Chewing Off His Fur in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog chewing off his fur?

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog chewing off his fur?

What is Chewing Off His Fur?

Occasional chewing on the fur on the lower back or rapidly scratching the back of his ear with his hind paw is normal for your dog.  He, just like people, gets itchy from time to time.  However, when itch relief or chewing behaviors lead to removing fur, you have cause for concern.  There are a few reasons why your dog may be chewing off his fur, including:

  • Allergies
  • Skin disorders
  • Infections
  • Insect or parasite bites
  • Stress and anxiety

Why Chewing Off His Fur Occurs in Dogs

If your dog’s fur chewing is the result of itchy skin, there are several possible reasons.  

Allergies

Allergies in dogs are common and usually manifest within the first six months of age to five years old and can affect any breed or sex of the dog.  Atopic dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction affecting the skin is more common in Chinese Shar-Peis, Wirehaired Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Scottish Terriers, Shih Tzus, and West Highland White Terriers.  Atopic dermatitis may lead your dog to chew off his fur to satisfy an itch that won’t go away. Skin may be pink and warm.

Skin Disorders

Seborrheic dermatitis is one possible skin issue. Your dog’s sebaceous glands, which are just below the surface of the skin may overproduce sebum, an oily or waxy substance that is used to waterproof and protect the skin. When this occurs, your dog’s skin will flake off in scales or possibly look red and inflamed.  Seborrheic dermatitis will also cause your dog’s skin to become itchy, and he will scratch and chew at his fur to relieve himself.  Usually, a foul odor is also associated with this type of skin disorder.

Infections

An open wound or scratch, if left untreated, can quickly develop into an infection.  Additionally, untreated allergies or skin disorders can cause your dog to scratch and chew his fur off, which may then lead to a secondary infection.  Yeast or bacteria can cause secondary infections.  Malassezia overgrowth is a common yeast infection that affects dogs that chronically chew at their fur.  Your dog’s mouth and the environment may also trigger a bacterial infection, especially if your dog has self-mutilated his skin through chewing off his fur.

Insect and Parasite Bites

Insect bites from fleas, ticks, flies, or mosquitos can cause your dog to chew at his fur at the site of the bite leading to an inflamed area known as a “hot spot.”  Hot spots are acute moist dermatitis and can become large red lesions very quickly.  Hot spots develop by disturbing the natural bacteria on your dog’s skin and causing it to overgrow through scratching or chewing on the skin at the site of the insect bite.  Bacterial overgrowth will further exacerbate the area, and your dog will chew harder trying to satisfy his itch.  

Stress and Anxiety

Stress from change or separation anxiety can adversely affect your dog and he may self-mutilate by chewing his fur off.  Dogs require companionship and stimulation.  If your dog is starting to chew on his fur and no underlying medical condition is apparent, he may be lonely or bored.  Other destructive behaviors may accompany separation anxiety or stress, such as incessant barking, destroying furniture, or scratching at doors and walls.

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What to do if your Dog is Chewing Off His Fur

You should take your dog to the veterinarian if you believe your dog’s fur chewing is medically related.  To give your dog immediate relief, you should clip the hair in the area where your dog is chewing and clean the area with a non-irritating shampoo.  Gently pat dry the area and make sure you dog does not lick or chew the area.  A buster collar may be needed. When you bring your dog to the veterinarian, your vet will perform a full physical examination.  Your veterinarian will ask you for your dog’s medical history including possible allergen exposures.

If your vet suspects your dog is suffering from acute moist dermatitis, your dog will be prescribed an oral antibiotic to treat the bacterial overgrowth.  You veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory / anti-itch medicine such as a corticosteroid.  It is critical to use only the prescribed dosages of all medications, especially anti-inflammatory drugs as overdose can lead to other medical conditions.  

If your dog is suffering from seborrheic dermatitis, your veterinarian will help you develop a plan to manage sebum production.  Many times, managing sebum production involves administering Omega-3 fatty acids, using anti-seborrheic shampoos, or possibly administering retinoids, which are a class of chemicals that regulate epithelial cell growth.

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Prevention of Chewing Off His Fur

You can take preventative measures, such as flea control and proper bathing and grooming to prevent many skin afflictions that may cause you dog to chew off his fur.  Unfortunately, you cannot always prevent your dog from bites from other insects. Consider bringing them inside and using e.g. fly strips.  

By being aware of your dog’s comfort levels and catching an itch before he can chew it raw may prevent his from developing lesions or loss of hair.  

Elizabethan collars can also be used to prevent your dog from further irritating his skin once a bite or condition is discovered and treatment plans are underway.  If your dog’s fur chewing is related to an environmental or food allergy, you can prevent reactions by avoiding the allergen.  This is not always easily done, especially with omnipresent allergens, such as grass, dustmites or pollen.  However, bathing your dog with hypo-allergenic shampoos can significantly reduce the discomfort he feels from coming into contact with daily allergens.  

Dogs are pack animals and require stimulation and companionship.  Routine walks, exercise, and socialization will help keep your dog stimulated.  Additionally, your dog should always have access to fresh water and regular opportunities to eliminate waste.  Meeting these basic needs and giving your dog your love and compassion will help keep him from developing separation anxiety and other psychological issues that may lead to chewing his fur off.

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Cost of Chewing Off His Fur

The cost of treating your dog for chewing off his fur will depend on the underlying causes of his condition.  For example, it can cost around $300 to treat hot spots if your dog is suffering from acute moist dermatitis.  Treating atopic dermatitis and allergy related conditions can cost around $1,200.

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Chewing Off His Fur Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Flat-Coated Retriever

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Five Years

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4 found helpful

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4 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Scratching, Flaky Skin, Smell

We have been having trouble with our dog nawing of his far and keeps eating at himself in till he starts bleeding, so we got a cone to put on him. We went to church today and by time we had got back he had gotten his cone off some how and nawed all his Furrer off on his tail and his back hind and was bleeding.

Nov. 2, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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4 Recommendations

I'm very sorry to hear this, he must be really uncomfortable. A collar can be useful to protect from self inflicted trauma but it won't cure itching or threat skin disease. We need to have the dog seen by a vet to get a diagnosis and treat the issue. There are many possibilities including allergies, mange, pyoderma etc. From your description, I suspect he will also need a course of antibiotics.

Nov. 2, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Seven Years

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16 found helpful

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16 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Chewing Fur Off

My lab has recently started chewing the base of his tail, around his rectum, and the back sides of his body. How can I determine if its an allergy or something serious vs seperation anxiety? Does the anxiety occur even if you're in the same room and he's not being paid attention to?

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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16 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. The toing that you are describing and itching does not sound related to anxiety, and it sounds like he is actually. One of the most common reasons for dogs to chew and scratch at the back half of their body is fleas, and it would be best to make sure he is on a good flea control product. If that does not help, and he continues to be itchy, then having him seen by a veterinarian would be a good idea, as they will be able to look at him and see what might be causing it. I hope that all goes well for him.

Oct. 3, 2020

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