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Relief for Your Dog's Itchy Skin  


Vet Advice: Relief for Your Dog's Itchy Skin        

Addressing the second most common problem on the vet hit parade

            By Robert J. Silver

Question: Recently, my dog's nighttime scratching is keeping both of us awake. Her fur seems dry and a bit dandruffy, and she also seems to be shedding more than usual. What can I do to help her?

Answer: Dogs itch for many different reasons, and sometimes, for no reason, and it’s not uncommon for the scratching to seem worse at night, when the house is quiet. Every dog’s gotta scratch some time, and that’s completely normal. But when a dog is incessantly licking, scratching, biting and chewing to the point of wounding herself, then scratching becomes a symptom of an underlying pathology.

The medical term for scratching related to excessive itching is pruritus. This is the second most common reason people take their dogs to the vet (gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea top the list). The causes of pruritus can be quite complex, but there are two main reasons why dogs itch. The first has to do with the condition of the skin itself: Is it infected? Is it too oily? Is it too dry? Of these three, dry skin is a frequent occurrence. The second major cause of pruritus is allergies and ticks and fleas.

Is It Dry Skin?
One common cause of itching is dry skin. If you live in a region with low humidity or season winter, it’s more likely that your dog will have dry skin, which is fairly easy to recognize. When you part your dog’s hair, you see flakes of dandruff in the undercoat, and the skin itself may be cracked and tough. The slightest stimulation of the skin—your gentlest touch—can provoke your dog to scratch violently.

Dry skin can be influenced not only by environmental factors, but also by diet. Commercial pet foods process out the good oils that contribute to healthy skin and a lustrous hair coat. Dry pet foods have an even more dehydrating effect on skin and hair and also stimulate increased thirst, which only partially compensates for the drying nature of these diets.

If you must feed dry foods, then by all means add digestive enzymes to your dog’s meals. In fact, digestive enzymes are good to use with any type of food. Enzymes improve the release of nutrients, and beneficial probiotic bacteria also assist in the digestive process. (Probiotics also help with allergies, as noted below.) A healthy digestive system absorbs fluids more readily from the food your dog eats, thus improving hydration and increasing the moisture levels of the skin and hair coat.

 Or Allergies?

Another common cause of itchy skin is allergies. Allergies may make your dog’s skin dry, greasy, or slightly dry and oily, and are accompanied by frequent scratching, licking or chewing. We are seeing significantly more cases of allergic dogs than we have in the past; many veterinarians believe that we are experiencing an “allergy epidemic.” While the reasons for this allergy epidemic are uncertain, some of the theories put forth include the aggressive vaccination protocols that many dogs have been subjected to, poor breeding practices and the feeding of processed pet foods.

Whatever the cause, allergies are difficult to address. In the worst cases, afflicted dogs require strong (and potentially toxic) pharmaceuticals just to get some relief. Though allergies are rarely cured, early identification and intervention can keep them under control, and in some cases, can substantially diminish them.

Clinical research has shown that one important way to reduce the likelihood that dogs will develop allergies is to give them high-potency cultures of beneficial probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus when they are very young. Probiotics are relatively inexpensive, absolutely safe to use, and can save both dog and the owner tons of grief—and visits to the vet—later in life.

Regardless of age, many dogs’ allergies are controlled by improving the quality of their diet, giving them high potency acidophilus cultures and high doses of fish oils; adding freshly milled flax seed; and, in some cases, giving them antihistamines. (It can take up to three months for this regimen to take effect; see sidebar for details and dosages.)

Here are some ways to help improve your dog’s dry skin.

• When your dog needs a bath, try using plain water, a good, non-drying solvent. If you must use shampoo, use a moisturizing type with humectants, and follow up with a moisturizing conditioner. Avoid blow dryers.

• If you have your dog groomed, speak to the groomer about turning down the heat on the blow dryer (it’s usually set pretty high).

• Feed moist food—canned, cooked, homemade or raw.

• Add digestive enzymes to every meal (probiotic bacteria, 2 to 10 billion CFUs/day).

Treat the Cause with Probiotics

Prescription medications and home remedies only provide temporary relief (if any) for dogs with skin problems due to allergies. What needs to be addressed is the health of the dog’s gastrointestinal system, where nearly 70 percent of a dog’s immune system is centralized.

Providing extensive support to the optimal functioning of a dog’s digestive system are certain beneficial bacteria necessary for preventing “bad” bacteria from proliferating. When an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria exists in the canine intestines and stomach, dogs suffer can suffer from a wide variety of illnesses, from chronic ear infections and accelerated tooth decay to irritable bowel syndrome and painful skin allergies.

Probiotics offer effective, gentle relief for dogs suffering skin allergies by restoring balance to bacteria levels in the GI tract which can directly and significantly improve immune system functioning. Containing none of the harsh, synthetic chemicals found in prescription medications, probiotics eliminate allergies by improving the health of the GI tract with the natural, fresh bacteria needed to maintain a dog’s overall good health and well-being.

• Provide fresh, filtered drinking water.

• Add fresh oils and other supplements to meals—

Flea Bite Hypersensitivity

Symptoms of a skin allergy due to flea bites include:

  • Extreme itching on the thighs and at the tail base (a flea allergy usually does not affect the front of the dog’s body or face)
  • Constant chewing and biting (dogs with a flea bite allergy often become “frenzied” when bothered by acute itching and pain and may whirl around and around as they try to relieve the itching around their tail and on their thighs)
  • Patchy hair loss that reveals inflamed, swelled and/or scabbed skin
  • Bacterial infections caused by bacteria entering open sores

Of course, the presence of fleas is necessary to correctly diagnose a flea bite allergy. However, dogs that are hypersensitive to flea bites need only one flea bite to produce allergic symptoms.

Testing for flea bite hypersensitivity includes detection of fleas and a blood test that combines flea allergen with a sample of the dog’s blood. Another test involves injections of flea allergen samples under the dog’s skin and examining the immune system response to the allergen.

Treatment for canine skin allergies caused by flea bites includes:

  • Eliminating and preventing fleas from biting the dog by using a flea shampoo and flea dip
  • Trimming hair around “hot spots” to facilitate healing of dermatitis sores
  • Applying a healing topical salve such as aloe vera or hydrocortisone cream to relieve pain and itching of skin irritation

Veterinarians may prescribe antihistamines for dogs if flea bite skin allergies do not improve within a few days following flea shampoo/dip treatment.

Keeping Fleas Out Of The Yard

Once fleas are in your house and on your dog, you’ve got a lot of crappy work ahead of you …

… flea baths for your dog, washing every bit of fabric in your house, vacuuming everything under your roof. And you’ll probably have to do this more than once.

Wouldn’t life be easier if those fleas never appeared on your dog in the first place? It’s a whole lot easier to prevent fleas from infesting your dog and your home than it is to get rid of them once they’ve taken over.

But I’ve got some good news. I’m going to give you my best remedies for fleas.

But first, let’s start with the outdoors and try to keep the fleas out of your home and off of your dog/s.

Itch Ease Coat Enhancer

Promix Itch Ease Coat Enhancer is made from Canola and Grape seed oil infused with Rooibos leaves and Chamomile flowers.This product is made from totally natural ingredients and contains neither preservatives nor additives.

EM Probiotic

The word 'Probiotics' means 'for life' and has been used for centuries as a natural health promoter,which exerts health effects beyond inherent basic nutrition.Vast research has been conducted where Probiotics have emerged as a valuable tool in both human and veterinary medicine, used rather as a preventative medicine than as a disease therapy.


A rich non-irritating shampoo for dogs, cats and horses, which aids in providing relief from dry, itchy skin. Contains soothing moisturisers and conditioning agents with colloidal oatmeal, witch hazel, ichthammol and triclosan. 




Mild, non-irritant “no-tears” shampoo with ingredients that will moisturise the skin. It is formulated to cause minimal irritation for dogs and cats with sensitive skins. Colour- and perfume-free. 


Luxury insecticidal, flea & tick shampoo for dogs. Contains evening primrose oil, permethrin (for extended action), esbiothrin (for instant knockdown), piperonyl butoxide, lanolin and conditioners.


Flea and tick spray for dogs, containing permethrin, es-bioallethrin, piperonyl butoxide and pyriproxifen. Kills ticks. Kills fleas on contact and eliminates 100% of fleas in 24 hours. Keeps killing adult fleas for up to 4 weeks. Eliminates flea eggs and larvae for over 3 months. Suitable for puppies 7 weeks of age and over. 125ml, 225ml,