Itchy Skin in Dogs

If your four legged family member is constantly scratching, you may think he has
allergies.

It's true that many dogs have allergies and the associated skin irritation and
inflammation are really uncomfortable for them.

However, there are other causes of itching and you need to rule them out so your
dog gets the right treatment.

1. Fleas and other parasites. Many people feel that their dog couldn't possibly have fleas because they can't see any. You may not see any adult fleas but that doesn't mean they're not there, and causing him problems. Because they're so common, it's worth treating your dog with a reliable insecticide just to rule them out as a cause of his scratching.

Other parasites that can cause scratching are mites. There are two species of mite that affect dogs. Sarcoptes mites burrow under the skin and cause severe itching. They're very catchy so other dogs in your household can be affected, and you may even find some red itchy marks on yourself. Demodex mites live in the hair follicles and when they multiply, they can cause scaly skin and hair loss. This itself may not be itchy but sometimes bacteria cause infections on the affected skin, and this definitely itches.

2. Your dog may be hurting. It's possible that a part of his body is sore and the only thing he is able to do to try and get relief is to scratch and nibble at it. it's not easy to diagnose this; if he is chewing at his back, he may have spinal pain, but this will look a lot like a flea allergy.

3. Hormonal disorders such as Cushing's disease and hypothyroidism can affect your dog's skin and may also cause some hair loss. Just like with mange, the disorder itself doesn't itch but the secondary bacterial and fungal infections do. These tend to occur in older dogs and you will probably notice some other symptoms such as drinking a lot of water, lethargy and a pot belly.

4. Anxiety. Dogs can scratch as a stereotypical or compulsive behavior to calm themselves down when they are stressed or anxious. It's a bit like us biting our nails or picking at a hang nail. Unfortunately, their scratching can be severe enough to traumatize their skin and make it bleed.

Your veterinarian will have some idea of the possible reasons for your dog's itching, just from examining him and having a chat to you about his history. If there is any suspicion of a hormonal disorder, they will recommend blood tests to check. These conditions aren't usually curable but can be managed with medication. Mange is diagnosed with skin scrapings and will resolve with an appropriate parasite treatment.

Anxiety related itching can be challenging to cure and may involve medication and training by a specialist behaviorist. Antibiotics and antifungal medications will clear up any secondary infections and you may want to use an oatmeal based shampoo to soothe his inflamed skin.

Don't just reach for an antihistamine to stop your dog's constant scratching. Without an accurate diagnosis, you're unlikely to permanently relieve his itch. Your vet is your partner in keeping your dog in good health, and together you can stop his itching and make him much more comfortable.