Ask a Vet: What Makes Dogs Itch?
What makes dogs itch? Dogs can itch for various reasons, and determining the exact cause of the itching can sometimes be a challenge.
We asked our consultant vet Dr Nick Thompson to go over some of the reasons our furry friends itch, and how you can treat and even prevent it.
Pruritus (itchy skin) in dogs
As a vet, if you're presented with pruritus, there are two ways of approaching the itch.
You can either just treat the itch, but the much more appropriate approach is to look at what's causing the itch.
Skin can do two major things when it's unhappy; it can become red and inflamed or it can get itchy. If you just make the itch go away, it might come straight back again because we don't know what's causing it.
There are three things that tend to make dogs chew or scratch their skin; parasites, allergies and infections.
That in itself is quite reassuring. There are potentially 100s of things, but you can essentially categorise them into these three main groups.
Dog scratching, but no fleas?
1. Parasites - fleas and mange mites
By far and away the most common cause of itch is fleas and the next most common parasite is Mange (Sarcoptic mange) - critters that live in your skin and are very itchy.
Fleas are mainly during the Summer and as the Summer wears on. They like warmth and a bit of moisture, and if left uninterrupted they will breed and breed and breed. Before central heating, they were killed off over Winter. Nowadays they can still persist through the Winter.
Once it gets warm, and animals are going out of doors, fleas will flourish. The prime place you get fleas from a dog is cats, the prime place where cats get it from is other cats.
Fleas can exist for quite a long time without a live creature, but eventually Mrs Flea needs a blood meal to mature her eggs.
Carpets rugs and throws can be home to flea eggs, larvae and pupae, so it's best to vacuum your house at least once a week, and more often if you spot fleas - giving equal attention to where they sleep and spend time as well as targeting the usual thorough fare.
My dog is constantly scratching and biting himself
To prevent or deter any unwanted visitors from hitching a lift, now is the time to take pre-emptive action; checking for signs of anything unwanted and looking at natural ways to try and keep your pets parasite free in the first place.
A once around the house is not enough in itself. You'll need to treat the cat and the dog as well as the house itself. For every one that you see on the dog or cat, there will usually be a multitude in the environment.
Why does my dog itch so much, but no fleas?
Mange mites come from foxes and wildlife or other dogs that have the mange mite.
If you've got an itchy dog, the first thing you do is to check and treat for fleas and mange. From a natural perspective, to prevent fleas, you can use a herbal preparation such as Verm-X, so they are less attractive to fleas. Mange needs to be treated by a vet. I'll often suggest to dogs owners to add brewer's yeast, garlic (in moderation) and ginger to the food. In all by the most allergic dogs, this combination can make a real difference.
What makes dogs itch constantly?
There are two types of allergies:
Indoor allergies (e.g. house dust, house dust mites, storage mites). Your pet, if they're allergic to these will itch all year round.
Outdoor allergies (e.g. pollens, grasses, trees etc.) Like hay fever, if your pet is intolerant to pollen it will be more likely to itch seasonally in Spring and Summer. You can spot this sort of allergy, as they will stop itching come the Winter.
Made from 100% natural active ingredients, Verm-X® Itch Eeze has been developed using a unique blend of soothing herbs. It is completely free from allergens and supports the immune system.
What to feed dogs with itchy skin?
Or, if your dog starts itching randomly during the year it may be itching because their diet has been changed and they are intolerant to a food stuff or ingredients.
Wheat, beef and chicken are some of the main culprits (because they have been the main ingredients in dog food for 70 years), although it is possible to be sensitive to any animal protein.
A vets job is to differentiate between these causes - essentially what dermatology is.
Infections can cause itching and discomfort in dogs. These infections can occur due to various reasons, including poor grooming habits, moisture buildup in skin folds, or weakened immune systems.
Infection can be due to:
- Bacteria (e.g. Staphylococcal rings).
- Disrupted skin bacteria.
- Fungus (e.g. Ringworm - like athlete's foot/thrush in us)
Yeast and bacteria come along when the skin is otherwise disrupted by parasites or allergies. The normal healthy skin doesn't get an infection. The parasites cause the itch. The dog then chews or scratches and damages their skin and infection takes advantage of the damaged and inflamed skin.
The standard approach, once parasites and infection have been eliminated as reasons for the itch, and allergic causes are established, is to use products like Atopica, Apoquel, Cytopoint or corticosteroids.
I've not mentioned anal glands as they are not classically a skin issue, but they can manifest as chewing base of tail, licking their rear, scooting, nibbling of flank, hind legs or hind toes.
Best itch relief for dogs
For yeast infections, apple cider vinegar often works well, as the yeast doesn't like acid.
Worms are a different matter. You can't see them, even when they're there. The drug companies would prefer you routinely dose, every quarter, with a wormer of some sort, whether your animal has worms or not.
This seems like madness to me; a bit like taking an aspirin every morning just in case you have a headache later in the day. In this age of 'evidence based medicine,' why give a product to animals when there is no 'evidence' that they need it. Good science would suggest that testing for worms routinely is much more logical.
For more advice on how to prevent worms, read our article on how to be an eco-friendly pet owner.
Interested to learn more from Dr Nick?