First of all, go see your vet. She can easily eliminate the obvious triggers, which helps narrow down the problem. It’s very possible your vet will find an immediate cause and solution to your dog’s problem. There are a number of other causes for skin problems and paw chewing that have nothing to do with allergies.
A blood test and your vet’s advice can narrow down your list of suspects quickly and easily. She may also want to do a tissue scraping to check for mites, fungus, yeast, etc. A microscopic look at your dog’s skin can sometimes reveal the problem immediately, or at least rule some out. A genetic disorder may also be the culprit. Sheltie skin syndrome or dermatomyositis, which can occur in many of the collie breeds, affects the connective tissue and can cause a variety of symptoms. Only your vet can determine if your dog might have a genetic disorder or other hidden reason for skin problems.
Once you’ve seen a vet, here are other things to try.
Narrow down the possibilities. Try to eliminate unlikely triggers and identify the most obvious. If you can remove them from the dog’s environment, great. If not, boost your dog’s self-esteem, immune system, intellectual and physical stimulation and treat her symptoms with patience. Symptom management often involves a variety of things, but usually you can find a combination of things that will make life easier for you and your dog.
Make sure your dog has plenty of fatty acids in her diet. When dogs were wolves, they ate birds and deer and rabbits and nuts. They got fatty acids in their diet because their prey ate grass, the primary source of omega fatty acids. Today, most dogs don’t get enough of these important nutrients in their food and it can affect their mood, their blood chemistry and skin health.
Go to the grocery or drug store and get some of the stuff listed below. Start slowly and work up so your dog has a chance to get used to the extra oils in his or her diet. If you go too quickly, you can cause diarrhea and no one wants that. Your dog will eat the gel caps like treats or you can put drops in her food.
Evening primrose oil - 200 to 500 mg, twice a week for an average sized dog. Evening primrose oil is a great source of Omega-9 fatty acids which have been linked to inflammation and mood disorders in humans. Although there have been no studies on dogs that we know of, we think this may be the most important of all the supplements you can give your dog. By giving your dog Omega-9 fatty acids, we think it can lower their bodies reaction to allergens, possibly reduce itching and may even help take the edge off of neurotic behavior. So far, the data is anecdotal or borrowed from human studies, but we think this might be one of the most important food supplements you can give your dog. Borage oil and some other supplements contain Omega-9 fatty acids but evening primrose oil is easiest to find and has the highest concentrations.
Fish oil capsules – 1000 mg, once a day for an average sized dog. A good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil is good for your dog’s nervous system, heart, skin and immune system.
It can help reduce inflammation and realy help her skin, it can often improve their mood and if they have arthritis or other inflammatory issues, it can make a big difference. If you have a Chihuahua or Yorkie, you might want to get drops to put in her food. If you have a Labrador or larger breed get caps from the grocery store work just fine. Ask your vet about dosage or read the labels if you are buying fish oil at the pet store. You can usually figure dosage at about 1000 mg once a day per 25 pounds of dog. So if you have a hundred pound dog, she can take four 1000mg gel caps a day. Too much fish oil can cause fish burps, upset stomach or soft poop so ramp up the dose slowly. Once your dog gets used to more oil in her diet, she will feel better all the way around. Usually it takes about six weeks to see a significant difference from most supplements. Other choices for omega-3 fatty acids include krill oil which comes in smaller gel caps and might be easier for little dogs to swallow. It also doesn't have the fish breath part if your dog's burps are a little fishy.
Flaxseed oil capsules – Good for all of the above but has more Alpha-linolenic acid in the form of omega-6 fatty acids, which are highly beneficial to your dog’s skin. For a 25 pound dog the usual dose would be 1000 mg three or four times a week. Use this in addition to the fish oil and you should see
improvement within a few weeks. Most dogs will eat a gel cap just like a treat, but you can also use a little peanut butter or cheese to hide them in.
Vitamin E - Give your dog a 400IU capsule two or three times a week for every 20 pounds of weight. Vitamin E has several properties that make it a good candidate to help dogs with skin issues or allergies.
Change his food. Try a food specially formulated for allergenic dogs, or try a food based on a higher protein, simple carbohydrate diet. Most dog skin allergies seem to come from corn and wheat in their food. Although some dogs can be allergic to the type of protein in food, it's only about 5% of them. The most important thing to look for in a food is the type of carbohydrate. Stay away from corn and wheat and find a food that uses brown rice or sweet potatoes or oats or just about anything that isn't corn or wheat. Again, be patient, it will take about four to six weeks to see a significant improvement from a diet change. There are hundreds of good foods out there that don't use corn or wheat so you have lots of tasty options.
Put some socks on your dog. Elizabethan plastic collars only work when your dog is wearing them, and if dogs could talk they would definitely ask you to please not make them wear one.
Socks on the other hand, can be an excellent way to keep your dog from chewing his feet, help contain the infection, and are usually a comfortable, effective method to prevent chewing and licking. Use white cotton children's socks. Dyes and other materials can be itchy. Unfortunately, the problem with most socks we have tried is that they come off within a few minutes.
There are some socks and booties that don’t come off. They are made from plastic or rubber materials that are tough enough to prevent the dog from chewing through them. The problem is that dogs sweat through their noses and their paws. If they are wearing waterproof socks, their feet will get sweaty and damp, causing the dog equivalent to “dishpan hands.”
This is not only the perfect environment for bacterial growth, it’s probably not helping to relieve their itchy skin. For some dogs, a solution seems to have been found by a combination approach. DermaPaw sells cotton bobby socks attached to an elastic harness that looks something like dog suspenders. They also provide instructions and a video on how to make your own doggie suspenders at home. The socks are cheap, washable, and allow oxygen to the area. The theory is that by covering the dog’s paw with as lightweight and least intrusive method possible, the dog doesn’t mind it much, and won't try so hard to chew through the covering. DermaPaw also sells a topical ointment that contains non-toxic ingredients to prevent itching, infection and speed skin healing. We should mention here that our opinion is biased, since DermaPaw sponsors this site.
Don’t bathe your dog too much. Sometimes a warm bath or shower is great for a dog, especially if they like water, but you don’t always have to use soap. If you do use soap, always use a conditioner too. Too much shampooing can dry skin and make it itchy. Usually a good rinse is as good as a shampoo.
Dog skin is slightly more alkaline than human skin, so human shampoo and even many dog shampoos will actually dry your dog's skin because they are either neutral pH or slightly acidic. You want to get a shampoo with a pH of 8 or above if possible. If you can't find a high pH shampoo, you can rinse your dog with water with some baking soda dissolved in it. That will help counter the drying effects of shampoo.
Some people keep a container of water and baking soda by the door. When your dog comes inside, swish his feet in the mixture during allergy season. This not only helps to remove pollens but can often soothe itchy skin. One or two tablespoon of baking soda per gallon of water should do the trick.
Chamomile and Sage tea are effective alternative treatments you might also try. Just make a cup of tea, let it cool and swish your dog's feet in it. Obviously don't do this if you have white carpet or you might end up with green paw prints, but a good pat dry usually prevents any staining problems. Sage tea has been used for years to prevent swelling of mucous membranes and relieve skin irritation. Sage has been used as an antiperspirant for hundreds of years. Since a large number of a dog’s sweat glands are in his feet, sage tea may help reduce wetness, bacteria, swelling and itching, all at the same time. If you're using a wash cloth dipped in sage tea on your dog's face just
be careful not to get any in her eyes. It dries out mucous membranes and could irritate doggy peepers.
Epsom salt baths can help in several ways. Not only has salt and salt water been used as an effective anti-bacterial agent for thousands of years, as evidenced by salted foods, many breeds, such as Labrador retrievers were bred to spend their days standing in salt water, helping to bring in fishing nets. Epsom salts contain not only sodium chloride, but potassium and nitrates that can aid in restoring the natural balance of bacteria on a dog’s skin. Salt can also raise the pH level of your dog’s skin, which may help regulate normal bacterial ratios. Regardless of the reason, a warm saltwater bath soothes the itch, helps disinfect the area and is a fun experience for dog and owner alike. Don’t rinse your dog’s feet after her bath. Let her lick the salt off or gently pat dry her paws. Again, try not to get any in her eyes.
Experiment around and write down the results. Every dog is different and they all live in different environments so you'll have to figure out what works or not by trial and error. Be patient, skin and allergy problems are usually complex and there are usually no quick fixes. Symptom relief is often the best you can do and even that is often difficult to achieve.
Video showing how to use DermaPaw
Video showing how to make a sock harness for your dog
Video showing how to put a sock harness on your dog if they won't lay on their back
Never use tea tree oil directly on your dog. Many shampoos contain tea tree oil in such small quantities, it may help and poses no threat to your dog. Use caution, however, and make sure your dog doesn’t ingest any or get it in his eyes.Although it has a well-deserved reputation for excellent anti-microbial, anti-fungal and flea killing properties, it can be toxic for dogs and cats. According to National Animal Poison Control Center, the use of tea tree oil in dogs has been associated with hypothermia, muscle weakness, ataxia, tremors, altered behavior, and paralysis.According to the American Cancer Society: "Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed. It has been reported to cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes. It should be kept away from pets and children."
Be very careful with eucalyptus or any products that contain it. Although it has proven anti-microbial, anti-fungal and even flea killing properties, it can be toxic to dogs if ingested. Additionally, eucalyptus can irritate your dog’s eyes and nose. Shelties and other collie breeds are especially sensitive to it and large ingested amounts are toxic. Eucalyptus is an excellent antiseptic and natural insect repellant, it also tastes terrible and is very aromatic. Often used in herbal remedies, eucalyptus is meant to serve the purpose of killing bacteria and, because it tastes so bitter, prevent your dog from licking the area. The problem is that your dog will probably lick the area despite the bitter taste and ingest the eucalyptus.
Never use Tabasco or pepper sauce to discourage paw licking. Imagine someone sprinkling pepper sauce on a cut or sore on your own skin. We think this is a ridiculous, yet often recommended, licking deterrent. The fact is, you are torturing your dog. We also think bitter apple or bitter lime spray is almost as bad. Almost all of them contain alcohol which obviously stings if applied to already inflamed or irritated skin.
Never use cortisone itch cream or ointment. If ingested, cortisone can cause intestinal bleeding, rash, difficulty breathing, depression, severe nausea, stomach pain, swelling of feet or legs, rapid weight gain, agressiveness, and vomiting to name just a few of its many side effects. If corticosteroids of any type are used, make sure your vet prescribes them.
Never use shock collars to prevent dog paw licking. We feel this is so obvious, we shouldn’t have to mention it, but just in case the idea crossed your mind we felt we should anyway. Same thing for muzzles. Both are terrible things to do to your best friend.
Here's a video of our own dog before we created DermaPaw and what he looks like today
The more information you have, the better able you will be to make decisions concerning your dog’s health. We remind you to check your sources, including information from this site. The opinions expressed are not meant to be used without the collaboration and advice of your veterinarian.