6 Common Reasons My Dog Scratches All of the Time
Help! My Dog Won't Stop Scratching
If your dog is scratching at his face, ears, and back until he bleeds, or is licking himself constantly, you need to get him help. You also need to find out why your dog is scratching all of the time in the first place. The cause of the scratching may be simple and something you can take care of quickly, or it may require a proper diagnosis by a veterinarian.
Certain Breeds Are Predisposed to Allergies
What Is the Most Common Cause of Scratching in Dogs?
Despite all of the chemicals on the market, fleas are still the most common cause of itching and scratching in dogs, and scratching is the number one reason people take their dogs to the vet. Do you have any idea how many times your vet hears, "It can't be fleas. My dog doesn't have fleas!" every day? The first thing to do before you even take your dog in for an exam because of excessive scratching is to check for the obvious: fleas.
Determine if your dog has fleas by doing the following:
- Run a flea comb (they are cheap and well worth keeping around) through the hair along your dog's back, especially over the rump and tail head.
- You might see a few of the bugs after collecting this sample. Even if you do not, you will see black flakes or “flea dirt." Flea dirt is actually dried blood that the fleas pass in their stool after dining on your dog.
- Not sure if it's flea dirt? Take the sample collected from your dog and drop it onto a wet paper towel. If it is indeed dried blood, it will turn red when wet, thus confirming the presence of fleas.
Some dogs even become allergic to flea saliva and will be miserable from the constant scratching, so control this problem early before the fleas become established in your home and yard. Buy a flea control chemical (pill or spot-on/topical treatment) from your vet or from a certified supplier. Also, consider proven, alternative flea control methods such as non-chemical flea treatments.
Don't Let Skin Issues Go Untreated
What If Fleas Aren't Causing the Scratching?
No flea dirt? The problem may be tougher to diagnose, but can definitely be solved. Other common causes of excessive scratching include:
- Mange: If she seems to itch so badly that she cannot even sleep, you need to consider mange. The most common type of mange is sarcoptic mange, which can also affect people. (You might notice small, itchy bites around your waist.) You will have to take her in for a diagnosis by a veterinarian, but there are several good alternative therapies you can try. The other type of mange, demodectic mange, does not cause the intense itching that is seen with sarcoptic mange. With demodectic mange, you will notice hair loss which is sometimes accompanied by a secondary bacterial infection and mild to moderate itching.
- Contact Allergies: If she licks and chews at her feet all of the time, there is a good chance she has a contact allergy. Contact allergies to a food dish will cause the dog to have redness and itching around the mouth, and contact allergies to a shampoo will make the dog itchy wherever the shampoo is used. Contact allergies are a lot less common than fleas or mange, but if you want to try and rule out this problem, you need to get rid of everything that the dog comes into contact with. Once the trigger is identified, the problem can be solved.
- Food Allergies: If she itches all over, has swollen ears and GI issues, she may have food allergies. Several types of food can cause allergies, and the only way to find out which ingredient is triggering the allergy is by eliminating all of the potential allergens and feeding something totally new. It is not sufficient to just switch brands of commercial kibble since many of them use the same fillers and the dog may continue to have problems. Once a good diet is found, you can keep the dog on that food or start adding the old components back in slowly until you have found out what she is allergic to. (This is called a challenge diet.)
- Environmental Allergies: Allergies to environmental allergens (pollens from trees, grass, weeds, etc.) will also cause dogs to itch. Dogs with inhalant allergies might have problems at the same time every year, or the allergen might be something in the house and cause year-round problems. The only way to find out what is causing the problem is by allergy testing. The results are not very reliable, but it is the only test available.
- Fungal and Bacterial Infections: Itching and scratching may not be the main signs you notice when your dog has a fungal or bacterial infection. The itching may be pretty mild compared to the hair loss and the nasty smell. The dog might have patches of infected skin (hot spots) or have a generalized infection.
Is This Dog Naturally Hairless?
How Can Scratching Be Treated?
There are a lot of great products introduced every year, or you can use natural flea control.
Medication for Mange
This will depend on what type of mange your dog has. Sarcoptes will cause your dog to scratch until he bleeds, but it can sometimes clear up with something as simple as a single injection. Demodectic mange is harder to treat, but will not cause your dog to be as miserable.
Remove the Allergen From the Environment
This may not be easy, but if your dog is allergic to dust mites, for example, there are things you can do to reduce their buildup in the home.
Allergy Injections (Immunotherapy)
This method of controlling inhalant allergies may not be very effective but it is an option.
If the other causes of scratching are ruled out, it is a good idea to try a challenge diet. Your dog can be fed a new protein source for several months to see if the allergy symptoms clear up.
Bathing May Effectively Reduce Environmental Allergies
How to Provide Relief for Your Dog
If your dog is scratching a lot and you need to give him some temporary relief, your veterinarian might suggest:
- Steroids: Although steroids affect your dog's immune system and have adverse side effects if given for a long time, in the short term, they can provide a lot of relief for itchy skin and are still used frequently. If your dog is in so much discomfort that he is not able to sleep at night, this is definitely something to consider.
- Cyclosporine and Apoquel: Both of these drugs can provide your dog with some temporary relief when steroids are not effective. Since allergies are caused by an immune system that is overactive, both of these drugs act by suppressing the immune system and cause your dog to produce fewer of the cells that make him itch and scratch; they should never be used long term.
- Antihistamines: Some antihistamines are safe and have been used for years. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they do not.
- Bathing: Bathing can be an excellent solution for scratching. Cleaning your dog's skin with shampoo can moisturize the inflamed skin, help with contact allergies, and even help to reduce inhalant allergies that are picked up from the environment. Bathing your dog every time you notice him scratching a lot can end up taking a lot of time, but in some cases, it can be one of the most effective therapies available.
- Dietary Supplements: Omega fatty acids improve the quality of the skin and make your dog less likely to scratch if the inflammation is minor. Some antioxidants like vitamin C will also improve the quality of your dog's skin. These products take longer to provide your dog with some relief, so you will need to start more immediate therapies concurrently.
- Antibiotics: Most clients expect antibiotics when they take their dog in for skin allergies, but these are only helpful if the skin is infected from scratching or the dog has deep dermatitis like demodectic mange.
- Alternative Therapies: (this is the brand of organic apple cider vinegar that I use) is an effective natural remedy for scratching. Just add a teaspoon to your dog's drinking water to alkalinize his body or spray a dilute solution (half ACV and half water) on the skin to keep it acidic and keep yeast from proliferating. Not all veterinarians will discuss these alternative therapies with you, so you might need to read about them and consult a holistic vet. If you want to avoid the negative side effects of therapies like chronic steroids and other immunosuppressant drugs, then changing to ACV and some herbal cures may be of some benefit. Apple cider vinegar
It Is Your Responsibility to Help Your Dog
There is no excuse for letting your dog scratch himself raw. If he is in so much pain that he is bleeding, your dog needs help. If your dog has fleas, take care of it right away and avoid further problems. If he has any of the other problems that I have pointed out in this article, it will take more effort to help him. Be sure to address the problem as soon as possible.
My dog is probably scratching because of:
- Natural Dog Health: Allergies
In holistic veterinary medicine symptoms like itchy skin and allergies to flea bites are considered to be caused by poor quality food, over vaccination, and continual exposure to toxins in the environment. These are some alternative treatments for do
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
We just recently got a puppy and he has been scratching 24/7 for over a month. Several vet visits and $500 later he still has no relief. We have tried steroids, antibiotics, special shampoo, skin tests and still nothing. I hate to give up the dog but the vet said it will get even more expensive. Any ideas I could try?
If the puppy is itching all of the time then sarcoptic mange should be considered. Even if the test is negative, it can be treated and the dogs response to therapy will let you know if that is the problem.
Please consult a veterinary dermatologist. Make sure that you have all of your dogs medical records to present to him at the time of the visit.Helpful 13
Along with excessive scratching, my German Shepherd has lost all of his hair. He also lost 20 pounds; is there more wrong with him that no vet can tell me?
Have you taken him to your vet? From the symptoms you describe, it sounds a lot like sarcoptic mange, a disease that causes such furious itching that the animals stop eating. Many wild foxes die from this disease since when it starts they itch so badly that they stop hunting and starve to death.
Have you treated him with ivermectin for sarcoptic mange? Even if the vet cannot find it, a trial treatment is worth it. If the vet you are seeing is not willing to give it a shot, get a second opinion. See a veterinary dermatologist.
Do not let your GSD go on suffering like that. It is a horrible way to live and die.Helpful 7
Will having your dog allergy tested give true results?
If you are talking about the skin test, there is a lot of controversy on the subject. Some vets will perform this test, but the results are usually so poor that many will not even do so anymore.
The blood test is also not very helpful. Some veterinary dermatologists will still perform this test to make up allergy shots that are more likely to help your dog. The results of the allergy shots are also not that good.Helpful 6
© 2012 Dr Mark