Why is my dog so itchy and what can I do to help?

by Audrey Harvey

All of your dog’s uncontrollable itching and scratching can be frustrating.  You may have heard that allergies are the most common reason for the constant scratching, but there are many other reasons why your dog may be scratching. Let’s look at some causes of itchy skin that aren’t related to allergies.

1.       Fleas. Even if your dog is not allergic to fleas, they can cause him irritation when they bite. He’ll bite and scratch his skin, particularly over his rump and down the back of his hind legs. This can be managed by keeping your flea numbers down. Keep some Flea the Scene handy and use it regularly to kill fleas on your dog and stop him scratching.


2.       Hormonal problems. An underactive thyroid gland can result in changes in the skin which predispose to bacterial or fungal infection. Cushing’s Disease, caused by an overactive adrenal gland, can also lead to secondary infection. These infections are usually itchy.  Diagnosis is usually straightforward – your vet will have a good idea based on clinical signs and it can be confirmed with blood tests. Management involves treating the underlying hormonal problem, and giving your dog antibiotics or antifungal medication to control the itchy infection.


3.       Drug reactions. Some dogs have an unexpected reaction to a drug which causes skin inflammation and itching. This can be very difficult to identify. Diagnosis depends on the itch starting soon after a drug is given to your dog, and it easing when the drug is stopped. Skin biopsies may be helpful. Treatment is easy – don’t give your dog that drug anymore!


4.       Pain. Orthopedic problems such as back or hip pain may cause your dog to scratch that area to get some relief.  There can also be pain associated with docked tails which can lead to scratching around the rump. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can suffer from a painful condition called syringomyelia which results in them scratching the back of their head and neck.


5.       Parasites. Sarcoptes is a little mite which causes severe itching in dogs, and also in you if you’re unlucky enough to become infected!  It can be tricky to diagnose, as your vet will need to identify it in a skin scraping. If a scraping is negative, it may be worth treating your dog for Sarcoptes, just to rule it out. Another mite that can affect dogs is Demodex. This mite doesn’t cause an itch, but it can cause a secondary bacterial infection of the skin, which is extremely irritating.


6.       Fear and anxiety. Some dogs respond to anxiety by scratching to the point of self-mutilation. It’s important that you treat the anxiety while you manage the itch, otherwise it won’t resolve. Give your dog some Sleepytime Tonic to help calm both of you.


If your dog is itchy, he may not have an allergy. Make an appointment with your vet to get a proper diagnosis and identify the underlying reason for his scratching. In the meantime, using colloidal oatmeal on his skin will reduce the inflammation and ease the itch in his skin. Comfy Dog shampoo and Fur Butter conditioner are the ideal product for this – not only does it contain oatmeal, but it includes natural herbal extracts which also have an anti-inflammatory and anti-itch effect. They are safe and without side effects, and will make your dog feel more comfortable very quickly. 


Audrey Harvey is a veterinarian who has worked in small animal practice for 20 years, and has been involved in teaching and competing in dog obedience and agility. She is passionate about preventative health care in dogs, particularly obesity management and the prevention of boredom related behavioral problems. Audrey lives in Brisbane Australia, and shares her couch with an Australian Cattle Dog, an Australian Working Kelpie and two Whippets.

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