It's one thing for your pup to enjoy a good scratch behind the ears; it's another when you notice that he can't seem to stop scratching. For most pet owners, this may seem like one of the first signs of fleas, but that's not always the case. If you don't spot any of the pests on your dog, you may be wondering what else could be irritating your furry friend. That's why we asked Gary Richter, author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide and veterinarian from Rover.com's Dog People Panel, to help us understand the most common causes of itchiness in dogs and what owners can do to help their beloved pets find some relief.
Know What's Normal
Just like humans, it's normal for all dogs to scratch themselves whether it's to relieve an itch or because it simply feels good, says Dr. Richter. However, if you notice your dog is doing it so frequently that it interrupts their playing or mealtime, this may be considered excessive and be a cause for concern. In this case, look out for any additional symptoms such as redness (which typically indicates inflammation from an allergy or infection), crusting, hair loss, or an odor (which can be a sign of a yeast infection). "Persistent scratching that is focused on one area of the body or meets any of the criteria above would be considered excessive or abnormal," says Dr. Richter, in which case you should schedule a visit to your veterinarian.
Consider Any Allergies
Whether it's the pollen in the air or the kind of dog food they're consuming, one reason your dog might be scratching is because they're having an allergic reaction to something. "Allergies are very common in dogs," notes Dr. Richter. "They can be allergic to something in their environment or they can have a sensitivity to something they're eating." Skin allergies can also cause your dog to have drier skin and lead to heavy licking, redness, and infections in addition to scratching. To soothe your pup's irritations at home, consider switching their food, wiping them down after walks to remove any allergens, or using a hypoallergenic or medicated shampoo.
Beware of Boredom
Another cause of canine scratching? Your dog may be bored or even stressed. "Sometimes stressed or anxious dogs will obsessively lick at one area on their body," says Dr. Richter. If you suspect there are anxiety issues leading to excessive licking or scratching consider talking to your veterinarian.
Evaluate Your Dog's Diet
Food allergies may not be the only diet-related reason your dog is experiencing itching. Believe it or not, what pups do—or don't—eat enough of can also lead them to have dry and itchy skin. "Diets that lack necessary nutrients like oils, moisture content, probiotics, and enzymes can cause dryness and dullness of the coat," says Dr. Richter. To ensure your dog is getting enough of what he needs, Dr. Richter recommends giving him a whole food diet that is both fresh and nutritionally balanced. "Adding a little moist food and supplying fresh water will also increase your dog's hydration intake and add more moisture to the skin."
Start a Proper Grooming Regimen
Both washing your dog too frequently or not frequently enough, can lead to irritated and itchy skin. As you are grooming your pooch, Dr. Richter recommends using a shampoo that is gentle and moisturizing (avoid sharing human shampoo as this will typically be at the wrong pH level for Fido!). "When bathing, allow the shampoo to stay on the dog for five to ten minutes before rinsing," says Dr. Richter. "This will allow for dead skin, hair, dirt, and any scabs to hydrate and release when the dog is rinsed." He also recommends owners avoid blow drying the dog's coat, if possible.