Help my itchy dog!

Does your dog lick his feet excessively? Scratch excessively? Chew on his legs or lick his belly? Has discharge in his ears or is shaking his head? Scoot his rear end on the floor or has a foul odor? Then your dog is probably itchy and uncomfortable.

Did you know that dogs do not “groom” themselves like cats? Cats will lick their fur and feet to clean themselves daily, but dogs do not naturally exhibit this same behavior. We often believe that they are just cleaning themselves when they show the above behaviors, but more often than not they are actually itchy. They are licking, chewing, scooting, and shaking their head because there is irritation and discomfort of their skin, rear end, or ears.

The most common causes of itchiness in dogs include atopy (environmental allergies), food allergies, parasites (fleas, mites), and bacterial or yeast infections.

Hay-fever in people is similar to atopy in dogs. Allergies in the air that affect humans can also affect dogs. Airborne pollens, grasses, molds, dander, and dust are inhaled by your dog or contact the skin. In humans, sniffling, sneezing, and watery eyes may be signs of allergies. However, in dogs, itchiness is the main symptom that owners will notice. Environmental allergies lead to inflammation of the skin (dermatitis), and, in turn, the signs that you see.

Atopy may be seasonal, but many pets will eventually display non-seasonal symptoms. The inflammation that ensues also leads to secondary infections with bacteria and/or yeast. The infections themselves are itchy, too, leading to an ugly cycle of inflammation, infections, and itchiness.

Food Allergies
Food allergies are another cause of inflammation and discomfort of the skin. Contrary to popular belief, food allergies are not an extremely common cause of itchiness and discomfort in dogs. The most common allergens in dog food are the proteins, including beef and chicken, not the grains and carbohydrates. The symptoms of food allergies include licking, chewing, shaking the head, discharge from the ears, and scooting the rear end. As you can see, these symptoms are identical to atopy, making the do-it-yourself diagnosis difficult. Some dogs may also show persistent or recurrent gastrointestinal signs, including soft stool, vomiting, flatulence, belching, or frequent bowel movements. Your veterinarian can help guide you to the proper diagnosis.

Fleas and sarcoptes mites are parasites that can lead to inflammation and itchiness of the skin. 80% of dogs are allergic to the bite of a flea. It only takes one flea for a dog to be itchy, and sarcoptes mites are microscopic, so don’t rule out parasites as a cause of your dog’s discomfort without seeing your veterinarian. Often, the only method to rule out parasites is to treat for them and monitor for response.

Bacterial and Yeast Infections
The bacteria and yeast that normally inhabit the skin can overgrow and cause an infection of the skin and ears. However, the overgrowth doesn’t usually occur by itself. There is almost always an underlying cause, including atopy, food allergies, and parasites. The infection is itchy, too, so an your dog needs to be monitored and treated for infections by your veterinarian in order to find relief.

If your pet is licking their paws, scooting their rear end, shaking their heads, or chewing on their legs, you are not alone. Itchiness in dogs is the number one reason dogs are taken to the vet. With our help, we may be able to find the culprit of the itchiness and finally find your dog some relief.