My Dog is Scratching
Poor pooch looks miserable, scratching, biting at his skin, jerking and then back to scratching. What could
possibly be causing such distress? There are many possibilities, but in this article, we will rule out the
most common causes of itching and scratching in dogs.
If the dog is only scratching his ears, ear problems could be the cause. Infections and ear mites can be
treated successfully by a veterinarian. To rule this out, check inside the dog’s ear. The ear should be
clean and slightly pink, the color of skin. If there is redness, bleeding, or a brown discharge with a bad
odor, ear mites and/or infection is the likely reason. A veterinary will be able to rule out mites and treat
them along with the secondary infection.
Is the dog scratching overall or localized on one area of the body? There are several reasons by dogs
2. Infections and Dry Skin
Allergies usually fall within one of the following categories:
• Food Allergies
• Environmental Allergies
• Parasite Allergies
Food allergies are quite common in dogs because there are many ingredients that are used in dog food
that dogs do not need. Furthermore, it might not be the dog food that you are using at all, but the dog
treats, chews, flavored toys, or even toothpaste that the dog eats regularly. Most of the more expensive,
high quality foods do not cause allergies in dogs. The problem lies in the lower quality foods that include
filler ingredients such as corn, wheat, soy, and oats. These fillers make it possible for their manufacturers
to sell the dog food cheaply but they do not provide any nutritional value. Fillers are not the only source
of allergens, rather anything that the dog is sensitive to could be the problem and that includes the protein
sources, the carbohydrate sources as well as chemical additives. The best way to find out if the dog is
allergic to a specific ingredient is by eliminating everything but one item and then adding ingredients
gradually. This method relies on a home cooked diet which may not be practical for all pet owners. An
easier way would be to choose a high quality dog food without the fillers listed and see what happens.
Alternatively, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe a more hypoallergenic diet that uses unusual
protein and carbohydrate sources that the dog has not encountered before such as fish and potatoes.
Another type of allergy that causes scratching in dogs is caused by something found in the dog’s
environment. Canine atopic dermatitis occurs when a dog becomes overly sensitive to something within
his environment. These allergens, or anything that causes an allergy or hypersensitivity reaction, could
be a variety of things found in the dog’s environment such as plant pollen, molds, dust, and grasses,
chemical residues on blankets and bedding, and cleaning chemicals. This type of allergy needs
veterinary intervention. Your veterinary may run allergy tests, prescribe antihistamines or steroids such
as prednisone to be taken by mouth, special hydrocortisone based shampoos or even allergy vaccines. If
allergy testing is suggested it will be done by a skin test or a blood test. Once the allergic culprit is
identified, the dog will receive a series of desensitizing allergy shots. This can be a very long drawn out
process. Often the symptoms become worse before they get better during this desensitizing process
because the injections include a small amount of the very allergen that the dog is allergic to. When
scratching becomes severe, a secondary bacterial infection might occur which needs to be treated.
Allergies Caused by Parasites: Fleas
Fleas are an extremely common cause of scratching in dogs.
Fleas on dogs can be very stressful and if the dog has a
hypersensitivity to fleas it does not take a major infestation
for the dog to be miserably. In fact one flea can cause
tremendous discomfort. If you find out your dog does have
this hypersensitivity, you will need to make sure he is on flea
control year round. To rule out fleas, you will need to inspect
your dog’s skin carefully. Fleas are tiny brown insects that live on the skin and coat of an animal during
the adult phase of their life cycle. They particularly like the abdominal area, base of the tail and the inner
thighs. They jump from place to place and sometimes it’s easier to find their presence by the excrement
they leave, tiny brown/black specks that resemble coarse black pepper. If you find fleas, you will need to
treat the dog as well as where the dog lives including the entire house if the dog has access to it.
Additional antihistamines or steroids may be prescribed by your veterinarian to assist with the
hypersensitivity. If a secondary bacterial infection develops, your veterinarian may also prescribe some
type of antibiotic.
Other types of Parasite Allergies
In addition to flea problems, Dogs can also develop scratching issues because of mites or fungal
infections. Mites contribute to two types of mange problems, sarcoptic (scabies) and demodicosis.
Demodicosis is caused by the demodex mite and also causes skin sores and hair loss. Mites are too small
to be seen by the naked eye so diagnosis of this problem will need to be made by a veterinarian. The vet
will take a scrapping of skin with the side of a scalpel and view it under the microscope. Treatment can be
The most common type of a fungal skin infection is ringworm. Contrary to popular believe, ringworm is not
caused by a worm, but a microscopic fungal organism that invades the dead outer layers of skin. It gets
its name because most infections resemble circular or ring shaped patches of hair loss and redness.
Ringworm can also occur without accompanying itchiness.
Other causes of scratching in dogs include
- Drug reactions
- Insect bites and stings such as Chiggers, mites, Lice, and Tick Bites, bees, wasps and hornets
- Lymphoma which is a skin cancer in dogs
- Skin Fold Pyoderma which is the inflammation of the skin between skin folds and can be seen in dogs
such as bulldogs with lots of skin folds
- Hypothyroidism can cause seborrhea which is itchy
Dogs also can suffer from dry skin causing them to itch and lick their skin. You might also see dandruff
and a dull, lack luster coat. Some of the most common reasons for dry skin include a poor diet, a poor
shampoo, or possibly bathing too often or poor grooming.
If you are not bathing too often, no more than 2 or 3 times per month, and use a quality shampoo intended
for dogs, it is safe to rule these two culprits out. If the dog has a long coat, does he have knots or
tangles? If any exist, they can cause distress in the dog if the knots are very tight; the dog is likely to
reach by scratching. Knots and tangles can make a dog miserable. If you’re bathing and grooming
properly, then it’s time to examine the dog’s food. High quality premium dog foods promote healthy skin
and coat. In other articles I will discuss dog food, but for the purposes of this article, suffice it to say that
any dog food sold in a grocery store will not be a premium brand.