Advice from a Dog Walker: Dogs with Itchy Skin

An awesome client of mine, Jennifer, recently shared a great predicament with me. Her dog, Emma, the most adorable pint-sized bully mutt, has had some major itchy skin problems lately. Emma’s beautiful brindle coat’s been reduced to a scabby, balding layer of skin after lots of vigorous scratching. Jennifer ran this question by me a few weeks ago & I thought it was great info to share with more clients.

Question & Answer:

JENNIFER:

Hi Rachel,

I just wanted to give you a heads up that I am trying to change out Emma’s food. So, if you give her food, if you could do 50/50, that would be great.
I am trying to figure out what is going on with her skin, and this is the sort of last resort.
I was also going to ask you if you have any advice? I took her to the vet a while ago and she had a staph infection from scratching. She took antibiotics, it went away, and her skin is getting better but still isn’t great. I don’t want to keep putting her on antibiotics because it’s not good for her so I’ve been trying to keep her very clean (washing bedding more frequently), adding fish oil, garlic, and brewers yeast to her diet and some antihistamine to keep her itching down….but…still I don’t know how much its helping.

I know this might be out of your realm of expertise, but I’m wondering if you have seen this before… thought it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Thanks again for your help, hope you guys have fun on tonight’s walk.

Jennifer

RAE:

Hi Jennifer,

I love that girl… she is so sweet – the sweetest. I’m so sorry about her skin issues. It sounds like you’re doing a great job trying to figure out the source & help her. Regardless, she’s a happy girl. I know you give her fish oil & that really helps my girl, Periwinkle, with her dry skin. I have another french bulldog who I babysit who has some bad skin problems but he’s doing much better now after being on a very strict regimen for a while. I think if you really put some effort into it, you can figure out what it is but I think it might take more than just switching her food. From what I’ve read, researched, & experienced through my dog & my clients’ dogs in the past, I can offer the following advice:

Her skin issues could be caused by parasites (like fleas or ticks), allergies (seasonal or internal), dry skin, or yeast infections. I’ll just go over the natural options of dealing with these issues since I’m sure your vet has told you about steroid injections, antihistamines, cortisone, antiobiotics, etc:

Parasites:

1) Look over Emma to double check she’s flea & tick free.

2) Consider putting Emma on a reliable flea treatment if she ever has flea issues. Dogs can be allergic to flea bites.

Allergies:

1) Consider getting her an allergy test. I have no idea how costly this is. Maybe she’s allergic to one basic ingredient in lots of foods. On the contrary, maybe she’s allergic to many things! I know some dogs who are allergic to grass (WOW).

2) Consider feeding Emma a very strict & limited diet (you may find this necessary after the allergy test – or, starting her on a limited diet may help you determine if she’s allergic to something without taking an allergy test). There are many, many recipes for home cooked dog meals on-line from other people with dogs with skin problems. Usually, this diet would consist of homemade meals over a considerable period of time. You would start her on a very strict one ingredient diet, for example, boiled chicken, feeding her only that for a week or so & see how she does with this strict diet (hopefully this won’t upset her stomach). If she does ok, then you would add one more item to see how she does with it. If this does help her skin, perhaps it is an allergy to a food. You might start adding a vegetable on week 2, like carrots. If she does well for another week, add another item, like green beans, & continue adding items to see what eventually makes her skin break out. A slow cooker is so awesome for this. When Peri has tummy issues if she eats something funky, I have to put her on a chicken & rice bland diet or it takes her FOREVER to recover. I use the slow cooker to boil the rice & chicken together & I make a big amount for 3 days. It is so much easier. Boil chicken on the bone because it has more nutrient. DO NOT FEED COOKED BONES TO EMMA. You’ll have to pick them out. Keep this in mind when you’re buying meat. The bones can splinter if she eats them & cause tears in her intestine/stomach.

3) Consider feeding Emma a raw diet. Not all dogs do well on this diet & the diets tend to be more expensive. Many dog food stores sell ready made meals. In general, many dogs do very well on a raw diet. They eat less, have more energy, & their bowel movements are very regular. I would not recommend preparing a raw diet yourself. The store bought meals tend to be very high quality & dependably free of parasites.

4) Consider a grain free diet. There are lots of top-notch grain free foods out there. Periwinkle eats Taste of the Wild Canine Prairie Formula. It’s grain free & very high protein. For a great food, it’s reasonably priced.

5) If she has seasonal allergies, an antihistamine should be helpful. But it doesn’t sound like it has helped much. : ( Poor baby.

Dry skin:

1) Omega fatty acids like fish oil can be very helpful, but it sounds like this isn’t helping either.

2) Olive oil (or other natural body oils) is a great natural & topical moisturizer, but she might lick it off! Fortunately, it is non-toxic.

3) Gentle oatmeal baths can be very soothing for a dog’s skin.

4) Make sure that Emma stays hydrated. If she doesn’t drink a lot of water, consider adding water to her kibble & mix together to make a gravy. I think a dog her size should be having at least 60oz of water/day & more if she’s exercising a lot. You can also add something like chicken broth (make sure it’s low sodium & obviously organic with few ingredient is better) to her kibble or even to her water to make it tastier for her. It might get her to drink more.  Maybe try adding part chicken broth/part water.

Yeast Infections
The french bulldog I mentioned had problems with yeast infections on his skin. He now uses some
medicated antifungal wipes twice per day on his paws, toes, ears, eyes, & really anywhere to kill off
any fungus on his skin that may cause a yeast infection. I think white vinegar actually helps repel
the fungus. Have you talked about this possibility with your vet? Yeast isn’t a bacteria so I don’t
think the antibiotics would be effective against a yeast/fungal infection because antibiotics kill
bacteria, right? Maybe that’s what it is…
I hope this helps!
Rae
Ruff Mutts
Disclaimer: Ok, guys. Just want to clarify – I’m not a vet. I’m an experienced dog walker who’s seen a lot of what’s out there. If you’re having a serious problem with you pet, take him to a doctor! Above is not a veterinarian opinion. Thanks!