Stressing about an itchy dog? You’re not alone. Itchiness can be so frustrating for you and your pup. Not only are they frustrating, but they can also lead to skin irritations and even infections. Understanding the signs of itch and pinpointing a cause may be the best first step to reduce the itch.
What does itchiness look like?
When we think about an itchy dog, we usually think scratching with their paw. This isn’t always the case though. Sometimes we think a dog is just being cute, but they may be trying to tell us something. Some examples that your dog may be itchy include:
- Licking the area
- Chewing or nibbling at their fur
- Rubbing along furniture, the grass or you
- Shaking their head or body
- Scooting their bum across the floor
How much is too much itch?
Depending on your dog, their level of itchiness may change over time. This can all depend on their particular allergens, stress levels or medical history. For instance, dog’s with seasonal allergies may have worsened itchiness certain times of the year.
To understand if your dog is itching excessively, it’s important to know their baseline level of itch. The pruritus scale (Itch scale) is often used to help determine how itchy a dog is. The Pruritus Scale is typically scores from 0 (no itch) to 10 (extremely itchy). A moderately itchy dog might periodically scratch during the day and at night but not while they are distracted (eating, drinking or playing). While an extremely itchy dog may require restraint from itching.
By keeping track of your dog’s itch level, it may be easier to detect changes over time. This may help determine triggers at certain times of year or ingredients in foods or treats.
Why do dogs scratch themselves?
While it's normal for dogs to scratch themselves a bit, excessive scratching can be a sign that something's not right. There could be a variety of reasons why your dog is constantly scratching itself. Here are a few possibilities:
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
While some dogs may not be affected at all by a little flea bite, others can have a severe reaction. Flea saliva can be an allergen for some dogs, leading to intense itchiness. In severe cases, your dog may have hair loss over their lower back. With careful inspection, you may find flea ‘dirt’ or feces, which appear as little black specks.
When scratching appears to be a common event for your pup, allergies may be the culprit. Dogs can experience environmental or food allergies. The specific allergens that affect your dog are unique to them. Environmental allergies often include molds, grasses, plants and dusts. Food allergies can involve protein sources, carbohydrates or even certain vegetables.
Although rare, dogs can develop rashes when they come into contact with certain products, such as pesticides or home cleaners.
Just like us, our dog’s dry skin can lead to itchiness and flaking. Dry skin can be caused by winter weather, fatty acid deficiencies, and certain medications. Your dog may lick or scratch at their skin to soothe the discomfort.
Your dog skin has a natural level of bacterial and yeast, called the normal skin flora. This normal skin flora do not cause issues unless there is an underlying skin disease or the immune system is suppressed. If the normal skin flora is not under control, overgrowth of bacteria or yeast can lead to an infection. Bacterial or fungal infections (yeast) can cause itching and scratching in dogs. If your dog has an infection, you may notice other signs such as redness, swelling, or discharge from the affected area.
Endocrine issues such as Cushing’s disease (elevated cortisol) or Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones) can sometimes lead to chronic skin issues. A hormonal imbalance may lead to a poor coat, bald spots or recurrent skin and ear infections.
It's important to identify the cause of your dog's scratching so that you can provide appropriate treatment. If you're concerned about your dog's scratching, it's a good idea to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
To help alleviate your dog's itchy and dry skin, here are some tips to try at home:
- Use a moisturizing shampoo: A mild, moisturizing shampoo can help to soothe your dog's dry and itchy skin. Look for a shampoo that is formulated for sensitive skin and free of harsh chemicals. Be sure to rinse thoroughly!
- Avoid bathing your dog too often: Bathing frequency depends a lot on your dogs’ hair coat and lifestyle. However, bathing too frequently may dry out their skin and may worsen skin irritation. Once every month or two may be adequate for most dogs. Longer-haired dogs may require baths every 4-6 weeks.
- Add fatty acids to your dog's diet: Fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, can help to improve the health of your dog's skin and coat. You can find these fatty acids in foods like fish, eggs, and some plant oils. Your veterinarian can recommend the best fatty acid supplement for your dog.
- Leave-in conditioners, containing ingredients like coconut oils, aloe vera and oatmeal can help to soothe and hydrate dry skin and itchiness.
- Keep your dog's coat well-groomed: Regular grooming can help to remove excess hair and dander from your dog's coat, which can help to reduce itching. Even if your dog has a short coat, regular brushing (at least once a week) can help stimulate hair follicles.
- Keep your dog's environment clean: Allergens and irritants in your dog's environment can contribute to dry, itchy skin. If your dog is prone to environmental allergens, like grasses, be sure to clean their feet regularly after going outdoors. If your dog has allergies to dust mites, it’s important to regularly vacuum and wash their bedding to help reduce their itchiness.
- Use a humidifier: A humidifier may help your dog if the dry air is leading to their dry skin.
- Avoid hot water and harsh chemicals: Hot water and harsh chemicals can strip the natural oils from your dog's skin, leading to dryness and irritation. Use more natural products or ingredients that help to build the skin barrier (e.g. ceramides).
With so many possible causes to your pup’s itchiness, we know it can be difficult to know what to do when. To receive a free skin assessment and tips, try the DIG Labs Health Check. Simply submit a photo of the area of concern and you’ll receive expert feedback within 24 hours. Click here to get started!