The Case of the Itchy Dog: A Dog Parent Mystery

April 27, 2016 4 min read 4 Comments

The Case of the Itchy Dog: A Dog Parent Mystery

Your furry family member is scratching... and scratching... and scratching. They are miserable. You are miserable.

A few years ago one of our dogs came hobbling up to me and was holding one of her legs straight out from her body, refusing to put it down. I rushed her to the Dr. to discover that she had been stung by a bee. Minutes after returning home I found her sitting on a rug near the entry to the house. Anytime I tried to get her to move away from the rug she would simply look down. I walked over and looked at the rug and saw nothing. The next morning she came in from her potty break, walked to that rug and sat down. I (finally) got on my hands and knees and ran my hand over the rug. Sure enough, in the rug I found the remains of the bee. As soon as I found the bee she started running around as if to say "Hooray! She found what stung me."

The Case of the Itchy Dog - A Dog Parent Mystery by 4-LeggerThis story reminded me that even when our dogs are communicating very clearly, it can be hard to "hear" what they are trying to tell us. If we can't see the issue at a glance, we must hone our innate detective skills to uncover the root problem.

One of the easiest places to start unraveling the mystery of an itchy dog is food quality. Like people, dogs are holistic organisms. If they eat a poor quality food, it will show in their skin and coat. Oh, I know - you aren't doing it intentionally. You fell for that marketing hype that made that brand of dog food sound like it was farm fresh and crammed into the bag ready to eat. We've been there and done that too! We recommend using the Dog Food Advisor website to check the quality of your dog's food. 

The second place to look is usually allergies (which may be closely linked to food or outdoor allergies). Your veterinarian can conduct allergy testing on your dog or you can try a process of elimination (this will entirely depend on your detective level - are you a Nancy Drew or a Sherlock Holmes?). Did you know that some of the more common food allergies include corn, wheat, dairy, oats, and beef (yep - that is right - beef)! 

While it may be an obvious place to look, those little critters aren't called pests for nothing.  They can be hard to find! You dog will usually give you a clue... as they bite and attack their backs as if to say, "Look! I'm being attacked by a pest!" 

While the complex chemical names may deter you, what would you say if I told you that your dog's grooming products are often the root cause of allergies and itchy skin? 

We pulled the ingredients from two very popular dog shampoos and changed the text color to red for ingredients that have known links to allergies, dry and itchy skin

Brand A  
Purified Water (Aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Soyamide [not linked to dry skin but is an ecotoxin], EGMS, [a pearlizing / thickening agent with little data available] Cocoamidopropyl Betaine [common 
3-dimethylaminopropylamine contamination], Polysorbate-20 [high concerns for 1,4-dioxane and ethylene glycol contamination - both linked to cancer], Glycerin, Aloe Vera, Oatmeal Extract [can cause allergies in dogs allergic to oats], Fragrance, Colors.
Brand B
Ultra-purified water with infused ALOE BARBANISIS EXTRACT, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Lauryl Glucoside and Cocomidopropyl Betaine[common 3-dimethylaminopropylamine contamination], Rosmarinus Officialis (Rosemary), Chamomilla Recuttita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Glycol Distearate [not linked to dry skin but is an ecotoxin] (and) Cocamide-MEA (and) Laureth-10 [high concerns for 1,4-dioxane and ethylene glycol contamination - both linked to cancer], Colloidal Oatmeal, Vitamine E, PEG-12 [high concerns for 1,4-dioxane and ethylene glycol contamination - both linked to cancer], Dimethicone [may cause organ system toxicity and is an ecotoxin], organic Borago Officialis (Borage) seed oil, Organic SHEA (Butyrospermum Parkii) butter, Glycerin, Polysorbate 20 [high concerns for 1,4-dioxane and ethylene glycol contamination - both linked to cancer], Methylchloroisothiazolinone [also has links to cancer and is an ecotoxin] and Methylisothiazolinone [also may be a neurotoxin], Citric acid, EDTA, Fragrance.

Brand A:

Brand A has 11 listed ingredients (we know that artificial colors and fragrances could be hundreds to thousands of ingredients that do not have to be listed).  Of those 11 ingredients, 4 had links to allergies, dry and itchy skin.

Three of the ingredients had other concerns - links to cancer or they were ecotoxic (safe good for our environment). 

Brand B: 
Brand B had 23 listed ingredients. Yeow! Eight of the 23 ingredients had links to allergies, dry and itchy skin. 

Worse, it contained ingredients that are far more concerning than dry and itchy skin. It was the toxic sludge equivalent of dog shampoo. 

Would it surprise you to learn that the labels for both Brand A and Brand B advertised them as "natural dog shampoo" on their labels? Indeed they did. 

As we developed this analysis, we ran across something alarming that we will talk about in a future post. We pulled twelve top selling dog shampoos - went to manufacturer websites to search for ingredients. We found ingredients for two of the twelve (2/12 = 17%) dog shampoos. We need some time to absorb this fact. Once we do, you can bet we'll be blogging about it! 

This analysis speaks volumes about WHY it was important for us to develop a certified organic dog shampoo. We wanted the ingredient oversight. We wanted it because we wanted pet parents to have absolutely no doubt about the purity of our ingredients, the processing, and the care that goes into every single bottle of 4-Legger certified organic dog shampoo. 

Check out our selection safe and non-toxic dog shampoo! Safe for you, your 4-Legger, our environment (100% biodegradable), all made without the ingredients that have links to dry and itchy skin! 

4 Responses


May 23, 2016

Great question Christeen.
The overall goal would be to not wash your dog with such harsh ingredients that it strips all of the oils off of your dog. You of course want to remove some, as the oily sebum is what gives your dog their “doggy” smell. Clean off the excess oils with a gentle dog shampoo. Our experience is, once a dog is “normalized” to 4-Legger’s gentle shampoo, they tend to do really well without a conditioner. Normalizing usually takes 1-3 washes on average. That said, we totally understand the need for dogs that need a little extra gentle formulation so we do have an option in the research and development phase that will be even gentler than our already gentle formulas!


April 30, 2016

Do you also sell conditioner? The way I understand it, when you bathe a dog, you’re removing the natural oils from the skin and coat. I find it important to replace them with skin-soothing conditioner while their natural oils build up again.


April 27, 2016

Hi Barb,

Great question. We put a LOT of thought into whether or not to develop the oatmeal shampoo.

Many veterinarians still recommend oatmeal shampoo over any other and fact is, oatmeal is still the #1 selling dog shampoo on the market. Unfortunately, these traditional shampoos are formulated with some very toxic ingredients. We felt that to be true to our mission we had to develop a safe, non-toxic and effective alternative with oatmeal and work to get pet parents away from the ingredients that have links to hormone disruption, organ toxicity, and cancer.

Oatmeal doesn’t “cause” allergies; but, if you dog is reactive to oatmeal, it can be hard to determine the underlying cause to be the oatmeal. That is why if you have an itchy dog, we recommend using the aloe/lemongrass or the unscented first. Of course, if your dog is allergic to oatmeal or has grain sensitivities, we recommend using the aloe and lemongrass or the unscented.

I’ll email you the link to our article on our thoughts behind the development of the oatmeal shampoo from our blog.

Thanks for the question!


April 27, 2016

I see you have an Oatmeal Aloe & Lavender Shampoo, I thought Oatmeal can cause allergies?

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