6 Common Reasons My Dog Scratches All of the Time

Updated on February 28, 2018
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

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

Some dog breeds are allergic to their environment.
Some dog breeds are allergic to their environment. | Source

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

This poor dog probably has mange as well as skin allergies; if not treated, the skin will thicken and become even harder to manage.
This poor dog probably has mange as well as skin allergies; if not treated, the skin will thicken and become even harder to manage. | Source

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 present with problems 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?

This dog looks like it has skin problems, but this is normal for its breed.
This dog looks like it has skin problems, but this is normal for its breed. | Source

How Can Scratching Be Treated?

Flea Control
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.
Hypoallergenic Diet
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.
The best treatment really depends on a veterinarian diagnosing the cause of the scratching, but diagnosing allergies is difficult.

Bathing May Effectively Reduce Environmental Allergies

Bathing greatly reduces the amount of allergens picked up by dogs in their environment.
Bathing greatly reduces the amount of allergens picked up by dogs in their environment. | Source

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Antihistamines: Some antihistamines are safe and have been used for years. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they do not.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Alternative Therapies: Apple cider vinegar (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.

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:

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Questions & Answers

    If your dog scratches excessively and needs help, leave a question or comment.

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      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 3 weeks ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        Hi Robin thanks for reading. I enjoyed your Doxy soda poem!!!

      • RobinReenters profile image

        Robin Carretti 3 weeks ago from Hightstown

        Very interesting read dogs get so itchy with fleas but they are so loved by us so cared for I love all type of animals I really enjoyed this read thanks

      • profile image

        jan 6 weeks ago

        our dog has scratched so much that her ears and getting bad and so is her behind

      • profile image

        Aliyah 8 months ago

        My new puppy is scratching all the time.She doesn't have any fleas that i know of and ive checked her multiple times but I couldn't find anything.

        I think its the shampoo that I cleaned her with (flea and tick shampoo)

        She only six weeks

        Sometimes I think she does it for no reason because it doesn't bother her at all

      • profile image

        dugans 2 years ago

        just a follow-up - can't tell as to the honey efficacy as the itching has greatly abated now in tandem with the ACV wash - Nova hated the taste of ACV in her food and water bowl but did like the "eau de parfum" of it with a several times a day wash down of armpits and tummy! it seems that this might have been a "short-term" environmental allergy reaction --- we are in Florida and something is always growing - of course, we are happy with the fact that she is rarely itching now! - because of the spindle cell cancer, we are still limiting the honey she gets, but still giving it to see if it will help ward off the next wave of allergens! Thanks for your constant helpfulness!!!

      • profile image

        dugans 2 years ago

        thank you for your input - we think that we will start with 1/2 tsp twice a week of our local wildflower honey - also going to add a small amount of ACV to her drinking water - the ACV topically has helped and we have been able to ease her off the bendryl - we let you know if the Lord blesses the means!

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 2 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        Dugans: the atopic injection therapy has not proved much good, but if you can provide her with a local raw honey you may provide her with some relief. She will be exposed to the local antigens and have a chance to make antibodies to make her feel a little better. Hope it works for you. Please let us know.

      • profile image

        dugans 2 years ago

        Dr. Mark: How do you feel about treating topical, seasonal allergies with raw, unfiltered, local honey? Anecdotal evidence indicates it could be helpful. How much could we give her to eat, do you think? However, the catch is, our girl has spindle cell cancer, so we have to watch her sugar intake. Is it worth the try? She's a 41 pound siberian. We are doing the ACV wash externally. Thanks for your input!

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        It sounds more like fleas,ken, but it might also be sarcoptic mange. Definitely not allergies if you get bites too.You need to go back with this info. Good luck.

      • profile image

        ken 4 years ago

        My Boxer scratches all the time now it seems like whatever she has is effecting the entire family now. Took her to the vet he says it's allergies but I don't what to do with her anymore. The babies have what look like bite marks and I get them sometimes as well. Any help?

      • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

        Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

        Thanks DrMark - I will definitely check it out. He is on a very low dose, 1 pill per day and the specialist has told me that giving him more than that could lead to long term issues and yes, I mean allergen injections.

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        GlimmerTwinFan, do you mean you are giving him allergen injections? If your vet is giving him steroids every day he might feel better, but will be very sick later on. Google "long term side effects of daily steroids for dogs" if you want to learn more. There are other natural altenatives, like raw honey harvested in your area. Take a moment and look at:


        If you have any questions or I can help you can leave me a comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

      • tillsontitan profile image

        Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

        I am currently dealing with mange and even though he has been given medication he is still itching. I found a mixture of borax, peroxide and water on the Internet, applied it last night and he is not scratching today. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

        This is a very useful hub to introduce people to the reasons dog scratch.

        Voted up, useful, and interesting.

      • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

        Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

        Glad this hub was shared. My dog has horrible allergies and takes a vaccine shot every few weeks along with a daily steroid pill. He still scratches, but not as much. It took us a very long time and many tests and money to figure out what he was allergic to and now he is pretty much ok. This is a useful hub.

      • sgbrown profile image

        Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

        Both of my dogs are supposed to be "water dogs", but they both hate baths. I found your video very interesting and helpful. This is another great hub on taking better care of our dogs. I really appreciate all your information! Voting up, useful, interesting and sharing!

      • profile image

        Ruth Lanham 4 years ago

        I like the idea of apple cider vinegar and herbs. I think I'll try it...thanks!

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Thanks much.

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        I am just about to publish a hub with some alternatives to the steroids. I am glad she was able to get by with just the one injections.

      • wetnosedogs profile image

        wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

        Bella had to get a steroid shot which I dreaded but it helped in the long run to feeling better and getting her coat to look healthier. I give her derm caps. The change of food has helped definitely. I am glad she is better with the food and supplements. The vet suggested she may need to be on steroid tablets every other day or so if the itching got bad again. They are supposed to be a minor point than the shot itself, but I want to avoid those completely. We are doing pretty good.

        I loved watching the video of the dog afraid of the bath and as bella does, his dog looked so relieved when it was over.

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        Thanks for coming by. I´m glad the garlic is working for your friend´s flea problems.

        DoM, I am curious as to whether the fleas in your area have built up a resistance to that product through natural selection. It has happened with every other toxin invented, I am sure it will happen (or has happened already) with Advantage. It was good back in the late 90s but that is a long time for fleas

      • CyberShelley profile image

        Shelley Watson 5 years ago

        Dr Mark thank you for this very informative hub. I have put a little garlic in their food, it seems to reduce the flea problem! Up, interesting and useful.

      • Daughter Of Maat profile image

        Melissa Flagg OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

        Great hub as always DrMark. My puppy has dry, itchy skin, and I've been using Vitamin E on it which seems to help tremendously. But her skin is mainly dry. I'm going to try the vinegar as a flea control. I really don't like giving her Advantage and it doesn't work all that well anyway.