Itchy skin in dogs - symptoms and causes
There are so many reasons why dogs itch, and sometimes their skin can flare up even more in the summertime.
As temperatures rise and the weather becomes warmer and humid, dogs are more prone to developing itchy yeast and bacterial infections.
But it isn’t just the warmer weather that can make our doggos scratch like mad and gnaw at their paws.
There are several things that can cause itching problems in dogs all year round!
Generally, it’s not easy to determine the cause, but with our tips, you can keep your companion comfortable from home.
Before you can soothe your dog and choose the right treatment, first learn the most common causes of itchy skin:
Just like us, dogs can be allergic to all sorts of things! Grass, pollen, house dust mites and even certain foods!
Allergies develop when your pet’s immune system overreacts to certain substances (allergens) causing signs that affect the skin.
Skin allergies can come in many forms and some dogs will have a combination.
Environmental allergies -The most common allergens are storage mites and microscopic house dust. Invisible to the naked eye, they live in all homes in places such as upholstered furniture and carpets. There’s also outside allergens such as weed or tree pollens and grass meaning that the signs of itching may be seasonal and often worse in the spring and summer time.
Food Allergies -These are not as common as you might think and contribute to around 5% of all skin conditions. The most common offending foods in dogs are chicken, beef, dairy, lamb and wheat.
Irritant contact dermatitis - This occurs when your dog's skin comes directly into contact with substances that damage it. For instance, some plants will release a substance that can irritate your dog’s skin if they brush against it. A classic example would be stinging nettle which are more common on the less hairy underside of your pooch.
Allergies to bites/stings - Some pets are allergic to insect bites which can develop into skin disease. Flea allergic dermatitis (discussed more below) is the most common one.
Seasonal allergy signs to watch out for:
Dogs show similar allergy symptoms as humans, yet they experience them mostly through their skin. Excessive scratching likely means irritated, itchy skin!
Here are a few more signs:
- Scratching and biting the coat/skin
- Infected, inflamed or red skin
- Excessive shedding
- Compulsive paw licking
- Licking the anal glands/boot scooting
- Chronic ear infections or waxy, red ears (more common in dogs who are prone to ear problems)
- Respiratory issues like coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing (more commonly seen in cats)
Solution: Check with your veterinarian about allergy medicines and pills that are safe for your dog.
Regular baths will also remove allergens or pollen on your pet’s skin, relieving symptoms and soothing skin.
Look for oatmeal shampoo which help moisturize the skin, ease itching, and minimize inflammation. Only use shampoos developed for dogs.
A quick wipe down of your pet's coat, skin, and paws each time they return from outdoors can also help remove excess pollen and allergens when a full bath isn't possible.
You can use a moist cloth or fragrance-free, hypoallergenic grooming wipes. This can be especially helpful if your pet's irritation is localized to their paws.
If your pet’s allergies are severe, your vet may prescribe steroids to help control inflammation.
Fleas are one of the biggest causes of itching and even the cleanest of dogs can pick these up.
Some dogs have a condition called ‘Flea Allergic Dermatitis’ which makes them allergic to flea saliva and they have a much more severe reaction to flea bites.
Mites are different types of these tiny creatures. Some live on the skin surface such as the ‘walking dandruff mites’ and ‘harvest mites’.
Other mites, burrow into the skin such as the demodex mite, or the sarcoptes mite which causes very itchy sarcoptic mange also know as ‘scabies’.
Some parasites, like fleas, can be diagnosed by the naked eye. Other parasites like mites, need to be diagnosed by examining small samples of skin under the microscope.
In this case, your dog may possibly need to be hospitalised to have skin scrapes taken to be examined under the microscope. This can be an expensive vet bill if you don’t have pet insurance in place.
This is a painless procedure where the vet will gently scrape away the top layers of skin usually in the affected areas (where bald or irritated spots may be).
Most of the time this can be done in the vet, but occasionally they may need to be sent to the laboratory. Some mites such as sarcoptes scabiei are very light sensitive so can be difficult to detect under the microscope.
There are effective products that can prevent or control most of these parasites and protect your dog. You may also need to use a product to treat your house, especially if your dog has fleas.
Ticks themselves often don't irritate dogs like a flea bite would and this is why these pesky parasites often go unnoticed.
However, once ticks are removed, this can leave broken skin that may become very itchy.
For these instances, it’s good to have a pet first-aid kit at hand as pet-friendly antibiotic cream can soothe the area.
Solution: The best way to avoid itchy skin caused by parasites on your pooch is to stick to a good parasite prevention routine. Don’t know where to get started?
Keep reading here for the best tips from our in-house vets to prevent fleas and tick all year round.
For mites, different types will require different treatments such as special shampoos or other medications.
First you will need to head to your vet for a diagnosis and from there, they will discuss the treatments available.
Your furry friend may experience scratching due to scented household products.
Other substances that can trigger reactions in both dogs and humans are household cleaning supplies, laundry detergents, and fabric softeners.
Solution: Stop using scented household products, cleaners and detergents. Scented candles and plug in diffusers may also contain essential oils which can irritate your dog.
Look into pet friendly cleaning products or go old school and use natural remedies to clean your home like vinegar!
If you still can’t figure out what’s causing the itch but suspect it’s something you use around the home, start eliminating certain household products.
If after all this, there’s no improvement, contact your vet as it could be another allergen altogether that’s impacting your dog.
Itching in dogs is often caused by skin infections, such as fungal or bacterial infections.
These infections can be brought on by various factors, including injury, inadequate coat maintenance, or flea infestations.
However, sometimes they can develop spontaneously without any apparent external triggers.
Other signs of a skin infection include dry, crusty skin, redness, a sour odour, pustules and hair loss.
However, these symptoms can also be attributed to other skin conditions.
Solution: Consult with your vet and get a diagnosis for a skin infection first to confirm the issue before seeking treatment.
It is common for dogs to develop sensitivities to certain ingredients in their food, which can lead to an inflammatory response causing them to experience intense itching.
Additionally, some dogs may lack essential fats and nutrients in their diet, which are crucial for maintaining healthy skin.
Solution: By making some adjustments to your dog's diet and incorporating specific supplements, you can greatly improve their overall health.
Omega Care contains omega-3 fatty acids which helps lessen inflammation caused by allergies or other skin issues and reduces itching.
Plus, Omega 3 is amazing for keeping the skin and coat healthy and has many other health-boosting benefits!
You can also speak with a vet nurse for impartial and honest advice on the best diet for your dog.
We are not affiliated with any pet food companies or manufactures, and all advice given is based on our expertise.
Our veterinary professionals can recommend the best pet food for your dog that’s in line with your budget.
You can get an instant answer on live chat here or book a video call for a more thorough consultation here.
Remember, scratching isn’t normal if it happens regularly (more than 4-5 times day).
If your dog's itching causes any of the below, you should book a vet visit as soon as possible:
- Alopecia (bald patches)
- Self-inflicted wounds
- Red skin/a rash
- Saliva staining (lick-stained fur)
- Dark, thickened skin
Beware, some dogs scratch and lick in private, so always keep an eye out for secretive scratching!
When to contact your vet
Contact your vet as soon as possible, if you think your dog is scratching or nibbling more than normal.
Itchy skin can be very uncomfortable and shouldn’t be ignored as it can seriously impact your dog's wellbeing and behaviour!
The good news is most skin conditions, once diagnosed, can be effectively controlled to relieve your dog’s discomfort so your buddy can relax in peace.
If you've already sought help from your vet, but feel like you need more support keeping your dog comfortable from home, speak with a vet nurse.
Our qualified vet nurses can help with itchy pets, excessive licking and chewing at the skin and smelly dogs!