Itchy Skin: Common Causes & Concerns in Our Dogs
Updated: Mar 9
We work so hard to care for and create a daily routine for our furry companions, so when they are slowed down with a little too much scratching and licking, it can be concerning. You may think my pupper likes to scratch - is it a big deal and how do you know when it is too much?
If your dog deviates from its usual 'wake up, go to the bathroom, eat and drink, nap, play, and repeat' cycle often, it may be time to figure out what is causing it and whether a trip to the vet is in order.
While it is not unusual for a dog to experience an itch or two, it is frequent scratching, scooting, excessive chewing and biting - that result in damaged or reddening of the skin - which are concerning. Not only is itchy skin an annoyance for your pupper, but it can also be painful and possibly lead to additional problems if left untreated.
Common Reasons Why Your Dog is Scratching
Food Allergies or Sensitivities
When dogs are allergic or sensitive to their food and treats, they may react by scratching their face and ears, belly area, armpits, feet and pads, scooting and/or licking their rears. Food allergies are also common causes of ear irritation and infections. Affected dogs may also have digestive issues, causing gas, diarrhea or loose stools. Studies have shown that food allergies are most likely a result of the animal protein(s) in dog food or treats.
Breeds that are prone to food allergies are Chinese Shar-Peis, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Boxers, Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Bichon Frise, Brussels Griffon, Scottish Terriers, Shih Tzus, Maltese, and West Highland White Terriers.
It is no secret that fleas cause intense itchiness in dogs resulting in scratching, but some dogs have an allergic reaction to flea bites and flea saliva, which can cause severely inflamed and itchy skin, hair loss, and scabs.
These areas are raw and inflamed and often develop due to allergies or fleas. They can also happen when a dog is not properly dried after a bath or swim. Constant scratching or chewing may be from an imbalance in the bacterial levels on their skin, leading to a secondary staph infection, which can present as open sores, scabs, red bumps, pimples, and oozing discharge.
Breeds susceptible to hot spots, because of their thick coats, are Golden Retrievers, St. Bernards, German Shepherd, Labrador Retrievers, and Rottweilers.
Staph Bacterial Infection
These infections will usually occur when your dog has already been excessively scratching an area, irritating it and creating an environment that is inviting bacteria to thrive in. Staph bacterial infection signs include persistent itching, skin redness, crusts/scabs, rash, or pimples. Staph infections in dogs are often secondary to allergies or parasites but can also occur in dogs with hormonal imbalances.
What is in and outside your home? Perhaps your dog is allergic to dust mites, pollen, mould, outside grasses, and a whole host of other common environmental allergens. If your dog is licking their paws, rubbing at their face, shaking their head while outside - watch them for scratching and rubbing when they come inside.
When dogs have yeast infections, they often have a greasy coat, red or thickened skin, and an unpleasant odour. The fold areas in the ears, around the face, neck, armpits, groin area, and under the tail are most commonly affected. Yeast infections are often secondary to allergies.
Susceptible breeds include Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, Schnauzers, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd, Maltese, Dachshunds, and Poodles.
At the end of the day, keeping your doggo clean and limiting its exposure to food-based and outside allergens is essential in keeping itchy skin at bay. Keep your eyes open when giving them a bath or a brush - check the folds, the creases, and all the other bits - for irritation, redness, bumps, cracks or peeling skin. It also doesn't hurt to give their ears a sniff to make sure a yeast infection isn't brewing in there!
Want to chew on more about diet and food sensitivities? We've dished up more on the topic of skin and tummy issues that can be caused by animal-protein diets over here.