If you notice your dog scratching on a regular basis, it’s natural to wonder why it’s happening. Itching is never fun. It can cause skin irritation, dry skin, and it can even end up being painful for your dog.
Here are just a few of the reasons your dog might be itchy, and what dog owners can do to stop it.
If you notice your dog scratching more during certain times of the year, they might have seasonal allergies. Animals can have problems with pollen, mold, and other sources of irritation, just like humans. Most of us associate this kind of allergy with breathing issues, but evidence suggests dogs absorb allergens through their paws and skin.
Any breed of dog can suffer allergy symptoms, but certain breeds are more susceptible. These include Setters, Retrievers, and Terriers. Breeds with flat faces, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, are also more prone to experiencing symptoms.
Seasonal allergy symptoms might include: itching, ear infections, eyes that itch and run, loss of hair, constant licking, and swollen paws.2
Can Allergens from a Dog’s Diet Lead to Scratching?
As it turns out, your dog’s diet might be contributing to their skin issues. If your dog is scratching constantly, there could be something in their food causing irritation. And if this is the case, your dog isn’t alone — food allergies are common in dogs.
Now, a food allergy isn’t the same as food intolerance. An allergy is caused by an overreaction of the dog’s immune system to something in the diet, while intolerance is a problem with digestion. For example, your pet might not have the digestive enzymes needed to digest milk.
Surprisingly, protein is a common food allergen. The immune system in an affected dog sees protein as a threat, and may overreact with dry, itchy skin as a result.
If you think your dog may be showing signs of a food allergy, feel free to talk to your veterinarian to get their opinion. It’s possible they may suggest something called the “elimination diet.” This can help determine the cause of a food allergy.3
How an Elimination Diet Works
It can be challenging to figure out the source of a food allergy — but an elimination diet is a great place to start. Unfortunately, this means changing your dog’s diet for an extended period of time. Now, this change in dog food is the best method, it’s still not foolproof.
Before starting your dog on an elimination diet, your vet will want to know what kind of diet your dog is on now, and about any previous diets. Then, your vet will design a diet containing proteins the dog hasn’t yet been exposed to.
It can take weeks before your vet will know if the elimination diet has worked. It will take a lot of patience and discipline on your part, but it’s worth it if it helps your dog feel better.4
Any time a wound affects a dog’s skin, they’re more susceptible to a bacterial infection. An infection of the skin caused by bacteria can lead to severe itching. It must be addressed quickly, because the itching can lead to lots of scratching, worsening the problem.
Bacterial infections can strike a dog or cat. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons why pet owners bring their pets to the vet. Skin infections from bacteria will usually stay on the surface of the skin — however, they can develop in the inner folds of skin, too.
Typical signs of a bacterial infection include a loss of fur, itching, and skin redness. Bacterial infections can come from wounds, scrapes, bites, and other sources of skin irritation. Pets showing the clinical signs of a bacterial infection typically have an excellent shot at recovery.
Dermatitis: A Common Cause of Itching and Scratching
Another common type of allergy that can cause a dog’s skin to itch is dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis, also known as contact allergies, can cause dogs to scratch due to allergens they touch. These allergens include plants, fertilizer, plastic, and rubber.5
Dermatitis usually causes itchiness and blisters in the affected area. The skin may swell, or may form rashes or bumps. Skin may be dry, scaly, and red.
You may also notice your dog has a runny nose or runny eyes. Areas commonly affected include the tail, chest, neck, and groin.
If your dog is exhibiting any of these signs, your vet may want to know what sort of allergens your dog might have come in contact with to help them determine the right course of treatment.6
Atopic dermatitis is similar to contact dermatitis, but atopic dermatitis is usually triggered by airborne allergens, like:
- Dander from animal fur
- Dust mites
- Mold spores
Atopic dermatitis may include scratching and licking of the paws, face, and underarms.7
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Flea bites can sometimes trigger skin issues, due to the saliva in the flea’s bite. This type of dermatitis typically develops in dogs between the ages of 1 and 5, but it can happen to dogs of any age.
Signs of flea allergy dermatitis include itching, or pruritus. You might also see hair loss and scabs on the skin. In some cases, symptoms will get worse the older a dog gets.8
Mites are just as troublesome as fleas. An otherwise healthy dog can get mites under the skin. This can cause something known as mange.
One type of mange is known as sarcoptic mange, or canine scabies. This is caused by a type of mite that feeds exclusively on dogs. Sarcoptic mange is a very contagious disease that could be spread by close contact.
Symptoms include itching and bumps on the skin. Sores can develop in the legs, abdomen, chest, and elbows. Quick treatment is needed to keep mange from spreading.9
Ear mites also commonly cause scratching in dogs. You might also see head-shaking, or a foul odor coming from the ears. Ear mites can quickly spread from one pet to the other, so be vigilant about other dogs who may have mites.10
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Help With Mites?
Apple cider vinegar may help keep mites away from your dog. Keep in mind, though, that you should always talk to your vet first before trying any home remedies. If you get the okay, add a teaspoon of ACV to a bowl of dog food or water once a day. You can up that dose to a tablespoon, if your dog isn’t showing any symptoms of stomach problems.11
Can Coconut Oil Help With Mites?
Bathing your dog with coconut oil may also help reduce skin irritation and itching. Coconut oil moisturizes the skin and coat, and can help soothe dry skin. It also helps your dog’s body fight off bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that can cause skin infections.
If you want to try coconut oil for your dog, here’s how it’s done: Bathe your dog with a soap-free product first, to remove surface dirt and oils. Then, apply the coconut oil to the dog’s wet skin. Rinse it off after about five minutes. Your vet can let you know exactly how much coconut oil to use for your dog’s specific needs.12
How to Help your Dog Avoid Mange and Dermatitis
The best way dog owners can prevent mange is to keep their pets away from dogs they know have the skin condition.
But that’s easier said than done, because some dogs with the disease don’t show any symptoms. This makes it hard for people running kennels and grooming facilities to keep dogs with mange away from other dogs.13
As far as dermatitis is concerned, good hygiene and regular grooming are some of your best options.
If your dog likes to get into the water a lot, make sure you dry them off completely afterward. You can also try introducing omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, to your dog’s diet to help promote healthy skin.14
Medicated Shampoos Could Help
There are also medicated shampoos available that could help ease your dog’s skin problems. If your dog is experiencing allergies, dry skin, parasites, or bacterial infections, this might we worth a try.
Just make sure you talk to your vet first before using any special shampoos. Also, never use any shampoo designed for humans on your dog. Even if the shampoo is marketed as being gentle, it could irritate your dog’s skin.15
If your dog is scratching due to an allergy affecting the skin, your vet may recommend allergy testing. There are two main methods for testing allergies in dogs: an intradermal test and a blood test.
This is the preferred method of allergy testing, because it’s widely considered to be more accurate than blood testing. First, the animal is first given a sedative, and then the vet shaves the area to be tested. Small doses of different potential irritants are then injected into the skin. If the portion of skin rises slightly, that indicates the dog is allergic to the substance.
The intradermal test is purported to be successful 75 percent of the time — however, animals must not have received any sort of antihistamine or steroid medications for a certain time period before the test. The amount of time can vary from weeks to months.
Vets use two kinds of blood tests to determine the sources of allergies in dogs. One is called RAST, or radioallergosorbent. The other is known as the ELISA test. ELISA is short for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
In both tests, a sample of blood is screened to see how it reacts to different allergens — like mold, dust, and pollen. But the RAST and ELISA tests have drawbacks: they were originally designed for humans, and they may test positive for allergens that aren’t causing your dog irritation.
Yet, there are many instances where a blood test is needed. Here are a few:
- The dog’s skin is too unhealthy for intradermal testing.
- The vet performs an intradermal test and the results are negative — but they still suspect an allergy is present.
- The dog’s hair can’t be clipped for intradermal testing because they are a show dog.16
Finding the Answer Takes Patience
It’s frustrating to see your dog scratching all the time, and you can bet it’s no picnic for your pet either. It’ll probably take a lot of work and time for your vet to find out the cause and determine the right course of treatment.
Your itchy dog may need several examinations at the vet’s office, since figuring out what’s going on might involve trial-and-error. The reason for your dog’s itching could be related to their dog food, a disease, a parasite, or something different entirely.
But whatever the cause of your dog’s symptoms may be, it’s important to find the answer. Your dog’s constant itching and scratching may be annoying to you, but remember: it means your beloved pet is suffering. So, the faster you can find solutions, the better off both of you will be.
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