Itchy Pet?

by Jo Ann White

There are many things that might cause your Shih Tzu to scratch, lick, or chew at itself excessively. Fleas are a common cause of itchiness. You need to treat your dog, his bedding, and your home to eliminate these pesky critters. Some highly allergic pets may itch after receiving only a few flea bites, even if you see no evidence of active infestation. More rarely, scabies mites can cause itchiness; your veterinarian can recommend treatment for these pests.

If your dog is chewing at its feet, suffers recurrent ear infections, and has itchy armpit and groin areas, he may be suffering from inhalant or food allergies. Inhalant allergies are most common in the spring, when pollen counts are high. If you think inhalant allergies may be the cause of your pet’s discomfort, try to keep him off of the grass just after it has been mowed. Avoid walking him in the early morning or early evening, when pollen counts tend to be highest. If he licks his feet a lot, you may want to wipe them with a damp cloth when he comes inside. If foot licking continues, try applying a diluted solution of baking soda and water to his paws. For more generalized itchiness, weekly or twice-weekly baths using a quality conditioning shampoo and cream rinse can help remove pollen from his coat and strengthen the skin lipids and proteins that prevent allergens from entering the body. Food allergies may cause generalized itchiness that is not seasonal. Your pet may also have a soft stool or be irritated around the anal area. Food allergies are often NOT the result of a recent dietary change, as intolerance to an ingredient can develop gradually over a long time. Corn, wheat, and beef tend to be the most common allergens. You may want to try changing your pet’s diet.

Whatever the cause of the original itchiness, it is often accompanied by secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections. Whether such infections occur independently or as a result of pests or allergies, they need to be treated. Shih Tzu rescue has had great success in treating such infections by bathing the dog with Head and Shoulders Intensive Treatment, keeping it out of the eyes. The important thing is to leave this on for 10 full minutes and then rinse for another 10 full minutes with cool water. Towel dry. Repeat three times weekly to start, reducing treatments to biweekly, then weekly, as the situation improves. If your dog’s itching and chewing starts to create a raw, irritated hot spot, treat it at once with a solution of 1/3 Listerine, 1/3 baby oil, and 1/3 water. The herbal oils in the Listerine may fight fungus and possibly bacteria, while the baby oil helps restore the skin’s protective layer. Itching and flaking are often caused by the Malassezia yeast. If so, follow your shampoo with a rinse of one part apple-cider vinegar and four parts warm water; this helps remove shampoo residue and creates conditions unfavorable for this yeast.

If your problem is so serious that a solution eludes both you and your regular veterinarian, consult a veterinary dermatologist in your area. However, the simple suggestions above may solve many of the most common causes of itchiness.

CREDIT: This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of the AKC Gazette, and is reprinted with permission. To read the Gazette in digital format, go to