Why Is My Dog Itchy? Finding a Fix for Flaky Fur

Lea Jaratz

Dog Itching

My dog doesn’t come up to me looking for petting. He comes looking for back scratches. He’s become chronically itchy and his once chocolate-colored fur is now dull and gray. Worse than that, he has dry spots that are scabby, and occasionally he scratches himself to the point of infection. It’s sad to see an otherwise healthy dog so itchy. So, I’m on a mission to restore his dry, flaky fur back to the beautiful coat he used to have.

If you’ve got an itchy dog too, the first step to solving the problem is figuring out: Why is my dog itching?

Turns out this is a mystery in most cases, and it might take a bit of trial and error to break the dry skin cycle. But, there are a few causes that you can rule out at home before checking with your vet:

Low Humidity

Is your home too dry, especially in cooler months? If changing the humidity level doesn’t help, you might try adding coconut or olive oil on top of their food. Just a teaspoon a day for a 30-40 pound dog has been shown to improve their coat and winter comfort level.

Bathing

Is your dog being bathed too often or does their shampoo not agree with them? Firstly, your dog may not need a regular bath, so consider switching to dry shampoos, cleansing sprays, or just plain water and a wipe down as needed. Secondly, consider a mild or sensitive skin shampoo. Better yet, if they’ll tolerate a relaxing soak, add one cup of ground oatmeal to their bath. Don’t make the water too warm as that can irritate skin, but continue to pour the oatmeal water over their back and neck for as long as they can stand it, up to 15 minutes. Don’t rinse the oatmeal off, as it provides a protective coating. Pat them dry gently or allow them to air dry, but avoid hot air dryers.

Diet

In some cases, itchy skin is caused by food allergies, but in others it’s just a nutritional deficiency causing the flaky skin. Processed foods can be deficient in the omega 3 fatty acids a dog needs for general health. Consider switching to a higher-quality food or include wet food with their dry food if they’re exclusively on dry food. Supplements may help too. Quality fish oil containing DHA and EPA is a great way to add omega-3s, but you can also provide actual fish, like salmon, mackerel, or tuna, in their diet. Probiotics can also be useful in boosting the immune system to combat allergies or other internal imbalances that could be causing skin flare-ups.

There are almost as many dog supplements as there are foods, but you may want to look into a supplement like Ultra Oil. My groomer recommended it to us, and we’re in the early testing stage, but I like the multi-ingredient approach to targeting a complex issue like this.

Allergens

To get a real definitive diagnosis of allergies, you’ll need to see your vet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try the old trial and error method to see if a change in diet or environment improves their health. In most cases, it is the protein or grain source in a particular food causing the allergy, so try a different meat base or grain base and keep an eye on whether your dog’s skin seems to tolerate it better. But, you can also try using an air purifier or washing their bedding more often to see if reducing the dust or mold in their space helps too.

Fleas and Ticks

It sounds so simple, but did you maybe forget to give your dog his parasite prevention this month? Could he have fleas? Check closely, because it doesn’t take a major infestation to cause major itching.

If you’ve tried all of these tactics and your dog is still feeling prickly, it’s time to enlist the help of your vet. It’s possible there is an underlying health issue, though the vet will probably start by helping you rule out any possible allergens in the dog’s food or environment.

Don’t give up hope. Plenty of dogs find themselves itching, only to discover a simple change can bring a world of relief.

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