Soothe Your Itchy Dog’s Skin With These Natural Topical Remedies

Neem and coconut oil have antiseptic, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties that can heal skin irritation. We also tell you which common commercial ingredients to avoid.

Ever have itchy, dry, or irritated skin that you just wanted to scratch and scrrrrratch? You understood, psychologically, that it would heal much faster if you simply let it be. But it would draw you back, again and again, like some sort of sinister Star Wars tractor beam.

In light of that compulsion, consider how our dogs must feel when they have an itch, a wound, or a hot spot they can’t seem to leave it alone … and we can’t help them understand why they need to stop chewing and licking. The end result is usually time spent in the dreaded cone, which makes everyone miserable. Also, let’s face it: Cones are a temporary deterrent, and our pups need lasting solutions.

To make matters worse, commercial products can often confuse and confound our efforts to help. There are just so many formulations advertised as soothing, anti-itch, conditioning, anti-dandruff, and/or hypoallergenic. Yet some of their core ingredients can actually aggravate the problem.

That’s why I began exploring natural topical solutions that can offer some lasting relief. It turns out many of these traditional holistic remedies have been used, safely and effectively, for decades. But before I share the list, let’s examine a few common ingredients that might be worth avoiding when it comes to our canines.

Propyl paraben and methyl paraben — Often included in “hypoallergenic” formulas, they can still cause skin reactions in sensitive pups.

Propylene glycol — This cosmetic form of mineral oil offers humectant properties, meaning it helps retain moisture. However, it’s also a known skin irritant frequently found in de-greasers, industrial compounds, and various paints. It may cause sensitive dogs to experience redness or sores.

Surfactants — These ingredients deliver most of the cleaning action in commercial shampoos. Basically, their dual molecular structure helps separate soils from water, thereby removing dirt and grunge during a doggie bath. Many popular surfactants (such as sodium lauryl sulfate) are synthetic and/or petroleum based, however. These can sometimes cause pronounced skin allergies.

Imagine our frustration when our dog Grant’s seasonal skin dryness was actually worsened by an application of popular canine conditioner. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)
Our dog Grant’s seasonal skin dryness was actually worsened by an application of a popular canine conditioner. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

Here’s the good news: There are natural, healing topical agents that can help soothe skin and coat, thereby allowing us to sidestep some of these ingredients. We’ve tried several with good success.

Neem oilThis oil comes from the leaves of the Neem tree, native to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. Certain natural practitioners refer to neem as a “wonder oil” due to its broad spectrum of benefits. It has antiseptic, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties that are especially good for healing yeast infections and ringworm fungus. Neem can be used along with conventional preventive agents to repel mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks. In fact, it causes female ticks to lay sterile eggs, which can reduce an existing infestation. It’s also very effective for itchy or irritated skin, hot spots, and persistent mange-causing mites. Add a few drops to purified water to create a spray. Or you can mix neem into shampoos or with pure lavender oil. It’s extremely potent, so it should never be used at full strength.

Turmeric — Who knew? This popular culinary spice used in Indian curry and American mustard is also a powerful medicinal herb! It actually derives from the underground roots of the plant Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. Curcumin, the most active component of turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s long been used in traditional medicine as a disinfectant and arthritis remedy. It’s also been used topically to help treat fungal and bacterial infections, tick infestation, acne, and skin irritation.

Purchase capsules, and then stir the powder into yogurt or rice flour to create a paste. You can also mix it with unscented moisturizer. Apply to the affected area in gentle circular motions, then blot away. Careful, a little tends to go a long way — we started with 1/8 of a 500mg capsule per 20-pound dog for each topical application, no more than twice per day.

Coconut oil For decades, cultures around the world have used the Cocos nucifera L. plant to promote natural healing. According to the Natural Medicine Journal, coconut oil contains lauric acid and offers antiseptic/antifungal properties that can help combat a wide range of bacterial and fungal infections. It also has a very low list of side effects, making it a great choice for canines with mild or moderate skin allergies. We rub it on full-strength, and also feed each 20-pound dog about 1/2 teaspoon per day.

Olive Oil — Another healthful oil, this one contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve skin quality, soothe redness, and reduce flakiness. According to my vet, you can add up to 1/2 tablespoon to your dog’s daily meals. Start with 1/4 tablespoon total (i.e., divided across your pup’s total daily food intake), and increase so long as it’s well-tolerated. You can also prepare a solution of five to 10 teaspoons diluted in purified water to spray this on your pup’s skin once per day. Natural lotions and shampoos containing olive oil are also good options for soothing dry, chronically itchy skin.

Lavender oil — Lavender is a soothing scent for dogs (and humans). Its oil tastes bad, yet it’s safe to ingest, so it can minimize chewing while calming pups who are anxious about skin irritation or cone-wearing. To help break the itching/chewing cycle, combine one part filtered water and one part lavender oil in a spray bottle. Shake well and mist lightly onto the affected area several times per day.

Lavender oil by Shutterstock.
Lavender oil by Shutterstock.

Natural surfactants — If you do choose commercial brands, scan the label for naturally derived surfactants such as animal-based tallow or plant-based palm kernel oil.

What natural skin-healing remedies have worked well for your pup? Share your suggestions below!

Top photo: Otterhound puppy scratching by Shutterstock.

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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