With warmer weather creeping in, you might find your dog itching more often. There are many causes of a dog's itchy skin, but each one should require that you rule out other conditions before starting a particular treatment.
Nothing makes you more frustrated than seeing your pet uncomfortable, so soothing your dog's itchy skin takes priority. The two main things that give a dog itchy skin are pests and allergies, both of which can be seasonal. Need help diagnosing him? Schedule an exam with your veterinarian. Even if your dog's itching seems minor, you'll want to make sure you're on the right track and using safe products to curb his discomfort.
Fleas and Ticks
Once you notice your dog itching, check for fleas and ticks first. These blood-dependent pests use dogs as hosts all the time, and can latch on anywhere. Ticks can go unnoticed for some time until they become fully engorged and large enough for you to spot and remove. Keep in mind these irritating insects can and do carry a variety of dangerous diseases, so it's important to check for them during tick season and any time your dog enters a potentially infested area (anywhere outside, mind you).
Fleas are less dangerous but just as uncomfortable. Infestations of this kind can cause severe itching and skin reactions, sometimes requiring veterinary care. Certain dogs can have allergic reactions to flea bites that cause very painful hot spots, hair loss, swelling, and even infection. Spotting them is sometimes easier than ticks if you check regularly, but in long-coated and dark-colored dogs you might need some extra help. Brush through your dog's coat with a clean flea comb to be sure if you're dealing with a flea occupation. Flea dirt can be spotted on your dog or in his most common resting areas such as beds and crates. If you give your dog a bath and notice a reddish brown color in the water, fleas are almost always the cause.
Checking your dog for fleas and ticks is not just a benefit to him, but it can also benefit you and your family. Fleas especially can migrate hosts and infest your whole house. As much as you don't want your dog to be itchy, you don't want you or your family feeling the same effects. It can also be a good idea to check yourself or your children for fleas or ticks after an outdoor excursion for your own health, but also to avoid them spreading to your pup too.
The best treatment for fleas and ticks is prevention. Because these pests can be so uncomfortable–and dangerous–it's recommended that flea and tick preventatives are used as frequently as your vet recommends. Keeping these pests away is much easier than trying to clear up an infestation that already exists, and it'll keep you and your dog more comfortable in the long run. Be sure to check with your vet to make sure any medicated shampoos and preventatives are the right dosage and are safe for him to receive as well. There are many options available when choosing pest prevention–topical medication, flea and tick collars, sprays, as well as long-lasting shampoos. And if you do find fleas and ticks on your pup, call your vet immediately for treatment recommendations and be sure to wash your dog's bedding, as well.
Just like people, dogs can be allergic to just about anything. If you don't find any fleas or ticks and your dog still has itchy skin, you might be dealing with an allergy of some sort. Before you start any treatment, it's best to check with your vet to rule out what your dog might be allergic to. Food allergies, however, are one of the rarer allergies among dogs.
Finding the Culprit
Food allergies, while rare, do happen and elimination foods can prove necessary to find out what ingredient(s) your dog is allergic to. You can work with your vet to do novel or hydrolyzed protein food trials to evaluate for food allergies and to make sure you avoid the trigger protein but also that your dog is being served proper nutrition. Over the counter limited ingredient foods may not have the quality control to avoid cross-contamination of ingredients, so you and your vet may want to choose a limited antigen therapeutic food that is consistent with the needs of your furry companion.
If your dog is still itching, but he doesn't have fleas or a food allergy, he may have some environmental allergies to things like pollen or dander. A nutrition change may not do much in the way of relief, but your veterinarian may recommend a therapeutic food to improve your dog's skin health. And your vet will have the best suggestions when confronting environmental allergens.
Depending on the severity of your dog's itchiness, treatment can range from minor to extensive, going beyond just one method. Simple oral medication might be ideal during the worst parts of the year, along with regular grooming. Desensitization "allergy injections" may help a percentage of dogs. Of course, steroid injections and stronger medications are suggested if your dog's itching persists. Regardless of the cause, you'll want to seek your vet's assessment before taking matters into your own hands.
Protecting Your Pooch
Eliminating the source of environmental allergies can be extremely difficult, but not impossible. Dogs need to go outside and exercise, though, so keeping them away from pollen completely just isn't practical. For dogs with itchy skin, wiping down or washing their feet and underbelly after going outside to do their business is a great way to reduce irritation. If your dog has been out playing all day, consider giving him an entire, full-body bath. There are numerous shampoos, conditioners, and even medicated wipes that are designed specifically to remove pollen and reduce the irritation it brings. Keep in mind, however, that too many baths can backfire, causing your dog to have dry, itchy skin that needs its own relief.
Visit Your Vet
There are many reasons your dog might be itching, but the two most common ailments are pests and allergies. Regardless of the reason, seek veterinary attention right when you notice your dog itching. Don't give any medications prior to your vet's examination and instruction. Although the treatment might be quick and simple, the last thing you want is to make a serious decision that causes its own adverse reaction. Whereas fleas and ticks are best treated with prevention (which can be purchased in a variety of forms), food allergies are treated with limited-ingredient foods to eradicate the offending ingredient. Environmental allergies are tougher to treat, but can be easily managed with diligence and expert advice from your veterinarian.
At the end of the day, keeping your dog clean and limiting his exposure to outside allergens is essential in keeping your dog's itchy skin at bay. Even if your dog's condition has gotten extreme, there's nothing a little tender loving care and veterinary treatment can't fix. Soon enough, you'll find your dog back to normal.
Katie Finlay is a pet trainer who lives in Southern California. She has been working with dogs and their owners both in person and through her online content for over six years.