Ask any pet parent about their dog’s bathing schedule and you’re likely to get a wide range of answers. Some pets have a standing appointment with a groomer. Others may get bathed every few months — the minimum recommendation from the ASPCA — if that. But there is something many pet health experts agree on: If your dog spends an excessive amount of time scratching, it’s probably time for a bath using dog shampoo for itchy skin.
“Just like our skin and our hair health reflects what’s going on with our bodies, a dry, brittle coat on your dog could be a sign that something is going on,” says Dr. Laura Wilson, DVM, Dipl. ACVD, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist with JustFoodForDogs.
Chronic itchiness is often the sign of a larger health issue, one that you’ll need to work with a veterinarian to diagnose and treat for long-term success. But there are some additional steps you can take to provide your dog with some quick relief from the unrelenting itch, starting with bath time.
Can Shampoo Alone Soothe Your Dog’s Itchy Skin?
Whether your dog has itchy, dry skin due to environmental allergies, food sensitivities, or fleas, giving them a bath with anti-itch shampoo could provide immediate relief.
It’s important to remember that, while bathing with an anti-itch shampoo can help calm inflamed skin and prevent your dog from scratching around the clock, the relief will be temporary. You’ll still need to make an appointment with your veterinarian to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to get rid of chronic itchiness for good.
But no pet owner likes to see their dog suffer. Read on for some expert guidance on how to choose a shampoo that may help relieve your dog’s itch now while you work on a longer-term solution. Plus, some bonus tips on dietary changes that can head off itchy skin before it happens!
Do not use human shampoo on pets
If you’re wondering if your dog really needs pet-specific shampoo, the answer is YES.
Never use your own shampoo or whatever human shampoo you have on hand for your dog. Dogs and humans have very different pH. Dog and puppy shampoo is specifically formulated to be pH balanced according to a dog’s natural pH needs.
BEST DOG SHAMPOOS FOR ITCHY SKIN
Keep in mind that while the following shampoos can help alleviate the itch, they may not be a one-and-done solution. You’ll need to get to the root of your dog’s itchy skin to see if their skin condition is a result of an underlying health issue. Dermatitis, staph infection, rashes from skin allergies, hot spots, and fungal infections are all possibilities.
There are a dizzying number of dog shampoos promising to alleviate itchy skin sold in pet stores and on Amazon. With so many options it can be hard to know how to begin. Here’s a helpful overview outlining what to look for in an itchy-skin shampoo so you can choose the best solution for your pet.
Homemade Itch Relief Shampoo for Your Dog’s Itchy Skin
There are almost as many DIY recipes for homemade anti-itch shampoos as there are commercial solutions. But most have a few common components. Natural ingredients like apple cider vinegar, hydrating aloe vera, oatmeal, and coconut oil are among the most popular homemade dog shampoos that target itchy skin.
While there are no downsides to using natural ingredients to make dog shampoo at home, dogs with moderate to severe cases of itchy skin may require more than home remedies.
According to one study, bathing dogs with a colloidal oatmeal shampoo (made from whole oats ground down to a powder) helped alleviate mild itchiness. Even with oatmeal dog shampoo, however, dogs with severe or chronic itchy skin also required medication to get their symptoms under control.
Best Natural Shampoo for Itchy Skin
Dog shampoos like Burt’s Bees that promise “all-natural” cruelty-free ingredients on their labels are generally free from the harsh chemicals that can cause skin irritation, says Wilson. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission requires that products marketed as “all-natural” or “100% natural” are free from synthetic ingredients.
In addition to shampoos marketed as “all-natural,” Wilson suggests looking for dog shampoo labels with phrases like “soap-free”, “detergent-free”, “fragrance-free”, “paraben-free”, or “dye-free”, which are also indications that the shampoos are made without harsh ingredients.
A plant-based dog shampoo like Earthbath is also a good option for minor skin issues.
Best Chemical Dog Shampoo for Dry, Flaky Skin
The best anti-itch dog shampoos, like Veterinary Formula Clinical Care, often contain ingredients like hydrocortisone and pramoxine, a topical anesthetic, that are known to help calm itchy skin, according to Wilson.
A shampoo containing hyaluronic acid, a “humectant” that draws moisture from the environment and locks it into the skin, may be especially effective for dogs with irritated skin, according to a 2020 study.
Best Shampoo for Sensitive Skin
If your furry friend has sensitive skin in addition to itchy skin, you may be worried about the ingredients in anti-itch shampoos causing further irritation. Hypoallergenic shampoo could help.
“Some pets react to the perfumes or the dyes in the shampoo,” Wilson says. “A hypoallergenic shampoo doesn’t have heavier detergents, sulfates, or other ingredients that could irritate the skin.”
Wilson warns hypoallergenic dog shampoo might not create the rich lather many dog parents expect from dog shampoo, because the detergents that create the bubbles are left out of the formulations. But that doesn’t mean the shampoo isn’t working.
Best Pet Shampoo for Itchy, Smelly Skin
Bathing your dog may not only help soothe their itchy skin, but it can also leave your pet smelling like they just got back from a doggy spa day. And who wouldn’t like that?
But Wilson suggests you think twice before reaching for a scented shampoo for deodorizing. In many cases, “the scent means the shampoo has extra chemicals that could irritate the skin.” If you choose a scented option, look for one that gets its scent from natural ingredients and essential oils, like lavender, chamomile, citrus, or other non-artificial ingredients.
Also, it’s important to know covering up some odors could actually endanger your dog. While some “dog smell” is normal, Wilson says, “Odor might not be dog odor; it might be a sign of infection. [You need to treat] the infection for the odor to go away.”
Best Medicated Dog Shampoo for Itchy Skin
Sometimes a DIY shampoo or over-the-counter product may not be enough to soothe your dog’s itchy skin.
“We start reaching for a medicated shampoo when [a dog] is having an allergy flare-up that includes a skin infection because the active ingredients in medicated shampoo can address that,” Wilson says.
Your veterinarian may recommend a medicated shampoo with antifungal and/or antiseptic properties to provide relief. Wilson notes that these prescription options often contain ingredients like chlorhexidine and benzoyl peroxide, which are effective for treating moderate to severe cases of itchy skin.
Research published in Veterinary Dermatology found that bathing dogs with a medicated shampoo containing chlorhexidine was as effective as oral antibiotics for clearing up bacterial skin infections.
Best Dog Conditioner for Itchy Skin
After bathing your dog with anti-itch shampoo, you may want to consider applying conditioner to your dog’s coat, too.
“Conditioner is generally more soothing than shampoo and can put the oils and the fluff back in your dog’s skin and coat,” says Wilson.
And you don’t need to look high and low for a conditioner specially formulated for itchy skin. The way all conditioners work is by adding beneficial oils and moisture back to a dog’s skin and coat after shampoos strip them away. So almost any conditioner will work well after an anti-itch treatment, as long as you steer clear of options that include harsh chemicals or artificial scents.
NUTRITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ITCHY SKIN
If your veterinarian suspects that food allergies or sensitivities are the root cause of your dog’s itchy skin and dandruff, a feeding trial can help determine what’s causing the reaction.
That’s important because true food allergies are relatively rare in dogs. Research shows that only 1-2% of dogs suffer allergic reactions to foods. What’s more common are food sensitivities, which can trigger itchy skin as well as gastrointestinal upset in some cases.
Whether allergic or sensitive, it’s not just the ingredients in your dog’s food that can cause a reaction. Some dogs are sensitive to the additives, chemicals, or preservatives found in processed commercial foods. Simply switching to a healthy, balanced whole-food diet may help with skin problems.
If a feeding trial shows that your dog is allergic to a common food ingredient like chicken, beef, or lamb, switching to a JustFoodForDogs recipe specifically formulated to fight allergy-related itch, like Venison and Squash or Fish and Sweet Potato, could help.
Wilson also recommends high-quality fish oil and probiotic supplements, which have been shown to decrease the response to allergens and reduce the severity of itchy skin as part of an overall strategy to prevent or alleviate itchy skin, explaining, “Happy gut, happy skin, happy coat, happy dog.”
With so many products on the market, knowing what to look for in the right shampoo and how to promote healthy skin through nutrition can help you address soothe itchy skin and provide your dog with lasting relief.