It is heart breaking seeing your beloved dog frantically itching. It can also be expensive and frustrating trying to work out what is causing the itchiness.
I have worked with dogs' skin conditions for over 15 years and it is very rewarding when they recover from what is sometimes years of itching. In some cases a dog may have more than one reason why they are itching but I hope that the Check List below will help some of you identify what is going on and how we may be able to assist with natural and cost effective remedies.
If you have a particularly complex case you may wish to book an email consultation via our Hippo Health website but if you are unsure or have some simple questions please feel free to email us at Hippo Health on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fiona Lane, Homeopath & Co-Founder of Hippo Health and BioPet
Itchy belly and all four paws?
Because they are only affected in the areas that do not have a lot of hair to protect them, this can be identified as some form of Contact Allergy, usually a Grass Allergy or a reaction to weed sprays. Sometimes their chins and bottoms are also affected if they have a thin coat. Contact allergies are usually seasonal, for example, worse in spring or summer when particular grasses flourish.
Check out BioPet Grasses for a natural remedy: for dog allergies to grass causing itchy skin
Itchy, front paws only?
This is not a grass or contact allergy. We know this because it is only affecting the front paws, yet a dog walks on all four.
So we call this a Psychogenic Itch, which means it is psychological. There are various causes, the most common is anxiety or grief (this can occur when a dog is rehomed or has separation anxiety) or it can be a habit or a compulsive behaviour that may have started many years ago and continued, habitual licking of feet has been likened to people chewing their fingernails.
Check out Chewing Paws for Dogs remedy.
Itchy all over and a bit smelly?
If a dog is itchy all over its body, then this is called generalised itching and is coming from the inside out - the gut.
The itching and odour come from the pores of a dog's skin producing seborrhea (grease) that covers the surface of the skin giving it that 'doggy' smell. This smell comes back within days of a shampoo and can be quite strong.
Once the seborrhea is present, the natural bacteria on a dog's skin feed on the seborrhea and rapidly multiply and the waste product the bacteria produce causes a relentless itchiness, however when your dog scratches themselves, they can break the skin and with all the bacteria sitting there ready to take advantage of any wounds, small infections frequently break out.
The body can also produce an acrid sweat in response to dietary issues but because dogs only have sweat glands between their toes, they become obsessed with cleaning/licking between their toes to get rid of the stinging sweat.
Why does this increase in sebborrhea happen? Usually its because the dog is not coping with the amount of salt or sulphur dioxide (SO2) in their diet.
If you are feeding a "fresh meat" product from the refrigerator section of the supermarket and the meat is a pretty pink colour, it has most likely been treated with sulphur dioxide, frustratingly this additive does not have to be declared on packaging. Rawhide and pigs ears etc are also treated with sulphur dioxide. Some dogs eat these foods and have no reaction but others end up with problem skin.
Dog rolls and dry biscuits can sometimes be very high in salt so be mindful of this when choosing your dog's diet.
I recommend consulting with Raw Feeding experts like the team at www.rawessentials.co.nz for the best possible diet that will almost always improve chronic skin conditions but the general health and happiness of your dog.
Check out BioPet Skin to target the seborrhea cycle.
Itchy at the Base of the Tail (Dogs and Cats)
Fleas locate themselves at the base of the tail because it is difficult for dogs to reach the area to bite them.
If your dog has scurfy or gritty skin in the area or is chewing or scratching there, suspect fleas. You can check if it is fleas by combing the area and tapping your comb on to a wet paper towel. Check the wet paper towel in 10 minutes and if there are fleas, then the little specks that dropped from the comb will have made little red blotches. This is because the specks are in fact flea poop which contains blood and the water has dissolved the poop to show the blood.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
FAD is a condition where the dog or cat's immune system is over-reacting to the flea saliva and causing an inflammatory response that can cause severe itching, scabbing and hair loss.
Check out BioPet Fleas if your pet has fleas or FAD.
Itchy all over But with a Healthy Clean Coat and some pale pink blotching
Carpet or House Dust Allergy. These dogs have lovely coats but itch all year round. They don't have fleas or any other obvious reasons. Often they will have pale pink round blotches on their skin if you part the hair. Even the cleanest houses can affect dogs this way, as well as houses without carpets as it can be upholstery or bedding that is causing the problem. Again this is an immune system over-reacting to what is a normal part of our environment and so, in my opinion, any treatment should target the immune response rather than suppressing the immune system through the prolonged use of steroids.
Check out our Hippo Health Dust Allergy remedy.
Itchy, Red Chin
It took us a while to work out that dogs with an itchy, inflamed chin and lips are usually drinking from a Stainless Steel water bowl that has been made in China (which is almost all metal pet bowls in NZ). It doesn't matter if you feed dogs from a stainless steel bowl as the food doesn't sit in there for long, however, water sits in water bowls for hours and the off-gassing can cause this irritation. In our experience it can also make them generally more susceptible to allergies, maybe by undermining the immune system, though this is unproven. The issue with Chinese stainless steel is that it does not contain Boron which is what stabilises the metal and stops the off-gassing. The very heavy stainless steel that comes from the USA does contain boron and is safe to use for water.
We recommend using bowls that are food grade.
Check out our Hippo Health De-tox remedy.