasites.
Like head lice in kids, you should treat it only when found. Blindly using unnecessary chemical parasite control can actually make itchy dogs worse by exasperating an already depleted immune system. Look at the label in the box that states “do not come into contact with skin” why would we consider putting this on our itchy dog?
Top 8 Home Remedy Tips for Itchy Dogs
I recommend natural and home remedies for itchy dogs over chemicals. Here are my tips:
1. Feed Omega 3’s
Fish oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory of the skin. High in omega 3, it should always be given to itchy dogs if not all dogs every day. Studies show fish oil is effective at reducing the steroid need of dogs suffering atopic itch.
The very best way to get this into your dog is in the whole sardine form. Ring a few fish mongers, pick up a kilo, feed whole from frozen. Excellent food for itchy dogs.
The best source of omega 3’s for itchy dogs currently are the”enhanced” or refined fish oil capsules from smaller oily fish, something like Arazo concentrated fish oil capsules. You get a lot of EPA & DHA for your buck meaning you need much less. These ones cost around $0.30 per capsule.Another option is krill oil for your itchy dog. Folk worry about the whales but that grossly misunderstands how much of this stuff there is out there. It works out around $0.30 per capsule also but is not as high as the Arazo product.
2. Make Golden Turmeric Paste at Home: Incredible Anti-inflammatory for our Itchy Dog
Probably the strongest homemade anti-inflammatories out there for itchy dogs is Golden Turmeric Paste. It’s a wonderfully effective and easy-to-make treatment that comes with a lot of solid science behind the active ingredient curcumin.
Simply cook up some turmeric in good quality coconut oil with some ground black pepper and add it to their food.
Careful – it’s so effective for dog scratching it can clash with any other anti-inflammatories the itchy dog might be on. Use one or the other (recommend the natural!).
3. Nettle is a Simple, Cheap, Natural Solution
If you find your itchy dog and dog scratching allergies are worse during the summer months then your dog could be suffering seasonal allergies. A move to raw will certainly help your dog itching like crazy but nettle might be needed in this situation.
Studies show that when taken orally, an extract made of common garden nettle can inhibit several key inflammatory events that cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies in an itchy dog, such as reducing histamine activity (part of the immune reaction that makes you itchy and why you might take anti-histamine) as well as the inhibition of mast cell tryptase which prevents the release of a variety of pro-inflammatory mediators that cause the symptoms of hay fevers (Roschek et al. 2009).
In fact, nettle can also inhibit prostaglandin formation (this is what Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs dowhat, your vet didn’t tell you?!). A 2013 study found that nettle extract is more effective than a host of other traditional tinctures in easing inflammatory disorders.If you have them, I highly recommend you make up some “nettle cubes” for your itchy dog. Mix it well into their food. Here’s how to harvest and make nettle cubes for your dog.
4. Try This Homemade Anti-itch Spray for Instant Releif
Check out this fantastic homemade spray for an itchy dog made from apple cider vinegar and green tea. It’s easy to make, keeps in the fridge and is pretty effective for dog scratching.
In fact, apple cider vinegar can be added to their food in small amounts. Many testify to its uses for recurring itchy dogs, something to do with the life in their guts, which you will learn about later.
5. A Calendula Rub Soothes an Itchy Dog and Repairs Skin Lesions
Another great natural addition for an itchy dog is Calendula oil. Strongly supported by the science, it’s not only a potent anti-inflammatory of the skin but is antibacterial and antifungal, sorting out many potential issues that may be developing on his damaged skin.
You simply rub it on. You can try this cheaply with a good quality calendula tea bag or two in a mug of hot water (allow it to cool, obviously). But better still you get the actual oil. Available in your local health store or find pure calendula oil here on Amazon.
6. Allergens can be Removed with a Simple Wipe of the Face After a Walk for an Itchy Dog
While the majority of itchy dogs are a result of food sensitivity, seasonal allergies can be a problem. Bathing the dog’s feet (if it’s his feet that are at him) after a walk on grass might help to remove the antigens causing the itchy dog.
Many dog owners have reported success in reducing problems from contact allergens by wiping nosey faces down after a walk with a wet towel.
Maybe put some of the anti-itch spray on it or simply add some green tea and chamomile tea bags to the water before wiping.
7. Try Some Salt Therapy
I know, sounds crazy, but recently I’ve had some success with salt therapy. It’s a really simple process where you offer the dog 4 different waters, 3 of which contain a little high-quality salt, the fourth is plain, distilled water. You allow the dog to choose.
It’s a fascinating process, based on an unbalance of electrolytes, your itchy dog will sniff out what he needs. There’s been a lot of good news stories about it. You’ve nothing to lose by trying it yourself! More here on our Facebook page!
8. Aloe Vera for Dog Scratching?
Aloe vera contains enzymes which help to heal itchy dogs and reduce inflammation. It also contains:
- Saponins for cleansing
- Vitamins A, C and E
- Vitamin B12, choline and folic acid
- 20 amino acids to include 8 essential amino acids for itchy dogs
Aloe Vera barbadenis is the most common and safe plant to use but should not be used for pregnant or lactating bitches. Also, folks make sure it is 100% organic and has no added ingredients.
This incredible plant is certainly worth looking at for your itchy dog and its benefits may allow the body to heal inside and out as it is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic amongst many other things.
Top 5 Natural Products for Itchy Dogs – My Recommendation
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we need a little something we can’t make ourselves. To this extent, after 15 years of treating itchy dogs, here are our best tips for natural products that might help with the itch:
You can turn the homemade anti-itch spray above into a shampoo by mixing it with some pure, organic castile liquid soap (mix in the ratio 1 for 1, available in all healthy stores) and give them a nice, cooling bath. I’d add chamomile and lavender essential oil to it at this point (also from a local health store) as they’re so effective at soothing an itchy dog.
There are also lots of natural soap-type products that might help alleviate itchy dogs. They’re popping up all the time, try your local pet store for one. They’re always based on the same principles, the same anti-inflammatory herbs, sometimes oats and are always high in sulphur, which is great for itchy skin.
There are a variety of cheap, natural products you might consider. I would go for any natural looking soap with sulphur in it. I found these on Amazon. Sulphur is magic for itchy dogs and troubled skin.
Quercetin is a naturally-occurring polyphenol flavonoid (antioxidant) found in a range of plant produce including apples, onions and broccoli. When isolated and replicated by the mad scientists, studies show quercetin is effective at reducing the symptoms of “allergy” by inhibiting histamine production and pro-inflammatory mediators.
When you go looking for Quercetin, you will often find it coupled up with Bromelain. Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple flesh. Like Quercetin, when isolated and replicated, studies show this compound is effective at reducing the signs of swelling and inflammation. A study of mice shows it reduces allergic sensitisation.
Dose according to body size. Find them here on Amazon
3. Canine probiotics for an itchy dog
Canine probiotics is a fascinating subject. We have a staggering 1.5kg of life in our guts and treating them right is central to our health. We are only now starting to realise how important the life in our guts actually is to us and our skin. For instance, ten years ago we found that probiotics can reduce eczema in kids.
Dry fed dogs are living on a highly processed food substrate, one that is so heavily preserved with chemicals that even mould won’t grow on it after years exposed to the elementis. All these chemicals wash over the dogs delicate gut flora, naplaming them too in the process. Furthermore, not a single bit of fresh food do these dogs receive, so there is little hope in recouperation.
We recommend dogs be given human probiotics (available in your local health store or find BioKult online) as the dog kind and human kind, it turns out, are virtually identical, only the human ones are often cheaper and better.
4. What about human antihistamine for an itchy dog?
If your itchy dog is suffering some form of seasonal pollen allergy (most prevalent between May-September) and the nettle tip above didn’t work (natural antihistamine) then human antihistamines might take the edge off dog itching. Zyrtec or Piriton for humans works well for super itchy dogs and is much cheaper. Remember to dose according to body size.
While they are worth a go, it’s important to note that the press is not good on using these long term in your itchy dog. I would use them only as a last resort if my itchy dog was desperately uncomfortable while I set about re-examining the diet and adding omega 3’s, probiotics etc.
5. MCT Oil
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s) are isolated from coconut oil. They are digested differently to other fats.
- Coconut oil, which contains numerous MCTs, has been shown in an older in-vitro study to reduce the growth of Candida albicans by 25%. This is a common yeast that can cause various skin infections.
- Coconut oil’s ability to reduce yeast and bacterial growth may be due to the caprylic, capric, and lauric acid in MCTs.
- MCTs themselves have also been shown to suppress the growth of widespread infectious fungus in hospitals by up to 50%.
- MCTs are also antimicrobial and antibacterial and can even lower blood sugar levels.
However, note that most of the research on MCTs and immune support has been conducted via in-vitro or animal studies. High-quality human studies are needed before stronger conclusions can be made.
Research suggests that MCT oil may help ease or even prevent inflammatory responses through substances secreted by cells called cytokines. MCT oil was shown to boost the number of anti-inflammatory cytokines while lowering the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Is CBD Oil Good for Dog’s Itchy Skin?
The jury is out if CDB is good for itchy dogs. While there is a lot of peer reviewed evidence that CBD is effective for many conditions in humans and dog (check out our extensive article on this amazing product), the evidence for itch relief is scant. In fact, I can’t really find anything. As it’s so pricey, I think you have better options above to try first.
Has Your Itchy Dog got a Stubborn Yeast Infection?!
Itchy dogs suffer from yeast blooms just like humans. Yeast infections often pop up in warm and moist areas such as ear flaps, between well-licked toes or vaginal areas. You’ll know it’s yeast by the smell which is a horrible, rank cheesy smell. Lovely!
Yeast issues can result after a course of antibiotics but most likely from a diet high in carbs (most dry food). Yeast loves sugar and needs it to live. Dry and canned pet food is packed full of carbs (a.k.a. starch), which is one simple digestive step from being pure sugar to the body.
Carnivores such as dogs do not need any carbs whatsoever in their diet. It’s thought that when dogs are fed dry diets of 50-60% carbs (sugar), yeast issues can ensue and it makes for super itchy dogs big time.
Best Advice for Yeast Issues in Itchy Dogs
- Step 1 is starving the yeast infection by removing all the carb-based products and feeding a simple raw dog food diet, to your itchy dog, one that is void of fruit and sweet veg like carrots and potatoes etc.
Step 2 is following a careful procedure that involves two weeks on Grapefruit Seed Extract and then two weeks on apple cider vinegar. More on yeast in dogs here.
Frequently Asked Questions by Itchy Dogs Owners
1. Why Do Dogs Itch Their Face?
Constantly nibbling his feet or rubbing is face off the ground or furniture, particularly after dinner, can suggest something he has just eaten is not right.
2. Why Do Dogs Nibble Their Paws?
If he’s at his feet after a walk only, that indicates it’s a contact allergen – something he encountered on his walk is now irritating his feet. This can range from fresh-cut grass to pollens to outdoor chemicals or road salt.
However, if he is nibbling his feet throughout the day, nothing to do with his walk, it indicates a food intolerance, often to gluten in fact.
3. Why Does My Dog Have an Itchy Ear?
There are many causes of sore, itched ears in dogs. If his issues are entirely located in the ear and nowhere else, we recommend you read our itchy dog ear article first where we provide a number of natural solutions, depending on the exact issue.
4. Why Does My Dog Have Itchy Eyes?
As with itchy ears in dogs, there are a number of reasons your dogs’ eyes may be itchy. If their issues are entirely located in the eyes and nowhere else, and it only occurs in Spring/Summer, it does suggest a seasonal allergy, much like hay fever in humans. For this, you should skip to our natural antihistamine article.
In the background, know that inflamed animals will suffer more seasonal allergies than others. To that end, ensure any dogs with itch eyes are fed fresh raw dog food (studies show dry dog food is inflammatory to dogs) and receive some nice natural anti-inflammatories (see above: omega 3’s, golden turmeric paste).
For all other eye conditions, we recommend you read our article on weepy eyes in dogs.
5. Why Does My Dog Have an Itchy Bottom?
There are two types of itching of the bum – one is the classic butt scoot along your carpet, usually when the neighbours are in for a glass of wine! This is the classic symptom of anal glands in dogs. We have a wonderful article here that will help resolve that issue for your.
The other type of itchy bottom, in the absence of any butt scooting, is your dog nibbling and licking at the area himself. This can sometimes indicate worms in dogs. Don’t worry, it can happen. No biggie. Here’s everything you need to know about deworming your dog naturally.
Conclusion: The Best Advice for Itchy Dogs
- Dump all processed food and treats. Feed your itchy dog a simple, raw diet.
- Conduct an exclusion diet to find out if it’s food related
- Make sure the itch doesn’t indicate something else (an ear or yeast infection, impacted anal glands, etc.)
- Before buying any products, try any one of our 8 home remedies for reducing itch in your dogs.
- If you still need help, check out our product recommendations.
Above all guys, I cannot highlight enough how important that first step is to an itchy dog (every dog in fact) should be moved to a fresh, biologically appropriate diet. All the rest, in my opinion, is window dressing.
Good luck with him!