Allergies

My Dog Is Itchy – What Can I Do?

my dog is itchy


Have you noticed that your dog is itchy? He’s scratching his ears, neck and armpits, licking and chewing on his paws, rolling around on the floor and even rubbing up against the wall, trying to scratch an itch. Why? Both of you are even having a hard time getting a good night’s rest because of all that scratching. 

There are several reasons why your dog is itchy, which I will explain below. An occasional itch or scratch is normal for dogs, but if your pooch is constantly scratching, or you have noticed red skin and scratches on their skin from nails or teeth, it may be time to get a Veterinarian involved.

Let’s start by learning a really fun technical word.

PRURITUS – An uncomfortable, irritating sensation that creates an urge to scratch that can involve any part of the body.

So when you see the word pruritus on your dog’s medical record, or anywhere else for the matter, you will now know its meaning.

When I see a pet for itching, the first thing I ask the pet owner is:

“On a pruritus scale from 1-10, one being mild and ten being severe), what number would give your dog’s itchiness?”

Most people say 5 or higher, because they are seeing that their dog is so uncomfortable and tearing themselves up, or (let’s face it), the pet owner is not getting any sleep and can no longer deal with the noise caused by all the scratching. 

That’s where I come in. I want to help pet owners like you figure out why your dog is itchy and what can we do as a team to help your dog be comfortable and less itchy (or even itch free!).

Causes for a Dog’s Itchy Skin

Canine allergic dermatitis, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common, inherited inflammatory and allergic skin disease that can cause pruritus (remember this word?) of varying levels. According to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, atopic dermatitis is one of the most common inflammatory and pruritic diseases in dogs. This disease occurs when your dog’s skin reacts to an allergen somewhere in their environment. Possible allergies are described below:

Fleas

Whenever you see that your dog is itching, the first thing to do is to check your dog’s skin for fleas. Dogs are HIGHLY allergic to fleas. All it takes is the bite of a single flea to send your dog into a cycle of intense itchiness that can last for days.

Why? When a flea feeds off your dog, they inject a small amount of saliva into the skin. The allergen present in the saliva causes an intense reaction in the skin, which leads to your dog scratching EVERYWHERE.

Food Allergies

Your dog’s itching could be a sign that they are allergic to something in their current diet. More and more dogs are becoming allergic to common proteins in dog food, specifically chicken, beef, and pork. Dogs that are allergic to certain foods are typically itchy on their face, armpits, paws, and abdomen. Discuss any concerns about a food allergy with your Veterinarian. They will most likely recommend starting a food trial, which means your pet would be put on a hypoallergenic diet for 6-8 weeks.

Environmental Allergies

Allergens from the environment can cause your dog to be itchy and you may notice that the pruritus is seasonal (i.e. only during the summer) versus nonseasonal (year-round). Common environmental allergens include dust, dust mites, pollens, grass, molds, and more. It can really depend on where you live and which plants are found in your climate. 

Skin Infections

Bacterial and yeast infections can certainly cause your pet to be itchy and uncomfortable. While bacteria and yeast are not usually primary allergens, they can be present as secondary infections. Dogs that have an overgrowth of yeast on their skin sometimes have a strong odor or have moist or crusty folds of skin on their face, neck or in between your dog’s toes. For instance, bacterial infections can show up anywhere, but are usually seen on the chest and abdomen in the form of red bumps or pustules.

Whether it’s fleas, food, or environmental allergies, if you notice that your pup is itchy and extremely uncomfortable, it is best to seek advice from your Veterinarian. Intense pruritus can cause your dog to scratch and traumatize his skin, leading to a possibly painful skin infection.

my dog is itchy

Treatment For Your Dog’s Itchy Skin

Itching and scratching can be a symptom of fleas, allergens from the environment, or a food allergy. It is tempting to try to give your pooch something over the counter or try a home remedy, which in theory may work if the skin issue is very mild. Sometimes it just isn’t enough because the treatment does not address the primary cause of the issue. Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies but there are some treatment options that I will walk you through:

Over The Counter Shampoos

Several types of shampoos are available and may give your dog relief for a short amount of time. Shampoos that contain aloe and oatmeal can be soothing to irritated skin. Most can be purchased over the counter or from your Veterinarian’s clinic.

Antihistamines

Research has shown that antihistamines are not very effective because they do not address the underlying cause. If your dog’s allergies seem to be seasonal, giving a dose of Benadryl may help. Be certain to check with your Veterinarian first before administering any over the counter medication.

Steroids

Steroids will help with your dog’s pruritus as they can control skin inflammation but they actually have some unpleasant side effects (increased thirst and urination, weight gain and panting). They haven’t fallen out of favor just yet but I will tell you – I rarely prescribe steroids for skin issues unless the patient is having a very acute and painful skin flare up, and then I’ll only prescribe them for 7 to 10 days.

Other medications:

There are two new drugs on the market that work really well for itchy dogs with allergies:

Apoquel is a newer drug on the market with anti-pruritic and anti-inflammatory properties. It comes in a tablet to be given one to two times a day, and works best in dogs with flea allergy dermatitis, food allergy and canine atopic dermatitis.

Cytopoint is another drug that was specifically developed to target itchiness associated with environmental allergies. It comes in injection form and is administered every four to eight weeks by a Veterinarian.

Tips to Prevent Itchy Skin

The following tips will help to prevent your pet from being itchy:

Flea and Parasite Prevention

Several types of flea and tick prevention products are available in the market. These are available both in the form of oral and topical medication. Your veterinarian will tell you which topical and oral product is best for your dog. Being consistent with a flea preventative will definitely help to keep your dog flea-free and itch-free.

Diet Changes

Talk to your Veterinarian about testing your pup for food allergies. The most common way to do this is to switch to a hypoallergenic food that has a novel protein source (think lamb, duck or salmon). Many dogs are becoming allergic to chicken, beef and pork. You will have to eliminate all treats during this time also. If it is observed that your pet’s itchiness has resolved with the diet change, then you will need to keep your pet on this food permanently.

In general, it is always best to check your dog’s skin and bathe him or her regularly. Excessive itching and scratching can negatively affect your dog’s health.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s skin, be sure to have it checked by your Veterinarian. 

Your pet will be glad to be free from itchy skin (hopefully) once and for all.

For the love of pets,

Dr. Gina

Related articles:

Does it seem like your dog is always licking his paws? Check out my blog post about red dog paws.

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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