written by Leonie Eisenträger

Itchy skin in dogs - why is your dog scratching?


There is nothing unusual about a dog having an occasional scratch. We humans do the same too! Scratching and gnawing are part of your pet’s personal hygiene routine and can help reduce stress. However, if your dog scratches continuously for a long period (maybe even until the skin is bare and bleeding), it is essential to investigate the cause.


As we have said, occasional scratching is not normally anything to worry about in your dog. Only if this behaviour deviates from “normal cleaning” should you pay attention. That’s because dog itchy skin is often just a symptom. There are a wide range of potential causes.

Skin conditions, inflammation and fungal infections can often result in dry, flaky skin. The result is an intense itching sensation, and your dog scratches and gnaws to find relief. An injury incurred by your dog while playing can also be very itchy while it is healing.

Having said that, inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the ear or anal glands, can also cause severe dog itching. Ear infections in dogs can be detected through frequent head shaking, sensitivity to touch, and excessive ear scratching. Blocked or inflamed anal glands are often associated with “scooting”, where the dog rubs its bottom over the floor. In either case, a visit to the vet is essential

If a dog scratches, this is often because their fur is infested with parasites. Particularly in the case of a flea or mite infestation, the dog may scratch continuously, even until the skin is bleeding. These tiny pests feed on the dog’s blood and skin and their bites result in damage to the skin. Flea bites and saliva often cause an allergic reaction and intense itching. The top priority here is to curb the infestation and get rid of the parasites. There are various kinds of mites, which can be eradicated using veterinary treatments. As with a flea infestation, you should clean both your dog and your home as 90% of fleas live in the dog’s surroundings.

It isn’t just humans who can suffer from allergies. Allergic reactions are also common in dogs. There are various kinds of allergies with a range of different causes. However, the symptoms are often similar, and a dog itching is one of the most distinctive signs of an allergy. To determine the specific allergy, you can conduct various tests along with your vet
The most common allergies are:

  • food allergy
  • environmental allergy
  • flea saliva allergy

An allergy can be caused by various substances, environmental influences and irritants. With a food allergy, it is often a protein (e.g. chicken or beef) that triggers the response. The immune system has a defensive reaction to a nutrient that has been consumed. An exclusion diet can be used to determine whether your dog has a food allergy, and to which ingredient.

There are also a wide variety of environmental allergies and reactions to parasite excretions. A large proportion of allergic dogs react to certain types of grass, flowers or trees. But intense itching can also be caused by allergies to insect stings and bites.

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If there is no sign of injury, allergy or parasites affecting your dog, the itching could have a psychological cause. Dogs experiencing significant or persistent stress sometimes develop negative behavioural problems. Excessive scratching is one such possible stress response. Your dog feels like it is being driven mad and may scratch to burn off energy. Stress is often caused by anxiety, panic, over or under stimulation, and insecurity. Deep psychological wounds (such as unresolved trauma) can also trigger abnormal dog itching. In this case it is vital to closely examine your dog’s living environment. What are the possible reasons for your dog to be under psychological strain? Where could your dog perhaps benefit from some peace and quiet? Is there any conflict with other dogs or members of the household? Examine the cause of any stress and offer your dog appropriate support.

If your dog is experiencing intensely itchy skin and is constantly scratching, this is usually a symptom of an underlying problem. First and foremost, you should check your dog’s skin: are there any bald, bloody or inflamed areas? If so, you should definitely contact your vet to investigate the source of the infection or skin complaint.
Can you see any mites or fleas in your dog’s fur (or in the ears)? In this case, once again, you should get in touch with your vet and be prepared for a long treatment and cleaning period.
If everything looks okay with your pet’s fur, the cause could be an allergy or inadequate grooming. In this case, we recommend checking how often and how carefully you go about grooming your dog.

Even if your dog does not have a food intolerance, a food supplement containing essential fatty acids is not a bad plan. Essential fatty acids include linoleic and omega-3 fatty acids, which boost the skin’s stability, resistance and functionality. A bit of linseed oil supplies healthy fatty acids and can help provide dog itch relief.

Ultimately, the only way to find a long-term solution for dog itchy skin is to identify the cause.
During a visit to your vet, the first thing they will do is carefully inspect your dog’s fur and skin, and possibly take a blood sample. If infection, parasites, inflammation and anal gland problems are ruled out, an allergy may be suspected. Dogs can suffer from various allergies.

The most common are food allergies or environmental allergies (atopic reactions). While a food allergy can be diagnosed using an exclusion diet, other allergies require serological or intradermal allergy testing.
The dog itching remedies that should be considered will depend mainly on the trigger for the dog itchy skin.
Since scratching is intrinsically unpleasant and the dog itching may persist even once the cause has been treated (e.g. with flea bites), many vets will prescribe medication as a dog itch relief.

Sometimes a dog scratches. This is normal and nothing to panic about. Scratching and gnawing are part of your dog’s everyday grooming. You should only be concerned if this deviates from your pet’s normal behaviour or if patches of bare or bloody skin develop. There can be a wide range of causes for dog itching. To work out whether the problem is an infection, inflammation, allergy, or a parasite infestation you should pay a visit to your vet. Only a vet can say for certain why your dog is constantly scratching and recommend appropriate dog itching remedies.