How Can I Help My Itchy Dog?

help for itchy dog scratching
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Reader Question: How Can I Help My Itchy Dog?

I have a small half Shih Tzu and Poodle, about 12 pounds. He is 4 years old. He has itchy skin and scratches most of the time. I have been using olive oil in his food. Is there any tick and flea medication that I can use that will be better than the Frontline? The Frontline makes him worse. Also, what kind of shampoo do you recommend?

Answer:

Skin problems in dogs are all too common, and it is so difficult to watch our companions suffer.

Remember, talk to your veterinarian about your dog's health conditions. Meanwhile, here are my feelings about managing skin issues in dogs (coming from personal AND professional experience):

Use Flea Prevention

Flea control is a must ALL YEAR LONG for dogs with itchy skin. Even if fleas are not the main cause of the skin issues, just a few flea bites can cause the skin to get out of control. There are many flea control products on the market and new ones a coming out all of the time. Be aware that flea product efficacy may decrease over time as fleas develop resistance to the products.

Look for a flea preventive that starts killing fleas within 30 minutes and can kill all fleas within a few hours. Oral flea preventives tend to work in this manner, though they do require the flea to bite before it can be killed. However, topicals usually take longer to begin killing after applied, which means there is a longer window for the live fleas to bite before the product starts working.

Topicals may also not last as long as oral flea preventives depending on your dog's environment.

Not all of the best flea preventives work against ticks. You may need a separate product for ticks. Ask your veterinarian for help finding the best flea and tick products for your dog. No matter what you choose, be sure to use it regularly as directed all year long.

The bottom line: Different dogs react differently to products, so you may need to try a few and see how it goes.

Feed a Proper Diet

Diet plays a huge role in the condition of your dog's skin. Adding olive oil may help, but fish oil may be even better. Supporters of natural supplements (many vets included) recommend adding omega 3 fatty acids to the diet. Most importantly, feed a high-quality diet (consider a quality natural/holistic food) and see if it helps. If you are already feeding a diet like this, consider changing to one of equal quality. Give it a few weeks and watch. If your dog is still itchy, you may need to try a hypoallergenic diet or limited ingredient diet. Ask your veterinarian for diet recommendations. Food allergies account for a very large percentage of skin issues in dogs. If you decide to a limited ingredient diet trial, be sure to choose a novel protein (one your dog had not been exposed to, possible duck, fish, etc.) and feed ONLY that diet for 6-8 weeks.

Bathe Your Dog Regularly

Frequent bathing is VERY important for dogs with skin issues.

For dogs with seasonal allergies, consider bathing once a week when skin issues flare up. For a natural option, try a soothing shampoo that contains oatmeal and/or aloe. If it does not help, ask your vet to bring out the big guns. There are many medicated shampoos that help soothe itchy skin and fend off secondary skin infections. There are lots of other great topical products, including cortisone conditioner for the itchiest of dogs. 

Visit Your Veterinarian

Itchy skin may be a sign of underlying skin infection or other medical issues. Don't let itchy skin get out of control! If you notice hair loss, redness, sores, scaly skin, or if the skin simply won't stop itching, make an appointment to see the vet as soon as you can. There may be medications and other treatments that only your vet can help you with.