For dog owners, this is a common sight: your pup, on its haunches, scratching itself behind the ears with an air of satisfaction. As humans, we can sympathize. When you have an itch, you just need to scratch. And while the occasional itch is perfectly normal, if you’re seeing your dog constantly scratch, it may be cause for concern.
As noted by the Merck Veterinary Manual, the underlying condition of itchiness is dermatitis, a broad term for inflammation of the skin caused by a variety of issues. However, abnormal itching—known as pruritus—typically hints at something more serious.
What Should I Look For?
Here are some of the symptoms you should look for if your dog seems uncomfortable.
Dry Skin: Feel for patches of rough, irritated skin around the area your dog is itching.
Scabs: Healing wounds can be the cause of the itch, but if you’re noticing lots of scabs on the skin, your dog needs to see the vet.
Rash: There are a variety of rashes and skin conditions your dog may have picked up, but look for discoloration, sores, or raised or flat dots.
Dandruff: Look for white flakes on their fur or skin.
Hair Loss: While some breeds shed, if you’re finding clumps of hair on the floor or seeing visible bald spots on your dog, this is a cause for concern.
Depending on your dog’s coat, it may be difficult to notice some of these issues. And while these symptoms are likely causing the itching, there may be underlying (potentially serious) conditions that are the root cause of the problem, in which case, you should consult with a vet.
What’s Causing These Issues?
There are a variety of reasons, but there are a few common reasons your dog may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms.
Allergies: Just like with humans, there’s a wide spectrum of potential allergies. Your dog could be having a reaction to something in their diet. It could also be environmental: a cleaner used indoors, or a pesticide used outdoors. Make a note of your dog’s recent diet and potential environmental factors.
Impetigo: Impetigo is a series of visible sores that are most common in younger dogs. It can be viral, or brought about by an unhygienic environment.
Ringworm: As the American Kennel Club notes, Ringworm is a rash brought about by contact with a fungus (also called “Ringworm”). It is very contagious, which means your dog may have picked it up just about anywhere: a dog park, the vet, the groomer, or on a walk. It usually manifests as a circular ring of hair loss, and may not be itchy.
Yeast Infection: It’s not uncommon for dogs to get a buildup of yeast in their outer or inner ear. This can be very itchy. Web MD explains that a variety of factors can contribute to this buildup.
Parasites: Flea, tick, and mite infestations are fairly common in dogs, and can definitely make them itch. They’re usually visible, and can often be taken care of with a variety of over-the-counter options.
Lupus: Lupus is a serious autoimmune disorder that initially manifests as sores or lesions. These will usually begin on a dog’s nose but may quickly spread to other parts of the body.
Stress: A lack of exercise or changes in the environment can cause hair loss or other issues.
Home Remedies for Dogs’ Skin Conditions
For these less-serious issues, there are several home remedies that can aid in recovery, but also can act as preventative measures.
- Diet: If an allergy is the issue, changes in diet are necessary. Fresh foods with fewer additives and artificial ingredients are typically safer. Customizable, fresh food delivery services like Pet Plate are a great, convenient way to ensure your dog gets fresh, healthy food. Alternatively, cooking fresh food for your dog is also an option.
- Bathe: The American Kennel Society recommends a variety of baths using common ingredients. Bathing your dog in herbal tea, apple cider vinegar, oatmeal, yogurt, or coconut oil can all help minimize itching. The first three are best for itchy or dry skin, while the latter two can help with infections.
- Moisturize: Coconut oil is also a great moisturizer that will keep your dog’s skin healthy and (hopefully) itch-free.
- Exercise: Just like us, dogs can get stressed. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise, as that’s the best outlet for them. Long, frequent walks and plenty of interactive playtime are ideal.
- Medicate: In some scenarios, over-the-counter shampoos or creams are best. Your vet will likely have recommendations based on your dog’s specific situation.
People often ask if Benadryl is OK to give to dogs with an allergic reaction. While the short answer is technically “yes,” it’s a little more complicated than that. While vets may use Benadryl from time to time, as WebMD notes, the dosage for dogs is much lower than for humans. We recommend consulting with your vet before giving your pet any kind of medication, let alone one designed for people.
Hydrocortisone cream is another human solution people often ask about. But, just like Benadryl, it isn’t designed for dogs, and shouldn’t be used without first consulting your vet.
When Should I Call My Vet?
If you notice your poor pup is constantly scratching and in obvious discomfort, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. A variety of problems could be behind this issue, and sometimes even more than one. Causes range from rash to diet, and your vet is best equipped to make the diagnosis. If you’re not sure if your dog’s itchiness warrants concern, look for the following symptoms:
Biting, Chewing, or Licking. Your dog might resort to any of these if a simple scratch isn’t getting the job done and they could be the sign of something more serious.
Excessive Scratching. If your dog is constantly (and aggressively) scratching at the same spot, there could be a more serious condition causing the itch.
Odor. An unpleasant smell could be a sign of a bacterial or yeast infection, which can also cause itchiness.
What’s most important to keep in mind is that you know your dog better than anyone. If you notice behavior that you consider abnormal, then it’s best to give your vet a call.
In the meantime, keep your pup healthy, happy, and safe. Give them oatmeal baths, watch for signs of itching, and feed them delicious, nutritious Pet Plate meals!