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What is Itchy Skin?

In many cases, pruritus can mean that your canine family member has more than one medical problem on the go. Fixing a case of itchy skin is rarely an instantaneous occurrence, specifically for that fact. Determining the reason for itchy skin can be complex, but it must be attended to because intense scratching or chewing can quickly lead to secondary infections and inflammation. Chronic or recurrent itchy skin may require lifelong management.

Intense itching is known as pruritus in veterinary terms. The desire to itch, chew or lick can be confined to one specific area of the body, or can be an all over problem. Because itchy skin can indicate a myriad of medical issues (for example allergies or lice), a veterinarian consultation is essential. Not only is the health of your pet important, but his state of mind as well. Itchy skin can cause great distress.


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Symptoms of Itchy Skin in Dogs

Itchy skin can and usually is, the direct result of many factors. The severity of the condition will also vary, depending on the cause. If your pet is displaying irritation or aggravation due to itching, a veterinary consultation is warranted. A few or many of the symptoms below may be evident.

  • Uncontrollable scratching
  • Biting, which can lead to self-injury
  • Bleeding
  • Constant licking
  • A brownish red saliva stain may appear on the fur from so much licking
  • Chewing of paws
  • Redness and infection
  • Scaling of skin
  • Odor
  • Hair loss (alopecia)
  • Redness of ears, sometimes ear infection may also be seen
  • Oozing pustules
  • Your pet may be very restless

Itchy skin can be experienced by your dog for many reasons. Commonly seen types of conditions that bring on flares of itching are described below.

  • Atopic dermatitis
    • Can be chronic or acute
    • Can be seasonal or year round with environmental changes
    • Recurrent ear infections are common with this condition
    • Can affect dogs at any age
    • Terriers and Golden Retrievers are predisposed
  • Adverse food reaction
    • More common in very young dogs
    • Gastrointestinal signs often accompany the condition
    • Shar Peis, Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds and English Bulldogs are prone
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
    • Most common in young dogs
    • Can be seasonal due to weather changes making environment more advantageous for flea reproduction
    • The base of the tail is an area where you will see highly obvious symptoms
    • Scabies, mites, and ringworm will cause itching similar to flea bite allergy (ectoparasitic itch)
  • Microbial infection
    • Secondary infection from bacteria and yeast can combine to create a very itchy situation
    • Malassezia infection is caused by yeast/fungus; susceptible breeds are Terriers, Poodles, Sheepdog, Chihuahua and Dachshund

Itchy skin can also be seen due to hypothyroidism, tapeworms, pemphigus (autoimmune disease), and demodicosis (mites), to name just a few.

Causes of Itchy Skin in Dogs

Pruritus is one of the most often seen conditions in dogs requiring veterinary care. Many pet owners seek answers to this very complex problem. The reasons for itchy skin can be difficult to pinpoint because the causes are so numerous.

  • Insect bites
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Pyoderma (bacterial skin infection)
  • Diet (food allergy)
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease)
  • Fleas, scabies, mites, lice
  • Neoplasia (abnormal growth or tumor)
  • Immunity disorders
  • Contagion by wild animal or another pet
  • Alopecia X (hair cycle abnormality that often affects poodles and Nordic breeds)

Diagnosis of Itchy Skin in Dogs

Because the type and cause of itchy skin can fall under a broad range of categories, the veterinarian will greet you and your canine family member with a barrage of questions. This is necessary in order to narrow down the possible diagnosis.

  • When was the onset of the pruritis?
  • Has your dog been treated for itchy skin before, and how was his response to treatment?
  • Do you see any seasonal indications?
  • What do you feed your pet?
  • What type of products do you use for bathing and grooming?
  • Where have you traveled of late?
  • Do you have other pets at home, or have you introduced a new pet to the home?
  • Has your pet been in a kennel recently?
  • How are your dog’s activity level and appetite?
  • Is the skin condition progressing?

Along with the history, the veterinary caregiver will do a physical exam to exclude the presence of mites or fleas. This may include the use of a flea comb and a skin scraping. Next, an examination to check for a microbial skin infection may be done via culture for bacteria or fungus. A microscopic impression smear might be suggested if there are pustules visible; this could indicate pemphigus. A skin biopsy may be recommended, too.

A complete blood count, serum chemistry profile, fecal examination, and urinalysis are other usual diagnostic tools that can help to identify secondary diseases or conditions such as hypothyroidism or tapeworm.

If the veterinarian feels a diet trial should be done to rule out food allergy, you will be given instructions on how to proceed. Results may take 8 to 12 weeks to determine.

Treatment of Itchy Skin in Dogs

Treating itchy skin in dogs is just as complex as diagnosing the cause. The treatment protocol will depend upon whether the exact reason for the itching has been established. In the meantime, until the cause can be directly approached with the appropriate therapy, the veterinarian may prescribe anti-itching medication to provide some relief for your canine companion.

Additional approaches may be as follows.

  • Treatment for the suspected underlying cause is usually given 14 to 21 days to work, and then a re-evaluation of your pet’s skin and behavior is done
  • Essential fatty acid supplements are considered to be helpful for itchy skin
  • Pyoderma is treated with antibiotics
  • Fleas and other pests that cause itchy skin are treated with topical treatments and oral medications
  • Skin infections caused by yeast or fungus are administered to with antimicrobial topical and oral medications
  • Environmental allergies causing skin itch will be identified with a skin test, and then the cause must be eliminated (such as no walking in fields if your dog has hay allergies)
  • Sometimes environmental allergies are treated with hyposensitisation vaccines, which can take up to nine months to have an effect

It should be noted that often, skin itch can only be controlled not cured.

Recovery of Itchy Skin in Dogs

Depending on the reason for your pet’s itchy skin, lifetime or intermittent treatment will most likely become a reality. For example, mites or fleas can be eliminated, environmental allergens like pollen or dust cannot.

In order to help your furry family member manage the itchy skin as well as possible, practise good skin care (such as bathing him with a hypoallergenic shampoo to remove pollen when the outdoor count is high), and clip the fur shorter, so pollen has less to adhere to. Wipe off your pet’s fur when you return from a walk.

Give your dog Omega 3 supplements and follow the dietary instructions given to you by the veterinary team at the clinic. Always complete any course of medication prescribed, and keep in communication with the veterinarian in regards to questions or concerns. Do not scold your dog for itching; he would stop if he could. Patience, kindness, and diligence, along with the assistance of the veterinarian, will enable you to manage your dog’s pruritic condition.

Itchy Skin Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

3 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

communicating to humans

My dog name is Dusty.She is a husky and we have taken him to moderate climate.She is few months old only and she has an itching problem. The Doctor has made all their efforts, gave every possible injection but, it's not helping her. The major problem is it's communicating to me and my family members and we have taken all allergic medicines and it's getting worse day by day. I can see itching patches on my body also. Please help me out, what should I do? Is it because of the climate change? Why it's communicating to humans? Is it serious?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
If the skin irritation is affecting you and Dusty it may be that the cause is due to parasites (mites, fleas etc…), insect bites, fungal infection or bacterial infection; without examining Dusty I cannot say what the cause is or recommend an specific treatment. It is possible that insects are biting both Dusty and yourself causing this itching; you should speak with people including dog owners in your new area to see if they are able to give you any assistance with local knowledge. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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shih poo
12 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Licking at Genitals

Medication Used


My 12 yr old shipoo, ( shitzu poodle mix) has allergies. She was allergy tested and she is allergic to house pollen. She licks constantly and is changing the pigmentation of her skin. I have tried everything. Injections, you name it. She also has cushings. She is currently on appoquel but it's getting worse. Any advise? I don't know what to do.

Thank you,

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
The Cushing’s will restrict us and may also be contributing to the pigmentation changes on the skin as well; Apoquel (oclacitinib) is usually an effective non-steroidal alternative to prednisone or prednisolone containing products like Temaril-P (which is specifically contraindicated for dogs with Cushing’s Syndrome). There are products on the market which are supposed to remove and filter pollen from the air, it may be worth trying one of those; alternatively you should consult with a Dermatologist. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Viszla lab mix
9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Skin irritation losing fur

Hello, Is a skin scrape a common test to do on a visit for constant itchy skin and fur loss in dogs? The reason I ask is because my vet wants us to do a 2nd urinalysis, more blood work, ultrasound etc.. I would think checking for mites, fleas, etc. would make more sense initially. Thanks!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
The answer is that it really depends, if there are few common signs of parasites your Veterinarian may choose a diagnostic route to cover other possibilities based on the conclusion from their initial physical examination; also a skin scraping doesn’t guarantee that you would actually find anything. You can request your Veterinarian to perform a skin scraping to see if there are any parasites present. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Golden Retriever
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


I have a 2.5 year old male, golden retriever. Late July he began scratching more than normal after staying with my in-laws who have 2 beagles (both are well cared for and vaccinated). He stays on a monthly dose of Frontline and did not have fleas at the time I noticed this. No rashes were present at the time. Over the past few months, he continues to scratch quite a bit and I've noticed his belly and thighs are blotchy occaisionally. Last month right before I applied Frontline I noticed flea dirt, but couldn't find a single flea. The medication and a good bath cleared this up and he appears flea dirt free for several weeks. I feed him Purina Dog Chow and he doesn't eat human food aside from apples from under the tree and pine bark (both of which he's eaten for 2 years). Furthermore, he's always been a licking. He loves licking his paws and from arm pits. I catch him doing it in the middle of the night with his eyes closed. Not sure if this is related.

Before I run to the vet, what could I be up against?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
It does sound like Samson is having allergies and paw licking are common symptoms of allergies; a dog may develop allergies over time to things that they have been in contact with their whole life. It may be worth doing some allergy testing as elimination diets and other methods are very time consuming and can be unrewarding if the allergen is an environmental one. I would stop him from eating apples and pine bark and move over to an allergy diet to see if you notice any differences. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Miniature Schnauzer
5 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Scratching often.
Pimple like rashes
Biting n chewing till fur is gone

Hello, thanks for the insights into itchy skins. My question is my mini schnauzer gets a body temperature spike in a small area like the armpit n shoulder and after that the area is damp. At the same time she gets ver itchy.
We'd seen a vet that diagnosed it as atopic dermatitis flare. We are wondering if it might be hormonal imbalance as she had been spayed at 2.5 yrs. She's now 5.5yrs old. The areas that itch are along both sides of her spine, her tail, both tighs of her back leg, the heels of both back legs and under her chin. She does lick her paws occasionally. She wears the e-collar almost 24hrs every day.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations

There are various factors which cause or are predisposing factors for atopic dermatitis including allergies (fleas, food, environmental contaminants etc…), hormones (skin conditions may be linked to sex hormones), infections (fungal and bacterial), chemical irritation and other causes. Many times the underlying cause cannot be identified and lifelong management is the only way forward; try to connect the dots (if possible) to external factors that may occur at similar times as a breakout. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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