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Now that we've covered natural remedies for food allergies/sensitivities and environmental allergies...
Let's look at answers for all those other issues causing your dog's itchy skin from flea bites to yeast infections to deficiencies in your dog's diet and bacterial infections.
Itchy Dog Issue 1: Flea Allergy Dermatitis
One of the most common causes when your dog is itchy, Flea Allergy Dermatitis essentially is an allergic reaction to a flea bite. Fleas can become a problem very quickly - and a very frustrating one for pet parents! Fleas can lay eggs, infest linens in your home, and be hard to get rid of once they've moved in.
The best treatment is prevention before your dog is itchy.
We use Natural EM (Effective Microorganisms) Tick Collars which have kept us flea-free. There are also herbal supplements available that can be added to your dog's food that tend to repel fleas naturally as well as all-natural sprays, shampoos, and conditioners that are good for taking a layered preventive approach in heavier flea seasons.
When fleas are already giving your dog itchy, inflamed skin, and multiplying in your home...
Another natural product commonly used by pet owners to quickly minimize and ultimately get rid of fleas in your home is Diatomaceous Earth - a powdery substance made of finely ground, fossilized remains of diatoms (aquatic organisms). DE absorbs the oils and fats from the insect’s exoskeleton, drying it out. Be sure to use only Food-Grade DE since the filter grade is not safe for use in your home.
You'll want to sprinkle a generous amount of diatomaceous earth around your home, including carpets, rugs, hardwood floors, around baseboards, and on upholstery. (Wear gloves and a face mask to protect yourself from its drying effects and to avoid breathing in the dust. And keep your dog away from the area.) Vacuum all areas thoroughly after it sets then empty the vacuum canister or bag in an outside container.
DE Precautions: Diatomaceous earth can cause irritation to animal and human lungs, so it should always be applied in a well-ventilated area and not breathed in. Keep your pets away from the application. DE is not recommended for use directly on your dog because of its severely drying and irritating properties - unless specifically prescribed after consultation with your vet.
Wash everything - especially your dog - quickly and often
If you have an existing flea infestation, washing linens in HOT water frequently is necessary to rid your home of fleas, larva, and eggs. Frequent vacuuming is your other secret weapon.
For your dog, you'll want to move quickly and meticulously since fleas are such exponential multipliers.
Get a flea comb if you don't already have one. Carefully comb your dog with an eye for fleas and flea dirt (aka flea excrement, ugh... a sign you have fleas even if you don't spot live ones) and dip the comb in soapy water to kill the fleas and continue with a clean comb. Pay special attention to your dog's tail base, a favorite spot for fleas.
Bathe your dog frequently with a mild soap or natural flea shampoo that's gentle to your dog's skin through all the extra bathing - and finish with an apple cider vinegar/water rinse (ACV is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal supporting your dog against skin problems and fleas don't like it!).
If your dog's itching persists - along with the fleas, you may want to add a fast-acting natural product or check with your vet for safe recommendations to stop the fleas in every lingering form.
Itchy Dog Issue 2: Yeast Overgrowth
Yeast is often overlooked by pet parents as one of the most common causes of itching, irritated skin and excessive scratching. In many dogs, it can be a secondary symptom of other skin disorders like allergies, fleas etc., so in those cases, fixing the underlying cause is necessary as well. That said, you can tackle yeast with patience and some simple routines.
1. Start a bathing routine at least once a week.
Use an antifungal shampoo, followed by a baking soda or apple cider vinegar rinse. After washing and rinsing the shampoo from fur, use a mixture of 3 tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in 4 cups of water to pour over your dog's fur paying particular attention to areas where itching is most problematic. Massage in and leave on for 5-10 minutes, then rinse well. You can follow up or replace with the half water/half ACV rinse to knock out the yeast (and leave your pup shiny).
2. Use wipes or a topical spray to target yeast on your dog's skin.
Focus on areas where your dog's itchiness and compulsive behaviors like paw-licking are strongest (such as paws and ears). Natural wipes and topical sprays are available - and you can also use your ACV/water mix in a spray bottle. Good to keep handy to spray frequently to curtail yeast and its symptoms for our itchy dogs.
3. Wash bedding frequently (theirs & yours).
Any soft surfaces where your pet sits or sleeps should be washed frequently in hot water and a hypoallergenic laundry detergent.
4. Make sure your dog is dried well.
After swimming, bathing etc., a thorough drying is key. Yeast feeds on warm, moist environments. Be sure to dry inside of ears, between paws and in skin folds.
In the meantime, work on identifying any underlying causes of the yeast, whether it be food sensitivities, gut imbalance, environmental allergies or a primary skin issue like a bacterial or fungal infection (see more below).
Itchy Dog Issue 3: Environmental Toxins
Toxins sneak into our homes in so many ways, with obvious effects like allergic dermatitis in our dogs and with adverse effects harder to see. Keep a sharp eye on everything you bring into your environment: detergents & cleaning products with harsh chemicals, artificially scented products, lawn care products (pesticides), and the list goes on.
Your dog and your own health will thank you for finding simple natural alternatives. See my other guide about going green to help eliminate common toxins from your pet’s environment (and yours!).
Itchy Dog Issue 4: Medications
Medications are often flavored artificially to make them palatable and easier to dose. Dogs can react to these flavorings. Common flea & tick preventives can also cause adverse reactions. Read my other guide on ditching the chemicals to learn more about the products potentially causing adverse effects on your pet's health and wellbeing, as warned by the FDA and pet owners who have shared their experiences. Instead, we use natural tick products that have kept our three dogs tick-free for 5 years now.
Need-to-knows on meds such as heartworm preventives
You can look at your risk factors and weigh whether you can reduce the frequency of when they're given or if you can use natural alternatives.
Give me an example
In our Ontario climate, there are only a few months, really, weeks, when the climate allows for a dog to become infected with heartworm. To determine your risk, you need to understand how the heartworm lifecycle works and what factors need to be present to infect your dog.
Quite a few conditions must align for the heartworm cycle to complete. Any combination of these risk factors (for example, an average daily temperature of 57+ degrees for larva to mature within the mosquito) means you need to be proactive about testing your dog – every 6 months if you are not going to use a preventive – and at minimum, once a year while using a preventive is also important. In the US, Heartworm Disease has been reported in all 50 States (more prevalent in warmer areas like the gulf coast) and across Canada as well. If you live in a tropical climate – your risks are greatly increased.
If you choose to use a modified or scaled-back preventive plan, you need to have your dog checked yearly or bi-annually to ensure your dog is not infected, so you can catch any infection early. Always discuss this with your vet.
Regarding fleas & ticks, we have been free of both, with all 3 of our dogs without using chemical preventives. We are in a highly-populated tick area, and we've found our natural preventives do the job for us... But know your dog, know your location, how much you are willing to do, and weigh it all to create the best plan for YOUR dog.
Itchy Dog Issue 5: Change in weather/climate
When you've moved or your new dog has just arrived from one climate to another, your dog can react with skin problems.
- Wearing clothing to suit your dog's skin/body temp profile. Some dogs do better with a warm sweater or light coat while dogs without an undercoat or shorter fur sometimes need extra insulation if you are in a cold climate. During winter, salt to de-ice streets and sidewalks can really damage paws. I have seen dogs with salt burns, and worse, when they groom and lick their paws after a walk, and ingest the salt often laced with chemicals. Your dog may also need boots if you're active on rough hiking trails. Choose your pup's wardrobe based on what YOUR DOG needs for health and safety.
- Nourishing skin and paws – there are some fabulous and easy ways you can replace lost moisture to your dog’s skin, coat, and paws. Things like coconut oil can nourish your pet’s skin and coat, and we like to use moisturizing paw balms to both protect and nourish paw pads before and after walks. Natural paw waxes are also a great option for dogs who are active on hiking trails to prevent abrasions and for generally keeping paws healthy.
Itchy Dog Issue 6: Breed predisposition
We talked earlier about breeds known to be predisposed to skin allergies and sensitivity. A long list including West Highland White Terriers, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Bulldogs, English Setters, Boxers, Dalmatians, Shar-Peis. Plus “blue” dogs, light-colored dogs, or any mix of the above...
If your dog is one of these breeds, you may need to look at hypo-allergenic diets, regular skin and coat maintenance and supplements specifically for skin and coat. Fish oils are usually an excellent supplement for these dogs, as well as gentle, regular grooming -especially for dogs with folds, floppy ears needing routine preventive ear cleaning.
Itchy Dog Issue 7: Bacterial & fungal infections
A wide variety of bacterial & fungal skin infections can present similarly to allergies including: itching, irritated skin, scaling, red bumps/pustules and hair loss. These conditions need to be determined by a veterinarian (often by using a skin scrape test) and will need medication to be treated properly. Don’t try this one at home!
Itchy Dog Issue 8: Nutrient deficiencies or excesses
Easier to determine than a food allergy, deficiencies can present in many different ways but often as your dog's coat and skin problems.
Homemade diets that haven't been formulated by a professional nutritionist are commonly deficient or sometimes in excess in Vitamins A & E, as well as minerals like copper & zinc and even omega 3/6 imbalances. Whether feeding a commercial diet or home-cooking for your dog, it's imperative to ensure you are meeting all the recommended amounts of the vitamins and minerals that are essential to your dog’s body function whether by critically, carefully reading ingredients on packaging or working with a canine nutritionist on a home-prepared plan of fresh and cooked foods.
Next up in the Allergies Channel on Dogly
Now that you've learned natural solutions for itchy skin, go back to any previous guides in Itchy Allergies like How To Figure Out Why Your Dog Is Itching, or continue on in the Allergies Channel to start any of the other step-by-step guides in Seasonal Allergies, Environmental Allergies, and Food Allergies.
And if you ever need more personalized wellness help, please reach out!