Every so often, my beautiful shih tzu Lily will get the case of the itchies and start scratching. When she has an outbreak of the itchies, it seems to go on for hours and I feel so bad for her. It looks uncomfortable and I worry about her hurting herself, but her vet assures us it’s just seasonal allergies. How, though, do we know when our pets’ itching problems are something more worrisome? If you’ve ever wondered, why is my dog itchy? This is for you.
In general, there’s nothing dangerous in occasional scratching in dogs. Dogs can be itchy for a number of reasons, including bug-related issues, like a bug bite or fleas or other external parasites, environmental allergies (pollen, etc.), or food sensitivities. It can also be dry skin, like many of us humans deal with seasonally.
But it’s always worth looking into to be sure, and to know how to handle those skin issues so we can help them be more comfortable. “Fleas/ parasites frequently can be controlled through various measures,” explains Gary Richter, DVM, Medical Director of Holistic Veterinary Care, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. “Allergies are more difficult to control for although there are both natural and pharmaceutical options to help mitigate the symptoms. Avoidance (in the case of food) can also be very effective,” says Dr. Richter. You can also try supplementing your dog’s diet with fish oil or Omega acids.
It’s always worth looking into though, no matter how harmless those itchies turn out to be because if dogs scratch enough, they can get a secondary skin infection, which may require antibiotics to resolve. And that can become a big deal!
Chronic itching is often a strong signal of allergy. “Without proper treatment, it may escalate into hot spots on your pet’s skin,” says Dr. Claudine Sievert, a registered veterinary doctor. You can significantly improve your dog’s life by identifying the signs of allergy in its early stages.
But that’s not all it could be. “Itching can be caused by flea allergic dermatitis (F.A.D.), cutaneous adverse food reactions (C.A.F.R.), and canine atopic dermatitis (C.A.D.),” says Dr. Sievert.
If your dog has fleas and irritated skin on the lower back - it likely has flea allergic dermatitis. “F.A.D. is caused by fleas’ saliva,” explains Dr. Sievert. “Flea pills are the most effective treatment of F.A.D. because they can kill the fleas in two to three hours.”
Irritated skin on your dog’s muzzle, ears, or crotch area is a sign of cutaneous adverse food reactions. “Your dog can be allergic to some of the protein sources,” says Dr. Sievert. The best solution is shifting to a hypoallergenic diet and monitoring the pet’s wellbeing. It’s a time-consuming process that should be curated by the veterinary doctor, and then, once you know their food reactions, you can take care to make sure the dog’s diet doesn’t involve those foods they are sensitive or allergic to, in the same way you might if that food gave them an upset stomach.
C.A.D. is the culprit of your dog itching in cases when it has neither fleas nor food allergies. “Your dog may be allergic to pollen, smog, or dust,” says Dr. Sievert. Allergy tests can help to reveal the exact allergens. “Low dose allergen immunotherapy (L.D.A.I.) is an effective treatment that will train the dog’s immune system to fight off the allergen,” says Dr. Sievert.
If the itchy skin ends up causing broken and bruised or bleeding skin, or restlessness, sleeplessness, or depression (all possible if humans have endless itchiness too!) absolutely consult with your vet as soon as possible to diagnose the cause of this discomfort and see the best way to handle it. But, don’t worry, as annoying as it may be for your pup (and maybe you), it’s very common!
And much like with humans, a good old-fashioned oatmeal bath would never hurt, either, for relieving that discomfort!