- Your dog might be scratching often if they have food allergies or seasonal allergies.
- Skin infections caused by bacteria or yeast can also lead to uncontrollable scratching.
- Mange, a type of skin disease, can also cause severe itchiness.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
It’s normal for dogs to scratch themselves occasionally, but if you notice your dog scratching nonstop, this may be a sign of a problem. There are many reasons your dog may be itchy. Scratching is often caused by fleas or other parasites, but it can also be a sign of an underlying disease like hypothyroidism.
Here are five reasons why your dog may be scratching all the time and what you can do to fix the issue.
1. Flea allergies
When fleas feed, they deposit saliva into their victim’s skin.
This saliva causes a temporary irritation for most dogs, but some dogs are actually allergic to flea saliva, says William H. Miller, Jr., VMD, a professor of veterinary dermatology at Cornell University.
The 5 best flea preventives and treatments for dogs in 2021
A non-allergic dog will bite or nibble at a flea bite but not much more. However, “if the dog has become allergic to the flea saliva, the itching (biting, chewing, scratching, etc.) becomes much more intense and will last long after the flea is gone,” Miller says.
You can often find fleas on your dog’s stomach, back legs, and around the tail, Miller says. With careful inspection, you may be able to see the flea itself or the flea’s feces, which look like little bits of black pepper.
- A flea bath using specialized shampoo
- Comb out fleas using a very fine-toothed comb
- Applying vet-recommended skin treatments like Frontline that kill fleas
- Vacuuming your home and cleaning your dog’s bedding regularly
Highly allergic dogs may also benefit from standard allergy treatments like antihistamines or steroids to help reduce itching and inflammation. Talk to your vet to see if this short-term relief treatment is a good option for your dog.
2. Seasonal allergies
Your dog may become itchier in the warmer months, when there are more fleas and mosquitos around and plants begin shedding pollen.
Most dogs have no issues with pollen, but in some cases, your dog may have a genetic predisposition to allergies, Miller says. When dogs have an allergic reaction to pollen, dust, or mold, you will often see them scratching or biting excessively around their paws and ears.
There’s no way to cure your dog’s
, but there are treatments that can lessen or stop the symptoms.
Steroids like cortisone and antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) have long been used to treat allergic dogs. You should always talk to your vet before giving your dog allergy medications — a vet can make sure this is the right treatment for your dog and help you calculate the correct dose, based on your dog’s weight.
Your vet may also suggest other treatment options. “Today, various new immune modifying drugs, given either by pill or injection, are used routinely and are very effective in managing pollen allergies,” Miller says.
Immunotherapy, a treatment that exposes patients to gradually increasing amounts of an allergen, has been shown to reduce symptoms by more than half in the majority of allergic dogs.
3. Food Allergies
If your dog has a food allergy, they may have a reaction immediately after eating, but symptoms of food sensitivity can build up more gradually over time. Your dog may start scratching, along with other symptoms like:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Unhealthy looking skin or fur
- Chronic ear or foot infections
If you think your dog may have food allergies, your veterinarian can help by putting your dog on a limited trial diet to determine which foods are causing the symptoms, says Jennifer Schissler, DVM, a professor of veterinary dermatology at Colorado State University.
4. Skin infections
Though any dog can get a skin infection, your dog is at greater risk if they have allergies or a disease that causes hormonal imbalances, Hnot says.
The most common hormonal diseases that can cause skin issues in dogs are Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. “Both make the skin more susceptible to bacterial and yeast infection which can result in itch,” says Schissler.
To diagnose an endocrine disease, you will need to visit your vet to get blood testing for your dog. “Once your veterinarian has diagnosed one of these diseases, there are medications to help treat your dog,” Hnot says.
If there is no underlying issue behind an infection, “your veterinarian can prescribe an antibiotic to treat bacterial infections and antifungal pill to treat yeast infections,” Hnot says.
Mange is a type of skin disease that can cause severe itchiness for your dog. According to Schissler, there are two main types of mange:
- Sarcoptic mange (scabies) is the itchiest type of mange in dogs and it can be passed between dogs.
- Demodectic mange (Demodex) can be itchy too, but it’s not contagious. Demodex is “the overgrowth of a mite that is normally present in dog hair follicles in very low numbers,” says Schissler.
If your dog has mange, they can develop crusting on their ears, elbows and back thighs, but they can be itchy in other areas too, Hnot says.
If you think your dog may have mange, see your veterinarian to perform a skin scrape and help look for these mites, Hnot says.
All dogs scratch a little, but too much scratching may be a sign that something’s wrong. Skin diseases, allergies, and fleas can all make your dog feel itchy. If you aren’t sure what’s causing your dog to scratch, it’s important to get a medical exam.
“Schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian to help you figure out what is causing the itching so your pet can get back to feeling their best!” says Hnot.
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