9 min read

Is Dry Skin Making Your Dog Scratch Too Much?

It's more common than you think.

At this time of year, when the air turns chilly, we often find ourselves battling dry skin with lotions, potions and humidifiers on full blast. Our pups are just as prone to itchy skin, which can be caused by a number of factors ranging from environment to diet to something even more serious.

If you find that your dog is scratching more than normal, taking care of the irritation isn’t as simple as reaching for the lotion.

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How do you know that your dog is scratching due to dry skin? “Dry skin is usually associated with white flaking, which we commonly see on the pet’s dorsum or back,” Dr. Robert Proietto, a New York City-based veterinarian, told The Dodo.

If you see white dandruff dotting your dog’s fur, don’t ignore it. Dry, scaly skin can be a symptom of a bacterial or fungal infection or even a systemic disorder.

Once you have identified the cause, you can determine the best treatment plan for your itchy pup. Here’s what you need to know about your dogs’s flaky skin:

What causes dry skin?

There are many reasons for dry skin on dogs, Proietto noted.

Dry skin is often caused by allergies to a dog’s food or environment, though it can also be caused by a reaction to medications or a bacterial or fungal infection (such as ringworm). In addition, it can result from more serious causes such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, which tends to affect older dogs. Scaly, inflamed skin and hair loss may even suggest the presence of parasites, such as mites or scabies, or other serious medical conditions.

Luckily, with time and care, most dry skin is very treatable. It may be as simple as changing house cleaning products or taking chicken, a common allergen and one of the most popular dog food ingredients, out of your pup’s diet. If you notice that your dog’s scratching is focused primarily on their face, ears, feet and behind, poultry may be the problem.

Some dogs are more susceptible to skin irritations than others. Pit bull terriers, American bulldogs and Dalmations can be prone to skin infections as a result of an increased sensitivity to demodex, a tiny mite that lives near hair follicles, in these breeds.

Getting to the root of the problem

Once you identify your dog’s symptoms, check in with your veterinarian to make sure there are no real medical concerns causing the irritated skin. “Your veterinarian can test for parasites and perform blood work to search for a metabolic or endocrine disease that may be causing these clinical signs,” Proietto explained.

To prevent skin issues from flaring up again, Proietto suggests yearly blood work to stay on top of any medical conditions. Make sure your pup is on a good flea prevention treatment, such as Advantage, Frontline or PetArmor, regardless of whether he’s a city dog or loves walks in the woods. “Even if you’re not seeing fleas, your pet can get a bite when [he] goes outside and this can cause inflammation,” Proietto said. “Flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common allergies that we see.”

For many dogs with sensitive skin, year-round flea prevention is an easy way to prevent skin disease.

How to treat dry skin

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How you treat your dog’s dry skin will depend on the cause, and your veterinarian will be able to advise you on your options. “One of the initial things to try is adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet,” Proietto explained. “Omega-3 fatty acids work to keep skin cells healthy and as an anti-inflammatory ... but checking in with your veterinarian to be sure that there are no other issues such as allergies, endocrine or metabolic diseases that are playing a role is always best.”

If your dog has a dry nose, paw pads or elbows, vitamin E can be used to moisturize the specific location, but if your dog has generalized dry skin, it can suggest a more serious problem. Some swear by using an apple cider vinegar solution to treat itchy paws, but it may sting if it touches raw skin. “I don’t recommend the acidity of apple cider vinegar applied to ears or skin,” Proietto noted. “We have much better topicals that we can use.”  

To maintain healthy skin, especially in the dry winter months, consider giving your dog a soothing oatmeal bath every two weeks, suggested Proietto. Use a blender to grind up dry oatmeal into a powder, mix it with warm water, and let your dog soak for 10 minutes or so. The oatmeal will help keep the skin clean and healthy.

Speaking of bathing: Avoid flea baths or medicated shampoos unless prescribed by your veterinarian. “Many of the over-the-counter shampoos can cause severe irritation or reaction,” Proietto added. “Stick with a gentle oatmeal-based shampoo.” And remember to be gentle with your pup when he’s in the tub. Take care of his sensitive skin and your dog will be so grateful!