You remember when your dog, Spud, had to wear a cone. It was mayhem. He kept bumping into furniture, and you felt so bad for the little guy. But he had been biting his skin because of allergies, and he needed that cone for a while. When you see your dog biting his skin, it usually takes you off guard, and sometimes a simple, "stop that!" doesn't do anything. Before the cone, when you knew Spud was biting himself and not listening to you, that there was something going on there. You knew it was different than when Spud was a puppy and used to nip himself just for the sake of exploring. Still, you are not totally familiar with all of the reasons that dogs bite their skin. Read on to learn more.
The Root of the Behavior
There are many reasons why dogs bite their skin, and it rarely means they are crazy. If you live in a place with low humidity, that can cause dry skin, and dogs get annoyed with that, so they bite at it. Dogs also bite their skin due to separation anxiety. If this occurs, it is important to give your dog a little extra play and attention when you are around. Unfortunately, dogs also are excellent hosts for parasites, and they can carry all sorts of nasty living creatures, such as fleas, ticks, lice, and hookworms (to name a few). Your skin is probably itching as you read this. But think about it, you would probably bite yourself too if one of these nasty critters were crawling on you. The winter also causes dogs to have irritated skin. The weather is dry and cold, and the increased air circulation makes Spud itchy, which could cause him to bite himself. And the winter doesn’t only affect Spud when he is outdoors, it even affects the lower humidity of your home, which, as previously stated above, may cause skin problems, and Spud to nip at himself.
Dogs also bite because of folliculitis. This is when the hair follicles get infected with bacteria and cause pain. This sometimes occurs when there is excess moisture on your beloved Spud, which creates a breeding ground for bacteria. Lovely stuff. Airborne contaminants, such as pollen, also cause irritated skin and dogs may bite around the irritated area in an effort to get some relief. And don't forget hives that can result due to the sun, a bite from something, or even a vaccine. In some rare cases, a dog biting his skin may be something neurological. It’s important to be observant and take your four-legged-friend to the vet if he seems to bite compulsively or harming himself. As you can see, there are many reasons dogs bite their skin.
Encouraging the Behavior
Just like people, there are times when Spud just has an itch, and he nips at his own skin to get comfortable. When you notice this discomfort, sometimes scratching it for him is good, but if the problem becomes excessive, you don't want to continue this. There is actually a term for a dog's excessive itching, and it is called pruritus. You also do not want to encourage the biting of skin if it is a result of a poor diet. Dry food can actually dehydrate skin. Changing your dog's diet and adding probiotics can help remedy this problem.
You also don't want to encourage the biting of skin when your dog has allergies or has oily, irritated, dry skin. Instead, once you have found the culprit for your dog biting himself, figure out if you need to use a cone, medicine, or even oils to soothe your dog's skin. It is also important to redirect Spud if he is biting his own wounds. Don't let this go unnoticed because your dog could cause an infection and/or make the wound even nastier than what he began with. One time it is okay for a dog to bite his own skin is when he is a pup. This behavior is common then because puppies nip and bite themselves due to teething and exploration.
Other Solutions and Considerations
There are ways to try to prevent your sweet pooch from biting himself. Provide toys for chewing and plenty of exercises. Feed your dog a healthy, balanced diet. Groom your pet regularly, which will feel good on his skin and also help prevent nasty parasites from crawling on board. Bathe your dog regularly as well, and use a good shampoo, such as oatmeal shampoo, which is gentle on your dog's fur and skin. However, do not bathe him too often or you will remove the skin’s vital oils that he needs to keep his skin healthy.
Also, when your dog is biting himself, it's important to identify why and then treat it accordingly. If it is allergies or irritated skin, sometimes a change of diet will help, or flax seeds, or fish oils. Eucalyptus oil and probiotics are other options. You might also need a cone, especially if your dog is irritating a wounded area even more by biting it.
Although Spud's allergies are mostly beyond your control, you have decided to be more proactive with preventing Spud from biting himself in the future. You are going to supplement some wet food into Spud's diet, provide him with chew toys, and give him more regular oatmeal baths. Most importantly, you are also going to dig out that dog brush from the closet and start grooming away. The thought of parasites hanging on Spud makes you itch and nauseous. You know it might be ruff at first, but feel that these preventative measures are worth it.
By a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze
Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 09/09/2020