Itchy Dogs

Are you overly familiar with the scratchy sounds of your dog licking, itching and biting? You’re not alone – itching is one of the most common reasons for taking our dogs to the vet. Itching, the technical term of which is pruritis, can be a frustrating and distressing condition for both you and your dog. This article will provide an overview of some of the common causes of itching in dogs and tips for how to manage it.

 

Why is my dog itching?

The million dollar question – why is my dog itching? Compulsive licking, scratching and chewing behaviours are common and have a variety of causes. While it is a common condition, some cases are mild and others much more serious. It can be tricky to get to the bottom of what is causing your dog to scratch, and often takes time and patience.

Causes of pruritis in dogs can be due to either the skin itself, or a reaction to something in their environment. If you have concerns about your dog’s itching always contact your veterinarian for advice.

 

How much itching is normal for a dog?

Every dog is going to have a little scratch from time to time, and that’s perfectly normal. But continued licking, chewing and biting, sometimes to the point of self-harm is not. These dogs will have an underlying condition which will need addressing to help soothe their scratch.

 

What does itchy skin look like?

If you are bearing witness to your dog itching each day, you probably know he is itchy without having to examine his skin. But some dogs itch more at night, or when alone – so knowing the different ways itchy skin can look can help you keep track of your dog’s scratching.

Excessive itching can cause –

  • Bald patches (alopecia)
  • Red ‘angry looking’ skin
  • Dark, thickened skin
  • Self- inflicted wounds
  • Scabs
  • Hot Spots

You may notice your dog biting and nibbling at his paw’s a lot and may even have heard the loud crunching of biting the nails. Rubbing their face and ears along the carpet is also not uncommon.

What is a hot spot?

One of the first signs of pruritis you may notice is the development of a ‘hot spot’. Hot spots are wet, red, irritated areas aggravated by continual licking and rubbing. Known by your vet as acute moist dermatitis, hot spots are often found on the head, chest and hips – although they can occur anywhere on your dog’s body. Hot spots are uncomfortable and dogs tend to keep itching them meaning they can become sore and large very quickly. Veterinary advice should be sought to manage hot spots.

Top Tip: Acting fast when you notice a hot spot will help. The sooner you start treatment the better.

 

Does my dog’s dry skin cause itching?

Just like we can, some dogs too can suffer with dry skin. Dry skin can cause dogs to be intensely itchy. These dogs tend to have visible dandruff and the skin itself may appear cracked. While some dogs are more prone to dry skin than others, the weather and diet may also influence the severity of their itching. Talk to your vet about an appropriate diet for your dog and any topical solutions they may advise.

Top Tip: Bathing your dog with a medicated shampoo can help soothe dry skin.

 

Do parasites make my dog itchy?

When dealing with an itchy dog we can’t forget to rule out any pesky parasites that may have hitched a ride on your pet. Fleas and mites are a very common cause of itching and can be easily overlooked as they are not always obvious to the naked eye.

Flea allergic dermatitis is a type of allergy- in this case dogs are allergic to the flea’s saliva. This can cause intense pruritis and in some cases a secondary infection may result. Eradicating fleas from your dog’s environment will stop this itching.

All dogs have the potential to pick up fleas so it is really important to stay up to date with your flea and tick treatment, such as Frontline. While ticks themselves don’t tend to be itchy, after the tick is removed the skin can be red and inflamed. If you do have a confirmed case of fleas remember to treat your home with flea treatment too as up to 95% of a flea infestation is in your home - in the form of eggs and larvae.

Top Tip: Set yourself reminders to give your dog flea and tick treatment each month so you don’t forget.

 

Does my dog have allergies?

Continued itching that you’re struggling to control may be due to allergies. Dogs can be allergic to many things – food can cause a food allergy, substances such as soap powder can cause a localised skin irritation known as contact dermatitis, or environmental triggers like grass and dust can cause atopic dermatitis.

Allergies can be frustrating to manage as often identifying the thing your dog is allergic to is done by a process of elimination. In some cases your vet may advise specific blood testing to identify the cause of the itch and they may have various treatment options based on those results.

Managing allergies varies from dog to dog- in some instances simply removing the offending stimuli is adequate. Other dogs may require medication. You may also find that your dog’s allergies are seasonal and worsen in the summer months.

Top Tip: Be organised and keep a diary of your dog’s itching to help identify potential triggers.

 

Food allergies in dogs

Occasionally, a dog’s diet is responsible for their itchy skin and this is known as a food allergy. A food allergy is when the dog’s immune system reacts to one or more of the ingredients in their diet. As well as having itchy skin, these dogs may also have upset tummies - it’s not unusual for them to vomit or have diarrhoea too.

Generally dogs tend to be allergic to protein and typically food allergies develop in their first year. Although exceptions do occur and it is entirely feasible that a food allergy could develop at any stage in a dog’s life, and they could show an intolerance to other ingredients such as wheat. It is quite common for dogs to be allergic to more than one component of their diet.

A true food allergy cannot be cured but by avoiding the problem food your dog can live a happy itch free life.

Top Tip: Be extra vigilant on treats and any other food your dog may be consuming, other than their dog food, to ensure they’re not eating anything they shouldn’t be!

 

Canine Atopic Dermatitis

A particularly difficult type of allergy to manage is atopic dermatitis – sometimes known as atopy. This is when a dog has an inappropriate and exaggerated immune response to a ‘normal’ substance in their environment. Common triggers for atopy are dust, pollen and grass.

Atopic dermatitis can range in severity from dog to dog, and some dogs are allergic to more than one stimulus. Continual chewing, licking and biting is commonly seen - sometimes progressing to self-inflicted wounds.

Depending on what it is the dog is reacting to, it is not always possible to exclude that substance from their environment. These dogs need veterinary attention and most likely medication will be recommended to help soothe their scratching. Atopy cannot be cured, so lifelong management is required – this can take some considerable dedication from their owner.

Top Tip: Make sure you keep your dog up to date on flea treatment, as flea bites can cause a flare up of atopy.

 

What else could cause my dog to itch?

Licking, scratching and chewing may not always be a result of true pruritis. There could be other underlying conditions that are causing these behaviours –

  • Compulsive chewing and licking is recognised as a response to orthopaedic pain such as arthritis. Foreign bodies, like grass seeds in feet can also cause your dog to incessantly bite and lick.
  • Hormonal imbalances. A dog’s body has a fine balance of hormones, just like ours, and a disruption of those hormones can result in unwanted skin conditions. If there is too much cortisol or not enough thyroid hormone, bald spots and superficial skin infections may occur.
  • Anxiety and boredom. Stress in dogs can lead to over grooming which can in turn cause skin irritation and even hot spots. Chewing and licking are behaviours commonly seen in anxious dogs. This underlying trigger should be addressed to avoid further skin damage. Read more on anxiety in dogs here <hyperlink to Going back to work;dogs>

 

What can I do to help my itchy dog?

If you are concerned about your dog’s itching, then seek veterinary help. Your vet will always be happy to talk through your options and help you manage your pruritic pup. Other helpful actions you can take at home include –

  • Regular grooming. This helps to remove loose hairs and dirt and distribute natural skin oils around the coat. Be aware of over grooming though - once a week will suffice, or you may cause more irritation.
  • Medicated shampoos. Regular bathing with a medicated shampoo can help soothe dry and itchy skin. Talk to your vet about an appropriate product to use for your dog.
  • Change your dog’s diet. If you suspect a food allergy removing this ingredient is essential.
  • Skin supplements. There are many supplements offering skin support. Using a supplement with Omega 3s and Vitamin E can be beneficial – your vet will be able to advise you on a suitable product.
  • Eliminate parasites. Stay up to date with monthly worming, flea and tick treatment to eliminate any potential cause these parasites may have for itching.
  • Address anxiety or boredom. Divert your dog’s attention away from harmful behaviour. Check out Busting Boredom in Dogs  for tips on this. The use of Adaptil can also be beneficial for these dogs.
  • Medication compliance. If your vet has prescribed medication for your dog’s itchiness, ensure you administer it as recommended.

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