People always want me to tell them what to do about their itchy dog without realizing there’s no one cause and no one treatment for this misery-making problem!
Q: My dog seems to be scratching himself a lot. Does he have dry skin? Should I add oil to his food?
A: Dogs who scratch may have fleas or allergies to pollen or other inhalants. Sometimes they have food allergies. Rather than adding oil to your dog’s food, you should take him to your veterinarian to get a definite diagnosis and effective treatment for whatever is causing the itchiness.
If it’s fleas, your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate preventive product based on your dog’s lifestyle. For instance, if your dog likes to swim or is bathed frequently, an oral preventive is a better choice than a topical.
For inhalant allergies, medications are available to help relieve itching while you and your veterinarian work together to figure out what might be causing the allergy. It could be seasonal pollens and molds, or something in your household such as dust mites or a new detergent or brand of dryer sheets.
When a food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian may recommend a feeding trial to pinpoint the problem ingredient. Usually that involves feeding a novel protein — one your dog has never eaten before — for a certain period. Then previous ingredients are added back in, one at a time, to see what is causing the problem.
Simply adding oil isn’t really a fix unless there’s a dietary deficiency that is accidentally addressed by the addition. If you’re feeding a complete and balanced food, you shouldn’t have to add anything to a dog’s diet unless your veterinarian has recommended supplements such as omega-3 oils and glucosamine for a condition such as arthritis, for instance.
The takeaway? “Itchy” is a symptom, not a disease, and it’s a symptom common to more than one problem. Seek your veterinarian’s advice to solve it in a way that will best help your dog.
There’s more – including information on rooster rescue – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.