Saturday, 5 November 2011

WHEN A DOG IS CONSTANTLY SCRATCHING...Allergies, Other Causes, Treatment, Remedies

When a dog is scratching herself constantly, excessively it's time to identify root cause and establish a natural treatment protocol! There are many common reasons for excessive scratching including: 

An infestation of fleas.

A reaction to another type of bug bite or even insect eggs that have been laid by a bug just under the first layer of skin.

Allergies to foods and food ingredients.

Seasonal or year round environmental allergies to plants, air born pollen, fungus, molds, etc.

An allergic reaction to solvents and cleaners (i.e spray application - minuscule droplets/particles becoming airborne in the home or outdoor environment). Dust and toxins stirred-up or introduced to the immediate environment from cleaning or renovations.

Dry skin due to poor diet.

Dry skin can be a symptom of underlying health issues including endocrine issues. 

Bacteria, fungus or yeast infection.
Thyroid issues.

Scratching can also be an outlet for unspent energy or anxiety.

My Boxer has significant environmental allergies - seasonal allergies. His allergy symptoms were severe and quality of life diminishing. I designed a holistic protocol for my Boxer of supplemental foods, herbs and alt meds. His protocol resulted in a complete and permanent remission of his symptoms. If your dog has pollen related environmental allergies you can read here for a few examples of DIY natural herbal treatments and remedies. It's important to understand that what works for one dog may not work for another - just like with people.

When my Australian Shepherd and my Alsatian x Alaskan Malamute get stung by bees or bitten by deer-fly they can get some really nasty swelling and irritation. Just like with us humans, some dogs are more sensitive to bug bites than others are.

Abby, Zoey, Stevie and Tasha on the trails
You may be able to identify some of your own dog's allergy triggers..

Think back to when your dog's scratching started:

See if you recall introducing any new food to his diet at the time;

Try to remember if something in his environment changed or a new item was introduced (new cleaning product, new plant in the house, etc.);

Is his scratching seasonal?

Did you start walking him somewhere different? Somewhere he may come into contact with a plant, fungus that he did not before (i.e. wooded trails, meadows as opposed to sidewalks or pavement).

Good quality omega fatty acids 3 and 6 support healthy fur, skin and immune system health. A lack of enough and good quality omega fatty acids can trigger allergies and a whole host of other health issues. If you would like to learn more about how to make sure your dog is getting the right kind of fats in the proper ratio from the best food sources you can read this article 'Fatty Acids for Dogs - Omega 3, Omega 6, Health Benefits, Best Sources, Dosage'

The following provides a little more in-depth information on allergies…

Foods: The common symptoms of food allergies consist of skin irritation, excessive itching, hair loss, and hot spots. In addition, they can cause the dog to have loose bowel movements and even cause them to throw up from time to time. There are a number of causes for food allergies including a built-up intolerance to beef, dairy products, chicken, corn and soy. Food allergies can develop over time making it all the more important to be aware of these symptoms. 
Fleas: Much like food allergies, a dog may develop redness to the skin, become itchy, and may begin chewing in spots. The primary instigator of discomfort is the saliva of fleas that irritates the dog’s skin. Similar to mosquitoes, fleas suck blood from the dog.  If the dog has chewed his own skin, antibiotics will be sometimes needed, depending on the severity of the problem. I recommend going to your veterinarian to obtain the required flea treatment products. Do not buy off-the-shelf products from pet supply stores - these are not affective. You can also look into holistic treatments. Some dogs do have a reaction to the chemical based flea treatment products. 

Bacteria: Bacterial allergies can be identified by red blotches, pus pockets, hair loss and skin formation that looks like ringworm. Typically, bacteria allergies are secondary to other problems the dog may have such as parasitism or hormonal disorders. It is vital to get a blood test to see what the actual problem is.

Contact: The symptoms of contact allergies are very similar to flea and bacteria allergy symptoms. The cause of contact allergies is the dog coming into contact with allergens. Anything from materials used for bedding, chemicals, plants, or household cleaning products can bring on contact allergies. There are several different treatment methods including using a specially formulated  shampoo (available from your Veterinarian), a prescribed oral form of steroids, or any natural treatments like omega-3 and aloe vera juice.

Atopical: Atopical allergies start with itching, biting, hair loss and face rubbing. Other symptoms may be papules, which are small red bumps, or pustules, which are small pimple-like lesions. Atopical allergies are typically caused by fleas, but can also be caused by airborne, chemicals, and by many of the common products found in your home.

I would just add, that it is important to remember that scratching can also be an outlet for unspent energy leading to anxious behaviors such as repeated scratching. It can also be an outlet for anxiety resulting from a state of insecurity. Make sure that your dog is getting the exercise and Leadership it requires. Remember - energy must out!

My Boxer has seasonal allergies. I find that adding two tablespoons of 100% aloe vera juice as well as coconut oil, herbs and alternative medicines, homemade dog food and and fresh whole foods to his daily diet makes a big difference - his scratching and discomfort is greatly reduced! 

If your dog is suffering from skin irritations you can add rooibos tea to his/her diet as well as use the tea to topically treat the irritated spots. If your dog is suffering from candida you can use these herbal soaks to sooth itchiness and irritation. Many commercially manufactured dog shampoos contain chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions and help create a toxic burden in your dog.  Chemical based household cleaners are best replaced with natural, non-toxic household cleaners.

Robbie, my Boxer enjoying off-leash time on my trail
 Quercetin is a far better alternative to Benedryl...

I recommend using Quercetin rather than Benedryl. Quercetin is called 'Nature's Benedryl'. It is a natural alternative without the side effects of Benedryl. You can read about Quercetin, its many health benefits and daily recommended dosage here.

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 


  1. Hi Karen. Corn is real culprit as food allergy. I remember how much Sparkie suffered. He was born with ear allergies and I didnt realise until after two years that corn was making it worse. In Jamaica, most dogs enjoy home-cooked meals with cornmeal being used as the foundation of the meal. Sparkie is having rice now. His ear allergy is with him for life but the change to rice from cornmeal has lifted some of his troubles.

  2. poultry and fish have been a main source of allergies to three of my four dogs. I home cook and I find feeding med. rare red meat mixed with steamed vegetables and either couscous or quinoa which have more good things in them than just rice, keeps them from breaking out in itchy bumps.
    I also do a foot wash on them, once in the morning after their morning outing, and the last potty break before bed. If I don't do the wash, they chew at their feet.

    1. Hmm, they are likely chewing on their feet as they are still having a food sensitivity to something in their diet. The itchy feet are a sign of candida which results from an overgrowth of bad bacteria in their GI tract - common cause is grains in a dog's diet.

      Grains are not part of a dog's ancestral diet...grasses where/are in small amounts. I would recommend that you consider removing all grains from their diet and instead look at introducing more nutrient rich carbs such as sweet potato, lentils, chickpeas.

      Take a look at these articles, after reading them you may want to reconsider the grains...

      Species Appropriate Diet for Dogs - Get the Grains Out of Your Dog's Diet – For Your Dog's Health

      You can find a Home Made,Grain-Free DIY Dog Food Recipe here which includes veggies, lentils and grnd beef substituted for poultry...

      I would also suggest that you starting adding plain, natural (no sugar, no artificial sweetners) yogurt to their diet...1-2 tbs for little dogs, 2-3 tbs for medium size dogs and 3-4 tbs of large dogs. This will boost the good bacteria in their GI Tracts.

      You can also think about adding ACV to their diet...





      This should resolve their itchy feet :>)

  3. My dog has a yeast infection, nothing in her ears but around her vulva.

    Her whole body is also itchy. This poor dog, it has taken 5 vet visits to figure this out. She's on Acana but thinking of switching her to Orijen (less carbs).

    Going to start treating her with flowers of sulphur, coconut oil, probiotics and ACV. REALLY hope this works :(

    1. Also add:


      Rooibos Tea

      You will also need to boost her Omega-3 fatty acids intake

      Make sure their are zero grains in her diet, no sugars of any kind - and for now, no sweet potato either. She may also have a sensitivity to specific meats. You will have to test via a process of elimination. For carbs try to go with a food that uses potato as it lacks the sugar content of its richer cousin the sweet potato, and plain potatoes have enzymes that help to support skin health.

      Cheers, K

    2. Also - you need to help her body detox - Diatomaceous Earth (DE), Food Grade would be good for this, you can read about DE in this article

    3. Thanks Karen!!

      Will definitely get Orijen then for her (best food I can get in South Africa, imported!) will get the beef one since chicken is usually the culprit.

      Actually bought a tub of DE a couple of weeks ago but have been too scared to try it...Will start tonight!!!

      Will add Rooibos to her water and Turmeric and Omega 3 to her food.

      Will update you in a week or two! :)


    4. Hope she starts to feel better :>)

    5. Update!!
      Well we can't import regional Red to SA so I settled on lamb and apple. She is itching 80% less. I've also started adding omega 3 from fish oils to her food, DE and I'm rinsing her with Rooibos and ACV.

      I'm thinking the culprit might have been chicken, either way she is doing tons better! :)


    6. Great! To help her some more add some probiotics to her diet now. As most supplements are garbage see if she will eat wither yogurt or kefir - read here as you will need to know what type to buy and how to introduce it to her diet and daily dosage

      Woof and pawhugs, Karen

  4. HI< I love your blog!!! So my dog has horrible skin allergies and I feed him the diet you post on your blog to a T. But I cant find 100% aloe vera JUICE anywhere. What brand do you recommend?


    1. Pharmacies (even the one in Walmart), natural food stores and health food stores carry 100% aloe vera juice.

      Here are a few other allergy fighting items...


      Rooibos Tea

      Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

      Organic Coconut Oil

      Raw unpasteurized honey

  5. HI I have just rescued a few puppies from Jamaica and brought them back home to Canada. I am finding now that the Male is scratching constantly. Could it be weather change air. I am not sure. Any help would be appreciated Thanks,

    1. Hi Sheila,

      Make sure you:
      1) are feeding a grain-free food -
      2) make sure you are supplementing his diet with Omega-3 fatty acids
      3) could be environmental allergies
      4) could be anxiety/stress related - read my articles on behaviour

  6. Hi I hope you can help me. My dog is 12, ive had her since she was a puppy. A couple of months ago she started scratching a lot!! Around that time I had to start working a couple of days a week. I had worked evenings before and my husband days. The scratching is getting worse and her skin is fine. She has had no other changes in her life, same food, same home etc.. ive tried antihistamines prescribed by her vet, no change. Is there something I can do to help her? I dont want to keep going to the vets constantly but obviously I will if I have to. I hate seeing her so uncomfortable all the time. Thank you in anticipation, Katherin x

    1. Hi Katherine, yes there are things that you can do to help your dog overcome this. Your veterinarian is like many allopathic veterinarians quick to prescribe drugs without first gaining an understanding of the root cause of the condition and understanding the impacts of the drugs that they prescribe on both a one time and on a continual basis. I would be happy to assist you. The root cause of your dog's discomfort may be psychological or it may be physical (environmental, ingested, etc. ). If you are serious about getting assistance to resolve this I would be pleased to consult with you. To identify the cause and appropriate remedy I would need to know what you are currently feeding your dog, any current medications (including flea, tick meds, etc.) health conditions and to speak with you regarding the behavourial side of things. YOu would require at minimum 1.5 to 2 hours of my time.

  7. hi Karen. My dog licks her paws a week after taken meds
    to clear up the infection it comes back and she starts licking and scratching all over what do you think and help would be appreciated thanks.

    1. Recommended course of action is


Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats