Ever wondered why your dog scratches? If your dog is scratching a lot it could be a symptom of a deeper problem……
Itchy scratchy dogs are a very common problem we see. In fact, about 1 in 5 unwell dogs we see come to us for skin problems. Most people think of fleas as the most likely reason for a dog to be scratching, but there is much more to it than that. Yes, itchiness can be caused by fleas, but other parasites, infections, allergies or immune problems are also common reasons.
It can be incredibly frustrating to watch a dog scratch at themselves, often in severe cases they will scratch so hard that they will damage their skin even further, that’s why it is important to see a vet quickly for a health check to figure out the cause.
Parasites Causing Scratching
Parasites are the first thing we like to rule out as a cause for itchiness. Often people assume fleas are something that can happen only in the summer but they are a parasite that can live all year round inside our nice warm homes. In fact there can often be a surge in flea numbers when people turn the heating on as the weather gets colder, as flea eggs like warm and humid environments to hatch in.
We recommend preventative treatment on a monthly basis all year round to protect against fleas. Remember not all flea products are created equal, so be sure to buy a product that is both safe and effective from your vet. These usually come in the form of a liquid spot-on treatment or a tablet, traditionally flea baths or flea collars were used but nowadays there are far more effective options. Some flea treatments such as Advocate will protect against other parasites such as fox mites as well as internal parasites like lungworm (which can be very nasty and potentially fatal), which cause mange, another reason for itchy skin.
Sometimes we might be suspicious there may be a bacterial infection so skin tests might need to be done to rule this problem in or out, and see if antibiotics are necessary. Often bacterial infections are not the only cause for itchiness so further tests might be needed to find out if there is an underlying reason for the infection.
Allergic skin disease is very common in dogs and is often the reason why itchiness keeps coming back. Dogs can be allergic to various things in the environment such as tree, grass or weed pollen, molds, dust mites or house mites. There is a simple bloods test that can rule these common allergens in or out.
Food allergies are something often attributed to itchy skin however it is not as common a problem as the other things mentioned above. Food exclusion diets or blood tests are often used to rule in or out this problem. Please discuss any change in diet with your vet if you are concerned about a potential food allergy.
Treatment for itchy skin varies depending on the problem but thankfully in the last few years there have been several new medications that have been developed that are very effective but also low on side effects, unlike some anti-itching medications of the past. For mild skin problems sometimes changing to a special prescription diet, adding in skin supplements containing essential fatty acids among other things, prescription shampoo, or changing things in the dog’s environment can help but for more severe cases medication may be necessary to prevent the skin problem worsening, and to give your dog a good quality of life.