Why is my dog constantly scratching and itching?
An itchy dog is a dog with fleas, right? Not necessarily. There are many possible causes of a dog scratching – and if your dog has an itch that just won’t quit you’ll want to get to the bottom of it fast.
Remember that maintaining a regular treatment routine against fleas, worms, and ticks is crucial for your dog's health. Our detailed articles on dog fleas, worms, and ticks can help.
Why is my dog scratching?
As the largest organ in the body, it’s not surprising that skin conditions are one of the most common reasons for visits to the vet.
If your dog has started scratching, make an appointment with your local vet to get them checked out, and to rule out anything serious. Your vet will examine and often test your dog, then depending on the cause of the itching, your vet may prescribe a medicated shampoo, antihistamines (similar to those prescribed for hayfever in dogs), a hydrocortisone steroid cream (which is applied sparingly to the skin), other medications (such as oral steroids) or, in the case of food allergies or lactose intolerance, may prescribe a change in your dog’s diet.
Exploring the causes of scratching
If your dog is scratching a lot, especially around the ears, it could indicate various health issues. Visiting a vet is a good idea to rule out serious conditions. If you've searched for my dog is constantly scratching and biting himself but no fleas then allergies, dermatitis or mange may be the issue.
Allergies as a cause of itching
Common causes of an itchy dog include skin allergies and atopic dermatitis and irritation can range from mild to severe. Skin conditions are often complicated and can take time to fully diagnose so you may not get answers straight away.
Allergies can be caused by three things, which can be diagnosed by your vet:
- Atopic allergies (sensitivity to things breathed in by your dog, such as pollen, dust mites or mould spores)
- Food allergies
- Contact allergies (which include sensitivity to fleas, ticks and mites as well as lawn chemicals, plants, rubber and plastic materials, and soaps and shampoos)
The good news is that there have been lots of advances recently in both the detection and treatment of allergies in dogs which means that treatment can be much more effective than previously.
Common symptoms of dog allergies include:
- Itching (also called pruritus)
- Red, inflamed skin
- Foot chewing
- Eventual fur loss as a result of constant scratching
- Secondary symptoms, such as thickening of the skin (it's vital to address these quickly as they can exacerbate itching and lead to more serious health issues
Though food allergies in dogs are less common than you might think, some dogs are particularly sensitive to certain ingredients – such as wheat and soya – while more than 90% of dogs are lactose intolerant by the time they reach 12 months old.
If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, your vet may recommend an elimination diet – but it’s important to get expert advice before you try this.
Identifying and managing dog allergies
Common symptoms of dog allergies include itching (pruritus), red, inflamed skin, and foot chewing. More information on dog food allergies and other allergies in dogs can be found in our detailed guides.
Insect bites as a cause of itching
Insect bites and stings can also cause discomfort and itching in dogs. While some insects cause just minor irritation, others can cause a severe allergic reaction. If your dog has been bitten or stung, you’ll probably notice redness and swelling around the bite. Signs of an allergy to the bite can be serious. Always take your dog to your local vet fast if they vomit after being bitten or stung, or have difficulty breathing.
If you suspect your dog’s itching is caused by fleas, you may be able to spot these nasty critters on your dog’s skin when you part their fur, or brush with a metal flea comb. Small reddish-black specks of flea dirt are another sure sign that your dog has fleas. Dogs that are allergic to flea saliva commonly bite at their tail and scratch frequently, and they may experience hair loss (alopecia) as a result of the prolonged and intense scratching.
If your dog does have fleas, it’s vital to treat both your pet and your home, as flea eggs can live in carpets and soft furnishings without a host animal for up to 100 days. Your vet will recommend the best and most effective product to treat your dog and your home, and for ongoing prevention of fleas in the future.
Mange in dogs is a contagious disease that also causes extreme itchiness in dogs. It's caused by the demodex mite (or the sarcoptic mite), and causes dry skin, lesions, a red rash, and even fur loss. Read our article about mites in dogs to find out more.
Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety in dogs are often overlooked factors that can lead to your dog scratching excessively. Dogs, just like humans, can display physical symptoms in response to emotional distress. Common signs of stress and anxiety in dogs include excessive licking or biting at their skin, pacing, panting, or a general state of restlessness. These behaviors, while sometimes mistaken for skin problems, are actually manifestations of emotional unease. It's essential to observe your dog's overall behavior and environment, as addressing underlying stressors can significantly reduce their discomfort and scratching. Consulting with a vet or a pet behaviorist can provide insights and strategies to help manage your dog's anxiety, contributing to their overall wellbeing.
Home remedies for itchy skin
For those looking for a "dog itchy skin home remedy," there are several options. While consulting a vet is always recommended, some home remedies like regular dog bathing with a vet-recommended oatmeal shampoo can provide temporary relief for mild itching. Be aware that frequent bathing with even mild shampoos can dry out a dog's skin.
Read more: Shocking facts about fleas: keeping your puppy happy and healthy
Prevention and care tips
- Avoid harsh soaps and flea collars that could irritate your dog’s skin
- Keep your dog's nails trimmed to prevent excessive scratching
- Regular exercise and mental stimulation help reduce stress, which can contribute to skin issues
- Maintain a balanced diet and regular vet check-ups for overall health
Want more information on the causes of itching in dogs?
For expert advice on the possible causes of itching and scratching in dogs, get in touch with your vet.