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.
I have a malamutte shepherd mix who has chronic ear infections. We’ve been treating his ears for 4 years now and he has developed a polyp in one ear fully blocking canal. He is now on meds and is doing better in that “bad” ear, but his good ear is now acting up.
I’ve been to 2 speciality dermatoloy vets and have been told that 90% f food allergies are due to chicken, turkey, duck. My dog is now on a salmon based food and he still has problems. I’ve noticed over the past year he’s been on 3 different dry foods all containing rice. today I changed his diet to EVo, which is rice free the fish formula and can’t wait to see if he improves. My vets did say when doing food trials stay away from CHICKEN.
It is true that some dogs are allergic to poultry. However, both my Sibes are allergic to fish. In my experience, food allergies are very dependent on the individual dog, so it is a matter of finding out what works best for each dog.
I also feed my dogs EVO (the chicken version since they are allergic to fish) and it has worked out well. Let us know how things go with your Mal. Good luck and big hugs.
eddies mom says
i would like to thank you so much, iam the proud mumma of a pure white siberian husky named eddie, and after a vicous and i mean vicous investation of fleas, i kept giving him flea bath after flea bath. i soon noticed a puss bubble on his neck where he has been scratching i treated and walla the fur grew back and he looks like a million bucks. the vet told me what i was doing was working and that it looked good. but just yesturday i noticed 2 bald spots one on his tale and the other on his back. well i freaked out this never happened to me and his vet was closed and i went browsing and i found your blog now i know what it is and how i can treat before it becomes worse thank you soo so much
How is Eddie doing?
Bald spots can be the result of any number of things, so it doesn’t hurt to give the vet a call and have a chat. If the bald spots expand or look worse, definitely have the vet take a look.
Hugs to Eddie. Hope he is feeling better.
hes doing fine as happy as ever i put aloe gel on his tale and it looks better and the gitting at it has slowed down. i wouldnt have even noticed it to tell you the truth if i wasnt brushing him. but if it expends ill def call the vet
I have a female chihuahua.as soon as I let her inside the house she runs to our center table in the living room and starts rubbing her hind against the table in a back and forth motion. She stays there for a good 45 mins at times. if she doesn’t do it there she will do it on our bed upstairs or our living room sofas which have wooden frames. Please help if anyone knows why she is doing this?
It sounds like it could be an issue with the anal glands, but it could also be something else. Does your dog also scoot? Is there anything in the dog feces?
It is probably best to give your vet a call and see what they say.
I have a german shepherd who is constantly scratching his nose until it begins to bleed. This has happened once before within the last 3 months. It healed and I didn’t think anything of it. He is 3 years old, physically he is in excellent condition, except for this. Any idea of what may be going on? He has been doing this for about 4 days now.
It could be several things.
I know my dogs always poke their noses into holes, under bushes, into bushes, at bees, at spiders, etc. One time my Sibe got a bee bite on her foot and was scratching at it a lot. Sometimes it could also be something that the dog is allergic to from the bushes or plants.
Another possibility is bad stuff getting stuck in the nose cavity. My Shiba Inu inhaled a fox-tail a couple of years ago and it really did bad things to his nose. He kept pawing at it and he was also sneezing out a bit blood intermittently. We took him to the emergency room for that.
It may be best to take your dog in to the vet so that you can be sure what is causing the problem. Since it has happened before, it could be something in the backyard. Identifying the source will also help us prevent it from happening again in the future.
Good luck. Let us know how it goes.
Ashley J says
I have two huskies one ive had more than a year and my newest one sasha i just recently have gotten. Miya my older one has recently just started itching constantly on her belly and lower back legs. We have given her allergy medicine everyday with no improvement. And now I just saw my younger husky sasha rubbing her face on the carpet idk what it could be i think it allergies cause miya did the same thing this time of year last year. Should i take them to the vet ? or what im lost at what to do ?
I would take them to the vet. It sounds like it could be skin parasites which can then pass from one dog to another.
My Sibe Shania got demodectic mange once while in daycare. The vet quickly diagnosed it with a skin scraping and gave us Goodwinol ointment. It caused some vomitting, but it got the mange under control after a few weeks. The fur will take longer to grow back though.
My shiba has what looks like a bite on his side and it has lost the hair around it. We don’t know how it got there but it’s there… We took him to the vet but they don’t know what’s wrong either. What should I do?
What did the vet recommend? Did the vet test for skin parasites?
What does the bite look like? Is it just a small bite, large bite? It is getting worse? Is it causing discomfort and is Shiba scratching at it?
I would definitely consider going to another vet to get a second opinion.
One of my dogs has this like red spot on her back near her tail, i dont know how else to describe it but its about the size of my fist and has little red bumps. Also theres no fur there. My grandmother told me its a hot spot from fleas, that shes probably allergic to them. i dont know anything about hot spots, but how could i fix this, ive tried frontline, but the fleas are still on her.
I also have another dog that has a huge wound on his neck, it looks like he was attacked by another animal or got his head stuck in a fence we have been cleaning it with peroxide and sterile water. we wrapped it up yesterday, but he ripped it off. were taking him to the vet tomorrow. but i just want to know why he rubs dirt and mud in it. It seems to take the pain away when he does it.
I would take both dogs to the vet.
Sometimes, if there are too many fleas, the dog may need stronger topical medication or medicated baths. When we took Shania in because of mange, our vet mentioned that medicated baths may be a possibility if things don’t improve with just the medicated ointment. Luckily things got better.
As I understand it, mud is cool, and that cooling effect can help to ease pain and perhaps also help with swelling (similar to using ice). However, mud may also contain bacteria, insects, etc. The vet will probably use an E-collar to prevent him from scratching the wound and getting it dirty.
Let us know how things go with the vet. Big hugs!
I have a skin question about my husky. I have only had her for about 2 months. When I picked her up from my mom 2 months ago her belly and inside of her lower legs were slightly red. She was found outside so she could have gotten into something, but she lives with me now in a diffrent area. I wanted to address it soon so I took her to the vet and he said to try to give her benadryl to help with the itching. I think it has helped slightly as far as itching, but her skin has gotten much worse in the area and the hair around her eyes is a little red. He also gave me a spray, but I don’t think its working. I don’t think its a flea allergy becuase she doesnt have any fleas. Could she be allergic to her food? I’m thinking about switching her food to a salmon based food instead of chicken based. What else could it be? Thanks -H.
Did the vet test for mites? One time Shania (my Sibe) had hair loss around her eye and foot due to demodectic mange. The mites are too small for the regular eye to see, so the vet had to take a skin scraping. She got the mites when she was at daycare.
When my other dog had food allergy issues, he itched, but I did not notice any redness. My other dog (a Shiba) is allergic to wheat. My Sibe is allergic to fish oil and oats, so she can’t eat salmon. If you think it is food allergy, it may be best to switch to a totally bland diet. E.g. just boiled chicken and rice. If you think the allergy is poultry related, then rabbit and rice, or deer and rice are possibilities.
How is her stool? I have observed that food allergy usually also results in very soft or watery stool.
I would definitely talk more to the vet, and maybe even get a second opinion from a different vet.
He is quite a character and always testing his boundaries with us (i.e. sitting on top of the couch). He’s only allowed on the couch when he’s invited and he sure wasn’t invited up there.
Reptar’s favorite toys are balls. He has a love hate relationship with the ball in a ball toy. It was first an outside toy but the barking got too intense. He spent an entire weekend day trying to get the ball out by pawing at it and yelling. He even brought it over to me for help.
He had a growth spurt and I didn’t realize it until these pictures. From May to Sept he grew! I feel like he’s in his terrible two stage. He’s constantly fighting with us and resisting everything we’re try to teach him lately but at the same time he has been so attached to me lately. When I turn around, he’s at my side. I can’t seem to get a minute of privacy. haha.
PS – his birthday cookie was actually quite good. I’ll admit that I tried a piece. it left a terrible after-taste though. 🙂
I’ve decided to take him to the vet after all. He’s losing some hair on the side of his ear. I wonder if its an allergy maybe. hmmm we shall find out Friday.
I have a new online album for Reptar with some new pictures. I’ll eventually move all the others to this new album but here’s the link to the new one in the meantime. http://picasaweb.google.com/crose0130
Just went through the Birthday pictures which are super awesome! That is some special B-day cake. I wanted to have some too 😀
I especially loved the picture with Reptar sitting over his presents with the silly Shiba grin. Oh and the pink hat picture is hilarious! LOL.
Ok going to check out the other pictures.
LOL! This one really got me!
Awesome Shiba grin!
Also really like the park pictures. Sephy was like that too with large bodies of water. He would play at the edge and think about getting at the ducks, but he didn’t really try to go into deeper water.
Hahaha – Love that ball within a ball evil toy video. I also have that evil toy!