Beagle dog itching in field

What to do with an itchy dog

An itchy dog is a dog with fleas, right? Not necessarily. There are many possible causes of a dog scratching – and if your pet pooch has an itch that just won’t quit you’ll want to get to the bottom of it fast.

Protecting your dog against fleas: a common cause of dog scratching

As a responsible dog owner, you need to have a regular routine for treating your pooch against fleas, worms and ticks.

If you don’t, check out our articles on dog fleas, dog worms and dog ticks for an important reminder of why it’s vital to get into the habit of protecting your dog against these pesky parasites.

Why is my dog scratching?

As the largest organ in the body, it’s not surprising that skin conditions are one of the most common reasons for visits to the vet.

If your dog has started scratching, make an appointment with your local vet to get him checked out, and to rule out anything serious. Your vet will examine and often test your dog, then depending on the cause of the itching, your vet may prescribe a medicated shampoo, antihistamines (similar to those prescribed for hayfever), a hydrocortisone steroid cream (which is applied sparingly to the skin), other medications (such as oral steroids) or, in the case of food allergies or lactose intolerance, may prescribe a change in your dog’s diet.

In the meantime, we look at some of the causes of an itchy dog.

Possible causes of dog scratching

Skin allergies and atopic dermatitis are common causes of an itchy dog, and irritation can range from mild to severe.

Skin conditions are often complicated and can take time to fully diagnose so you may not get answers straight away.

Allergies can be caused by three things, which can be diagnosed by your vet:

  • Atopic allergies (sensitivity to things breathed in by your dog, such as pollen, dust mites or mould spores)
  • Food allergies
  • Contact allergies (which include sensitivity to fleas, ticks and mites)

The good news is that there have been lots of advances recently in both the detection and treatment of allergies in dogs which means that treatment can be much more effective than previously.

Common symptoms of dog allergies include:

  • Itching (also called pruritus)
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Foot chewing
  • Eventual fur loss as a result of constant scratching
  • Secondary symptoms, such as thickening of the skin

Though food allergies in dogs are less common than you might think, some dogs are particularly sensitive to certain ingredients – such as wheat and soya – in their food, while more than 90% of dogs are lactose intolerant by the time they reach 12 months old.

If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, your vet may recommend an elimination diet – but it’s important to get expert advice before you try this.

Insect bites and stings are another common cause of itching in dogs. While some bites cause just minor irritation, others can cause a severe allergic reaction. If your dog has been bitten or stung, you’ll probably notice redness and swelling around the bite. Signs of an allergy to the bite can be serious. Always take your dog to your local vet fast if they vomit after being bitten or stung, or have difficulty breathing.

“Always take your dog to the vet immediately if they vomit after being bitten or stung, or have difficulty breathing.”

If you suspect your dog’s itching is caused by fleas, you may be able to spot these nasty critters on your dog’s skin when you part their fur, or brush with a metal flea comb. Small reddish-black specks of flea dirt are another sure sign that your dog has fleas.

Dogs that are allergic to flea saliva commonly bite at their tail and scratch frequently, and they may experience hair loss (alopecia) as a result of the prolonged and intense scratching.

If your dog does have fleas, it’s vital to treat both your pet and your home, as flea eggs can live in carpets and soft furnishings without a host animal for up to 100 days.

Your vet will recommend the best and most effective product to treat your pet pooch and your home, and for ongoing prevention of fleas in the future.

Want more information on the causes of itching in dogs?

For expert advice on the possible causes of itching and scratching in dogs, get in touch with your vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.