All dogs – and all humans, for that matter – have to scratch an itch every once in awhile. But if your dog’s paws seem to be working overtime lately, you probably want to know why. Whether the problem is fleas, allergies, skin issues or something else, getting to the bottom of your pet’s itching is key to fixing it.
Here are some of the potential culprits behind that constant itching…
Determining why your dog is itching can be challenging. Different skin conditions look alike, but they have different causes. After all, different kinds of bacteria on a dog’s skin can contribute to itching, and different strains react differently to antibiotics.1
Fungal infections can also contribute to itching. The main difference between bacteria and fungi is the way their cells are structured.2
It’s important to get in touch with a vet if you have any reason to suspect a fungus is the culprit. Antibiotics don’t work as well on fungi, and some fungus infections are contagious, meaning you, or any other pets in your house, could be at risk. Yeast infections are also common in dogs – especially in the ears. Other places yeast infections develop include the armpits and skin folds.3
Allergies can drive a lot of dogs to scratch throughout the day (and night). Whether the culprit is a food allergy or something else, it can ruin your dog’s skin and coat, cause them extreme distress, and lead to other problems.
We usually think of allergies in relation to some sort of respiratory problem. But some allergies in dogs are associated with their skin or their gut. As many as 15 percent of dogs who have a food allergy have skin and gut problems. Up to 30 percent also have a non-food allergy that causes skin itching.4
Dogs who have a food allergy will usually scratch the skin on their ears. However, allergies can make them scratch in many other places, including the groin, armpits, feet, and eyes. When itching and scratching gets severe, a skin infection can be the result. Terriers, retrievers, and bulldogs are just some of the breeds prone to food allergies.5
Dogs react to food allergies in different ways. Some will experience swelling, or develop hives or skin rashes. Others might continually scratch, rub or even chew a certain part of the body.6
Food allergies in dogs can develop at any age and at any time. In fact, your dog could eat a specific food for years before becoming allergic to it.7
Other common allergies affect dogs. Fleas, for example, are notorious for causing allergies. Fleas produce saliva when they bite. This often leads to allergic reactions in dogs who are sensitive to the flea’s saliva. Allergies to fleas can lead to itching that is so severe a dog’s skin will become infected. This infection occurs due to excessive scratching, chewing, or licking. An allergy to fleas can be difficult to identify, because dogs groom themselves so much that you can’t see them.8
If your dog is continually scratching, and you don’t have them on a flea medication, you should suspect fleas.
Canine Atopic Dermatitis
Canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) is another common skin disorder that can lead to severe itching. If you have a dog that seems allergic to everything, there’s a pretty good chance they have CAD. Many environmental triggers can cause your dog to itch, including dust, grass, pollen, mold, and mildew.9
Unfortunately, CAD is another skin problem that can be hard to diagnose for several reasons. For example, a dog’s genetics can make it hard to pinpoint canine atopic dermatitis, as can the types of lesions that appear. CAD can also be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other diseases of the skin.10
Ticks, Lice and Ear Mites
Fleas aren’t the only tiny insects that can cause severe itching. Ear mites feed on oil and wax in your dog’s ear canal, and an ear mite infestation could eventually threaten their hearing. Another cause of itching due to mites is known as sarcoptic mange, or scabies. It’s usually characterized by hair loss and red spots. It’s very important that scabies are treated immediately because they can spread from dog to dog – and even from dogs to humans. Ticks can lead to itching, particularly if they accumulate near your dog’s ears. Lice aren’t as common as ticks, but they can result in itching of skin as well.11
The cause of your dog’s itching might not be physical, but rather mental. Compulsive scratching can occur as a result of stress, or fear. Your pooch might be scratching because they’re anxious… or because they’re bored. To help combat the problem, give your dog plenty of love and attention. Take them for a walk, or some other type of exercise, twice a day, if possible. If you’re away from home all day, give your dog some challenging toys that will help them pass the time.12
Dealing With the Problem at Home
You will probably want to take steps to attack the cause of your dog’s itching at home first before going to the veterinarian’s office. But if the problem is severe, you should go straight to the vet.
First, check to see if the problem is fleas. Run a flea comb through your dog’s fur, and then rub it on a damp paper towel. If you notice spots that look rust-colored, then your dog probably has fleas. Submerge the comb in soapy water to kill any fleas that might still be on the comb. And remember: If you find even one flea, there are likely many more. Get treatment to give your dog relief.
You can find many products that kill fleas, ticks, mites and other tiny insects at your local pet store. Wash your dog’s bedding thoroughly, and have your carpets and furniture cleaned as well. This will go a long way toward killing fleas and other pests, and it also lessens the chances of them coming back.
For dogs with food allergies, changing their diet is usually the first course of action. There might be a specific trigger causing an allergic reaction, such as wheat, chicken, or beef. Ask your vet if they have any recommendations. Supplements are also available to help keep your dog’s skin from drying out and getting itchy.
When to See a Vet
Whether the cause of your dog’s itching is a skin condition, fleas, allergies, or something else, you’ll need to take your pup to the vet if home remedies don’t work. Excessive scratching can lead to severe skin problems, including open sores which can become infected. The faster you get to your vet, the faster they can come up with a solution to the problem.
One Last Word
There are many reasons why your dog suffers from itching. Fleas are often the most common culprits, but several other factors may contribute as well. The best thing you can do is keep a close eye on your dog’s itching and scratching, check regularly for fleas, and look for any skin damage. Try to take care of the problem at home, but don’t hesitate to take your pup to the vet if things don’t improve.