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What is Itching and Biting?

If you notice your dog biting and chewing his own skin, he may be suffering from pruritus, or itching. Itching is a symptom of another condition and is often your clue that something needs to be addressed. You may also notice hair loss or inflamed, red skin, or an increased anxiety in your dog. Pruritus can occur in any area of your dog’s body, and the resultant scratching and biting can cause self-inflicted wounds and secondary infections. Reasons your dog may be itching include:

  • Contact dermatitis
  • Allergies
  • Medical conditions 
  • Parasitic infections 
  • Bacterial infections 
  • Fungal infections

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Why Itching and Biting Occurs in Dogs

Your dog may be itching for many reasons that have to do with the state of your dog’s skin and general health, as well as what he may be exposed to.

Contact Dermatitis

This skin irritation occurs from direct contact with an irritant, and can appear right away or over a period of days. Substances your dog may come into contact with that can cause a skin reaction include chemicals such as pyrethrins in flea collars and pesticides from lawns, materials such as wools in bedding, or plants that contain certain irritating substances, such as burdock burs or daisies. 

Allergies

Dogs can become allergic to various things, resulting in skin rashes and irritation. Your dog may develop an allergy to various environmental allergens, such as pollens, dust, or mold, and may also exhibit respiratory symptoms. Food allergies and sensitivities can also create skin problems, especially around their anal areas. While fleas are a nuisance for any dog, some can develop a specific allergy to their saliva, which can result in hair loss and red bumps.

Medical Conditions

There are certain physical conditions that can cause your dog’s skin to itch. These include various cancers, autoimmune diseases, hypothyroidism, or even anal glands that have become too full.

Parasitic Infections 

Parasites can cause chronic states of itching in our canine companions which cannot resolve until the parasites are removed. Common parasites include fleas and scabies mites, but dogs can also become infected with sarcoptic mange and demodex mites. 

Bacterial Infections 

Bacterial infections can be a result of your dog scratching the itchiness, but they can also be the cause of the itching. Even infections that are not necessarily in the skin can cause itching, such as an infection in the ear or bladder. 

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections can affect the skin and cause irritation. Yeast infections are common, as is the ringworm fungus that can be picked up in the yard.

What to do if your Dog is Itching and Biting

A dog who is constantly itching and biting at his skin can cause more damage to himself. Itching is always a symptom of a physical issue, and should be checked by your veterinarian.

Your vet will ask you many questions about the history of the itching, if your dog has been exposed to new environments or animals, or if there have been any changes in bedding, shampoos or foods. After a physical exam, your vet may take blood, urine or fecal samples to be tested. Skin scrapings and bacterial or fungal cultures can help the diagnosis. If allergies are suspected, your vet may perform a skin or blood allergy test. If a food allergy may be the cause, your vet may order a special diet to be fed over several weeks. More severe medical conditions may require further testing. 

Treatment will attempt to treat the cause. Food allergies often require a change in diet that can be permanent. Allergies can be treated with antihistamines and steroids, and sometimes with a specially formulated vaccine that is specifically made for your dog. Infections are often given antibiotics, antiparasitics, or anti-yeast medications as needed. Fatty acids can be added to your dog’s diet to help soothe his skin.

In many cases, topical lotions, creams, or medicated shampoos are recommended to reduce itching and inflammation. Bathing your dog on a regular basis can often help to wash away allergens and reduce inflammation. A T-shirt or other form fitting clothes can be used to control the itch in your dog’s skin, and stop him from scratching. Keeping your dog indoors on high pollen days can help if he suffers from seasonal allergies.

Prevention of Itching and Biting

Preventing your dog’s skin from itching may be as simple as providing effective parasite control, such as chews or spot treatments. Regular grooming can keep your dog’s coat and skin free of allergens and irritants, while alerting you to a possible problem. Keep your dog away from hazardous chemicals, such as those in weed control sprays, and ensure that he does not have access to irritating plants in the yard. Routine veterinary visits can give you early warning to any medical conditions that could cause a skin issue in your dog.

Cost of Itching and Biting

The cost of treating itchy skin in your dog can depend on why his skin is itchy in the first place. While allergies can average around $800, a flea infestation can be cleared up at $50 or more. An episode of contact dermatitis can cost $400 and up. Overall, treating itchy skin can range from $20 to $2500.

Itching and Biting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Ava
German Shepherd
2.5 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Red skin,
Itching and biting skin, hair loss in some site
Red Eyes
Eye Discharge

Medication Used

none

She bites and itch by her butt and itches in her neck to the point of hair loss and has red dots in her belly

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

The bumps and itching may be due to allergies or due to infection (as well as other causes); it is important to determine the overall cause (as infection may be secondary to allergies). Given Ava’s age, it would be best to speak with your Veterinarian about the itching and the bumps as well as discussing vaccinations and worming if you haven’t done so already. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Smores
Chihuahua
11 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Itching

My dog is a long hair chihuahua. She itches and bites her skin. I'm not sure if it's because of her food, which is, chicken. She doesn't eat dog food. So I don't know if that's the problem. Question: Can I give my dog benadryl, if so, how much? She weight 10 lbs. What strength, 12.5mg or 25mg. Please help.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
There are many causes for itchy skin in a dog, including parasites, allergies, or bacterial or fungal infections. Food allergies are actually less common than many other problems, and many problems are quite easily solved. Without seeing Smores, I can't recommend any medication, as I don't know what the actual problem is. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine her, determine what might be causing the itchiness, and recommend any medications that she might need.

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Detroit
American bully
4 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Itching

So our four month old puppy has been itching. She is paper trained but she does go for walks a couple times a week. Were not sure if it started when she layed in the grass one day or if it could be from our 10 month old bulldog Blue who is on medication for demodex and a bacterial infection. We were told from the vet that the demodex couldn't be passed to another dog. Detroit has bite looking marks on her stomach and its not getting any better. We have been bathing her often with puppy shampoo but its not helping her.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
There are many possible causes for biting and itching in dogs which may include allergies, infections, chemical irritation, parasites among other causes; sources of allergies may be from environment (grass, plants etc…) or from food, it can be very difficult to narrow in on a specific cause in this case and allergy testing is normally seen as a shortcut to that. You should speak with your Veterinarian about other possible causes and get a cone to prevent further biting. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Chase
Morkie
3 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Itching and Licking

My dog has non stop licking and itching what's going on with him? He also eats Beniful dog food could this be some of the problem ? It's the beef one. Should I change his food?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
Itching and biting may be attributable to food allergies; however environmental allergies, infections, parasites, hormonal conditions, chemical irritants among other causes may also cause itching and biting. You should review any changes in your home or environment as any potential trigger, but food allergies are quite common; you can try moving to a restricted ingredient diet to look for any improvement but allergy testing may also be useful. You should discuss this issue with your Veterinarian to get to the underlying cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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