What Is The Best Itch Relief For Dogs?

Key takeaway

Dogs itch and scratch for a variety of reasons—in response to fleas, a bug bite, or a greater issue like persistent allergies or a parasite. Determining the best itch relief for dogs depends on the root issue, but most cases can be resolved with topical ointment or prescribed medication.

Every dog has its day, and some days can be itchier than others. Whether it’s burrs from the lawn, bites from ants, or a full-on flea infestation, dogs often struggle with itchy skin. As you watch your furry friend scratch themselves nearly to shreds, you’re probably wondering, what the best itch relief for dogs is. 

The good news is that there are plenty of options—the key is just getting to the bottom of what’s causing your dog’s itching in the first place. In today’s post, we’ll explore the different causes of dog itch, what they mean for your dog’s health, and what you can do to ensure that your dog is itch-free and living their best life. 

Here’s what we’ll cover; use the jump links to navigate the article or read through to find out everything about itch relief for dogs. 

Causes

Itching in dogs can be a sign of many different potential conditions, so if you see your dog scratching and scratching, be sure to note when and where they are scratching to help pinpoint the potential causes. In some cases, the cause may be mild enough that you can use over the counter soothing shampoos and other treatments to provide them relief.  

In other cases, you may need to take your dog to the vet for a further assessment. Many bacterial infections, for instance, can produce itchy skin, and in some cases, you’ll need antibiotics to get relief for your dog. 

 Graphic listing reasons why dogs itch

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Fleas. These tiny insects are infamous for their ability to cause cats and dogs tons of problems, especially sudden itchiness. If you suspect your dog has fleas or is prone to getting fleas often, it’s a good idea to get seen by a vet. Unfortunately, many over the counter flea medications don’t tend to work very well and the fleas return quickly. Dutch’s network of veterinary telemedicine providers is happy to connect you and your pet with the pharmaceuticals you need to find itch relief. 
  • Parasites. Fleas are just one type of insect that dogs struggle with. There are many types of parasites that dogs may develop through a weakened immune system or by spending time outside or interacting with other dogs. Depending on the type of parasite, your dog will need specialized medication to treat these pesky pests. 
  • Allergies. Dogs can be allergic to environmental and dietary allergens, and itchiness is one symptom they may present if they are having a reaction. Some dogs may have an allergic reaction to fleas or other parasites, worsening itching.
  • Bacterial Infections. Some bacterial infections are common in dog skin, often producing a round hairless crusted lesion that many people mistake for “ringworm”. Other bacterial infections can present like “hot spots,” or red moist, painful areas that are warm to the touch.  If your dog has a bacterial skin infection,  it’s important to get them looked at by a vet as soon as you can. 
  • Yeast Infections. Overgrowth of yeast on the skin can cause your dog to be extremely itchy. The most common yeast infection is caused by Malassezia. Chronic malassezia infections can cause the skin to turn dark and become thickened, similar in appearance to elephant skin. Yeast infections take patience to heal, so working with a veterinarian to treat these infections until they are completely resolved is key.

Sometimes, it’s hard to determine the cause of your dog’s itchiness. Paying attention to symptoms can help you narrow down possibilities so you can find an effective treatment, whether that’s oral antibiotics or topical itch relief for dogs.

Graphic listing severe symptoms associated with dog itching

Symptoms

A bit of itching here and there is normal. Dogs’ fur might get matted, burrs and other pieces of  plants may get caught in their fur, or an insect might bite them while they’re outside. If you see your dog pausing to scratch once or twice while out on a walk, there’s no need to panic. 

However, excessive scratching accompanied by other symptoms may be a cause for concern. Here are a few to look out for:

  • Location of their scratching. A healthy dog may scratch here and there, but if you see your dog continue to scratch the same area over and over, it could help determine the underlying cause of their itching. Dogs with fleas will mainly scratch and chew from their waist back. Dogs with environmental or food allergies may scratch their sides, armpits, and/or face. Keeping track of where they are scratching can often help your vet determine the cause of the underlying issue. 
  • Scabs. If you see scabs developing under your dog’s fur, they may be developing a secondary infection from traumatizing their skin. Getting to the root cause of the problem is important to prevent them from continuing to damage themselves. 
  • Odor. In some cases, infected skin will give off a foul odor, such as in the case of a bacterial or yeast infection. If your dog is scratching excessively and is producing a foul odor, it’s time to get to the vet. 
  • Scaly skin, oozing pustules, and bleeding. Primary skin and parasitic infections will spread and can affect the entire body, potentially causing some or all of the hair to fall out as it gets more severe.  If you see clear signs of infected skin in your dog, it’s clear that their itchiness is a sign of a more serious problem. 

Treatment

If your dog has an infection, parasite, fleas, or other more serious cause of itchiness, they may require prescription medication from your local veterinarian or a telehealth veterinarian. However, if your dog’s symptoms are mild there are topical itch relief options for dogs. 

A soothing bath can help reduce itching in your dog. There are some key factors that can help to maximize a bath's soothing potential. First, using tepid or cool (not cold) water is preferable to hot water. Think about how it feels when you have a sunburn - cool water tends to feel better. Next, choose a moisturizing shampoo. Colloidal oatmeal shampoos tend to be soothing by hydrating the skin and can reduce the inflammation. Finally, allow the shampoo to stay on for 5-10 minutes prior to rinsing it off. It is ok to bathe every 1-2 weeks if needed. 

If there are small localized areas of inflammation you can also try one of these:

  • Coconut oil
  • Cortisone cream
  • Triple antibiotic ointment

Try to prevent your pet from licking these ointments and any areas of red or inflamed skin. Dogs’ tendency to lick their wounds doesn’t help it and will actually make it worse. If your dog is attempting to lick at the ointments, place the ointment on the affected area and then immediately take them for a walk for 15-20 minutes. By the time you return home, the ointment will have soaked in and most dogs will have forgotten about the treatment. If your dog’s itching persists for several days, it could be time to schedule a vet visit.

Graphic listing signs it may be time to see a vet for your itchy dog

When to see a vet

Like with any condition, the more serious your dog’s itching becomes, the more important it is to take your dog to the vet. Some signs include:

  • Consistent or frequent bleeding
  • Sores or pustules
  • Continuous itching in the same spot
  • Allergic reaction symptoms
  • Foul odor from skin

Prevention

The best itch relief for dogs, at the end of the day, is itch prevention. The fewer chances your dog has to contract a nasty infection or get exposed to parasites and allergens, the less likely they are to be itchy. 

You can avoid itching in dogs by discovering what allergens and irritants your dog reacts to, keeping them on effective, next-generation flea medications, and bathing them monthly or more frequently if needed. 

Canine Itch Relief: Frequently Asked Questions

What can you give a dog for severe itching?

If your pet has severe itching, it is time to get them to the vet. However, for mild cases, giving them a soothing bath, antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and an effective next-generation flea medication can all be a good place to start. 

How can I help my dog stop itching?

You can help your dog to stop itching by figuring out the source of the itching and providing your dog with relief like the options listed above. 

Why is my dog so itchy but has no fleas?

There are many causes for itching apart from fleas, such as infections, irritation, allergies, and more. However, just because you don’t see fleas doesn’t mean they’re not there. Fleas are very small and can hide well in dog fur, especially longer dog fur. It’s still a good idea to have your vet check for fleas before ruling out other causes of itching.

What is the best anti-itch medicine for dogs? 

The best anti-itch medicine just depends on what the cause of your dog’s itchiness might be. In some cases, anti-allergy medication will clear up itchiness almost immediately. In others, it may take a few weeks of using antibiotic treatment to clear up an infection. Your vet will be able to determine what the best course of action is given your dog’s diagnosis. 

Happy dog rolling in grass

Final Notes

Dog itching symptoms can be treated—even if they are chronic symptoms brought on by allergies. At Dutch, we believe that your dog should live its life to the fullest, free from allergens and itching. We are happy to connect you with a vet in our network of professionals who can help you determine what the cause of your dog’s itching is, and how best to treat it. If your dog is suffering from an allergic reaction, medication prescribed by a Dutch-affiliated vet and filled by a Dutch-affiliated pharmacy may be the simplest, most affordable solution. 

Your dog deserves to live itch-free. Discover the cause of your dog’s itching and find the most effective, science-backed solution with Dutch today. 

Dr. Evans is the Clinical Director of Dutch and the owner of Coastal Animal Hospital.