Why is my dog itching and scratching so much?
You may have heard that your skin is your largest organ. Guess what? Your dog’s skin is his or her largest organ, too! And dog skin has a lot of jobs to do — it both connects with and protects your dog from the outside world.
Unfortunately, the outside world may be making your dog itchy!
If you see your dog scratching a lot, 99 times out of 100 you'll wonder if your dog has fleas. But there are actually several reasons why your dog may be scratching himself so much. To cut down on the itch, it's wise to think through them all.
Seasonal & Environmental Allergies
Do your eyes or nose get itchy in certain environments? Your dog’s might too! Dogs get allergies just like humans, though the signs may be a little different. Most allergies show up as itchy skin, but can also appear as a runny nose, sneezing fits, red or irritated eyes, or recurring ear infections.
Allergic reactions come about when your dog’s immune system delivers an inflammation response to a substance it comes in contact with. Your dog may be reacting to dust, mold, pollen, grass, fertilizers, or a cleaning product you use. If your dog is scratching a lot due to allergies, the majority of the itching is likely to occur on your dog’s paws, armpit, groin, or muzzle.
It can be difficult to determine what allergen is making your dog miserable. Observe and take note of when and what your dog was doing before the scratch-fest began. Your vet can test your dog for allergies and prescribe the right antihistamine, as well as any topical support while the meds take effect.
You can also add fish or coconut oil to your dog’s diet to reduce your dog’s scratching symptoms. Coconut oil supports healthier skin and has been shown to help mute allergic reactions in dogs. You can also wipe your dog down after playing outdoors to remove allergens before they sit on your dog’s skin and end up getting licked or inhaled. Oatmeal or medicated shampoo baths may also help — but be sure to use cool water. Hot water makes itchy skin itchier!
Food allergies are more and more common in people — but you might not realize they are often common in dogs. Many dog foods are made with highly processed ingredients and fillers like corn and soy which some dogs cannot tolerate, or can lead to poor nutrition that weakens the skin. Preservatives are also irritating to your dog’s immune system and can trigger allergic responses.
If you think diet may play a role in your dog’s scratching situation, by all means switch away from highly processed kibbles. Instead, try a fresh, meat-forward food made with whole ingredients with minimal processing. A good example is A Pup Above — they offer a handy sampler pack that makes their gently cooked recipes easy to try. Give it one to two months and observe whether your dog keeps scratching or if it subsides.
Fleas are always a factor, of course, but there are also ticks, scabies, and mites to consider. If you suspect your dog’s scratching is due to parasites, check your prevention plan to be sure you haven’t missed any doses. Talk with your vet to see if you need to try a different product or method. Whatever you choose, the key to fighting fleas and other parasites is consistent treatment.
Adult fleas are just the part of the problem you can see. You also need to rid your dog’s environment of flea eggs, larvae, and pupae — which are almost impossible to spot. Wash your dog’s bedding in a bleach solution, or use apple cider vinegar instead.
Even if you’re on top of parasite prevention, some dogs are so sensitive that a single bite will cause full-body itching. Fleas sometimes attack extremities — like paws and ears — during outside time, even without infesting a dog. If you suspect this, try spot treating your dog’s skin with a soother like coconut oil.
Infections & Hot Spots
There are fungus among us, and bacteria, too. When your dog’s skin is stressed with any kind of scratch or small wound, it can lead to an infection. If this is the issue, you may notice a smell, discharge, or scabbing.
An infection can lead to hot spots — sore places that quickly develop into circular, hairless patches of irritated or infected skin. If you see hot spots or scabby areas, talk to your vet. If it is a bacterial or fungal infection, you will likely need an antibiotic to clear it up.
Stress & Anxiety
If you’ve thought through everything else, but still find your dog is scratching a lot or coming down with hot spots, it’s time to consider mental health. Our canine companions can get lonely, anxious, or simply bored — and sometimes doggy worries lead to excessive chewing, biting, or licking.
Think of it like nail biting in humans. It’s not dangerous in and of itself, but it’s a habit that causes small wounds to the skin. Bacteria can easily creep into these small wounds, causing more irritation or even an infection — which just leads to more biting!
Regardless why your dog is scratching, it’s well worth your time to investigate. You see, dogs don’t know when to stop scratching. They can cause themselves a lot more pain if left to do what comes naturally when they feel uncomfy in their own skin.
Remember, when your dog keeps scratching, it is just a symptom of something else that needs to be addressed. Topical treatments can ease that itch, but to stop your dog’s scratching and save their skin from small wounds, you need to address the root cause.
Maybe you need to wipe your dog down after playtime. Maybe you need to switch your dog to a fresh food like A Pup Above. But whatever you need to do, it’s well worth it to protect your sweet pup from hot spots and infections that can really hurt their health.