Dog Excessive Itching

Dog Excessive Itching

Posted by Lianne McLeod D.V.M. on

Dog Excessive Itching

Itching in dogs, medically known as pruritus, is a common and often distressing problem that affects dogs of all breeds and ages. This uncomfortable sensation can lead to incessant scratching, licking, and biting, causing discomfort and sometimes even harm to the dog's skin.

Skin infections, either bacterial or fungal, and more be responsible for itching in dogs. These infections can result from a weakened immune system, pre-existing skin conditions, or even excessive moisture trapped in the skin folds.

Furthermore, underlying medical conditions like hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer can manifest as pruritus in dogs. These cases often require a comprehensive diagnostic approach and specialized treatment.

In this comprehensive exploration of pruritus (itching) in dogs, we will delve deeper into the clinical symptoms, various causes, diagnostic methods, and treatment options available to provide our furry friends with the relief they deserve.

Understanding Pruritus (Itching)

Pruritus, commonly known as itching, is a prevalent dermatological issue in dogs that demands a comprehensive understanding for effective management and care. Just as a scratch behind the ear can make a dog's day, persistent pruritus can turn it into a nightmare.

The etiology of pruritus in dogs is multifaceted, encompassing various causes such as allergies, parasites, infections, and underlying health conditions. Identifying the root cause is crucial in devising an appropriate treatment plan. Diagnosis may involve skin scrapings, blood tests, or allergy testing.

Treatment options range from topical therapies like medicated shampoos to oral medications and dietary modifications. Veterinary guidance is essential to tailor treatment to the specific needs of the furry patient. Additionally, preventive measures such as regular grooming, flea control, and maintenance of a balanced diet can help mitigate pruritus.

itchy dog 1

Clinical Symptoms of an Itchy Dog

Although the degree of itchiness varies among dogs due to individual pruritic thresholds, the clinical symptoms of an itchy dog include:

  • Scratching and Biting: One of the most evident signs of itchiness in dogs is incessant scratching and biting. Dogs may use their paws or teeth to target specific areas of their body, attempting to alleviate the discomfort.

  • Redness and Inflammation: Itchy skin often becomes red and inflamed due to the constant irritation. The affected areas can appear swollen and warm to the touch.

  • Hair Loss: Over time, excessive scratching and biting can lead to hair loss or thinning in the affected areas, resulting in patchy or uneven fur.

  • Hot Spots: Continuous scratching can create hot spots, also known as acute moist dermatitis. These are painful, moist sores that develop quickly and require prompt attention to prevent infection.

  • Rubbing Against Surfaces: Dogs may rub their body against furniture, walls, or the floor to relieve itching. This behavior is an attempt to scratch hard-to-reach areas such as their bums.

  • Paw Chewing and Licking: Itchy dogs often focus on their paws, chewing or licking them excessively. This can lead to irritation, redness, and even sores between the toes.

  • Ear Scratching or Head Shaking: Itchiness can extend to the ears, leading to frequent scratching or head shaking. Recurring ear infections may also accompany these symptoms.

  • Changes in Skin: The skin may change in color or texture, becoming scaly or thickened in response to chronic itching.

  • Skin Infections: Constant scratching can break the skin's protective barrier, making dogs vulnerable to bacterial or yeast infections. These infections may present as oozing sores or the presence of pus.

  • Systemic Signs: In some cases, allergic reactions that cause itchiness manifest; for example, sneezing, watery eyes, or gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or vomiting.

Common Causes of Itchiness (Pruritus) in Dogs

Itchiness in dogs can be attributed to a variety of factors, each demanding vigilant attention from pet owners.

The list of common causes of itchiness in dogs includes the following:

  • One of the most prevalent culprits is ectoparasites, including fleas, mites, lice, and ticks. These tiny menaces infest a dog's skin and coat, causing relentless itching and discomfort.
  • Another prevalent trigger is food allergies. Dogs can develop sensitivities to common allergens such as beef, dairy, chicken, and lamb, leading to skin irritation and itching. Identifying and eliminating these allergens from their diet is crucial.
  • Seasonal allergies, often known as atopy, are provoked by environmental factors like pollens, dust mites, and mold. Dogs react with itching and skin inflammation during certain times of the year.
  • Infections, both bacterial and fungal, are also known culprits. These infections typically arise as secondary conditions, exacerbating the itching problem.
  • Environmental triggers like pollen, mold spores, or dust mites, can set off itching in sensitive dogs. Additionally, some dogs exhibit heightened sensitivity to insect bites and materials like carpet fibers or plastics. To alleviate itchiness, it's essential to identify the specific cause and seek appropriate veterinary care or adjustments in the dog's environment or diet.
itchy dog 2

Home Remedies for Itchy Dog Skin

For mild cases of itchy dog skin, the following home remedies may provide relief for your furry friend:

  • Chamomile and Green Tea Soaks: Brew chamomile or green tea, let it cool, and then use it to gently soak your dog's itchy skin. The natural anti-inflammatory properties can provide soothing relief.

  • Colloidal Oatmeal Baths: Add colloidal oatmeal to your dog's bathwater. It helps reduce inflammation and soothe irritated skin. Make sure the water is lukewarm, not hot.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Dilute apple cider vinegar with water (1:1 ratio) and apply it to your dog's skin with a spray bottle. It can be helpful for mild yeast infections and can also act as a natural antibacterial agent.

  • Fish Oil Supplements: Incorporate fish oil supplements into your dog's diet. The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil promote healthy skin and reduce inflammation from the inside.

  • Aloe Vera: Apply a thin layer of pure aloe vera gel to areas with redness or irritation. Ensure it's free from additives or preservatives. Aloe vera has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Baking Soda Paste: Make a paste by mixing baking soda with water and apply it to your dog's rash. Leave it on for a short time, then rinse. Baking soda helps dry out rashes and provides relief.

Treatment of Dog Itching

The treatment of dog itching encompasses a multifaceted approach aimed at addressing its underlying causes while providing symptomatic relief.

Some popular treatment methods include:

  • Antibiotics: If itching is due to a bacterial infection or secondary to another issue like hot spots, antibiotics may be prescribed. They combat bacterial overgrowth and promote healing.

  • Insect Control: Fleas, ticks, and other parasites often trigger itching. Regular use of flea and tick preventatives helps keep these pests at bay.

  • Prescribed Diet: Allergies to certain ingredients in commercial dog food can provoke itching. A prescribed hypoallergenic diet helps identify and eliminate dietary triggers.

  • Steroid Medication: Corticosteroids can swiftly relieve itching and inflammation, but they are typically used cautiously due to potential side effects. These are usually reserved for severe cases.

  • Anti-Itch Medication: Medications like Apoquel or Cytopoint can be prescribed to specifically target itching without the side effects of steroids.

  • Antihistamines: These drugs counteract histamine release, reducing itching. They are often used in milder cases or as adjunctive therapy.

  • Dog Shampoos: Medicated shampoos containing ingredients like oatmeal, aloe vera, or medicated compounds usually soothe irritated skin and provide temporary relief.

Dietary Considerations for Itchy Dogs

Allergies to food ingredients are common in causing skin irritations and itching in dogs. Identifying these allergens can be challenging but highly beneficial. An elimination diet is a valuable tool in this process, involving the gradual removal and reintroduction of specific ingredients to pinpoint triggers.

Such foods include grains, dairy, and certain proteins like chicken or beef. In addition, switching to hypoallergenic dog food with limited ingredients may alleviate symptoms.

itchy dog 3

How to Get My Dog to Stop Chewing Themselves

To address your dog's self-chewing habit, treat it like you would itching. Firstly, observe your dog closely to identify the underlying cause. Chewing can result from allergies, skin irritations, or even anxiety.

Once you've pinpointed the issue, work on alleviating discomfort. Cooling the affected area with a damp, cool cloth can provide relief, similar to how you would scratch an itch. If you have a vet-approved topical solution for skin issues, apply it gently.

Moreover, redirect their attention by offering chew toys or engaging in interactive play to distract them from self-chewing. Consistency is key; reward them when they abstain from the behavior, reinforcing positive habits. If the issue persists, consult your veterinarian for a comprehensive evaluation and tailored guidance.

Why is My Dog’s Itching Worse at Night?

Your dog's itching may worsen at night due to various factors. Firstly, nighttime exposure to allergens like pollen or dust mites might be higher, triggering your dog's itching.

Secondly, indoor heating during the winter can dry out the air, potentially exacerbating skin irritation. Additionally, reduced activity at night may make your dog more conscious of their itching, intensifying the perception.

My Dog Scratches Their Ear Then Licks Their Paw, What Does Mean?

When a dog scratches their ear and then licks their paw, it may indicate discomfort or irritation in their ear.

This behavior could be a sign of an ear infection or other ear-related problems. It's essential to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment to ensure your dog's well-being.

Why Does My Dog Scratch Their Ear, Then Shake Their Head?

Dogs scratch their ears and shake their heads for various reasons. It could be a foreign object, like grass or mud, lodged in the ear canal, causing discomfort. Excess earwax can also lead to itching.

Furthermore, ear mites, tiny parasites, often trigger this behavior as they infest a dog's ears. Frequent scratching and head shaking may signal an underlying issue, so it's essential to consult a veterinarian to ensure your furry friend's ear health and comfort.

itchy dog 4

Diagnosis and Testing

Diagnosing the cause of a dog's itching involves a multi-step process.

  1. Initially, a veterinarian conducts a thorough examination to assess the dog's overall health and inspect the skin and coat for any visible issues.

  2. Allergy testing is a critical step, which can be done through intradermal skin testing or blood testing to identify potential allergens.

  3. Diagnostic tests play a crucial role. Swabs can be used to collect samples from the affected areas, allowing for microscope analysis to detect microorganisms like bacteria or yeast.

  4. Hair pluck analysis helps identify any signs of mites or fungal infections. Skin biopsies may be performed to uncover underlying skin conditions.
Combining these tests and allergy screening ensures an accurate diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan to relieve the dog's itching and discomfort.

When to Consult a Veterinarian

If your dog experiences mild itching occasionally, it's usually not a cause for concern. However, if the itching becomes persistent, or if your furry friend exhibits signs like loss of appetite or a depressed mood, it's crucial to consult a veterinarian promptly.

These could indicate underlying health issues requiring professional attention.

The Bottom Line

Itching in dogs is a common and often distressing issue that can have various underlying causes, including allergies, parasites, skin infections, or systemic health problems.

It is crucial for dog owners to be vigilant and seek professional veterinary guidance when their furry companions exhibit persistent itching, as timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential for the well-being and comfort of our four-legged friends. 

By addressing the root causes of itching and providing diligent care, we can help our dogs lead happier, healthier lives, free from the discomfort and irritation of constant itching.


  1. Merck Veterinary Manual. (Oct. 2022). Allergies in Dogs.
  2. Merck Veterinary Manual. (Oct. 2022). Pruritus in Animals. 

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Lianne McLeod, DVM, is a former writer for The Spruce Pets, contributing articles for 11 years. Before Dr. McLeod began writing about pet care, she worked several years in small animal practice. She has written extensively about the care and keeping of exotic pets and pet health care. She now researches water quality and chronic disease at the University of Saskatchewan. Lianne McLeod earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She also received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Simon Fraser University. She continued her education and received a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Now, she splits her time between her family, research and writing about pet health for all the animal lovers out there.

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