It is extremely normal to see a dog contentedly scratching himself. Itching is as normal for them as it is for us, so it’s usually no cause for concern. However, excessive dog itching and scratching can also indicate certain health problems. If you are concerned about your dog’s excessive itching, this article is a good place to start your research. Of course, we should tell you that there is no substitute for the advice of a qualified veterinarian.
What Causes A Dog To Itch Excessively?
There are several things that can cause a dog to itch excessively. The first and most obvious of these issues is a flea infestation. This is a much bigger problem for outside dogs, but inside-dwelling dogs can also get fleas from a variety of sources. If you have a lot of thick carpeting in your home, fleas can become a massive and highly irritating problem for you as well!
In some cases, a dog will have an allergic reaction to flea bites. Surprisingly, this is the most common skin problem for dogs in the USA, and many cats are also affected. Basically, when a flea bites, it injects several chemical compounds into the skin. Some of these are histamine-type substances, and those always carry a risk of an allergic reaction. These histamines are not injected in the way that venom is injected, but are instead contained in the saliva of the flea. This condition is technically called FAD (Flea Allergy Dermatitis).
On the subject of allergies, fleas are not the only thing that can trigger such a reaction. If your dog’s food contains substances to which they are allergic, excessive itching can be one of the results. Other common signs of food allergies include regular diarrhea/vomiting and recurring infections of the ears and/or feet.
This one can actually be fatal if the exposure is severe enough. Of course, allergic problems like those are not always caused by food. Factors in the surrounding environment (like pollen) can also trigger allergies, so try not to jump to conclusions. Environmental allergies of that kind are usually called “atopy.”
If you (and your dog) are lucky, the problem may only be skin deep. Canines sometimes suffer from skin dryness issues, just as many people do. This will cause a bit of itching, but can usually be alleviated with baths and moisturizing products. Just be aware that too many baths with a non-moisturizing product can actually cause more dryness and worsen the problem.
It’s also important to understand that some parasites will cause dry, flaky skin problems, so don’t rule that out, either. For instance, demodectic mange is named for the specific types of skin mites that cause its’ effects. Of course, when we talk about dogs, we have to talk about worms. If your dogs’ itchiness is centered around the rectal area, intestinal worms could be the cause and you may need to look into a dog wormer.
Finally, we come to the subject of fungal and bacterial infections. Even a small cut in your dog’s skin can create the possibility of infection, which can take many forms. Fungal infections are probably a little more dangerous than bacterial ones, as they tend to be more contagious and less vulnerable to antibiotics. Ringworm is the most common fungal infection and normally isn’t that hard to treat. Bacterial conditions of this kind are usually categorized as “Pyoderma” and are characterized by itching, redness, and hair loss.
How Much Itching Is Normal For A Dog?
As we said, it is pretty normal for a dog to scratch themselves. Because this behavior is so common, it might be hard to tell when your dog is itching too much. One of the main things to watch for is a near-constant urge to scratch themselves.
You should also note the level of urgency with which they scratch themselves. A dog who is engaged in normal scratching will use their paws in a relatively slow manner. However, a dog with a serious itching problem will bite at themselves with a sense of urgency, perhaps whining a bit in the process. In other words: They will act as if something is wrong with them.
If you need something a little more precise, you can always use the “canine itch scale” as many veterinarians do. This scale grades a dog’s itchiness on a scale of one to ten, but there are six levels. To give you an overview:
- 0-1: Normal (no significant itching/scratching behavior)
- 2-3: Very Mild (scratches themselves only a little bit more than normal)
- 4-5: Mild (scratches more often than normal but not when occupied/distracted)
- 6-7: Moderate (scratches throughout the day, stops when distracted)
- 8-9: Severe (disturbs your dog while they are eating, sleeping, playing, etc.
- 10: Extreme (won’t stop scratching unless restrained)
These last three stages are often accompanied by skin problems, as excessive scratching irritates the surface. A dog with a serious itching problem will often bite and scratch at the same spot until it is hairless and raw.
Common Reasons Why Dogs Itch
All dogs enjoy scratching themselves, and we don’t always know what causes them to itch. Indeed, we don’t always know what causes humans to itch, either. All in all, itching is probably a function of the nerves contained in the skin. For one reason or another, certain spots just need to be scratched. Of course, we are talking about normal canine scratching here. Excessive scratching will pretty much always have an underlying cause.
In some cases, excessive scratching could be a nervous habit. A dog that is bored might be more likely to sit around and scratch themselves. If they have nothing better to occupy their attention, they might be scratching simply because they enjoy doing so. Of course, dogs in that position will not scratch as hard, as often, or as compulsively as those who actually have health problems.
We have already talked a lot about the various things that can cause your dog’s skin to become irritated and itchy. There is no need to rehash the information we have already covered, so let’s go into greater detail about a few of these conditions.
One of the more common fungal skin infections that might infest your dog is called a yeast infection. Yes, these are similar to the yeast infections that sometimes afflict humans. The similarity comes from the fact that all yeast infections are caused by a similar type of fungus. Yeast-type fungi are single-celled organisms that are often airborne. As you probably know, some types of yeast fungus are used to make bread, but it can also colonize an open sore or wound in the same way it might colonize a bowl of flour.
Demodectic and sarcoptic mange (the two main types) are not all that hard to distinguish. Although the tiny mites that cause these conditions are very hard to see, their consequences are not. Demodectic mange is usually accompanied by the development of big, nasty pustules on various parts of the body. These will basically be like giants pimples that have to be cleaned and drained. Incidentally, we have found sulfur and sulfur-based medications to be very helpful here. Sarcoptic mange is even easier to recognize because it causes hair loss and scaly skin.
When it comes to bacterial infections, staph infections are definitely the most common. They can lead to blood poisoning and death, although it’s rare to see a case that extreme. Symptoms of a canine staph infection include:
- Very red and inflamed skin
- Excessive scratching, licking, and chewing
- Circular or pus-filled lesions
- Fur loss
- Dry, flaky skin
- Weakness and signs of pain
Before you assume that any of these less-common causes are to blame, however, you should make sure that you have ruled out flea problems. These really are the most common culprits, and it isn’t hard to remove them. For instance, you can try this all-natural flea shampoo to safely remove the little buggers. To keep them away, you can treat your dog with a repellent like this one. Finally, you can get the fleas out of your carpets and furniture with this household flea fighter solution.
Why Is My Dog So Itchy But Has No Fleas?
As stated earlier, fleas are the most common cause of canine itching. However, there are other parasites that cause similar symptoms. When your dog is scratching more than usual, the first step should be to check them for fleas. By carefully parting the dog’s hair, you can at least catch a glimpse of those pesky little fleas as they crawl away.
So what if you see no fleas whatsoever on your dog’s skin? It’s no reason to panic, but it does mean your problem is a little bigger. Fleas can usually be handled with a medicated shampoo and/or a medication, but you aren’t going to get off that easy. To recap some of what we have already taught you, your dog’s itchiness could be caused by:
- Food allergies
- Environmenal (atopic) allergies
- Bacterial infection
- Fungal infection
- Skin mites and/or ticks
- Simple skin dryness
If none of these conditions seems to fit your dog’s symptoms, you definitely need to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. Itchiness isn’t usually a sign of life-threatening problems, but it never hurts to be on the safe side.
What Can You Give A Dog For Severe Itching?
When you are dealing with a problem that is considered “severe,” you will need to take action immediately. Not only is your dog dealing with a lot of irritation here, but they also might be suffering from a serious internal issue. Even if you think you know the cause, a severe problem should always be taken to a veterinarian. Internet research (like this article) is certainly helpful, but the advice of a professional will always be a higher authority.
Apart from any medications or treatments prescribed by your vet, you might want to consider some products that will help with those aggravating symptoms. Giving your dog a bath is probably a good idea, but you shouldn’t use normal dog shampoo. Your dogs’ skin is probably irritated and sensitive and you don’t want to make the problem any worse. If you do use a shampoo or conditioner, I’d adviuse using our dog shampoo for itchy skin.
These same anti-itch ingredients can be incorporated into a spray that works both as an itch reliever and a wound treatment. For this reason, we think this is the best anti-itch spray for dogs on the market.
Apart from the itching itself, you should also try to relieve some of the soreness and hypersensitivity that comes from an itching problem. A dog is likely to have scratched the afflicted areas until they are sore and tender. As they compulsively lick that sore spot, they may end up making the problem worse. The nose and paw pads are especially vulnerable to this kind of thing. Thankfully, there are some good skin and paw balm solutions like this one that can help to moisturize those irritated areas and speed the healing process.
As health problems go, itchiness is not that terrible. As a dog owner, there is no need for you to freak out if your dog is digging at their hide a little more than usual. However, any change in the behavior of an animal will usually have an underlying cause and this is no exception. You especially need to be careful if you think your dog has a fungal/bacterial problem, as these can mushroom into serious problems. Man’s best friend deserves nothing less. In closing, we thank you for reading our work thus far and we hope that it has been helpful to you.