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If your dog needs to scratch his nose, head or behind a few times a day, you know that it’s a normal need — you scratch yourself every day, too. Pruritus, or chronic itching, though, is a different matter and it has an underlying medical cause.
After gastrointestinal problems, itchiness that won’t go away is the most common complaint that people bring their pets to vets for. Dog owners come in, driven crazy by all the scratching. Whatever the cause, it’s important to address it immediately. You need to understand that however annoying the scratching makes you, it’s far worse for the dog.
Have your pet checked out for parasites
If your dog won’t stop scratching himself, fleas and mites should be the first thought on your mind. Your dog’s problems may not actually come from the irritating bite of a parasite alone, though. He could be allergic to the very presence of the pests, or to their excretions. While DIY anti-parasitic products are available, a thorough professional clean-up is usually the only long-term solution.
It could be infectious dermatitis
Infections caused by yeast, mold and bacteria can be severely distressing to an animal. Pets usually get them from playing in dirty water, staying wet for too long, or being around other infected pets. If you find your dog wearing a specific spot on his body, one of these infectious agents is usually the cause.
You need to move quickly before the infection gets worse or spreads. Your pet’s vet will usually write out a prescription for antibiotics and soothing topical lotions. It would be a good idea to keep your dog away from other animals. He could give them an infection, too
It could be dry skin
Many instances of chronic itchiness in dogs come from a simple enough cause — skin that is too dry or too oily.
If your dog is a warm-climate breed, his body will usually be unable to handle the challenges of a cold, dry environment. His skin may quickly turn dry, and begin to crack up. It’s easy to visually confirm dryness — you’ll see flaking and cracking skin when you part the fur. The itchiness that comes from dry skin feels extremely sensitive, too. You might see your dog jump at the slightest touch.
There could be other causes
Kibble and other dry pet foods are heavily processed and much of the moisture in their ingredients is artificially removed. When these foods enter your dog’s digestive system, they absorb all available moisture; your pet quickly becomes dehydrated — something that tells on the condition of his skin and coat. Moving your dog away from dry dog food and towards moist, natural food can help.
Your dog could be allergic to something
When people wish to insult food that they don’t like, they often say that they “wouldn’t feed it to a dog.” The expression exists for a reason: dogs do get fed some of the worst, least edible material possible. Most of such inedible stuff tends to come to dogs in the form of cheap, commercial pet food. It often contains food discarded as too toxic, diseased and insect-infested for human consumption. Dogs exposed to such food often develop serious, itchy allergies.
If your dog begins to scratch itself unendingly, it could be a good idea to rethink his diet. You could look up the brand of food that you use for your dog to see if other users complain about it.
Genuine food allergies exist, too
Grain and grain fractions such as gluten and bran tend to throw up serious allergies in many breeds of dog. If your pet is one of them, a grain-based diet of cheap, commercial pet food could be behind his misery. A thorough look at your dog’s diet, then, can be an excellent way to start investigating his itchiness.
Adding quality probiotic cultures to his diet can help tone down allergic reactions to food. You could ask your dog’s vet for a prescription for lactobacillus bifidus or lactobacillus acidophilus. Probiotics and other food supplements help when taken on a regular basis. Experimenting with them makes a lot of sense:
- EPA/DHA supplements sourced from algae or fish oil can help the immune system, and sort out any allergies.
- Lecithin is a natural fatty acid. Supplements containing it help your dog absorb nutrition better, and can help with skin conditions.
- Kelp supplements help improve poor thyroid function — a significant cause of allergies among dogs.
Helping your dog while he gets better
Addressing the causes behind your dog’s itchiness with supplements and improvements in his diet can take weeks. If the itchiness seems to cause him endless suffering in the meantime, there’s a lot that you can do to offer him temporary relief.
- A warm bath in plain water, and moisturizing conditioners afterwards, can be very comforting.
- If your dog scratches himself to the point of turning the skin raw, get him some clothes. They will help protect the skin.
- Quality skin moisturizers and lotions with ingredients such as aloe vera, witch hazel and tea tree oil can help by offering immediate relief. You do need to keep them away from areas with broken skin, though.
Consider the psychological angle, as well
Dogs can suffer from compulsive behavior just the way people do; vets call it neurogenic dermatitis. If your dog seems physically healthy but still seems to constantly scratch himself, you should look into a possible problem with obsessive compulsive behavior. Thankfully, pets don’t need medication for obsessiveness; they only need plenty of healthy playtime and stimulation.