What is Itchy in Winter?
While your dog can experience itchy and inflamed skin any time of the year, owners are often surprised when it happens in the winter. But winter skin irritation is common, and can be due to a number of factors relating to winter weather and indoor conditions that your dog may be exposed to. Flaky, irritated skin and chapped paws, as well as excessive grooming and scratching, are signs that your dog’s skin is suffering from pruritus. Reasons for itchy skin in your dog can include:
- Exposure to winter weather
- Lowered humidity indoors
- Contact dermatitis
- Parasitic infections
- Skin infections
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Why Itchy in Winter Occurs in Dogs
Itchy skin in the winter can be due to the changes that occur in this cold season, or to your dog’s overall health and immune response to his environment.
Exposure to Winter Weather
Winter brings cold, dry air and rain, sleet, and snow. Constant exposure to these conditions can create chapped paws and itchy skin that can flake off. For most dogs, repeatedly going into winter weather is necessary, even if only for elimination, and simply cannot be avoided.
Lowered Humidity Indoors
As if the dry air of winter weren’t enough, the environment inside your home could also contribute to your dog’s itchy skin. Heated air contains less moisture, and this drop in humidity can dry your dog’s skin and mucous membranes, and can also predispose him to upper respiratory complaints.
Irritated, inflamed, and itchy skin can occur if direct contact is made with an irritating substance. In places where winter brings snow, salt is often used in the streets, driveways, and sidewalks to aid in transportation. However, that salt can dry out the sensitive pads of your dog’s feet, and other skin areas, while the chemicals that are often added can be even more dangerous. Being confined indoors, your dog may be exposed to other kinds of irritants more often, such as fibers in carpets.
Even in winter, your dog can suffer from parasitic infections. Fleas and mites can be picked up in warmer months and can remain with your dog if left untreated. Parasites can also be spread from other infected animals.
Allergies can appear at any time in dogs, no matter the season. A flea allergy is always present, so long as there are fleas biting. A food allergy or sensitivity that can cause skin rashes and itching can develop at any time, while environmental allergies are present even in winter. Dogs are often confined indoors more often, and can suffer from allergies to dust and mold that can affect the coat and skin.
Bacterial infections in the skin, and in internal areas of the body, can result in itchy and irritated skin. Fungal infections can also compromise your dog’s skin, such as yeast and ringworm infestations.
What to do if your Dog is Itchy in Winter
If you see your dog excessively scratching during the winter season, don’t hesitate to visit your veterinarian. Even skin that has just become too dry can cause enough scratching that your dog can wound himself and cause secondary infections. There could also be other factors involved that can be treated. Be sure to tell your vet about any changes in shampoos, bedding, or other environmental factors, or if your dog has been exposed to other animals, or hazardous chemicals or plants recently.
Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s skin and coat, and may run some tests to check for infections and parasites, such as blood, urine and fecal tests. A skin scraping may also be taken and analyzed. Environmental allergies can be assessed through blood or skin allergy testing, while food allergies may be tested through a food trial that can last for several weeks.
Once the reason has been identified, treatment will follow accordingly. Any infections are properly treated with appropriate medications, such as antibiotics, antiparasitics, or antifungals. Contact dermatitis requires that the offending substance be removed from your dog’s environment, and may need anti-inflammatories to soothe the skin. Allergies can be treated with antihistamines, steroids, or immunotherapy, and may only be required during the winter months. For repairing the skin, medicated shampoos, topical creams and lotions, and moisturizing cleansers may be recommended to be routinely applied.
To reduce the skin irritation brought on by the weather, use simple techniques such as towel drying your dog’s feet when he returns from outside or using paw protectants on paw pads before sending your dog out. Consider using salt that is pet safe on your sidewalks and driveways. Keep your home humidified and ensure your dog has enough water to stay hydrated. Vacuuming more often can help to reduce the allergens in your home. Consider fitting your dog for boots or clothing to keep his skin from becoming overexposed.
Prevention of Itchy in Winter
While it is impossible to prevent winter, you can reduce your dog’s chances of suffering from itchy skin during this dry time of year. Keeping your dog dry and salt free can reduce chapped and cracked paw pads, while ensuring proper hydration can keep his skin from drying out. Replacing your humidifier filter as winter begins is a good way to ensure the house receives enough moisture. Regular parasite control throughout the year can prevent infestations that can leave your dog scratching through the colder months.
Cost of Itchy in Winter
Itchy skin in the winter can be easy to treat in many cases, but the costs can vary considerably. Fleas that have hung on since the warmer months and ringworm infestations may cost as little as $50 to eliminate. Seasonal allergies can be more expensive, and can average around $800. Overall, the various treatments available for itchy skin can range from $20 to $2500.
Itchy in Winter Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My Bichon has really dry skin and when brushed it brings dandruff like flakes to surface. It doesn't seem to bother him as he is not scratching. I have tried olive oil in his food and daily brushes to bring the oil out in his fur. It just doesn't seem to get better. I haven't bathed him recently thinking this would make it worse. In certain areas it has made his fur coat thinner. Any suggestions?
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My dog has been itching and biting himself pretty frequently over the past few weeks. His fur has been clumping but not on all the areas he’s been itching and it’s really cold here. I have not noticed any skin irritation or redness and I just took his flea collar off this month so I don’t think that is the factor. Thank you
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Our black lab has suddenly started scratching herself uncontrollably since the temps have dropped significantly in Michigan. She even chewed the fur off of one spot on her hip. :-( Her vet says she has allergies and wanted to out her on a very expensive allergy med. she put her on an antibiotic because she said she has a secondary infection (she noticed tiny red scabs in the area the fur is missing). She has never suffered from allergies or been on meds for allergies her entire life (she is a six-year-old retired guide dog that we adopted two months ago). My question is, is there any safe, nontoxic topical treatment for the dry patch and overall itchiness that will help her through the winter months?
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