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When a dog is itching, scratching, chewing, or licking themselves nonstop, the first cause of our pet's discomfort that we often think of is fleas. However, other than fleas, there's a wide variety of other issues that can occur in dogs that may cause this compulsive itching. If fleas have been eliminated as the reason for your dog’s itch problems, below are eight other causes of itching in dogs and a list of potential solutions, listed in alphabetical order. 

1. Allergies (Environmental / Seasonal)

Environmental and seasonal allergies are not uncommon in dogs, and are most often seen in spring, summer, and fall with the exception of locations that remain relatively warm and/or humid all year.

Many dogs can be allergic to many things. The list of potential dog allergens includes, but is not limited to: carpeting, blankets, dust mites, mold spores and pollen in the air, plastic food dishes, furniture stuffing and ornamental plants, as well as a number of pesticides that may be used outside, plants in bloom, weeds, and trees.

Your dog having an allergic reaction to an environmental factor will itch and scratch all over their body including their face and ears, and will often lick and chew their paws.

What you can do to fix it:

Air Filtration and Purification Systems: sold commercially, these types of systems can be placed throughout a dog owner’s home to reduce the allergens that are present in the dog’s environment.

Antihistamines: given orally to a dog, this medication can help to reverse and reduce some effects of the histamine that a dog releases internally in an allergic reaction.

Atopica: this is a newer medication that has been shown to have positive results in helping dogs relieve symptoms of allergies.

Bathing and Brushing: doing these two things to a dog on a regular bases can greatly reduce the negative side effects that allergens can have on the dog.

Cortisone: this is a hormone that is secreted naturally by dogs, but is also manufactured commercially and given in injection, oral, spray, liquid, or topical forms to help reduce the negative side effects of allergic reactions.

Limited Contact with Allergens: do not allow dog to be outside for extended periods of time during the peak times of the year, and peak times of the day that allergens are worst.

Ointments and Sprays: there's a number of cheap ointments/sprays that help with itching in dogs that you can purchase over the counter. They can be put on the itching dog to help ease their discomfort and alleviate any pain associates with too much scratching/chewing.

Safe Play Area: create a safe space in which the dog can play; for example, if the dog is allergic to lawn grass (which is an allergy that many dogs have) clear an area on your property of lawn grass and allow your dog to play there, and/or if the dog is allergic to pollen, remove any known pollen producing plants and trees in and around the area(s) the dog commonly plays in.

Topical Medications: soothing topical medications and medicated baths can be administered to help minimize itching.

Allergies (Nutritional) in Dogs

2. Allergies (Nutritional)

Dogs can be allergic to a wide variety of foods as well. Grains such as wheat, rice, and corn, as well as proteins, such as dairy, chicken, and beef are among the most common foods shown in studies that dogs can be allergic to. Skin inflammation, which causes a dog to scratch, is a common side effect of an allergic reaction to food.

What you can do to fix it:

Change Dog’s Diet: the first step in this process is often an elimination diet that will allow the owner to determine which specific food(s) the dog is allergic to, and then remove any food(s) that the dog is found to be allergic to, or try some of the best foods for itching (which often do not include common allergens).

Feed Dog Only High-Quality Foods: a dog’s life and health will be improved dramatically by eating a high-quality, meat-based diet, when owners feed their dogs cheap, low-quality dog foods, their entire body is negatively impacted, one of the many side effect of which is the dog developing skin conditions that cause scratching, states Dr. T.J. Dunn (DVM) in the following article published by petMD, entitled Itch-And-Scratch-Bite-And-Lick!

Home Made Dog Food: owners can make dog food at home in order to ensure that it contains high-quality ingredients that their dog is not allergic to. There's a number of recipes out there and you can try this recipe from Samantha.

Special Diet: there are a variety of dog food manufacturers that make foods that are meant to be given to dog’s that have food allergies, which is good for an owner that does not have time or desire to make homemade food for their pups.

Anxiety or Boredom in Dogs

3. Anxiety or Boredom

Just like humans who suffer from anxiety can develop nervous habits such as chewing their nails, twisting their hair, and picking at their body, dogs who suffer from boredom and/or anxiety can compulsively itch, chew, lick, and scratch themselves as a way of dealing with their own anxiety. This type of itching and scratching is sometimes called neurogenic dermatitis in the veterinary medicine community, due to its psychological components.

What you can do to fix it:

Attention and Love: like humans, dogs need a fair amount of attention and love in order to feel happy and secure, without enough of both a dog can develop anxiety. Keep your dog close to you whenever you are home, and consistently give your canine companion affection and love, a dog should never spend more time alone than with their owner.

Bones and Chew Toys: it can be helpful to redirect anxious scratching and chewing behaviors to bones and chew toys that your dog enjoys.

Exercise: exercise is helpful in reducing or eliminating anxiety, and promotes a better overall well-being, and physical health in dogs. The average dog requires at least two 30-minute walks or vigorous play sessions (such as fetch) each day. More energetic dogs may require even more exercise, and it is important that all owners make time for this.

Natural Remedies: there are a wide variety of natural remedies that exist for dogs that suffer from anxiety, including but not limited to essential oils, homeopathic medications given orally, herbs, supplements, massage, and acupuncture.

Medication: for a dog that has severe anxiety and or obsessive-compulsive behaviors that are difficult to remedy with any other option, a licensed veterinarian may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication that can be given to the dog daily, or before situations that are known to make the dog especially anxious.

Dry Skin in Dogs

4. Dry Skin

Environmental and nutritional factors, specifically cold weather and a lack of fatty acids in the dog’s diet, can cause a dog to develop dry skin. Dry skin is especially common in dogs that reside in areas with low humidity.

What you can do to fix it:

Apple Cider Vinegar and Green Tea Spray: mix 1/2 cup of organic ACV with a 1/2 cup of strong, high quality green tea that has been steeped and cooled, add the mixture to 1 cup of distilled water, pour mixture into a clean spray bottle, store in the refrigerator and spray on a dog’s dry skin for itch relief and healing of the skin.

Digestive Enzymes: added to a dog’s food, these enzymes help to improve a dog’s absorption of nutrients and helpful probiotic bacteria that aids in digestion, and a healthy digestive system will absorb water better, which promotes healthy skin and coats in dogs.

Fatty Acid Supplements: omega-3 essential fatty acids supplements will help to eliminate dry skin and keep the dog’s coat healthy and shiny when added to a dog’s food. The easiest way to add this is through fish supplements which you can give directly to your dog or sprinkle on your pup's food.

External Parasites in Dogs

5. External Parasites

One of the most common causes of compulsive scratching, licking, and chewing in dogs are external parasites, which includes ticks and mites (not only fleas). Ticks do not commonly cause itching; however, the secondary infections that can occur on tick biting sites will often cause a dog to itch. Ticks may be visible to the naked eye but mites are usually not, meaning owners cannot assume that their dog does not have an external parasite just because the parasite is not visible.

Cheyletiella mites can only be seen with a microscope, and are often called “walking dandruff” because when looking closely at a dog with these mites, it appears that they have flakes of dandruff that are moving. Cheyletiella mites can be transferred to humans and cause hair loss and irritated, flaky skin in humans, so it is imperative to prevent a dog from getting these mites and to get rid of them immediately if they are suspected. (Sarcoptic mites are discussed further in the “Mange” section of this article).

What you can do to fix it:

Eliminate the Parasites: a wide variety of over the counter treatment options, as well as at home remedies are available for the elimination of ticks and mites.

Flea Shampoo: because mites live on the surface of the skin, they can often be treated with the use of a flea shampoo. Read more about cheyletiella mites and the treatments to rid dogs of them in the following article written by Dr. Ernest Ward, DVM, and published on the VCA Hospitals website, Cheyletiellosis in Dogs.

Limit Exposure: keep dogs away from areas known to have ticks or mites, such as wooded areas, tall grasses, doggy daycares, and boarding kennels.

Prevent the Parasites: regularly washing your dog, as well as their bedding and your bedding, as well as keeping a clean home, is the best way to prevent parasites. Also, if you can remove all carpeting in the home and use only appropriate flooring such as hard wood, tile, or any other kind of flooring that is not carpet in any homes that have any kind of animals residing within them, doing so will greatly reduce the risk of dog’s (and the home) becoming infested with parasites.

Hot Spots in Dogs

6. Hot Spots

Hot spots is a condition that's also known as “Moist Eczema” and is caused by moisture sitting on the surface of the dog’s skin, from rain, pond, lake, or pool water, and as the moisture sits on the skin for any extended period of time, especially in dogs that have dense and/or matted coats, the skin can stay wet for long enough to allow bacteria to form and reproduce on it, causing skin lesions that become infected and itchy, resulting in the dog scratching. Hot Spots often spread rapidly, and in some cases, require exceptionally vigorous treatments.

Note: always dry the treated areas with a clean cloth when done to prevent hot spots from becoming worse, due to additional moisture sitting on the skin.

What you can do to fix it:

Aloe Vera: apply the raw gel found inside the leaves of the Aloe Vera plant to a dog’s hot spots. This plant works well as a natural soother and healer due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial abilities. CAUTION: the white sap found in the aloe vera plant (named latex) is toxic to dogs, therefore commercial aloe vera products should not be used on a dog, only the pure aloe gel taken directly from a fresh and healthy aloe vera plant’s leaves is safe to use.

Black Tea: using this treatment will help dry up hot spots, and aid in preventing infection as well as promoting healing, steep a black tea bag in 8 oz of water, let it cool, then use the tea bag or cotton balls to apply the tea to the sores, hold the tea bag on the spots for a few minutes or a bit longer, if dog will allow.

Calendula Lotion: the calendula herb is well-known to diminish itching and swelling, while also promoting the quicker healing of skin tissue. It can be purchased in the forms of oil, tea, and tincture. Using the tincture form, add 20 to 40 drops of calendula to a saline solution comprised of one cup purified water, mixed with 1/4 cup table salt, and apply this lotion to a dog’s hot spots using cotton balls, 2 to 4 times daily.

Coconut Oil Topical Cream: mix 5 teaspoons of coconut oil with 5 drops of oregano oil, and apply to hot spots once daily, the antifungal properties in this cream will fight the infection and the coconut oil will sooth irritated skin.

Hypericum: This herb (also known as St. John’s Wort) is especially helpful for treating hot spots when combined with calendula. Add 12 to 15 drops of hypericum tincture and 12 to 15 drops of calendula tincture to 1 cup of warm water and apply the mixture to a dog’s hot spots as often as needed, it will reduce itching and aid in healing.

Mange in Dogs

7. Mange

Mange is a condition that dogs get that is caused by mites, which are microscopic insects that burrow deep into the layers of a dog’s skin and feed off of the skin to live, creating inflammation and open wounds that lead to serious secondary infections.

Sarcoptic mites, also called red mites or scabies, are horrific critters that cause very painful and intense itching and scratching, hair loss, flaky skin, and open wounds all over the dog’s body. These mites are very difficult to find and thus hard to diagnose because they burrow into the skin. Sarcoptic mites can also be transferred to humans and cause painful scabies.

Demodex mites, also called mange, live and breed under the surface of the skin and can only be seen under a microscope. They are commonly seen in young dogs with developing immune systems, or dogs that are unhealthy due to disease, poor diet, or advanced age. Demodex mites may cause less scratching, but more hair loss, which can lead to further complications in the dog.

What you can do to fix it:

Aloe Vera: putting pure aloe, in gel or tea form, on a dog’s affected areas twice a day for a few days can be a great remedy for mange due to the antiseptic and antiparasitic properties in aloe vera gel.

Apple Cider Vinegar: can help clear up mange by adding a few tablespoons of it to a dog’s normal meals.

Boost Dog’s Immune System: in mild cases of localized demodectic mange, the mites can be eliminated by boosting the dog’s immune system in order to allow the dog to fight off the mites naturally. Keeping a dog in great health can often prevent mange infestations, but not always.

Garlic and Lemon: soak 6 to 10 garlic cloves in water filled with lemon peels overnight then strain the liquid and place it in a spray bottle, or soak it up with cotton balls and apply to a dog’s sore spots, the liquid will be infused with a plethora of natural and organic compounds that fight parasites and promote healing.

Honey: spreading raw honey on a dog’s affected areas not only suffocates and kills rapidly reproducing parasites, but soothes painful sores and promotes quicker healing.

Medical Treatments: body dips, injections, oral drugs, and spot treatments, are all forms of medical treatments for sarcoptic mange, most often prescribed by a veterinarian.

Scabicide: comes in prescription oral drug and shampoo form, and both can be used repeatedly, under veterinarian supervision, in order to kill both the mites and the many eggs they leave behind, which takes up to six weeks.

Skin Infections in Dogs

8. Skin Infections

Also called infectious dermatitis or pyoderma, can be caused by a number of organisms within the bacterial, fungi, and yeast families that results in painful and itchy skin conditions in dogs. One example is commonly called ringworm (or microsporum canis) and causes scratching and circular patches of hair loss, and can be passed to humans and other animals. As such, dog’s with ringworm should be quarantined.

Yeast infections of the dog’s skin commonly occur as a secondary infection to an underlying problem with the dog’s health, and will cause itching and scratching, in addition to greasy and smelly sores on the skin’s surface. Whereas bacterial dermatitis occurs most commonly when something else has disturbed the bacterial balance in the dog’s system, such as antibiotics, or when something disturbs the dog’s skin surface, such as an allergic reaction to an environmental factor that causes itching and scratching that leads to a skin lesion or open wound.

What you can do to fix it:

Antibiotics: can be prescribed by a veterinarian and given orally to a dog that has developed bacterial dermatitis in order to clear up the infection.

Anti-Fungal Drugs: for severe cases of ringworm a veterinarian will often prescribe an anti-fungal drug that must be given to the dog orally for several months.

Topical Treatments: for less severe cases of ringworm topical treatments such as enilconazole rinses, miconazole shampoos, and sulfur dips may clear up the infection.

READ NEXT: 9 Ways to Improve Your Dog’s Skin and Coat Health

 

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