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.
Hello , ive got a wolf/german shepard breed dog , ive had him for 8 years , and all has been well ,until about a year ago. he started scratching and biting his back and base of tail causing his skin to become raw red, so we took him to the vet and she gave him a jab , and gave us some cream , and she also shaved the area that he had been scrathching , his wounds and stuff got better and where it was shaved it grew back , then a few months later he starte again , so we took im vet again where he got the same treatment and was asked to use cream again , each go costs us around £50 makin it very expensive , anyway it cleared up , and came back again , so we shaved his back and keep a constant eye on him so that he dosnt itch himeself, his back is getting better, but he just will not stop tryin to scratch it , it still ver flaky , and almost exma like, hes now got a muzzle which anytime we go out we keep on him so that he cant scratch himself but the problem is he still keeps itching withb his feet. Anyway tonight i heard him squealing a little and found him with his muzzle off, he managed to get it off, but when i looked under his tale its sorta almost no skin under his tail , and hardly any hair on his ass, and it looks very red and flaky , but its impossible that he did all this damage, also its almost like the infection is coming rom his bum area and spreding to the back of his tail and down to his penis area, he also nibbles his legs and under his armpit until its bleeding. , its very concerning for me to see him like this. it can’t be fleas as he ha been frontlined about a month ago. Also we found this strange lump on his left foot at first we thought it as a pad, but at a closer inspection we realised its in the wrong place , its like on his thigh and when we touch it gently its squidgy as if there is something in it like pus.Its like hes got hotspots and infection. I also have began noticing he seems much , much weaker on his back les , which is not good , please help , thanks you for your time 🙂
Hmmm, some common causes that I know of-
1. Fleas. My dogs are also on a flea and tick preventative, but they still get ticks from time to time during walks in the hills. I think that these preventatives reduce the occurrence of fleas and ticks, but during tick season, for example, my dogs still get them. If there are fleas in the house or backyard, they could cause recurring itch issues.
I had a flea attack once when I was renting an apartment for the summer. We had the place flea bombed and that seemed to get rid of them. However, I made sure to have a long discussion with the people about the chemicals used, how toxic it is to dogs, and how long before it is safe for dogs. Some people also suggest using sprays, because that is more effective at getting under furniture.
2. Anal Sac. One of my dogs worry a lot on his rear area and our vet said it could be because of irritation from his anal gland. I make sure the vets check on his gland, and manually expel it if necessary during our yearly examination.
3. Tape Worms. Based on what I have read, tape worms can also cause irritation to the rear area. When my dog got tape worms, I could see them (little white grains) in his poop.
What does your vet say? (2) and (3) can be more easily checked for, so it is usually the fleas that are problematic.
hey I’ve found your site very informational! thank you, anyways I’ve got a 15 month old pure breed GSD, that i bought in Germany about when he was 9-10 weeks, has no fleas,ticks an just gave him his last dewormer! and his shots are up todate also,our problem is the itching, sometimes he goes on an on for a long time, it’s very depressing to be honest! an today while i was brushing him i noticed him had flaky skin that came of the brush….he get’s a weekly bath sometimes 2-3 times depending on how muddy he gets, due to the fact that i’ve made him a house dog and never had the pleasure of sleeping outside, i highly doubt he has outdoor allergies! where the food is concerned, i don’t thick so either becausei monitor his eating habits and i’ve changed it up 4 times now! one being that he is very funny when coming to food only certain type of dry food and meat he will eat! and because i thought he might be allergic to it. so i need help badly, when his uncomfortable i am as well ask my wife she sleeps on the couch lol
Interesting, I just asked my breeder about this, and wrote an article about dog bathing. Bathing multiple times a week may be too often. I have two Siberian Huskies and they have a double coat similar to the GSD. They are usually naturally clean because their outer coat is dirt repellent and water-proof. Too frequent bathing can strip the coat of its natural oils, and dry out their skin. Shampoo residue can also cause skin irritation.
My breeder sometimes bathes her dogs every week (for shows), but only with mild shampoo that is specially made for dogs. She says that once a week is ok to still maintain a nice coat.
With my Sibes I find that frequent brushing is sufficient to keep their coat clean. If they get really muddy, I just wipe them down with dog wipes.
What food are you currently using? Many dogs are allergic to wheat and corn. I feed my dogs a high-protein, grain free kibble, and they seem to do well on that.
Hi ShibaShake!!! I was actually reading this and had read Carol’s comment that she posted on Jauary 23rd 2012. I have the same problem with my 2yr old male Siberian Husky. It seems that we have had this problem since we first got him which he was 3 months old. I have had him on Taste of the Wild dry foods. I have tried the salmon and the fowl formulas and he is still having a problem. I really am starting to think that its not food related. And as far as I have read Taste of the Wild is grain free. We have taken him to the vet and they only response is that he has an allergy which we can see that. Also we have noticed that the only time he bites and licks is when we are away which makes me feel maybe there is an anxiety issue too? Any suggestions? Thanks so much!!
It could be from separation anxiety. When dogs are stressed, they may engage in displacement behaviors (such as self grooming) to calm themselves down. Does he also chew on things around the house? How does he act when you get back? Where does he spend his time when home alone?
Here are some of the things I looked at to address separation anxiety issues with my Shiba Inu.
Thanks for bringing this up as another possible source of dog scratching and licking. I will definitely add it to the article.
Amazing site, so much super information here. I have a few questions here. My 1 year old german shepherd female seemed fine when I got her, however, at about 4 months she seemed to have issues with urine. It was actually struvite(sp?)crystals. Cleared that up as various vets said she would outgrow it. At about 7-8 months I had her vaccinated for rabies. She had a horrible allergic response to it…in fact, cried for one week in pain and went limb in her back. Since then, she had a horrible heat cycle (menstrual) and had allergic responses to everything. I had allergy testing done on her, and she’s allergic to beef and wheat. I have her on dogswell nutrisca lamb and chic pea now. With the heat cycle, she had blood shot eyes, just overall malaise. She just turned one in January, and started losing hair just on the ankle…I had the vet skin scrape her but she is negative for Sarcoptic and Demodec mange. Still itching horribly to a point where it has to hurt her. It is continual and gets worse towards evening. I flipped her over and did not see hair loss at all! She then started having issues with her anal glands…these keep getting full and need to be drained every week to two weeks. Her coat is wiry and not soft like my male GSD’s coat. His is shiny and soft. The gland issue is not good, and the vet told me I had to add more bulk to her diet, meaning fiber, so I’ve done that. But the itching is horrendous, and I’m not sure what to do. The vet just wants her on an allergy medication but I need to know the source. I’ve already done the test for foods, and she is not worse on grain, she is the same. I just don’t know how to treat her. Any suggestions? I’m worried as I consulted with another vet over the phone in California and she said it could be a thyroid disorder. We won’t know fully until a full panel is done, as she is the vet that did all the food allergies for her. HELP…suggestions!!!
I wish I could be of more help, but what you describe here is beyond my own experiences. I would consider consulting with a specialist and see what they say in terms options.
I went to a specialist for my Shiba Inu’s cracked tooth, and also for my Siberian Husky’s crooked leg. Both times, the respective specialists were able to give me a clear picture of available options, and how to best move forward.
Hugs to your girl. Hope she feels better soon. Please keep us updated when you have the time.
Hi, thank you so much for such an informative article. I was browsing the internet in attempt to find some help for my 3-year old Jack Russell Terrier. Recently my dog had a really bad ear infection and we took him to the vet and got antibiotics. He had already been Lately scratching his face a lot, but we thought it may of had something to do with his infected ear. His ear is better, but the scratching does not stop. He scratches his face and when he does he even whimpers. I feed him a high quality food (WELLNESS) and am not quite sure how to go about finding out what is wrong with him. I’m worried that about him and don’t want him to feel uncomfortable. What is the first step to take?
Thank you so much!
Has he been digging?
My Sibe Lara loves to dig, and often, a bunch of dirt would get into her ear and she would scratch it a lot as a result. We started to clean her ear every day, before sleep time, and that seemed to help things a lot.
Have you taken your boy back to the vet for a checkup of his ear? I would probably have a chat with the vet, and see what he has to say.
Another possibility is environmental allergies. We can observe where our dog spends most of his time, and see if there is anything there that may cause an allergic reaction. Dogs can also get stung by bees or spiders, which can also cause discomfort, and itching. Are there any unusual areas or bumps on his face?
How is his energy level? Is he eating and drinking normally? Is his stool normal?
Hi. I was curious about food allergies and all or any signs of them. My 2 year old husky has been scratching and nipping at her hair along her back and tail to the point it looks like a reversed mohawk. She’s been on Purina Pro Plan Lamb and Rice since she was able to start eating solid food. I’ve taken her to the vet and he’s said it could be allergies related to food or fleas (no longer any fleas, but when there were it was very little and taken care of immediately), or just simply dry skin? I’m switching her over to a bland diet of rice, hamburger, and green beans and see how that works. Any suggestions?
How is it going with the bland diet?
With Purina Pro Plan Lamb and Rice, I noticed that it contains corn gluten meal as well as wheat. Many dogs are allergic to corn and wheat. I feed both my Sibes a grain-free kibble, and that seems to work well for them. My Shiba Inu is allergic to wheat, and my Sibe Shania is allergic to oats. I am not sure about my other Sibe Lara, because I haven’t given her anything with wheat, corn, or oats. The only grain she has had is rice.
With my Shiba Inu, the wheat in his kibble caused him to itch a lot more than usual. He would also lick his paws more and he had some diarrhea. With my Sibes, they both had bad diarrhea, but I did not notice any significant increase in itching.
Here is a bit more on what to look for in a kibble-
I believe that my three year old schnauzer may be allergic to fish. She started eating a fish based food Dec 2010 and began licking her paws excessively in Jan 2011. I was told it was likely environmental and not food related, however she recently was sick and did not eat for 5 days; while she was sick she did not lick her paws. As soon as she was back on her food, she began licking and itching again and now it seems worse–her paws and ears are constantly hot too. I also give her chicken treats so I don’t know if it is the chicken or the fish so it is very frustrating. I read that your dogs are allergic to fish and that you feed EVO, however it has herring meal in it. Is this not a problem because it is not the main ingredient? Most kibbles have fish oil…is this ok if it is a fish allergy?
That is a very good point. In the case of Shania and Lara, they seem to only get problems when I actually feed them salmon and tuna. In particular, they get diarrhea from it. I did not try other fish. I am not sure if herring is different, or just that the kibble preparation process removes something that they are allergic to, but they seem ok with the EVO.
To rule out food allergies, I switched my dog onto a bland diet. I used boiled chicken and rice, but we can also use lamb, venison, or rabbit, as an alternate meat source if we think poultry is an issue. Has your Schnauzer had chicken treats earlier on, or was this a recent addition? What are the ingredients in her old food?
It usually takes a few days before the change in diet will have an effect. Then, if the allergy symptoms go away, we know it comes from the food.
I checked through the ingredient list of Blue Wilderness Chicken and did not see any fish, so perhaps that could be an option.
When your girl was sick, did she stay in the house the majority of the time? If that was the case, it could also reduce her exposure to environmental allergens.
Hugs to your Schnauzer. Let us know how it goes.
I was wondering what you could tell me about my dog.. he’s been rubbing his nose on the rug and carpets which made a little part of his nose pink now… And I’m not sure if that’s from rubbing his nose too hard. Also he has fleas on him, but I don’t know the best way to treat him.. I already tried frontline but it didn’t seem to work… I also tried a oatmeal flea shampoo but they only seem to work for a couple days.. since I see fleas on him now I was thinking maybe my home is infested with fleas… And if you know the best product to get rid of them could you please tell me. thanks..
With fleas, it is necessary to not only get rid of the fleas on our dog currently, but to get rid of them in the environment where our dog sleeps and plays. If we do not remove the fleas from the environment, they would just get back onto the dog.
A few years ago, I rented an apartment that had fleas. I got some people to come over and flea-bomb it, which worked really well.
I also use flea and tick repellent regularly on my dogs, to prevent fleas and ticks from when they are walking outside. Note though, that all repellent products are toxic to some degree, so use with care.
If the problem is serious, then the vet can probably provide a more powerful medicinal bath.
I have a little Yorkie/Maltese mix he is 2 years old and i think that he may have hotspots..But im not sure…I have a cone on him right now so he cant bite himself and he seems to have no problem until i take it off and then he scratches/bites himself until he looks like he is going to bleed..So i went to pet smart and got him a hot spot ointment and i put it on him 2 times a day…My mom thinks he might just be allergic to the new food we have got him…He also has a smell to him and i have to bathe him almost everyday now…Which i think is drying out his skin even more,,,Does anyone know what may be wrong with him or have any suggestions on what i should do to fix it…
Where does he itch?
The itchiness is likely from some kind of allergies, which can result from a variety of sources as described above. It is difficult to tell exactly which one just from the itchiness symptom. If there is a smell, then there is probably some skin infection.
When my dogs had extreme itching, I first took them to the vet. The vet can determine whether the itching is from skin parasites. The vet can also provide antibiotics to help with the skin infection.
With my Shiba Inu it wasn’t skin parasites, so I switched him to a bland diet and carefully observed his outside activities to determine if it is environmental allergens. It turned out he is allergic to wheat. With my Siberian Husky, it was skin parasites.
eddie just got a patch of what i think is demodectic mange around his eye and he keeps scratching what should i do i was going to take him to the vet but someone said anibacterial doggie soap would help
just made appt for eddie looked up mange around eye scared myself silly and called vet. there was a site saying that its a sign of weak immune system, and a sign of heartworm. so hes all set up for after xmas and iam getting his allergy test done too yay =)
Yeah a vet visit sounds like the best way to go.
When Shania had demodectic mange, she first had a bald patch on her leg. Then, she scratched her face and transferred the parasites there too. I have also read that these bald patches can sometimes be a result of zinc deficiency.
After the vet diagnosed Shania with demodectic mange, I was very worried. However, it actually was not too bad at all, especially if it is caught early. We just applied the medication and things were back to normal within a week. It took a while for the fur to grow back though.
Let us know how things go at the vet. Hugs to Eddie.
thats what the vet tech that made my appt said that it could be the zinc deficiency. i was going to buy a can of blue wilderness salmon i might just switch him to that food anyway i heard its top notch, it has all special vitamins(zinc) for wolf type breeds. and iam going to give him a bath with anti allergy shampoo as well because hes shedding and sneezing this always happens. So hes going to the vet all spiffed up, and smelling pretty lol hey you never know he might meet a nice looking bitch there (i dont want to embaress him lol.
Yeah I have also heard really good things about Blue Wilderness. Both my Sibes are allergic to fish though, so no salmon for them.
LOL! You are too much. 😀
Eddie is a lucky boy!
took eddie the vet today he had a great time, me not so much (try explaining why your dog is marking every corner in there so embaressing. anyways he has allergies can you believe it they think its due to dander since hes shedding, i was shocked so i walked out of there with his allergy meds and a cone that iam going to write 2012 on and is now his new year party cone lol. No champange for eddie this year he’s on meds its not a good combo lol ahahah.
LOL! You are too funny.
I am glad that it is all taken care of. Btw. have you seen the Pixar movie “Up”? There is this really funny scene in there with the “Cone of Shame”. I very much enjoyed that. 😀
oh yes lol my daughter loves that movie lol i forgot all about that lol. the meds they put him on is giving him an extra burst of energy and trust me if you met eddie you would say oh no not more energy its like watching the indie 500 hundred on a rainy day lol he ran around my coffee table then dashed into the kitchen and spun out around the kitchen and boom hit the stove got back up and did it all over again. lol but he stops to refuel (at his water bowl lol)
LOL! Eddie sounds wonderful. No wonder you love him so much. 😀
Did he meet any cuties at the vet?
sighs… there was a few 2 boys and 1 girl lol but everyone was like giving me dirty looks because he kept doing the playful growl cry let me off the leash woman stunt. oh and the marking yeah that was great. but i dont think eddie is into female dogs per say lol there was a female dog that was in heat at the dog park and he well kinda bared his teeth at her when she laid down.. whats wrong with him lol but he had no problem humping the big doberman that was there..( he was a male) so they refer to eddie as the ptown pup lol hey but hes proud.
LOL. For some reason, Sephy loves German Shepherds. I don’t think it matters whether they are male or female. 😀