Dogs scratch for many reasons, most scratching is a symptom of a larger problem. While most owners rush to treat the symptom few venture further and treat the actual cause of the itching. Knowing why a dog is scratching can help the owner make changes to have a healthier, and happier, pet. Take the time to examine a pet if you notice itching that seems a bit excessive.
One of the easiest things to check for is visible parasites. Fleas and ticks are the largest external parasites. Fleas can be found by examining the dog under a light, and brushing it. Flea dirt, bits of dried blood may also be seen. A heavy infestation of fleas is hard to miss, on the hand a single tick on a dog might be hard to find. Ticks are larger than fleas but become attached to the dog and do not move. Ticks can be found by examining the itchy area on a dog and looking for a small, dark, object, this being the body of the tick.
Smaller to see than fleas and ticks, are lice. These can be seen with human eyes but live directly on the dogs skin (unlike fleas that move around when you brush and pat the dog) and are hard to spot. They are best seen by taking the dog out into bright daylight and brushing the dog backward thereby parting and separating layers of hair and examining the skin. A veterinarian can help make a proper diagnosis of lice.
Mites are even smaller and often require a skin sample which needs to be examined with a microscope. Mites burrow into the skin of a dog and will cause hair loss if untreated. Ear mites are common when dogs are itching their ears only (see below).
Ringworm is an external problem caused by a fungus. Areas of hair loss will be noticed and a veterinarian can diagnose if it is the result of ringworm.
Mosquitoes are problems in some areas and will result in itchy areas that are not consistent from day to day as new bites occur and old ones fade.
Although these overlooked when it comes to diagnosing external parasites it is important to remember a dog’s overall health also starts with the health of its digestive system. As such internal parasites (worms) should be considered as culprits. A veterinarian can diagnose if a dog has worms, and which ones, from a stool sample. If a dog is itching its rump, it should be tested.
Food allergies often show in dogs by causing “hot spots” which are itchy areas on a dogs skin. The most common culprits are food ingredients such as corn, soy, wheat, beef, and pork. A mystery meat ingredient, meatmeal, can be any dead/rendered animal, so should be avoided because it could be a meat source the dog is allergic to. Food colors and dyes may also be linked to allergy causing hot spots.
Lower quality foods generally mean the dog has less healthy skin and coat, and this can lead to more dander and more itching.
Ear itching may indicate ear mites which are easily treated but cannot be seen although ear mite waste is seen as black bits in an ear. If ignored they can cause ear damage and deafness.
Ear infections are common in dogs with long hanging ears, especially when dogs get water in their ear canal.
Object in the ear. Bugs are the most common things to get stuck in a dogs ear and become irritating.
One reason dogs often itch is lack of care, if their coats become matted this can be painful. To relieve the pain the dog itches.
Brushing can improve the health of a dogs skin, as such, lack of brushing, can make a dog itchy.
Too many baths will often dry out a dogs skin and make the dog more itchy, particularly if a harsh shampoo (or human) is used.
Anal Gland Problems
This is commonly the problem when a dog is seen itching by scooting its rump on the floor, most groomers and all veterinarians, can clean out the anal glands and once they do this it is up to an owner to either express the dogs anal glands regularly (the groomer or vet can show you how) or have somebody else do it. This is more of a problem in smaller breeds.
When dogs are shedding they typically become more itchy. The dog in the photo above has recently had pups. Many females “blow” their coat after having pups and this may make them itchy.
People who use chemicals on their floors, carpets, or lawn should be aware that these chemicals can make their dog itchy. Even the detergent used to wash a dogs bedding can make him, or her, itchy.
Dry climates often result in drier skin, and therefore more itching.
Dogs can suffer from sunburn which, as in humans, will cause itching.