Occasional itching and scratching is natural dog behavior. Problems only arise, when our dog starts to itch and scratch with extreme frequency.
Common reasons for extreme dog itchiness include-
- Bacterial infection, or
- Skin parasites.
The irritation may sometimes cause our dog to rub his nose and body on the rug, on furniture, or even in the mud and snow. These behaviors may offer him some temporary relief, but it may also cause dirt to enter the wound, and further inflame the condition of his skin.
Depending on the cause of dog itchy skin, there could also be hair-loss.
1. Hot Spots
As I understand it, hot spots are caused by bacterial infection on the dog’s skin. It usually starts when a scratch or opening on the skin is exposed to moisture, for a prolonged period of time.
My Husky developed a hot spot last winter, on the lower-inner part, of her back leg. It was raining frequently, and she probably developed the skin infection from exposing a scratch on her leg to water, or from lying on a damp surface. Being a Siberian Husky, Shania likes being outside in the rain. However, we now limit her rain time and make sure to dry her well when she comes in.
With hot spots, it is important to catch it as early as possible. Otherwise, the condition may worsen and spread, when the dog continuously licks or scratches on the infected site. If untreated, the infected area may become painful, may develop pus, and may start to smell.
Luckily, we caught Shania’s hot spot early-on and stopped it, before it was able to expand. We cut away the fur around the spot, and kept the area dry. The most challenging part was supervising my dog, and making sure that she did not lick or bite at the inflamed skin. Sometimes, an Elizabethan collar may be necessary to prevent licking, scratching, and biting.
After a trip outside, we gently toweled-down the area, and then lightly fanned it, until it was no longer wet. Keeping it free of moisture reduced irritation to the skin, which in turn, made it less likely for my dog to continue worrying at it.
If the infection spreads or develops pus, it is best to get treatment from a vet.
2. Food Allergies
With food allergies, the itching and scratching is usually accompanied by loose or watery stool. My Shiba Inu is allergic to wheat, and he used to get really itchy from it.
To identify the source of the allergy, I started feeding my dog really plain meals (boiled chicken and rice); no treats or other types of food. I was also very careful during neighborhood walks, so that he did not slip in a “road-side surprise“.
It may take a few days before the allergens clear out of our dog’s system, and we start to see an improvement. Some dogs may be allergic to poultry, so if the boiled chicken does not help, then switch to an alternate meat source, for example venison or rabbit.
I only boil or microwave the meat. Do not add anything else, and absolutely do not use table scraps. Table scraps are usually too rich for dogs, and may contain spices or ingredients (e.g. onions) that are poisonous to dogs. Some dogs may be allergic to multiple common ingredients. My Siberian Husky, for example, is allergic to wheat, oats, and some types of fish.
Once the extreme itching goes away, slowly introduce our dog’s normal food back into his diet, one by one, until we find the problem ingredient.
I start with only 1/4 portion of the first food. If everything goes well, I slowly increase the portion by quarters, after every few days (three or more). If the allergy symptoms do not come back after a couple of weeks, I introduce the next food on my list and so on.
If we are using dry food (kibble), find one that is grain free, and has good protein sources. Some good kibble brands include Orijen, Blue Wilderness, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Wellness CORE.
3. Environmental Allergies
Dog itching can also be caused by plants, pollen, or other chemicals.
The best way to deal with environmental allergies, is to keep our dog away from the offending chemicals or contaminants. For example, my dogs often stick their muzzle into holes, bushes, and plants. Therefore, if I suspect outdoor allergens, I try keeping them mostly inside the house for a few days. At the same time, I limit and closely supervise their outside time.
If the itching improves, then my dog is likely allergic to something in the backyard or neighborhood. Once I identify which plant is the source of the problem, I remove it from my backyard and avoid it during walks.
Note that some plants can be poisonous to dogs.
Like us, dogs may also have a reaction to inhaling certain air allergens such as pollen or mold. However, symptoms usually include nose irritation and frequent sneezing.
4. Skin Parasites
Dog itching may also result from mites, fleas, or other skin parasites. Some flea and tick prevention products.
Our vet can easily diagnose this with a skin scraping. Depending on the parasite and the severity of the infection, different treatments may be appropriate. Ask our vet for the pros and cons of each.
Note that many parasite treatments involve the use of toxic chemicals to kill the mites or fleas.
Some dogs may have a bad reaction to these toxins. Therefore, I ask my vet about possible risks, as well as supervision and after-care requirements. I also get additional information from online sources to fill in the gaps, and provide a more comprehensive picture of available options. If I am still unsure about safety, I get a second professional opinion.
My Husky recently got demodectic mange from her puppy playmates in dog daycare. To treat the skin mites, our vet suggested the use of Goodwinol ointment. This treatment got the mites under control after about one week, but it also caused some vomiting and irritation to the eyes.
There are also some horror stories on flea and tick repellent products. This article has some good information on possible risks.
Since these repellents are designed to kill fleas, ticks, and other skin parasites, they are all toxic to some degree. As such, there is always the possibility that our dog may have a bad reaction.
Flea and tick collars can be especially dangerous because if they are not properly fastened, a dog may chew off pieces, or even swallow it whole.
However, not using flea and tick repellents may expose our dog to skin irritation, as well as dangerous diseases such as lyme disease. Before making a decision, it may be useful to read what the FDA has to say about fighting fleas and ticks.
If we find ticks on our dog, do not try to pull them off with our fingers. This may cause the body of the tick to break off, and leave the head still embedded in our dog’s skin. Embedded tick parts may sometimes cause a skin infection.
One of the best tools for removing ticks easily and safely, is with the Ticked off tick remover.
It may look just like a silly plastic spoon, but it works surprisingly well. Since I got it, I have been able to remove all ticks from my dogs without any problems.
Finally, dogs may also lick themselves as a result of stress, nervousness, or anxiety (e.g. separation anxiety). In these situations, a dog may engage in displacement behaviors such as self grooming, to calm himself down. Over-grooming can cause irritation to the skin and hair loss.
In general, we want to address skin irritation issues as soon as possible. Otherwise, our dog will likely keep licking and scratching at the problem area, and worsen its condition. Excessive licking may cause pain and further irritate the skin, which will encourage even more licking, and so on. If not addressed, this may be habit forming, and lead to Acral Lick Dermatitis.
These are the most common reasons for dog itching, dog scratching, and hair loss. However, there could be other causes, so it is always best to consult with a vet.
When dealing with allergy issues, find a vet who is willing to help us identify the source of the problem. Medication may help in the short term, but for a long term solution, we want to pinpoint the origin of our dog’s allergy, and stop it there.
In this article, we only focus on itchy dog skin. For a broader, more general discussion of dog allergies, check out Allergies and Atopy in Dogs. Dogs may also have allergic reactions to their yearly vaccination shots. This article on Vaccine Side Effects and Risks gives a good overview of possible dangers.
Hi, our dog Sammy has just started scratching the inside of her mouth with her front paws. We have looked at the skin on the inside of her lips, but can not see anything. Do you have any suggestions as to what her problem might be?
Fran and Sammy
Hmmm – could be an issue with her gums or teeth. Shania was doing something similar earlier in the summer and it turned out to be a bee bite inside her mouth 🙁 She likes chasing, pouncing, and biting at bees.
To be on the safe side, see what her vet has to say.
We didn’t end up going. The neosporin seems to be helping a great deal! poor lil guy has no hair on the inside of his ear anymore though, and its all red. 🙁 but it’s starting to heal very nicely.
It is a big happy day when Shiba does not need to go to the vet! 😀 I am very happy to hear that Reptar is healing well. The hair will grow back very quickly. In the meantime take lots of pictures so that he remembers not to wage battles with bushes in the future. 😉
Looks like we’ll be heading to the vet. BIG SIGH from me and an even bigger sigh from Reptar. If only I could teach him that if he doesn’t scratch, he doesn’t have to go to the vet.
How did the vet visit go? Hugs to Reptar.
I’m not sure where to post this but I have a question. Reptar has a nasty cut on the top of his ear (the inside) and he is continuing to scratch it and pick the scab off. I understand it itches while it’s healing which is why i’m sure he’s scratching it but it can’t heal this way.
When i’m home i can make him stop scratching but while i’m at work, I cant control it. I can’t wrap it while i’m gone (and how do you even wrap an ear?) in fear he’ll rip it off and ingest whatever i wrapped it with. My vet said to keep it clean and put some Neosporin on it and if its not better in a few days to bring him in.
Any thoughts on how I can help it heal on it’s own? I’m afraid the vets going to put him in a cone and we all know what happens when a Shiba wears a cone! eek!
BIG HUGS to Reptar.
As for the scratching, I am not sure I have more to add to what you already know. Some people suggest using Bitter Apple but that never really worked for Sephy and I wouldn’t want to put additional chemicals over the scab area.
Putting some ice may help to numb the area and therefore make it less itchy – but that will only be for the short term.
Oh Shiba – they often make things a lot more difficult for themselves. When Sephy was wearing his Cone, I looked into getting a more comfortable and flexible cloth/soft cone (e.g. Comfy Cone). However, I think Sephy would just chew a cloth cone to pieces. There are other alternatives –
(The comments on the page are also interesting)
Another possibility is to have Reptar hang out with a neighbor or friend during the day.
Wish I could be of more help. All of us here will be sending lots of positive healing energy your way!
How did Reptar get the cut btw? bushes?
Thanks! I have no idea how he got cut, I’m going to assume it was from some bushes. He has no brakes, so when he’s running full speed he often face plants or runs into things. He always shakes it off so I never feel too bad for chuckling when I witness this.
We have a 10 year old red Shiba Inu “Bond”. He is constantly licking his anal area and feet. In addition he gnaws at his paws, hips, and elbows. We have tried many food. I just got ready to mix his new food Orijen 6 fish formula and read on a blog that protein content is too high for Shiba size dog. Low activity, 1/2 walk daily on wood chip flat strand. Slow recovery from non surgical ACL rehab.
Any comments on Orijen.
For dog food information I like the dog food project website. Here is their article on high protein foods.
When it comes to dog food there are lots of people with many different opinions, so I would also quiz the people at your vets to get a fuller picture.
I have tried regular Orijen on both my dogs and it seemed to work fine. However, now I am using Innova EVO because I can get that locally from a pet store, whereas Orijen is not as widely available. EVO has also worked very well for my dogs – they are 2 and 3 years old.
Should one use brown rice or white rice when doing chicken and rice as per your suggestion regarding allergies? Trader Joe’s make a good brown or white cooked rice as the only ingredient.
Where does the dog go to the bathroom?
More recently, I have just gone with a fully boiled chicken diet.
In the past, I have used regular white rice when they had digestive issues. Brown rice has more fiber so I didn’t want to introduce that into their diet during the allergy test.
In general when properly used, fiber can actually improve digestion but only when introduced gradually and with an increase of water intake. I didn’t want to introduce a new variable into their diet – so I went with plain white rice.
Don’t make the rice too sticky so that it doesn’t stick on the teeth and cause tartar.
I still took my dog out, but only on-leash and did not let him explore bushes or pounce for lizards. I also looked up the list of poisonous plants so that I would recognize them during future walks.
Some dogs are allergic to grass – so if everything else is exhausted, and you want to test for grass allergy, it is possible to prepare a potty area made up of wood chips that is grass free. It is also possible to use dog shoes. Still, I don’t think this is too common.
Grass allergy usually affects the paws most causing dogs to bite on their paws. In this way it may also affect the head area.
When my Shiba had food allergy, it was itchiness on his entire body, accompanied with diarrhea.
Did you ever do lab tests (blood) to determine allergies? Bond is gnawing at paws, licking, gnawing at thigh area. Our vet thinks it is airborne and not food. We had him on Temaril P I believe, which gave him relief, but not a cure. The vet also suggested Benadryl, but he just gets loopy and like deer in the headlights.
I also forgot to mention with Bond he is continually scratching nose, and inside his mouth (gums)?
Yeah that actually sounds a lot like grass allergy. I wonder if it is more common with the Shiba breed compared to other breeds.
Here are some things that may help –
I also visited a Shiba breeder who had a grass allergic long-haired Shiba. She kept him mostly on a concrete run, and only walked him on the concrete sidewalks around her house.
Luckily we didn’t have to. With Sephy it was a food thing so I just did the ingredient elimination thing. With Shania it was mites, which the vet was able to identify right away with a skin scraping.
Sephy is also allergic to some airborne stuff, usually during a change in seasons, when there are different pollens in the air. During such times he would sneeze a lot.
We have given him some Benadryl during these times but it usually goes away after a few days once the pollen density decreases.
Hope this helps. Please let me know what works out best.
When you did boiled chicken and rice, how long did you do it for and what amount? We feed Bond 1/2 cup food twice per day now. He is ten years old and mostly on leash walks and jogs.
I did the total bland diet for about 4-5 days – until the diarrhea totally went away. Then I slowly introduced his new kibble back into his diet 1/4 at a time.
1/4 kibble, 3/4 chicken-rice for about 3-4 days. If everything was ok, then I did 1/2 and 1/2 for another 3-4 days, and so on.
As for the amount, unfortunately I don’t remember exactly how much I used. I think I just filled a few of his toys, and fed him smaller but more frequent meals. He would always let me know when he got hungry – but I think the digestive allergies made him less hungry in general.
How are things going with Bond?
Thanks for asking. I tried the chicken with rice for the past 5 days, no changes in the itching and licking. Thinking maybe airborn allergies gave him Benadryl for several days, no changes in itching and licking. Going to vet today. Mites? Yeast? Stool speciment? Bond had been on Temaril P in the past with some relief, but just do not want to keep on that ongoing. Want to try to get to source of problem. May do some limited allergy testing (blood test) to rule out source of allergy.
I am a little embarassed to mention that Bond has not had a bath in the past 3 years, as he goes wild. Over the past year he had ACL injury and we did conserative rehab versus surgery. He did well with the rehab, but cannot be crated as we now know from our rehab over the past year. He had not been crated since puppyhood. He got his teeth caught on the wires from trying to get out and lost several teeth.
So, the thought of bathing, crating, and nail cutting become a nightmare. If he were to get a bath, he could not be crated after “to dry”. I am afraid he will reinjure his ACL during the whole process.
So….we will see what the Vet says today.
How did the vet visit go yesterday?
Yeah finding the source of the allergy can sometimes be difficult but I totally agree with you that it is the much better way to go.
Does he only get itchy from walks? or is he still itchy from just roaming in the house?
Hugs to Bond.
Vet visit, thanks for asking. I 100% trust my vet, does not go overboard, but is very pragmatic. He said Bond’s ACL Conserative Rehab has gone great. He did several skin scrapings to r/o mites, mange, etc. and they were negative, however positive for yeast and bacteria. He put him on Simplicef and Nizoral for 10 days. Wants me to call him in ten days to determine if Bond is better or worse.
I told him about the chicken and rice for the past 5 days, no relief from itching, Vet does not think it is food allergies.
He does not want to just begin allergy testing and other testing just yet. The Vet first wants to see if the itching subsides and move forward to determine cause of bacteria/yeast.
In addition Bond has a Medicated bath scheduled tommorow with a groomer my Vet recommended. I am very nervous how Bond will respond to the bath, but talked to groomer at length. She knows his whole history and is willing to give it a go.
I will keep you posted.
I feel like group therapy here, but it is really helping Bond and me get through this.
Thanks for asking
Hope the medicated bath went well.
Actually, all this information is very helpful. Now if any of my dogs show these symptoms, I will have a better idea of what it could be, and what are some of the things that need to be done.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Sounds like your vet has diagnosed the issue, so Bond should be back to his old self soon.
Shania sends lots of licks to everyone. Shiba Sephy is too cool to lick, but he offers his Shiba ‘stare’ 😀
Bond & I survived his medicated bath with muzzle and lots of Shiba Screams. The groomer was great. First time I met her. She told me Bond was a Drama King and any family that put up with him for 10 years, without giving him away deserves an award. She gave Bond his bath free, even after trying to bite me while muzzling him. She was great with Bond and I will return there as needed. Bond continues on his medications and I will keep you posted.
LOL – Gotta love Shibas. Sephy is exactly the same way. Going to the vet is always a big challenge.
But we still love them anyway. Lucky for Shibas they are so good looking 😉
Sorry to report after medicated bath, 10 days of antibiotics and medication for yeast, Bond continues to lick and scratch. We will be returning to our Vet tommorow 🙁
Sorry to hear that Debbie. What did the vet say?
One thing you could try is to just keep Bond inside the house as much as possible and only take him out to potty on wood chips. This way he stays away from most organic materials and this may help determine if it is a plant/pollen allergy thing.
Is Bond having diarrhea or any other symptoms in addition to the itching?
Bond just got back from Vet Visit. He is now on Atarax for the itching/licking with 30% relief. To be continued.
My Siberian is on Atarax as well. She had some bad allergic reaction this morning, and her whole face swelled up. The vet said it could be from her vaccine shots, or from an insect bite.
Hopefully it was a vaccine thing, because there are always going to be spiders and bees about.
How is the Atarax working out for Bond?
christopher eades says
my 11 month old huskies nose sides of mouth and eyes keep swelling , have taken to vet they said its an allergy and gave us piriton tablets . we keep eye on her in garden to make sure not going by anything as vet doesnt know what alergy is , but still keeps swelling up and cant keep affording vets bills just to keep being told the same any help greatly appreciated
I would try keeping her in the house for a few days to see if the swelling subsides. I know my Sibe likes sticking her nose into all kinds of holes and such in my backyard, so who knows what she gets on her muzzle.
Allergies are usually difficult because you have to slowly rule out where the allergy could be coming from, based on all the places your dog goes to. To start you want to temporarily cut down the number of places she visits to a minimum, so that you can get the allergy under control. Then slowly start introducing her to new places again one by one, and always keep her under close supervision when you introduce her to a new place. In this way, you can identify which plants, etc. that she comes into contact with so that if the allergy flares up again, you will know which plant(s) caused it.
There are also many common garden plants that are poisonous to dogs.
I would also check to make sure that she doesn’t come into contact with these plants.
christopher eades says
thanks very much for the advice and having checked her food found that it contains wheat bought a better quality one without wheat and shes been fine so far touch wood will keep informed if things change
That is very good news! Glad it worked out for the best 🙂
my dog has hair lost around his eyes ,any infomatiom to please proble?
Hair-loss can be due to a variety of reasons.
My Siberian had hair loss around the eyes last year and it turned out to be demodectic mange. It started out around her mouth, probably from her playing with other puppies in daycare. This led to scratching around the mouth, which got the mange onto her paw, and that got onto her eye area when she scratched her face.
The best thing to do is to take your dog to the vet. They can take skin scrapings and tell you for sure what is the cause of the hair loss.
Let us know how it goes.
Thank you for your Dog Itching, Scratching, Allergy article. My Shiba is constantly itching. I found out his food was not as advertised and am trying a new one. He continues to itch. Your articles give me some structure to follow to determine “what” is causing this problem for him. Thank you
Thanks for dropping by Bonnie. Yeah, it took me a while to identify that the source of my Shiba’s itching was wheat. My Siberian has an even more sensitive stomach 🙂 I use Innova EVO kibble with the both of them and it has worked out very well for us.
Let me know if I can help you with anything.
Just to add on – other reasons which are contributing factors are
environmental (atopy) and annual vaccination leading to vaccinosis.
Environmental includes the type of water drank by the dog, the level of humidity and dust mites etc.
Thanks for the great additions. That is really interesting about the water. I didn’t know about that. I will definitely have to add your environmental factors to the article. Thanks! 🙂
Nancy's Niche says
Hi Shebashake, Another great article and isn’t it interesting that animals suffer the same health issues as humans…
Thanks for dropping by Nancy. What is say is very true. Animals are a lot more tolerant and brave about it than humans though 🙂 I’m absolutely terrible when I get sick!