It is not unusual to see your dog use a hind leg to give herself a long, relaxing scratch.
But if your dog seems to lick or scratch excessively, they could be suffering from a medical issue. Redness, lesions, hair loss and a strange odor are all symptoms of an underlying condition.
Here are some common causes of itching in dogs. You won’t be able to diagnose your dog on your own, but you can get some ideas so you’ll know what to ask at your next vet visit.
Dogs, like people, can have allergic reactions to just about any substance. Their immune system may not recognize a harmless substance and can flare up.
Exposure to an allergen through skin contact, inhalation or consumption can cause an allergic response. Grass and pollen are common environmental allergies. Some dogs develop allergies to proteins in their food, especially if they are fed one variety of kibble for a long time.
Allergy tests are not always accurate, and not always necessary to discover what is causing your dog’s reaction.
If your dog’s itching is localized to one area of their body – such as their belly or feet – the allergy could be environmental, for example, from contact with the grass in your backyard.
If their allergy affects their whole body, especially paired with a yeasty odor and chronic ear infections, it could be dietary, in which case, an elimination diet can help.
To feed an elimination diet, offer your dog a new type of food with limited ingredients for a few weeks. If their allergies subside, you can slowly introduce different foods to see which they can tolerate.
Impetigo, or puppy pyoderma, appears as red pimples on the dog’s skin. You may notice crusty skin, hair loss, and itching.
It’s usually noticeable on areas of skin with little hair, such as the belly.
Pyoderma is a bacterial skin infection, common in puppies that have not yet developed a strong immune system.
Pyoderma is treated with antibiotics and topical medications.
Mange causes itching, redness, scabs or sores. It can start with one sore and may spread to other parts of the body if not treated right away.
Mange is caused by microscopic parasites typically found in small populations on a healthy dog’s skin. A dog only gets mange if they are exposed to a new, different population of mange, or if they have a weak immune system.
Your vet will diagnose mange with a skin scraping, and may prescribe a topical or oral treatment.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus. It gets its name from the round, raised appearance of the skin lesions it causes. Ringworm is contagious between animals and humans.
Ringworm is caused by direct physical contact with an infected human or animal. It can also be transferred through contact with infected surfaces.
Your vet will prescribe a topical cream and an oral medication.
Hypothyroidism is when your dog’s body is unable to produce enough of the thyroid hormone that helps regulate metabolism and energy levels. Symptoms include weight gain, lethargy, and chronic, recurring skin problems.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your dog’s throat. It can be injured when your dog pulls on walks, especially if they wear a prong collar. In many cases, thyroid issues are caused by an autoimmune disorder – when the dog’s body attacks the thyroid gland.
There’s no cure for hypothyroidism, but it can be managed with a synthetic form of the hormone.
Superficial bacterial folliculitis
Folliculitis is an inflammation of your dog’s hair follicles. It typically appears as red, itchy bumps, and sometimes hair loss.
The bacteria that cause folliculitis is normally found on a healthy dog’s skin, but only results in infection when the dog’s health is compromised by an underlying condition: allergies, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease or parasites.
Your vet will prescribe a topical treatment that will kill the bacteria on the surface of the dog’s skin, and may also prescribe a treatment that will help the skin heal. Then, the vet will find the underlying cause and treat it accordingly.
Do you ever get sore the day after a workout, and massage your achy muscles to soothe the pain? Dogs can’t massage sore areas of their bodies, so they may resort to licking to soothe muscle injuries instead. Excessive licking can lead to red, inflamed skin and bald spots, particularly in one area of the body.
Dogs can get muscle sprains, pulled muscles, and other injuries when jumping on and off furniture, in and out of cars, and during physical activity.
See your vet, who may refer you to a canine chiropractor or physiotherapist. In some cases, pain relievers and/or physical therapy can help.
How To Help Your Itchy Dog
Depending on your dog’s skin issue, you can find safe ways to alleviate their discomfort at home. This should only be attempted in very mild cases, or after you have visited your vet.
Apple cider vinegar acts as a natural antibiotic and antifungal. It can be diluted with water and applied to your dog’s skin, though it should never be applied to open sores, as it will sting. You can also add a small amount to your dog’s water bowl.
Chamomile tea can also be sprayed onto the itchy skin.
You may need to prevent your dog from scratching so they will not make their condition worse. You can have your dog wear a cone, or cover affected areas with clothing to keep them from biting and scratching.
Has your dog ever had irritated skin? What helped them feel better?