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What is Itchy Skin in My Dog?

What is Itchy Skin in My Dog?

If your dog’s suffering from itchy or flaky skin, there could be a number of causes. It could indicate a grass allergy, or parasites such as fleas, or due to other environmental factors. It might even be because of a condition such as Cushing’s Disease.

Itchy Skin Treatment Here

When looking at your dog’s skin and coat, you may notice they have flakes of skin, similar to human dandruff. Similarly, the skin may appear scaly or cracked, or have small scabs on it. These symptoms may be all over the body, or just in one or two isolated areas.

Leaving your dog’s itchy skin untreated may result in secondary health problems. If you’re concerned, you must consult a vet to help with diagnosis. However, regularly applying a soothing shampoo formulated for dogs and regular grooming, will often be all that’s needed to resolve the issue.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Itchy Skin in Your Dog?

Itchy skin - or to give it its medical name, pruritus - is a common concern for many dog owners. In fact, skin allergies were one of the top pet medical conditions claimed on pet insurance in 2023 in the US. 

While occasional scratching is normal, if your dog’s got itchy skin you’ll have noticed persistent scratching.  Your dog may also be repeatedly licking - to the point of saliva stains on soft furnishings or their fur - or biting at areas of their body. The scratching, licking and biting may be refined to one area or it could be general.

There will also be rolling around on the floor or rubbing against furniture trying to get relief.

You may also see rashes or visible areas of redness, irritation and inflammation on the skin under their coat. There might be areas of fur loss, and ‘hot spots’ - moist, red and inflamed areas made worse by scratching - or flaky skin. The skin may also be thickened and darkened.

Your dog may also seem irritable or restless, unable to settle.

What should I do if I think my dog has itchy skin?

It’s best to identify the underlying cause of the itchiness, and for this reason it’s advisable you take your dog to the vet. 

Your vet will likely do several tests in order to diagnose what’s causing your dog’s itchy skin. These may include skin scrapings and skin cytology to check for mites, other insects, and bacterial or yeast infections. 

Other tests that might be suggested include allergy testing and intradermal skin testing (they don’t identify food allergies). These will show antigen exposure patterns. Any immunotherapy vaccine used will be decided by the results of these tests. 

For food allergies, your vet may suggest the canine equivalent of a human ‘elimination diet’ to try and pinpoint if any particular food is causing an allergic reaction in your dog. It can take up to two months to conduct one of these.

Once your vet has made a diagnosis, you can then discuss a suitable treatment plan.

In the meantime before your vet’s appointment, you can try and soothe your dog by bathing them with a soothing, anti-itch shampoo formulated for dogs, or giving them an oatmeal bath. 

You can also massage coconut oil into their skin or try an anti-itch spray for dogs. Applying a cold compress - using a cloth that’s been soaked in cold water and then wrung out - to inflamed, red areas can also help. 

These are only temporary dog skin irritation remedies, until your dog gets your vet-recommended treatment, but may help temporarily alleviate the irritation until your vet can find out what’s causing the itchy skin.

What Causes Itchy Skin In Dogs?

Dry or itchy skin can be caused by a number of reasons. Most commonly, however, it’s triggered by parasites, such as fleas, poor diet, or an allergy to something in your dog’s food or environment. Sometimes itchy skin can be caused by a condition like Cushing’s Disease or Hypothyroidism.

Somewhat surprisingly, dogs can be allergic to grass, beef, chicken or dairy. Perhaps less surprising is that some dogs aren’t well able to tolerate household items such as household cleaners, shampoos, pesticides, or certain plants.


  • Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD): Flea bites can trigger an allergic reaction - flea allergy dermatitis in dogs - leading to intense itching. Even a single flea bite can cause discomfort in sensitive dogs. Although they can be found anywhere, flea bites are often around the hind legs, tail base, and rear end.
  • Food Allergy: If your dog is allergic to something in their diet then you’ll likely notice that the skin around their paws, face, armpits, and belly has changed. 10% of dogs with itchy skin or persistent skin issues that are severe enough to need vet care, are estimated to be affected by food allergies.
  • Environmental Allergies: Dogs can develop allergies to various environmental factors, including pollen, mould, or dust mites. If your dog’s suffering from environmental allergies, you might notice them flare up during certain seasons. They can also present all year around. These allergies often change the skin around the face, belly, and paws.
  • Canine Grass Allergy: Caused by pollen that floats through the air, which is then absorbed through your dog’s skin and nasal passages, the pollen then can cause an allergic reaction. Your dog’s coat will also pick up pollen, from the grass itself but other surfaces that may have pollen on it, such as the ground. In high pollen season, it could be coming into the house via shoes, clothing, and even your body. Itchy skin is one of the symptoms of a grass pollen allergy.
  • Contact Dermatitis: Your dog may be allergic to everyday substances such as household cleaners, shampoos, insecticides, or plants. You’ll notice skin irritation, and lots of itching, mainly in the area that touched the contact allergen.

Dry Skin: Insufficient moisture in the air, especially in dry climates or during winter, can lead to dry skin, causing discomfort and itchiness.

Skin Infections: Bacterias and fungal (yeast) skin conditions cause itching. The infections can be secondary to another condition, such as an allergic reaction or systemic illness.  The body and skin then become vulnerable to infection.  When there’s an infection (pyoderma/impetigo), it’s probably that there’ll also be patches of missing fur, scaling of the skin, crusts, discharge and maybe a strong smell. 

An Underlying Condition: Sarcoptic Mange (scabies/mites) - particularly if you live in an area with a high fox population, autoimmune disorders, or Cushing’s Disease.

Can I Prevent My Dog From Developing Itchy Skin?

Your dog’s itchy skin may be caused by something that’s out of your control. However, there are some measures you can take to minimise certain risk factors.

  • Flea and Parasite Control: Keep up-to-date with your dog’s flea prevention programme. Fleas are in force all year round. Over the counter flea preparations can be ineffective. It’s better to get prescription strength medication from your vet. You could also consider a flea collar in addition to medication.  If your dog has flea allergies, addressing the flea infestation is crucial to managing the condition. Likewise with parasites, ensure you’re up to date with any necessary medication. 
  • Bathing and Grooming: Keep your dog’s skin moisturised, and relieve irritation, with certain shampoos.  Bath your dog’s paws after walking to remove irritants and allergens (pollen and dust). Brushing your dog regularly helps remove loose hairs, and distribute natural oils.
  • Avoid Strong Detergents: Biological washing powders can trigger skin sensitivities.
  • Skin Supplements: Omega 3s, added into your dog’s diet, can help your dog’s skin by improving its oil content as well as helping keep general inflammation down. 

What Breeds and Ages Suffer from Itchy Skin?

Any breed or age of dog can suffer from itchy skin. However, it does seem to affect Westies (West Highland Terriers), Shar Peis, French and English Bulldogs, Cockerpoos, French Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, and Retrievers more commonly. There seems to be a hereditary component too: many purebred dogs will have family histories of skin issues and sensitivities. 

Treatment Options: How Can I Help My Dog?

The cause of your dog’s itchy skin will determine how you treat it, particularly in terms of medication. There are some actions you can take to help your dog, regardless of the underlying reason, that work well to help your dog’s itchy skin.

Prevention - Ensure your dog is up-to-date on flea and tick medication and that your home is flea-free.


  • Antihistamines - A very common approach to treating itching skin, it’s unpredictable how a dog’s condition will react to it. Current research doesn’t support their use.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Steroids - These (e.g. Glucocorticoids) can be very effective for treating itchy skins. However, be aware that they can cause side effects, particularly if used in the long-term.  Should only be used in the short-term,  whether orally or by topical application.
  • Antibiotics - These will be prescribed if there’s an infection.
  • Desensitising Skin Injections - Cytopoint is a biologic therapy which works like your dog’s immune system. It turns off one of the dog’s main proteins that causes itching, giving skin a chance to heal from being scratched. Effects last from 4-8 weeks.

Shampoos and oils

Medicated Shampoos - These contain ingredients, such as Salicylic Acid, and anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties

Over the Counter Shampoos - Dermagic for dogs, which Zoomadog stocks, are sulfate- free and pH-balanced dog skin care products. They’re specially formulated to soothe dog itching and stimulate the healing process.

  • Hypoallergenic Nutrition - Depending on whether your dog has an identified allergy, or your vet has prescribed it as part of a broad approach in tackling your dog’s skin itching, a hypoallergenic diet might be beneficial. It’ll probably contain fish or other meats not previously fed, or be grain free.
  • Allergen Avoidance - Don’t go on walks, or through fields, where you know grass or particular plants have triggered canine skin allergies.

If the cause of your dog’s itchy skin isn’t identified, or the itchy skin isn’t resolved through treating the underlying condition, then it may be necessary to use medication to manage the itching (pruritus) long-term. Your vet may suggest medications that dampen your dog’s immune response to allergens, by preventing the excessive release of inflammatory mediators to whatever is causing the allergy.

How To Help Around The House

Make sure your dog’s bedding is clean, comfortable and flea-free.  Wash it regularly using a hypoallergenic detergent. 

Vacuum your home regularly to reduce dust mites and other allergens.

Consider using a humidifier in drier climates, or during winter, to add moisture to the air, preventing dry skin. Some people also use air purifiers to reduce airborne allergens.

Maintain good grooming and bathing practices for your dog. Dermagic Skin Rescue Lotion is an effective dog dry skin treatment which also has anti-itch properties, if you need to keep your dog’s skin moisturised.

Wipe your dog’s paws after outdoor activities, particularly if they’ve got a grass allergy. Remove potential environmental irritants.

Use an Omega 3 Supplement and ensure that your dog’s diet contains enough essential fatty acids - they may be successful at helping to manage a long-term itchy skin.

Use cool compresses if your dog’s skin is particularly red or inflamed.


Itchy skin can be very uncomfortable for your dog. There can be complex reasons for why your dog’s got itchy skin. Seeking professional vet guidance is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. And always consult with your vet before trying new products or making significant changes to your dog’s care routine.

Managing your dog’s itchy skin condition is a commitment and can be time consuming, but in most cases it will make a real difference to your dog. Once relieved of itchy skin, your dog’s wellbeing will massively improve and they’ll feel much better about life.

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