If your farm dogs are anything like mine, they are into everything, and sometimes the exciting things they find to roll in make them itchy. Itching can progress from slightly annoying to the point where it interferes with your dog’s life and can even become quite painful. Consult with your vet first, and then try some of these natural remedies to relieve the itching.
I adopted Lefty, a Queensland Heeler, from Pima Animal Care Center in May 2018. He was a year old and had been seized as part of a drug bust. Without any information from his previous owner, his medical history is essentially unknown. Last month he developed a terrible itch. He was so itchy that it would wake him up at night and he would scratch until he bled. I took him to the vet and she determined that his itching was caused by an infection, likely secondary to an allergy. She treated him with antibiotics and over-the-counter Benadryl. He still needed a bit more relief, so these are the steps I took to help heal his skin and make him comfortable again.
Without extensive allergy testing I don’t know if Lefty’s allergies are caused by food or by something environmental. If dogs have food allergies, the allergy is usually to a protein in the food. The most common food allergies are:
I’ve fed grain-free dog food since 2008, and Taste of the Wild for the last three years. I had been feeding the Pacific Stream version, but switched to Pine Forest, which has venison as the protein source. The idea behind switching foods is to feed the dog a novel protein that he has never had before so that his body won’t have an immune response to the protein. Other good options would be foods that contain bison or wild boar. You can buy Taste of the Wild Pine Forest here.
All three of my dogs LOVE Taste of the Wild's Pine Forest dog food. Even my picky eater, my 6-year-old Dalmatian Rylee, goes right for this food. If she approves, then I am convinced this is a good one.
If Lefty’s symptoms don’t improve over the next six to eight weeks after his diet change, the next step will be an elimination diet under my vet’s supervision.
Once I knew the cause of Lefty’s itchiness (infection secondary to an allergic reaction) I needed to soothe his skin. The first step is a bath. You can use medicated shampoo or special soothing shampoo with oatmeal or aloe vera, but I did not have a chance to get to a pet store, and I didn’t want to wait three days for delivery, so I used what I had on hand: Mane N Tail shampoo and conditioner. It worked perfectly and relieved Lefty’s itching instantly. If you don’t have any on hand, you can buy it here.
Lather the shampoo on your dog, paying special attention to the itchy areas. I use my absolute favorite grooming tool, the Kong Zoom Groom (buy it here), to really massage the skin and remove any environmental allergens. Rinse thoroughly. I put the conditioner on thick and let it sit for several minutes before rinsing to add moisture back to the coat and skin. Be sure to rinse the conditioner thoroughly too. Let your dog shake and towel dry.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is naturally antibiotic and mildly acidic. Using apple cider vinegar topically on your dog kills several pathogens that cause itchiness, so I wanted to try this treatment on Lefty.
I mixed Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar 50/50 with water in a spray bottle. While Lefty was still wet from his bath, I sprayed him with the mixture and then used the Kong Zoom Groom to work the mixture down to his skin. Lefty didn’t like this part. The apple cider vinegar smell was stronger than I anticipated. However, it made his coat shiny and relieved his itching.
Do not rinse the apple cider vinegar. Let it dry on your dog.
Always use apple cider vinegar with “the Mother.” Bragg’s is the name brand, but many health food stores sell their own brand that is equal quality. Apple cider vinegar without “the Mother” is too processed to be effective. You can buy Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar here.
The final step for treating Lefty’s itchiness was coconut oil. I have used this as a moisturizer on myself for years (it’s the reason I have NO stretch marks from pregnancy!) so I always have some on hand.
I usually buy the large jars of Kirkland Organic Virgin Coconut Oil because I use so much of it, but when I need smaller quantities, I love Garden of Life Raw Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (buy it here). This is what I used on Lefty.
After Lefty dried from his bath and apple cider vinegar application, I massaged his extra-itchy spots with coconut oil. I put a small amount on the palm of my hand and rubbed it until it melted. Then with a light touch I massaged it into his skin.
Coconut oil is safe for dogs to consume, so you do not need to worry if your dog licks it off.
The three steps I took with Lefty worked perfectly to relieve his itching, but several other natural methods are effective and safe.
Make your dog a soothing oatmeal pack to spot-treat itch. Using a food processor, grind uncooked oatmeal into a fine powder. Dampen the oatmeal powder with water to make a paste and pack the paste on your dog’s itchy spot. Leave in place for several minutes and then rinse. Do not worry if your dog licks off the oatmeal – it is safe to eat.
Aloe vera is another effective way to sooth itch. If you have an aloe vera plant, cut a leaf and massage the gel on your dog’s itchy spot. Use caution if your dog wants to lick it off because aloe vera is a natural laxative and can cause diarrhea.
Vitamin E also relieves itching. I use this on my horses and myself to prevent scarring after injuries, and it works on dogs as well. Pierce the end of a Vitamin E capsule with a safety pin and squeeze the oil onto the dog’s itchy spot. Massage the oil into the skin. Repeat twice daily until itching is relieved. Kirkland Signature Vitamin E gives me the best value for my money, and you can buy it here.
If your dog likes to soak in the tub, fill your bathtub with warm water and add 1 cup of Epsom salt. Let your dog soak int the bathtub for at least five minutes. Rinse your dog thoroughly. I use Dr. Teal's brand for my dog and myself (an Epsom salt bath is a great way to relieve aching muscles after riding!) You can buy it here. Be sure to choose plain Epsom salt and not one infused with essential oils or scents.
You should not use essential oils on your dog. Many of them are toxic to dogs and have no proven medical benefits. Consult with your veterinarian before using any essential oils on or near your dog. Even diffusing them can be toxic and cause serious health problems.
Natural and Traditional
The best way to treat Lefty’s itch was a combination of natural and traditional medicine. I always recommend consulting with your veterinarian, especially if your dog is so itchy that it interferes with his life. Dogs get itchy for many reasons, and it’s best to rule out any serious medical problems before taking an all-natural approach. Once you have a diagnosis, try the natural remedies. A bath, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil was the magic combination for me. My dog is itch free and happy.
Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.