Itchiness is a very common complaint and problem in dogs. It can occur from a variety of causes — including bacterial and/or fungal skin infections, food hypersensitivities, environmental allergies, and everybody’s favorite (he says sarcastically)… fleas!
Of course, each of these potential causes of itchy skin has its own specific treatments and preventive steps, but did you know that there is also one common product that could potentially improve your dog’s skin and help to decrease your dog’s level of itchiness? There is, and it’s fish oils.
Now I am in no way saying that fish oils are some magic elixir and the cure to all your dog’s ills (or itches)! In many cases though, they can be a helpful addition to your dog’s itchy skin treatment and also to your dog’s itchy skin prevention.
This is because the Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), present in fish oils can help to decrease inflammation in skin cells. Less inflammation can translate to less itchiness.
And it’s not just skin cells that these Omega-3 fatty acids can help to decrease inflammation of. Studies and clinical experiences are also suggesting a role for the use of fish oils in the management of a host of other conditions in dogs. Including…
- Chronic kidney disease
- Arthritis and degenerative joint disease
- Certain heart conditions
- Cognitive dysfunction (“old age” behavioral changes)
- And possibly certain others
It is important to note that the use of fish oils in dogs is not without its potential problems
On the topic of dosages, as with most things, too much of a good thing can be bad. Overdosage of fish oils can lead to prolonged bleeding times, vomiting and diarrhea, and a few other problems. Especially in certain breeds of dogs, like Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers (both of which are predisposed to pancreatitis). And in dogs with certain chronic digestive conditions, and those with pre-existing platelet, or other bleeding problems. So, again, please speak with your veterinarian to determine if fish oils might be beneficial for your dog, and at what level.
As with all things, be sure also to read labels and ingredient lists. You don't want a fish oil product that has added Vitamin D, as several of the fish oil products for people do. The commonly supplemented doses of Vitamin D can be toxic for your pets. And you definitely don't want a fish oil product that contains xylitol, as xylitol is highly toxic to dogs (even in relatively small quantities). We have a regularly-updated list of products that contain xylitol, including a few brands of fish oils. Please read labels and keep your eyes open, and if you find a fish oil that contains xylitol and isn't on our list, please let us know.
Oh, and speaking of itchy dogs… our friend (and Preventive Vet contributor), board-certified veterinary dermatologist, Dr. Jon Plant, has recently released a helpful smartphone app for people with itchy dogs. The app is called Itchology, and it allows you to chart your dog’s “itch score” on different days and in response to different temperatures, pollen levels, medications, and a host of other factors.
This information and the trends it can help uncover can help you and your veterinarian more quickly and effectively determine and control the underlying cause(s) of your dog’s itchiness. If you have an itchy dog and an iPhone (sadly, the app isn’t yet available on Android), you should definitely check it out.