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Before I start, a little disclaimer: I have absolutely zero training as a veterinarian. I am not a vet. So, ask your vet for advice first. :)
I am however a dog owner who has had a very very itchy dog, and been through a lot of protocols to try to help him. If anything I have learned can help anyone else with their dog, this post is worth it. Even if it is not written by a professional. Having a dog with medical problems (just like behaviour problems!) and experiencing the dog’s pain or discomfort can be absolutely heartbreaking and so frustrating. Having a plan of action and an overview of your options is the first step to getting a handle on the situation.
1. Identifying the Cause
Number one! Before you start treatment, you need to find the cause. Take your dog to the vet for a check up in order to rule out that your dog is suffering from parasites like flees or mites. Demodex mites are the cause of mange. That will require a whole different treatment!
If your dog is primarily licking its legs or paws, or suffers from ear infections, it might be worth getting it looked over by a canine chiropractor. Spinal misalignment can cause a tingling sensation or pins-and-needles in limbs (I have personally had this, pretty uncomfortable), and compressions in the neck can cause problems with both ears and eyes.
If your dog is not just itchy, but also seems tired and has been putting on a lot of weight, you might want to have your dog’s thyroid checked out!
Saying that your dog has “skin allergies” has become a bit of a buzz word. Allergic to what? Nobody really knows. If your vet tells you that your dog might have allergies, the next step should be to find out what kind of allergies. If you just keep giving your dog antihistamines, but keep exposing your dog to the allergen, it can be pretty exhausting for your dog’s body in the long run.
To narrow it down, there are two kinds of allergies; environmental allergies and food allergies. Your vet can check for environmental allergies through a blood test, and you can send in a saliva sample to Nutriscan to check for food allergies. There is some ambiguity about the accuracy of the latter mentioned, so an easier method might be to just do an elimination diet trial. That is, only feed one protein for at least 6 weeks and see if symptoms are alleviated or persist, before adding a second type of protein. If your dog has environmental allergies as well, they might however interfere with this type of test. Another clue is that environmental allergies are often seasonal (if pollen related), and food allergies are constant (assuming your dog is always fed the same food).
The key to overcoming your dog’s allergies is to avoid the allergen. If your dog is allergic to dust, it means keeping a clean house. If your dog is allergic to grass, or other types of pollen, you might want to avoid areas where those plants grow. You can also rinse your dog off or wipe it down with a damp towel after it has been outside in order to remove any allergens from its fur. For all environmental allergies, also make sure to keep your dog’s bedding clean.
If your dog is allergic to a certain protein or grain, obviously don’t feed that. This is where pet food gets tricky and it is so important to check the ingredients list. Recently I came across a can of dog food which was labelled chicken on the front, the back revealed that it contained 30-something % meat and animal derivatives, but only 4% chicken. Yikes!
You may also want to boost you dog’s immune system so that it can cope better with the allergies. The first step to good health, and a good immune system, is a good diet. Click here to read my post on selecting dog food! There are also many supplements you can give your dog to help improve their health, but that is a whole different post. My friend Kima at Da Fioretti Organics makes some great herbal supplements.
If your dog’s immune system is already busy handling the allergens, your dog may be more susceptive to infections, like yeast. Sometimes yeast infections can be cyclical which makes them hard to distinguish from environmental allergies. If your dog suffers from yeast infections, it will be itchy, smelly, and often have greasy fur, sometimes redish fur patches, or hair loss. Areas commonly affected are ears and paws. Yeast feasts of sugar, so the first thing to do is to reduce or exclude carbohydrates from the dog’s diet. You also want to make sure to dry the dog off properly after swims or baths as yeasts thrives in damp fur.
The best weapon against yeast that I have found so far is to make a body rinse with Green Tea. I usually make half a liter of tea, wait for it to cool down, and then a couple of tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar. However, the original recipe uses ½ cup of tea, ½ cup of apple cider vinegar, and 1 cup of water. Shower your dog to remove any dust or dirt, and then rinse your dog with the tea mix and pat the dog dry. You can also fill it in a spray bottle to apply it directly onto affected areas. There are many other alternatives online which may work better for your dog.
Sometimes it can be hard to get to the bottom of your dog’s itchy problem, especially if your dog has several different allergies, or is allergic to something which it is difficult to limit the exposure to. The first obvious option is to get your dog some anti-histamines from the vet, especially if your dog suffers from seasonal allergies. However, there are also a series of other things you might want to take into consideration to alleviate your dog’s discomfort.
If your dog has problematic skin, it may be extra sensitive to other irritants which can contribute to the itch. Things you want to exclude from your home are strong cleaning products and laundry detergents, as well as air fresheners.
If your dog’s skin is dry and flaky, it might help to add a spoon of raw flaxseed or coconut oil to the dog’s food, or apply it directly onto the dog’s skin. If your dog is fed dry food, I have also found that adding water to the kibble before feeding helps. It seems as if the dry kibble can be quiet dehydrating to the dog if it does not drink large amounts of water.
If your dog’s skin gets very red and irritated, you can use aloe vera to help sooth it, or calendula to help it heal. I sometimes mix a tiny drop of peppermint oil into some aloe vera for a cooling effect if the skin is very red and hot. If the skin is getting wet and seems infected or sweaty, I have found that disinfecting the area with diluted Betadine and dusting some green clay on top of it usually clears it up within a day.
I hope this article was of help to you and can help your dog live a less itchy life! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to send us a message on facebook! :)
The dog on the picture above is my friend Hanna's dog Bella. She is a beautiful Dogo Argentino x Am Staff who does not have any itchy skin problems, but just enjoys a good rub in the lingon berry bushes.