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What is Always Scratching?

Compulsive itching and scratching can be both harmful for your dog and frustrating for you. Although most of the time excessive itching is not serious and a quick fix, it should not be overlooked, as it can be dangerous in some cases. Here are potential reasons for your dog’s itching:

  • Anxiety or stress
  • Hormonal issues
  • Drug reactions
  • Pain
  • Parasites
  • Allergies

When you first see your dog scratching, the initial thought is that they have fleas or some sort of skin illness. Although in many cases these are the causes, it is important to remember that your pet can be scratching for a number of reasons, some of which may not be so obvious.

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Why Always Scratching Occurs in Dogs

To determine the exact cause of your dog’s scratching, you should bring them to the vet for a professional diagnosis. Meanwhile, you can treat the itch by applying colloidal oatmeal directly to the location of the scratching. This will reduce the itch and inflammation. Some dog shampoos and conditioners can also have the same soothing effect.

Stress or Boredom

Although uncommon, some dogs can develop an obsessive compulsive behavioral disorder that is causing them to scratch or lick when they are stressed or bored. Anxiety can also be a reason, and the excessive licking and scratching can cause bald patches to form. It mainly occurs when a dog spends a lot of time alone or does not have access to enough mental and physical exercise. If the scratching is due to anxiety, it will most likely occur when your dog is alone.

Hormonal Issues

Hormonal imbalances or thyroid problems can also be a reason for your pet’s scratching. Your dog could be experiencing discomfort caused by changes in their skin because of an underactive thyroid gland. These changes can predispose your dog to bacteria or fungal infections. An overactive adrenal gland can also cause issues, for example, Cushing’s disease, which can also lead to itchy skin and secondary infection.

Drug Reactions

Some individual pets have unexpected reactions to certain drugs and can experience itching and inflammation of the skin. The reactions will usually take the form of irritating skin rashes, but can also show up as liver damage and blood abnormalities. These can sometimes be difficult to identify as they will often not create symptoms for days or sometimes months, which makes it hard for the vet to make the connection between your dog’s illness and a drug reaction. 

Pain

Most dogs, if able, will try to remedy any physical joint pain that they are experiencing by massaging the area. Some signs of physical pain are a decrease in energy, reluctance to jump up on furniture or avoidance of stairs. They will scratch and lick excessively, in some cases leading to lick granulomas, hot spots and skin infections. Back and hip pain, such as arthritic and joint pain, as well as any other orthopedic problems, may cause your dog to itch the area that is in pain in order to get relief. Dogs with docked tails may also experience pain and scratch around the rump. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can sometimes develop a condition called syringomyelia that can be painful and make your dog want to scratch the back of their head or their neck. Even dental pain can cause similar behavior, along with a strong odor, chewing habits, a change in appetite, head shaking or pawing at the muzzle.

Parasites

Parasites such as fleas, mites and ticks can cause scratching. Fleas can cause irritation when they bite, which can make your dog want to itch. Some pets can tolerate flea bites better than others, as some dogs can have a hypersensitivity to the saliva that gets injected into the skin as the fleas feed. Dogs with a hypersensitivity will develop pink skin that will have scabby crusts and will be itching, scratching and licking their coat. In some cases, hotspots will also form. If your dog has fleas, the most common place that they will scratch is down their hind legs and on their rump. Female fleas can produce up to 2000 eggs within their lifetime, which is about 12 days. This means that fleas can multiply extremely quickly. Sarcoptes, which is a type of mite, can cause severe itching in dogs and even humans if you get infected, so beware. Demodex is another type of mite. Although they do not bite, they can lead to secondary bacterial infection which can also be irritating.

Allergies

Many airborne allergens, including dust, chemicals, pollen and mold can cause your dog to have an allergic reaction. The symptoms of an allergic reaction can include irritated skin that can be itchy and lead to scratching. Itchy skin can also be caused by food allergies. If your dog is allergic to an ingredient in their food or even something that they only ate once, they can develop rashes along with other symptoms. These rashes can cause irritation that will make your pet want to scratch. Some of the most common food allergies seen in dogs are to corn, chicken, beef and turkey.

What to do if your Dog is Always Scratching

Most vets will be able to diagnose hormonal issues by observing clinical signs, and can confirm it by taking blood tests. Your dog can be cured by treating the hormonal problem and taking antifungal medications or antibiotics to control the infection. If your dog experiences drug reactions, skin biopsies may be taken. Once identified, parasites can usually be treated fairly easily by using sprays, shampoo, powders and medications, although Sarcoptes can be difficult to identify and may require a skin scraping. Even if the skin scraping is negative, you may want to treat your dog for Sarcoptes anyways in order to rule it out.

Before your dog’s scratching can be diagnosed as a result of stress, your vet will most likely perform skin checks or further testing such as skin biopsies, food trials or bacterial cultures, as well as asking questions about your dog’s habits. For example, some information, including how long they have been scratching and where, can be helpful for your vet. Before they can be treated, dogs with allergies need to be tested in order to determine the specific substance that they are allergic to. Antihistamines can be temporary solutions to allergic reactions.  Diagnosing food allergies will start with food trials or skin samples and end with a change in diet to correct the problem. Physical therapy can often help ease any orthopedic pain that is causing your dog to scratch. Anti-inflammatory medication and or other means of pain control can be useful as well.

Prevention of Always Scratching

To prevent itching due to fleas, keep your dog up to date with their flea medication. Dogs will often catch fleas from other pets who are infected, and therefore a good way to keep your dog from catching fleas is to avoid contact with many other animals. If you are aware that your dog has reactions to certain drugs, simply do not give them that drug anymore. Avoid leaving your dog alone for long periods at a time, and make sure to give your dog a sufficient amount of affection in order to prevent scratching due to stress or boredom.

Fleas can breed very quickly and get out of hand easily. The best way to get rid of fleas is to remove them completely from the patient, the sources of exposure and the pet’s living areas. Flea medication can be applied every 2 to 4 weeks and your house should be vacuumed regularly and thoroughly. Your dog’s bed should be washed weekly and hung outdoors in the sunlight to dry. There are several ways to treat your dog’s anxiety or boredom. These can include more time for physical exercise, another dog to keep them company, dog training or even an interactive toy to keep them busy. Sometimes, products such as an herbal tonic can help your dog relax and reduce anxiety. Consult with your veterinary caregiver to whether a product such as this may be helpful for your pet. If your dog is scratching due to anxiety or stress, it is vital to work on reducing the anxiety while you are treating the itching, or the problem will continue to return.

Cost of Always Scratching

Stopping your dog from scratching can vary in expense, depending on the reason and necessary treatment. Skin disease caused by licking can cost around $300 to treat, curing skin disease related to food allergies will cost $600 and other allergies around $450. Skin reactions due to drugs may cost about $250. Arthritis and thyroid hormone deficiency treatments may cost $300 and $1500 respectively.