Dogs with Itchy Skin

1. Feed a Food That’s Good for Your Dog’s Skin

Many of us grew up thinking that all dog food is more or less the same. Fifty years ago that was mostly true: dog food was made out of by-products and leftovers that weren’t good enough to go into human food. Even today, most commercial dog foods are made from the waste products of the milling and slaughtering industries. But a growing number of companies, most of them small and fairly new, have begun producing much higher quality foods. As a result, there are a growing number of healthy nutritional options for your dog.

The Food That Worked When He Was Three May Not Work When He’s Eight

Every day, dog owners walk into Mud Bay to find solutions to their dogs’ skin problems. We ask how long the dog has itched, whether the dog has been diagnosed with a veterinary condition and what the dog is eating. “His diet can’t be the problem,” owners often tell us. “He’s been eating the same thing for years, and he’s never had a problem.”

Surprisingly, the diet that worked two years ago may not work now. Dogs age quickly and their digestive systems change with age. Many older dogs are often less able to produce adequate quantities of the digestive enzymes that break down food. Like a teenager who stays healthy despite a diet of junk food, your two- or three-year old dog may have survived on food that wasn’t the best possible match for his particular needs. But at five or eight, his digestive system may no longer be able to deal with too many carbohydrates or a protein source that doesn’t match his breed’s needs or some other characteristic of his current diet.

Only 1 in 20 Itchy Dogs Are Truly Allergic

Owners of dogs with itchy skin sometimes think their dog is allergic to certain ingredients. Often, they’ve come to this conclusion because they’ve seen an improvement in their dog’s health when they’ve switched from a food that included the suspect ingredient to a food that didn’t. In a small number of cases, the allergy conclusion is correct. But most veterinary nutritionists now believe that only about one in twenty itchy dogs is actually allergic to any of the ingredients commonly found in high-quality natural dog foods. For the large majority of dogs with itchy skin, the problem is that the dog’s diet doesn’t meet all of his nutritional needs, not that the dog is allergic to a specific ingredient

Get advice. Be patient. Be persistent. For advice for finding the right food for your dog, try reading How to Choose a Healthy Dog Food. We also recommend getting advice from your dog’s veterinarian and the staff at Mud Bay. Most dogs show dramatic improvements in the health of their skin and coat two to six weeks after switching to an appropriate diet. If their skin hasn’t improved after six weeks, don’t give up.

Bring the unused portion of the food(s) you’ve been feeding back to Mud Bay and ask a staff member to help you find a different food or combination of foods to try. Sometimes it takes a few tries, but we can almost always find a food that improves the condition of a dog with itchy skin.

2. Safely Eliminate Fleas

To learn how to tackle fleas, try reading How to Control Fleas Safely. It details healthy, natural approaches for eliminating fleas from dogs and cats, as well as from homes.

3. Provide Immediate Itch Relief

If your dog is currently suffering from itchy skin, rashes, hot spots, hair loss or scabbing, then you’ll want to make him feel as comfortable as possible right away. Although topical remedies are only temporary, they will help aggravated areas to heal while you make the dietary changes that are likely to result in long-term improvement. Most of the best topical remedies include tea-tree oil (also called oil of melaleuca). Other effective anti-itch ingredients include chamomile, aloe vera, oatmeal, avocado and calendula.

4. Consider Supplements

Modern, cooked dog foods create a higher demand for digestive enzymes than did the raw diet of our dogs’ ancestors. Additionally, the cooking process kills off bacteria, including the beneficial ones that would help to repopulate a dog’s intestinal flora. Adding a digestive supplement that contains enzymes, probiotics or prebiotics may help a dog digest his food better, making more nutrients available for skin and coat maintenance.

Some dogs require balanced fatty acids to keep their skin healthy. Feeding an essential fatty acid supplement may help these kinds of dogs.

Most dogs benefit from the addition of small amounts of fresh, raw foods to their diet including vegetables, fruits and raw meat. Keep these additions below 10% of the dog’s total diet.

5. Visit Your Dog’s Veterinarian Regularly

Please feel free to ask a member of Mud Bay’s staff if you have any questions we haven’t answered here. Of course, the information, experience and opinions we offer shouldn’t be a substitute for a visit to your dog’s veterinarian. In some cases, itchy skin in canines may be caused by a veterinary condition. Only your dog’s vet can diagnose and treat these conditions. Regular visits to your dog’s veterinarian can help in early diagnosis and treatment of such conditions.

We’re not veterinarians. Mud Bay staff are well educated, and our writing is well-researched, but neither the advice of a Mud Bay staff member nor reading Mud Bay's written materials can substitute for visiting a veterinarian. We offer carefully chosen, natural solutions, but we believe that veterinary conditions should be diagnosed and treated by professionals.