The itchy/scratching dog (allergic dematitis)

We have a few posts on the forum about this common problem. These can be found by using the search box at the top of the Board Index. I have had a conversation with David about this and at some time in the future he hopes to write a blog about the subject.

I had this problem with one of my dogs many years ago and more recently with one that I have now. I am not an expert on this subject but I thought that if I gave a few pointers about what I learned it might be helpful.

• Causes: food often gets the blame for skin problems and it can be the cause but not always and is less common than one might think. It can be caused by environmental or genetic factors. Finding the cause can be really difficult. Dogs can be sensitive to the house dust mite, food storage mites, chemicals used in the home, pollen, flea bites but any one of a number of things can trigger a reaction. The owner needs to observe carefully and make notes. Obvious causes such as fleas needs to be ruled out.

• An itchy dog is a stressed dog so the first thing to do is to see the veterinary surgeon. Delaying this will only make the dog’s condition worse. Treatment can be given to ease the dog’s discomfort. Commonly steroids and Apoquel are used and these can be very effective. When dogs scratch the skin is usually broken and they often introduce bacterial infection. This, together with a possible overgrowth of yeast can make the itching worse. These can be detected with a skin scrape and this would also reveal the presence of other diseases such as mites. These conditions can be treated. I found that my dog would have a week of antibiotics then a short while later the itching would start again. In chronic conditions the dog may need a longer course of antibiotics and medicated baths.

  • It’s worth remembering that one of the signs of stress and pain can be excessive paw licking/chewing/biting. It can cause a lick granuloma and these can be very painful.

• Food - even if your dog’s itching is not caused by food, a good, digestible diet will help to strengthen immunity and optimize the dog’s general health. Sometimes people try different foods, often on recommendation but this approach can be expensive as well as disappointing; it can even make things worse. If you feel that your dog’s itching is food related a better approach would be to conduct an elimination diet with the help of your veterinary surgeon. These are time consuming and will need patience and perseverance (see below). There is anecdotal evidence that raw diets are helpful. This could be due to the fact that they are low in carbohydrate, contain high levels of digestible animal protein and high in fat. If anyone wishes to try this choose a reputable company that produces complete food and seek the advice of their nutritionist. A home cooked diet may also be helpful (see home cooking section).

• Supplements – there are many supplements (usually oils) which may be helpful. However, it may take some weeks to elicit a response so patience is needed, as well as observation. Your vet may be able to advise.

Elimination diet:
Food allergy develops over time so when an elimination diet is commenced the dog is given food which it has not been exposed to before.

a) Vets usually advise a hydrolyzed protein diet because the protein has undergone treatment which alters it so the dog’s system does not recognize it as an allergen. Gradually different proteins/ingredients are introduced and the dog’s reaction monitored.
b) A commercially prepared food which has a different protein source than the one the dog is used to may be used. In this case, look for a product that is clearly labelled and has a simple recipe – the fewer ingredients, the better.
c) Another method is to use a simple home cooked diet that includes a protein and carbohydrate. Ideally, both ingredients should be ones that the pet has not been exposed to before. The problem with this is that it is unlikely to be correctly balanced and may be deficient in calcium and other vitamins/minerals so it would be advantageous to discuss this with your vet or a pet nutritionist (see home cooking section).

While an elimination trial is taking place the dog must have nothing at all except the diet – this includes treats. It seems rather draconian but it is only for a comparatively short period of time and can have great benefits in the long run.

With my own dog I was fortunate in that she was insured and I was able to have her referred to a dermatologist. It paid dividends even though the exact cause was not discovered. Looking back, contributory factors include a genetic tendency (it is known in the breed) and certain foods, notably white potato, legumes and high carbohydrate. I have been able to tailor her diet to exclude these and she has been in remission for some time. She has no problem with any of the protein sources. I found that bathing using a medicated shampoo was very helpful. Initially I used a soap free, hydrating dog shampoo but during the treatment period Malaseb was prescribed and worked very well. This treatment, plus antibiotics was intensive for some weeks but gradually she began to improve.

Allergic dermatitis is a complex condition and cannot be cured. However, it can be treated and the dog made more comfortable. It is necessary to have patience and to be observant. Don’t expect a quick result. Skin cells take time to regenerate. With my own dog, although she was itch free it took about two months for her skin to return to a normal colour and appearance. I consider her current situation as ‘managed’ rather than cured.

There are many treatment suggestions on the Internet but be careful not to try too many things at once. Administer one thing at a time and give it chance to work (or not) so that it can be properly assessed. A slow and steady approach is needed.

There is a lot of information about allergic dermatitis on the Internet. Here are some links that I have found useful:

Alison Daniel from My Pet Nutritionist Talking All Things Allergy
Dr. Becker Discusses Yeast Infection in Dogs
Dr. Becker: How to Treat Allergies in Your Pet

If anyone would like to share their own experiences of managing this condition or has any useful information/links, please share.


Some great information there.

The main issues I have had with itching have been the paws and this always tends to be from July to September. Although we or the vet haven’t seen any obvious signs of harvest mites, I suspect it may be linked to these. If not some kind of allergy to something in the environment. She does tend to lick them too which will make things worse. In the early days, she had steroids from the vet which worked well but they did tend to flare up again as soon as the course ended. I didn’t want to keep giving her steroids as she is prone to stress. For the last few years I have made sure that her feet are washed after every walk and at the first sign of itching, I add a capful of hibiscrub to her foot wash and give her loratadine, (check dose with vet). This has mostly worked well and calmed things down.

1 Like

My Pet Nutritionist has a Facebook Live video about itchy dogs on Friday, 23rd October 2020 at 7pm.

1 Like

Naturavetal manufactures complete meals using novel proteins. May be useful as a base for an elimination diet.

Cross reference - Allergy thread.

Diet and supplements for itchy dogs. video - Alison Daniel talks to Holisticvet Ltd.

DinDins Wickedly Raw Superfood for Dogs. I don’t have any experience of this supplement. Description: ‘Din Dins is a unique blend of superfoods, herbs, probiotics, phytonutrients, chlorophyll, antioxidants, fatty acids and naturally occurring enzymes.’ and is said to be useful for skin conditions.

1 Like

I finally managed to finish off the Feeding Itchy Dogs and Elimination Diets articles. Hope they are of some help:

Feeding Itchy Dogs
Elimination Diets


Thank you David. I am sure that these two resources will be very helpful.

Holistic Vet/Rodney Habib posted this on Facebook:
The Effect of Atopic Dermatitis and Diet on the Skin Transcriptome in Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
It is a new small study.

Shows raw food fed dogs had an enhancement of innate immunity & decrease in oxidative stress, which may prevent hypersensitivities & disturbed immunity at young age.

My Pet Nutritionist blog: 5 Top Tips for Skin Health in Your Dog. Interesting comments about stress and the sleep requirements of dogs.

Excellent article on dermatitis by My Pet Nutritionist - Tackling Atopic Dermatitis in Pets. From that article there is a link to an article about yeast infection in dogs: Is Your Dog A Yeasty Beast?

My Pet Nutritionist, Facebook live 7pm (8-1-21) with Lisa Hannaby, “Itchy Skin.”

1 Like

Useful article on itchy dogs by Dr Conor Brady link. It contains advice on diet, supplements and other measures.

Raw Pet Medics talk “itchy skin” 7.00pm tonight.

Apoquel - Has Your Vet Told You This?

1 Like

Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and may be helpful for some itchy dogs, particularly if it is seasonal.

1 Like

Interesting article about allergy from My Pet Nutritionist - Why Do Allergies in Dogs Develop?