Is Your Dog Scratching Too Much?

By Elizabeth Racine, DVM   

Does your dog seem to be scratching more than usual? Is he licking himself raw or waking you up during the night with his chewing? Pruritus — the medical term for excessive itching — is a common symptom of many skin conditions. Identifying and addressing pruritus early is necessary to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy.

How much scratching is too much?

It's normal for dogs to scratch an itch occasionally, just like us. But if your dog is licking, scratching, or chewing himself more frequently than usual it may be a sign of an underlying problem. To determine the significance of your dog’s scratching, veterinary dermatologists often use the canine itch scale. The higher your dog scores on the scale, the more severe the problem. You can use the canine itch scale at home to monitor your dog’s scratching and track whether the problem is improving or worsening.

What causes itching in dogs?

Pruritus can be caused by many different diseases and may be accompanied by hair loss, redness, or discharge from the affected area. Common causes of pruritus in dogs include:

-        Parasites, such as fleas or mites

-        Food allergies

-        Environmental allergies

-        Skin infections

-        Ear infections

The first step in diagnosing the source of your dog’s itching is a trip to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will want to know a full history of the problem, including when it started, how it has progressed, and any recent changes in your dog’s environment or diet. Your veterinarian will also perform a full physical examination and may recommend additional testing such as a skin scraping to look for parasites or blood work to rule out underlying illnesses. 

Treating your dog’s itching

It’s important to remember that itching is a symptom of an underlying problem. While it may be tempting to try to treat your dog’s itching at home with an oatmeal bath or a slather of coconut oil, these home remedies rarely work because they only temporarily soothe the itching and do not address the underlying cause. Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the cause of your dog’s itching, he or she will be able to prescribe appropriate treatment. Depending on what is causing the itch, treatment may include:

-        Antibiotics

-        Anti-fungal medications

-        Medicated shampoos or ear cleaners

-        Anti-parasitic medications

-        Antihistamines

-        Steroids

-        Diet change

Whatever the cause for your dog’s itching, it is important that you follow your veterinarian’s treatment plan closely to ensure the problem does not recur. 

Now you know about scratching!

Itching and skin problems are very common in dogs of all ages, and they can be caused by a number of different underlying medical conditions. Managing the underlying cause of the problem is critical to stop the itching and restore your dog’s skin health. With the right treatment, your dog will be back to his happy, comfortable self in no time!

If you'd like to learn more about dogs and itching, check out this article.