6 tips for beating itchy winter skin

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6 tips for beating itchy winter skin
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Mar 05 2015

So much of the country has been firmly in the grip of winter’s frigid hand, and so far there appears to be no end in sight to the record breaking cold (Punxsutawney Phil was right!). Aside from the obligatory outdoor play on snow days, it feels like we are all trapped indoors, hibernating while we wait out warmer weather.

While the temperatures indoors are certainly more inviting than outdoors, it’s hard not to notice how very dry it is. Dry winter air combined with forced air heating makes for a pretty harsh environment for our skin, and our pets’ skin, too!

Just this morning, I was helping my old dog out with his itchy places—the poor guy can’t maneuver his scratchin’ leg as well as he used to. As I was giving him a full body scratch down (very much to his delight!), I noticed the tell-tale sign of winter: flakes. No, not snowflakes (for once!!)—his fur was accompanied by really flakey skin. No wonder the old man is so itchy!

The lack of humidity just wreaks havoc on our bodies, from our respiratory tract to our largest organ, the skin, and it’s no different for our pets. There are a few things you can do to help your four-legged children feel a little bit more comfortable until Jack Frost retires for the year, though.

Use a humidifier. Adding moisture to the air will make it feel warmer (so it might help you save a few bucks on your heating costs) and will combat winter itch. Run a humidifier in each room that you and your pets spend a lot of time in. Don’t forget to clean the humidifier each time you replenish the water supply.

  • If your pet isn’t already taking omega-3 fatty acids, start giving those right away. In addition to wonderful benefits they have for joint disease, they are key in maintaining healthy skin, especially in the winter.
  • Brush your pet. Brushing gets rid of dead hair, distributes natural oils and stimulates blood circulation. Plus, it gives you special one-on-one time with your pet, strengthening your ever growing bond.
  • Use moisturizing shampoos and conditioners. I particularly like formulations that contain colloidal oatmeal—these draw out inflammation and help maintain hydration. Make it a relaxed spa time for your pet, allowing the shampoo to contact the skin for 10 minutes or more. It’s most effective this way.
  • After bathing, apply a topical moisturizer, such as a leave-in conditioner or spray moisturizer. These keep the skin healthy without a greasy residue.
  • If the itch is so severe that it’s keeping you and your pet up at night, or if your pet is damaging her skin by persistently scratching, talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of using oral medications on a short term basis. Antihistamines and steroids can provide relief, but can come with some undesirable side effects.