Brown Labrador Retriever puppy lies on ground and scratches face with hind leg

Why Does My Dog Itch?

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August is Itchy Pet Awareness Month! So let’s broaden our awareness of why your furry friends may be scratching and what you can do to help them.

All of our pups scratch here and there, and so do we! Just like our pups, we too know the annoyance of a random itch on our backs that we just can’t seem to scratch or a weird little tickle on your ankle that you’ve got to nip in the bud.

These are completely normal little itches that humans and pups all experience, but it’s when the itching gets excessive that we know there could be a possible issue at hand. In dogs, this could be excessive itching, biting, or chewing at their skin, paws, tail, ears, etc.

For us, it may be due to bug bites, eczema (atopic dermatitis), dry skin, etc., but what is it for our pups? Let’s find out.

Parasitic Bites

One cause for excessive itching for our pups could be parasitic bites. These are bites from pests like fleas, mites, or ticks. Thankfully, these are the easiest to treat. There are plenty of vet-recommended over-the-counter flea and parasite medications that can help prevent those bites from happening. See our Dog Tick Tips post for more info on these creepy critters, plus the top vet-recommended prevention products!

Lateral view of a common flea seen via microscope

Side view of common flea, photo via the CDC

Parasitic bites can be found anywhere on your dog, but they most commonly bite around their hind legs, tail base, and rear end. All it takes is one flea to get an itch - much like a mosquito bite. If you part your dog's hair, you may be able to spot the tiny, dark brown parasites that are the size of a crumb.

Combing their hair often helps locate them and aids in their removal. You may also see some ‘flea dirt,’ which is actually digested blood. The bites themselves look like small red bumps. Some dogs are even allergic to flea saliva and detritus, so they experience extensive itching.

So how do you get rid of the itchy, red bumps? First, you will want to bathe your dog to remove any existing fleas or mites. Once they are dry, look for a topical product - preferably one that is safe if ingested. Even when the fleas are gone, those bites itch like crazy, and your pup’s natural response is to lick, bite, and scratch the area.

It’s extremely important to use a product that won’t mess up their digestive system if they lick it, such as Lavengel. Lavengel will soothe the intense itch and help speed the healing. Apply a little bit about 2-3 times a day to ensure the best and quickest results.

It is also recommended that all animals in the home be treated with a topical as it is very easy for these parasites to spread. They, unfortunately, can spread throughout the house as well, so be sure to clean their environment: vacuum the floors and furniture, wash any bedding, and consider cleaning up your yard and having a pest control service treat it.

Adult dalmatian sits in grass and scratches neck under collar

The Environment - Allergies

Dogs are susceptible to allergies just like we are! These can be common seasonal allergens, mold, dust mites, or other environmental factors. Some breeds are more prone to certain allergies over others, so it could be worthwhile to investigate your dog’s breed and see what they may be more sensitive toward.

You may notice your pup’s itch comes and goes every few months or only lasts a few weeks. This could be the sign of new allergens in the air, or perhaps mold or dust mites in a new home or location. This kind of reaction may cause itching and come with additional rubbing, licking, redness, hotspots (more on these in our Hotspot Guide), cracked skin, rashes, blisters, or hair loss.

To help with this, you may want to try soothing baths, afterwards applying a relieving topical (hint: Lavengel) to stop the itch and help repair some of that damaged skin. If the itching is excessive and constant, it may be worth a trip to the vet for a stronger alternative that could last the entirety of the allergy season.

Before and after images of red allergy rash on belly and hips of Pitbull mix treated with Lavengel

Before and after images of allergy rash on belly and hips of Pitbull mix caused by grass allergy (treated with Lavengel)

Hives

Hives are classified as another type of allergic reaction that can cause exorbitant itching. Hives can come from multiple types of sources, like a bite or even medication. Look for raised bumps causing the fur to stick out and/or any swelling around the eyes.

For a small, contained area of hives, try a safe topical like Lavengel to start repairing the skin and help relieve the itch. Other products such as hypoallergenic shampoo may help calm the entire body as well. If the swelling increases and the allergic reaction looks severe, take your dog to the vet immediately for treatment.

White Maltese dog looks up at camera standing next to stainless steel food bowl and dirty water bowl on wood floor

Canine Food Allergies

Another common cause of itch could be from your dog’s food. Just like their human companions, it’s incredibly common for your dog to have a food allergy to ingredients like beef, chicken, or dairy. This itch can often occur around the feet, face, armpits, or belly. A severe allergy to food may additionally cause vomiting and diarrhea, and you may notice swelling around the ears, lips, or eyelids.

Look into getting your dog an allergy test with your vet to find out what problem foods and ingredients are affecting your dog. Once you eliminate those from their diet, you’ll likely notice this itch go away.

Skin Infections: Yeast and Bacteria

Yeast (Malassezia) dermatitis and bacterial infections are often caused by constant itching and lead to even more itching. Once the skin is broken from excessive biting/scratching, the bacteria and fungi (yeast) move in and set up shop.

Bacteria and yeast are most commonly found in areas with folds like their ears, neck, under the tail, and in between the toes and paw pads. If your pup has been licking and scratching for a while, you may notice red and greasy patches in that area beginning to form with a distinct, foul odor.

When it comes to their paws, that "frito paws" smell will shift to more of a "rotten cheese" odor. You'll notice them licking and chewing their paws far more often than normal, which exacerbates the infection and can create open sores and fur loss from the trauma.

An otic (ear) infection - either bacterial or yeast - is typically accompanied by constant "digging" in the ears, head shaking, pain and sensitivity, and in some cases, head tilting. Take a look in their ears if you see them with a hind foot in their ear for an extended time.

There are some topicals that you can apply to help relieve these symptoms and get rid of the infection, like Lavengel. However, in more serious cases, we highly recommend a trip to the vet. If left untreated, these infections may lead to additional problems.

White dog with black and purple collar lies on back in grass with eyes closed

Keep an Eye Out for Excess Scratching

It’s important to stay in tune with our pups and notice when they may be alerting us to a problem. Unfortunately, we don’t speak the same language, but they can communicate with us through their behaviors and actions.

If you notice your pup scratching, start paying attention to how frequently they scratch, gnaw, or bite at their skin, where they’re itching, and whether it’s getting worse or better. You’ll notice that they are indirectly communicating exactly what’s going on with them.

The sooner you pick up on their communication, the sooner you can get them the help they need to feel happier and healthier!

Lavengel flower logo

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