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If you’re witnessing your dog constantly itching, licking, or running their ears or rear along the carpet, you might be scratching your head and wondering what's wrong. They might even wake you up at night as they scratch incessantly and shake the bed or rattle their dog tags! While occasional scratching is normal, there are many reasons why your dog’s itchiness has escalated to an obsessive level.

Signs Your Dog Has Been Itching More than Usual

A certain level of scratching and licking is normal for dogs, but when the consequences of too much scratching are visible to the human eye, your dog needs to see their vet as soon as possible.

Signs of Excessive Scratching in Dogs Include:

  • Bald patches
  • Hair loss
  • Red skin
  • Welts
  • Hot spots
  • Discoloration of the feet
  • Rash
  • Skin or ear malodor

Likely Causes of Dog Itching

Itchiness in your dog can be from various factors, from food allergies to pesky fleas.

The following are the most likely culprits causing your dog’s discomfort.

External Parasites – Flea, tick, and mite bites can be extremely itchy and are commonly found on a dog’s hind legs, at the base of their tail, and on their back end. If you find one bite, there are likely more under their fur. Hill’s Pet Nutrition details how to treat fleas and prevent an itchy infestation.

Environmental Allergen – Like humans, dogs can react to seasonal or environmental allergies - especially in Santa Barbara! - with itchiness being the most common symptom. Pollens, mold spores, dust mites, and other irritants can pop up depending on the season or can impact your dog year-round.

Skin InfectionSkin infections, such as yeast or bacterial infections, can cause extreme itchiness in dogs, leading to sensitive spots in their skin folds, behind their ears, and around their toes.

Food Allergy – Food might be to blame for your dog’s chronic itching, meaning a diet adjustment could be in their immediate future. Dog food allergies can cause itchy skin, particularly on their rear end, face, and ears. Food allergies are not as common as the three culprits above, but they are possible.

Anxiety – Much like humans bite their fingernails or play with their hands when anxious, dogs also manifest their anxiety physically. Compulsive licking, scratching, or chewing behaviors can indicate stress in your dog. A lick granuloma might form over the wrist or ankle area from excessive licking to one area.

Pain – Dogs often obsessively lick a specific spot if they’re feeling pain in that area, such as a thorn, foxtail, or arthritis. Pay attention to the spot they’re constantly licking, since details of the site can clue you in to the internal pain your dog may be feeling.

helping your dog relieve itchiness

Alleviating Your Dog’s Discomfort

Your vet will give your dog a thorough examination to determine the source of their scratching. The treatment regimen is short-term or long-term, depending on the suspected cause.

Treatments for Dog Itchiness Include:

Antihistamines: help control your dog’s itching from skin allergies. Unfortunately, they don’t address the underlying issue that is causing the discomfort. We typically only use them if the itch is very mild.

Parasite control: vital in controlling fleas and ticks. We recommend using preventatives year round living in temperate Santa Barbara, where flea & tick season is never really "over."

Over-the-counter shampoos: a topical treatment that can provide temporary itch relief. Be aware that some shampoos may exacerbate the problem. Your vet may prescribe a medicated shampoo to treat the skin topically as well.

Dog-specific allergy medications: for when the itch is moderate to severe. Your vet will prescribe an oral or injectable medication to control the itch for your dog.

Your veterinarian may recommend steroids if the itch is severe. They are the most effective in alleviating itchiness but come with a few undesirable side effects, such as increased urination and weight gain.

Alleviate anxiousness: if this is the source of their itching, your vet may recommend distracting your dog with increased activity, playtime, and interactive toys. If they’re left home alone during the day, try using a crate so they feel more safe and secure in your absence. Your dog may also need prescribed anti-anxiety medication depending on the severity of their anxiety.

Identify a food allergy:  eliminating possible trigger foods could help discover which ingredient might be to blame for your dog's itching. In addition, introducing fatty acid supplements to your dog’s diet can help alleviate dry skin issues and reduce inflammation. At La Cumbre, we carry a Fish Oil supplement called Welactin that our vets like to send home to promote skin & coat health. 

A quick trip to your veterinarian will ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment, so your furry sidekick feels relief and you can get back to sleep-filled nights. Never leave chronic itching untreated, as the constant scratching and licking can lead to “hot spots” on your dog — patches of skin that become red, inflamed, and incredibly painful. Behavioral issues can also develop in dogs that become overly frustrated with constant itchiness, as detailed by the AVMA. Contact us if you want to learn more about what might be causing your dog's itching.

Header photo by Autri Taheri