Many people believe their dog’s scratching is just a habit, and it’s all in his mind. Is that possible?
Certainly, the reasons for a dog’s scratching can be all in his owner’s mind. Some people believe that their breed has a unique itch that’s just a part of that breed. One example that comes to mind is the so called "Sussex scratch", a stress relieving itch which apparently only occurs in Sussex Spaniels. Veterinarians will tell you that there is in fact no such thing as a breed related itch, and closer examination usually reveals an underlying cause for the scratching, such as an allergy.
All In The Mind
There’s no doubt that dogs can develop an obsessive compulsive disorder, and that it often manifests as self mutilation. These dogs can lick themselves until their skin is raw, or bite their tail until they bleed.
However, many cases of self mutilation are caused by pain or itching that we can’t see, and it can be very difficult to find the cause of this. Dogs will do the strangest things to relieve pain or itching, including excessive biting, chewing and scratching.
Dogs with anxiety can also self mutilate as a form of stress relief. Dogs also seem to experience phantom pain, and tail docking as a pup can hurt later in life.
Solve The Riddle
It can be difficult to manage these cases of apparent psychological scratching.
The first step is to look for a physical reason for the scratching. This may not be obvious, and it can take a great deal of investigation to either diagnose, or rule out, a cause for the self mutilation. Dogs are limited in how they can respond to pain; their response commonly includes scratching and chewing. Your dog would be miserable if there was in fact a physical cause of pain or irritation, and it wasn’t treated.
If, after a thorough investigation, your vet feels that your dog’s itch is in fact psychological, you will need to relieve anything that’s bothering your dog while you redirect his self mutilating behavior. There are several things you can do to help him.
1. Every time he scratches, interrupt him and divert his attention. Watch him constantly so as soon as he does scratch, you can give him an alternative behavior, such as chewing a Kong.
2. Physically stop him scratching and biting – bandage the affected area (or put on tshirt on him if it covers the area), use an Elizabethan collar (or a Comfy Cone), or use a medicated spray to numb the area and make it taste bitter.
3. Mental stimulation and some exercise has been shown to reduce the likelihood of these behaviors developing. Also, early obedience training will give him a good repertoire of acceptable behaviors, so he’s less likely to develop compulsive behaviors.
4. If your vet feels your dog has an anxiety problem, she may prescribe a course of anti anxiety treatment. This can make it easier for him to learn new behaviors without the added burden of feeling stressed. You can get an all natural herbal product like Sleepytime Tonic without a prescription and it works wonders. Helps to calm your dog so you can both get some rest.
5. Treat any irritation in the skin that has developed from his constant scratching. Wash him in Comfy Dog Shampoo ; its colloidal oatmeal will ease his itch and reduce inflammation. You can, if you wish, follow it up with Fur Butter Deep Conditioning Treatment for an enhanced effect. If he has small patches where he constantly itches, a spray with will soothe his irritated skin.
Psychological scratching can be difficult to diagnose, and difficult to manage. It’s important that it’s diagnosed early; the sooner you start treatment, the better the chance for a happy outcome for you and your dog.