My dog has itchy skin but I can’t find any fleas. What’s wrong?

relief for itchy dog

by Cate Burnette, RVT

“My dog has itchy skin but I can’t find any fleas. What’s wrong?” That’s the question I started asking myself when my little rescue dog, Stella the Puggle, started uncontrollably scratching and biting at her skin once the weather warmed up. I searched every hair on her little body looking for evidence of fleas, but finding not one adult flea or even a hint of flea dirt, I knew her itchiness had another cause.

I suspected Stella had what veterinarians call “atopy,” an allergic reaction to airborne pollens that shows up when plants and grasses start blooming, and then goes away during cooler weather. I also know that dog foods containing grain can exacerbate the itching that goes along with atopy.

So the first thing I did was switch Stella’s diet to an all-natural, grain-free food specifically made for dogs with allergies. The fact that this food is manufactured with a bunch of vegetables, fruits and healthy fish proteins adds to its nutritional value for high-energy dogs. Since Stella runs everywhere and is not known for taking life easy, I felt like this would be the perfect food for her. The next thing I did was start bathing her with an all-natural shampoo containing colloidal oatmeal.

I remembered my mother putting oatmeal in my bath water when I had chicken pox as a kid, so I knew that it helped stop itching. I did some research on colloidal oatmeal’s anti-inflammatory properties and found out that it is one of the few all natural ingredients approved by the FDA to help with dry, itchy skin.  

Finally, even though Stella has a short hair coat, I began conditioning her skin with an ultra-rich conditioner made with colloidal oatmeal and shea butter. I  simply rubbed it into her itchy areas after I shampoo’ed, particularly concentrating on her hairless belly and her paws – those spots giving her the most discomfort. Within just a couple of weeks of changing her food and grooming products, the constant scratching and itching is lessened.

Stella still occasionally scratches after she’s been out in the grass for a long walk, so I just rub her feet, belly, and face with a pre-moistened wipe to get rid of the pollens she brings into the house.

And, of course, I’m still checking for those pesky fleas. But Stella’s itchiness is no longer a major problem and I know what to do to help her next year when the symptoms of her atopy come back in the spring. To get more tips on how you can stop your dog’s constant scratching, click below to get our free ebook. Written by vets and holistic pet practitioners, it’s jam packed with ideas and solutions to make your dog’s life more comfortable.   

itchy skin ebook lar2

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  1. I have a pit who is the same way. Very allergic to fleas so when he continued to scratch and bit even though he was kept up to date with high end flea meds, I knew there was a problem. Even the poor puppy’s eyes were watering and swollen. I had been feeding him a Purina brand food so after talking with his Dr., I switched to a no grain food. It took him about a week and the majority of the scratching and biting has stopped. Figure he still has dermatitis so he will be getting a skin conditioner after I find a good one.


    1. I’m so glad you found the answer. I’ve put my dogs on a raw diet, used a flea treatment to get rid of fleas (although I have to say, it only kills the fleas when they bite, so perhaps all the continued biting still keeps them with red, itchy skin), and invested in a expensive shampoo/conditioner for itchiness. I’m still trying to find our cure….


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