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12 Reasons Your Dog Won’t Stop Itching

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Dog Health By Charlie Boag 14 min read May 24, 2021

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It’s perfectly normal for your dog to have a good scratch every now and then, but if you’ve noticed your dog is itching and scratching more than usual it’s time to look into the possible causes. 

Some cases of excessive itching are very simple to treat, while others may require veterinary attention. We’ll talk about some of the reasons your dog may be itching more than usual and outline a few good treatment strategies below! 

Reasons Your Dog Won’t Stop Itching: Key Takeaways

  • A bit of itching and scratching is normal, but you will want to investigate any itching that seems excessive. There aren’t any hard-and-fast ways to determine when your dog’s normal scratching becomes enough for concern, so you’ll simply need to use your best judgement — you know your dog better than anyone else. 
  • Some of the most common reasons for excessive itching include parasites, allergies, and dry skin. However, there are also other, less common causes of itching, such as poor hygiene and yeast infections, which also deserve consideration. 
  • The best way to address excessive itchiness will vary based on the cause. This is why it is imperative that you consult your veterinarian, if you’re unable to determine the cause definitively. Only then will you be able to employ a suitable treatment strategy. 

12 Reasons Your Dog Won’t Stop Itching (and What to Do about It)

There are a ton of reasons your doggo may be suffering from itchy skin, but there are about a dozen that should always be at the top of the list of things you consider.

We’ll explain these 12 causes and lay out a good plan of attack for you below! 

1. Fleas

fleas make dogs itchy

These tiny critters have a lot to answer for when it comes to your dog’s itchiness! Fleas reproduce quickly, and, while they can’t fly, they can jump a distance of 50 to 100 times their body length, so it’s important to eradicate these pests for all of your family members’ sake (that’s right — fleas can feed on humans too!).

If your dog already has fleas — or you suspect she does  — the first thing to do is to get rid of ‘em! 

Start by bathing your dog in lukewarm water with a mild (preferably hypoallergenic) flea shampoo to knock off as many of the bugs as is possible.

Next, use a flea comb while your dog is in the bath to remove the fleas and their feces. Pay close attention to her neck and back legs near the tail. Fleas are normally the size of a poppy seed or sesame seed and are brown in color. If you see a flea on the comb, dunk it in a separate container of hot soapy water to remove it before using the comb on your dog again. 

After this, make an appointment with your vet. He or she will examine your dog’s skin and assess the next steps. Your vet will likely prescribe an effective flea treatment that’ll get rid of any remaining blood-suckers and prevent the pests from returning. 

2. Flea Allergy Dermatitis 

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is an allergic reaction to flea saliva, which can drive dogs absolutely crazy. And unfortunately, it can occur even if your dog doesn’t currently have fleas.

Dogs of all ages are susceptible to the condition, but it is most common in canines with existing allergies. 

A few common symptoms of FAD include: 

  • Excessive grooming
  • Restlessness
  • Unusual odor
  • Changes in skin texture
  • Raised bumps

Your vet can diagnose FAD by performing a skin and or blood test. Treatment will likely take the form of a monthly topical medication, but your vet may also recommend an oral medication like apoquel or a preventative flea medication.   

3. Lice

dogs can get lice

So there’s good news and then there’s bad news. Good news is, no — your pooch can’t get the kind of lice your kid brings home from school — thank goodness! 

But the bad news is that your pooch can pick up a different kind of lice from other dogs. These bugs are also normally treated with a monthly topical treatment or lice shampoo, but if your dog is experiencing hair loss along with itchiness, she may need your vet’s help to deal with the lice problem.  

Fortunately, there is a little more good news to share: Lice are not especially common in dogs. But it’s still one potential source of itchy skin that deserves consideration.

4. Mange

Mange is a condition caused by mites that probably causes the most intense itchiness we discussed here. Unfortunately, it is also contagious to humans. 

But fortunately, mange is treatable with your vet’s help. He or she will outline the best course of management, which will typically include a course of parasite-killing medications. If that doesn’t work, he or she may recommend that your pup be given an Aludex bath (which will usually be carried out by the vet’s staff).

Mange is characterized by loss of fur and scaly, scabby skin that is red and inflamed.

5. Food Allergies

Dog food allergy

Have you switched up your dog’s diet lately? If you have made a dietary change about the same time your dog started itching like crazy, a food allergy could be the cause.

Food allergies don’t always occur after a dietary switch, as dogs may suddenly develop intolerances to a given protein. But they are most common following food changes. 

Food allergies are a bit different in dogs than they are people, and they often cause irritated skin patches around the ears, paws, rear end or stomach. Occasionally, digestive issues like gas, diarrhea or vomiting can also occur, but they aren’t as common as itchy skin and related problems. In particularly severe cases, you may even notice swelling in your dog’s face. 

However, it can be tricky to determine if food allergies are the cause for your pet’s itchiness. So, your best bet is to call your vet!

He or she may want to run a few allergy tests or plan an elimination diet with you. You may also be given medication or treatments to soothe symptoms during the short term. 

Once you’ve determined that food allergies are to blame, you can begin looking for a hypoallergenic dog food that lacks the offending ingredient. 

6. Environmental Allergies

Your pup’s itchiness may also be caused by a reaction to something in her surroundings. Vets call such reactions environmental allergies. 

The most common environmental allergies occur in response to things like pollen, mold spores, animal dander, and dust mites. Some of these are seasonal so may vary in severity. While difficult to avoid, there are ways to manage them! 

Here are a few tips:

  • Start by talking to your vet about the issue. Vets can perform tests to help determine your dog’s allergic triggers. 
  • If you’ve discovered that pollen or perhaps the grass from your lawn is the cause, keep windows shut and use your air conditioner in the summer months. When she comes in from outside, you can wipe down her body with a damp towel and wash her paws. 
  • Keep Cocoa out the room when you are dusting or vacuuming.
  • Change the furnace filter on a regular basis.
  • Speak to your vet about possible treatments, which may include supplements, creams, or antihistamines like Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, or other treatments like cortisone.

7. Contact Irritation  

dog contact irritation makes them itchy

Contact irritation is another common cause of itchiness, and it often results from the irritation a garment causes your pup’s skin. So, if you’ve treated Cocoa to a smart new piece of gear, such as a harness or collar, it could be that she is experiencing some contact irritation. 

However, there are other causes of contact irritation too. Some of the most common include:

  • Plants (so make sure you’re only using dog-friendly houseplants in your home)   
  • Lawn and garden supplies (such as wood chips, plant feed, pesticides, or fertilizers)
  • Household cleaners, washing detergents, or floor polishes (try a pet-safe floor cleaner and see if your dog’s itching alters)
  • Creams or lotions designed for human use

Just be sure to consider all of the new things that have touched your pet’s body if you suspect she’s suffering from contact irritation. This illustrates yet another reason it is important to monitor your dog frequently and make mental notes about anything new or out of the ordinary. 

8. Dry skin

Simple dry skin can cause your dog to suffer from extreme itchiness. Unfortunately, unlike when humans suffer this kind of problem, you can’t fix your dog’s dry skin by simply slathering on a bunch of lotion.

A number of factors can cause dry skin in doggos. For example, diets that are deficient in fatty acids may lead to dry skin. You can speak to your vet about introducing more fatty acids into your doggy’s diet via fish oil supplements to help her skin condition, or you may even want to consider switching to a canned diet or dog food specialized for dry skin

You may also find that using room humidifiers helps counteract the dry air in your home and ease your pooch’s symptoms. 

9. Poor Hygiene

bathe your dog regularly

Fresh bed linens and clean skin are some of life’s simple pleasures — and that goes for dogs and humans alike.

And while a lot of doggies hate bath time (or if your dog is like mine, she will use the brush coming out as an opportunity for playtime), a good grooming regimen is as important for your pet’s well being as it is for yours

Among other things, poor hygiene can result in extremely itchy skin. Worse, dogs with dirty skin may suffer from infections following their scratching behavior. 

So, be sure that you bathe your dog on an appropriate schedule (as well as anytime she stinks or gets exceptionally dirty), and clean her bed, crate liners, and anything else she lays on frequently.

As a bonus, this will not only help prevent itchy skin, it’ll also keep your dog smelling and feeling better, which is always a win. 

10. Yeast Infections  

Yeasts — microscopic fungi — can cause skin problems for dogs. Sometimes, yeast infections are the result of a pathogenic (harmful) strain colonizing your canine, but at other times, harmless yeasts can cause problems too.

This generally happens when the microbiome (collection of bacteria and other organisms) living on your pet’s skin gets disrupted, thereby allowing the yeast population to explode.  

If you and your furry friend live in hot and humid weather, she is more likely to develop yeast infections or bacteria overgrowth. Regular washing of her paws (where these infections most commonly occur) may help, but your vet can prescribe medications that will help wipe out the yeast or bacteria causing the problem.

Probiotics, which help ensure your pup has the proper beneficial bacteria living in and on your pet, may also prove helpful in some cases. 

11. Ear infections

Dog has itchy ears

Itching and scratching don’t always occur over large patches of your dog’s skin; sometimes, they occur in isolated places, such as the ears. 

If you find your pup shaking her head or rubbing and scratching her ears more than usual, she could have an ear infection. Ear infections are pretty common for dogs as they can’t clean their ears out themselves.

Cleaning your dog’s ears takes a matter of minutes and usually only needs to be done on a monthly basis (although this varies depending on her breed). You’ll just need a high-quality, dog-safe ear cleaner, a clean rag or towel, and some water.

If you’re already on top of the ear cleaning schedule, yet you still find her shaking her head and scratching, it’s a good idea to visit your vet to see if there’s a yeast or bacteria overgrowth that needs treatment. 

12. Anal Gland Problems

Is your dog’s itching confined to a single location — specifically, her caboose? Do you see her butt-scooting across the floor seeking relief? If so, she may be experiencing issues with her anal glands — they may be blocked up or simply irritated.

You’ll likely need your vet’s help to address these types of issues, unless you’re already familiar with the anal-gland expressing procedure and don’t mind getting your hands dirty (warning: It is not something for the faint of heart — anal gland secretions produce one of the worst odors in the world).

You may also need to add a bit more fiber to your dog’s diet to help prevent clogged anal glands in the future. And while we’re on the subject of fiber, it’s important to note that canine constipation and parasites may also cause butt-scooting.

The Importance of Stopping Your Pet’s Itchiness

Although it isn’t a life-or-death issue for dogs, itchiness isn’t something you should ignore. A couple of the most important reasons you should address itchy skin promptly include:

  • Your pet’s overall well-being and happiness. Think about the last time you had a mosquito bite, or some dry skin that was really itchy. Sometimes it’s so troublesome it’s all you can think about, and scratching only makes it worse! Being uncomfortable in your own skin can really get you down, and the same will happen with your pet. 
  • Itchy skin can be a bigger deal than you think. Itchy skin can indicate that your hound may be harboring an allergy, infection, or other underlying health issue. Ruling out a more serious issue with a vet is the best route forward. 

Just be sure to note anytime your pet is scratching more than usual, and start trying to get to the bottom of the issue promptly. 

Need Veterinary Help Fast?

Don’t have easy access to a vet? You may want to consider getting help from JustAnswer — a service that provides instant virtual-chat access to a certified vet online.

You can discuss the issue with them, and even share video or photos if need be. The online vet can help you determine what your next steps should be.

While talking with your own vet — who understands the ins and outs of your dog’s history — is probably ideal, JustAnswer is a good backup option.

3 Steps to Solve Your Dog’s Itching Problem

It’s important to remember that there are treatments available and preventative steps you can take for every single reason we’ve listed above — your four-footer will likely be A-OK (though you may need your vet’s help)!

There are three simple steps to take to resolve the problem:

  1. Examine. We’re not expecting lab coats and rubber gloves, but you’ll need to be thorough! Is it a single spot that is itchy (such as their ears or paws) or all over discomfort? Where is the itchiness focused? 
  2. Investigate. When did the scratching start? Has it been a gradual increase or sudden? Can you determine any changes that happened in your dog’s day-to-day life or environment? And are there any other changes in behavior or symptoms that are unusual? Even if you don’t think it’s related, make a note of it anyway. 
  3. Treat. Attempting to soothe symptoms yourself is fine for a few days, but please be cautious. There are many at-home remedies recommended online that are simply not effective — some are even potentially harmful. If your pup’s itching doesn’t start to go away within a few days, get your vet’s help.  
dog scratching constantly

Itchy Dog FAQs

Itchy skin is a common problem among pooches, and it often sparks a number of the same questions among owners. We’ll try to answer a few of the most common canine skin questions below. 

What can you give a dog for severe itching?

For immediate relief, try a gentle bath in tepid water (not too hot!) with a hypoallergenic shampoo. Long term, it is a good idea to increase the fatty acids (particularly omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil or salmon oil) in your dogs’ diet – although some dogs may not tolerate a high amount of oil in their diet, so speak to your vet. 

Are fleas and other bugs contagious between dogs?

Fleas are especially contagious — they can jump long distances and will happily hop along to a new host to infect (though this isn’t the most common way they’re spread — it’s usually hatching eggs that are the problem). Mites’ contagion level is similar to fleas, while ticks are less likely to pass onto a different host. 

Can treats cause food allergies?

Sure, but it depends on the ingredients of said treat! When you go to the vet to discuss your pooch’s possible food allergy, bring along the treat packets with you for your vet to examine.

Do dogs react to poison ivy?

Short answer: Dogs can get poison ivy, but it’s not likely. As always, we’d advise using caution and avoiding the plant altogether. Also, note that while dogs rarely develop a rash from poison ivy, they may spread the oils to you if they roll around in the plants. 

***

I’d be lying if all this talk of fleas and dry skin hasn’t left me feeling a little scratchy! Do you guys and gals get this? I guess now we know how the dogs are feeling! 

We hope this article has answered a few questions and that you can soothe your pup with some of our tips.

Be sure to let us know about your experiences with itchy canine skin in the comments and share any questions you may have too!  

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Written by

Charlie Boag

Charlie is passionate about animal welfare and has worked in multiple rescue shelters across Europe. She currently lives in the UK and is working towards her Veterinary Nursing qualification, so she can continue her travels and help animals across the world!

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