Itching His Mouth in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog itching his mouth?

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog itching his mouth?

What is Itching His Mouth?

If you have noticed your dog scratching at his mouth and rubbing his muzzle, you may need to do some investigation to discover why he is so itchy there. While he may scratch to relieve the itch, incessant scratching can cause trauma and secondary bacterial infections in the skin. Constant scratching and pawing can also result in patches of hair loss, sore and inflamed skin, and scaling and thickening of the skin. Reasons your dog may scratch at his mouth include:

  • Allergies
  • A contact irritant 
  • Dental problem / oral disease
  • Trauma 
  • Infections
  • An underlying skin condition

Why Itching His Mouth Occurs in Dogs

There are many reasons why your dog may be pawing at his mouth. Often, there is an underlying skin or other health problem which is causing the discomfort. 

Allergies

There are many things that can cause an allergic reaction resulting in skin irritation, peeling, and itching. Your dog may have environmental allergies, such as to pollen or dust mites, or to chemicals, such as the detergent used when washing his bedding. Your dog can develop sensitivities to the plastic of his food or water dishes, or even to the food itself. Dogs can be allergic or sensitive to any food ingredient, including beef, chicken, egg and dairy.

Contact Irritant 

A dog’s skin can also become inflamed, itchy, and sore when it comes into direct contact with an irritant. This could be a poison, such as those found in cleaning products, or from ingestion of an irritating plant, such as poison ivy or hyacinths. With some irritants, only one exposure may be needed to cause a reaction. Often, a rash occurs which can leak fluid, develop into blisters, or change color.  

Dental Problem

Dental pain, abscesses, and periodontal disease can cause your dog to paw at his mouth, rub his muzzle after eating, or even try to get at his ears. Skin irritation can occur from the pawing and scratching, which can lead to a mistaken case of allergies. Tooth and gum problems also can cause changes in your dog’s eating habits, bad breath, drooling, and bleeding gums.  We should also consider an oral foreign body, which can cause a dog to paw incessantly at their mouth until removed.

Trauma 

Wounds and injuries to the mouth, tongue, cheeks, or lips can occur that can swell those sensitive tissues. The many foreign objects that dogs eat, such as twigs, can cause cuts and abrasions. Even a tough bone can result in mouth and gum damage. If these types of trauma are not treated, they can result in abscesses or infections. Tumors in the mouth can also cause these reactions, and may affect your dog’s normal eating habits. 

Infections 

Infections can be caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses, or parasites, such as mites or fleas. These types of infections could cause skin irritations that become itchy, causing your dog to scratch. Sarcoptic and demodectic mange caused by mites both result in severely itchy skin, scabbing, and hair loss. Fleas can cause your dog to scratch incessantly, and can become exacerbated if your dog has an allergy to flea bites. Bacterial infections are common in skin that is being damaged by trauma, such as scratching. Perioral dermatitis is especially common in Spaniels and those with 'droopy lips' and can cause itching and a bad smell.

Skin Condition

There are other conditions which can cause the skin to become irritated and itchy. Cysts and warts can cause your dog to paw at himself. Hormonal imbalances can induce skin reactions; diseases such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism may induce itchy skin. Cancer and autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or pemphigus, can also affect the skin. 

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What to do if your Dog is Itching His Mouth

If you have witnessed your dog pawing continuously at his mouth, do some investigating of the area. Look for signs of skin irritation and rashes, or look in his mouth for signs of infection or blood. Your veterinarian will ask for your observations of any symptoms in your dog, so include changes in eating, elimination habits, and behavior. Your vet may also ask if your dog has been in contact with infected animals, if you have noticed fleas, if he has eaten something he shouldn’t have, or if there is something new in his environment, such as a new diet, shampoo, or cleaning product used in areas he frequents. 

After a physical examination, your vet should also perform a thorough dental exam to determine if there is a dental issue causing the scratching. Further testing can include blood, urine and fecal tests to look for infectious agents, X-rays or ultrasounds if there may be a tumor or tooth issue, skin scrapings, allergy testing, or a swab and culture and sensitivity test. Once the cause has been determined, treatment follows as needed.

Allergies can be controlled with medications, such as antihistamines and steroids, a removal of the allergen which may require a change in diet, and possibly allergy shots (immunotherapy) that can help to desensitize the immune system. 

Dental problems may require oral surgery to remove teeth, treat abscesses, and clean the teeth and gums. Dental surgery may also be used to treat any trauma in the mouth or remove oral tumors. Antibiotics to treat or prevent infections, and pain medications, can be prescribed after such procedures. 

Parasites are often treated with specialized medications, and you may be given certain shampoos or lotions to apply to your dog to remove them. 

For healing the skin itself and relieving the itch, many of the medications given for allergies can be used. Soothing shampoos and specialized lotions and creams can moisturize and heal the skin. Be sure to monitor your dog for any changes during recovery, and keep any irritants and allergens out of his reach.

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Prevention of Itching His Mouth

Preventing an allergy from developing is not impossible, but you can prevent an allergic reaction by reducing your dog’s contact with the allergen. Monitor your yard for possible irritating objects and remove them so that your dog cannot eat them. Routine dental care can be accomplished at home that can keep your dog’s mouth healthy, such as regular brushing. Routine examinations are essential to catch disease early and treating your dog before symptoms become too progressed.

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Cost of Itching His Mouth

The cost to treat an itchy mouth in your dog can vary considerably, depending on the cause, and can range from $200 to $3000. The average cost for a tooth abscess can average around $1200, while gum disease can be as expensive as $2500 if significant dental work is needed. Treatment for infections such as mange can average $350. An acute case of contact dermatitis can be around $400, while pollen allergies can be as high to treat as $1200, especially if immunotherapy is pursued.

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Itching His Mouth Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Bo

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Miniature Schnauzer

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13 Years

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

No Teeth
None

My dog doesn’t have any teeth. However, he uses his paws to rub on the sides or inside of his mouth. I didn’t know if he was trying to prevent his tongue from sliding out or a health issue. He is not showing any signs of pain when rubbing outside of his mouth. He is eating his soft food without any problems. Is this normal for a dog without teeth?

Aug. 11, 2018

Bo's Owner

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0 Recommendations

It is difficult to say why he is rubbing the sides of his mouth; there may be some irritation or discomfort which he is scratching but I cannot say for certain whether this is something to be concerned about or not. Keep an eye on him and bring it up with your Veterinarian at the next checkup. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 11, 2018

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Denver

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australian shepherd mix

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2 Years

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0 found helpful

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Has Symptoms

Scratching At Mouth
Scratching At Mouth, Bleeding
Scratching At Mouth, Blood

My dog, Denver, has scratched the corner of his mouth open at least 2 times in the last month. We just moved across the country, so I’m not sure if there’s a related allergy factor or what. At our last vet visit, he was also scratching his body and creating scabs (mid June). I mentioned this mouth and body and the vet prescribed a steroid for the scratching which helped. The vet didn’t seem very interested or concerned with his mouth, though.

July 26, 2018

Denver's Owner

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0 Recommendations

It is difficult to know whether there is something specifically in the mouth causing irritation leading to scratching or if Denver is scratching himself and cutting his mouth open due to carelessness. Allergies are a possibility especially in a new area and Denver may be just itching himself due to irritation; without examining him unfortunately I cannot recommend any specific course of action apart from possibly allergy testing to see if there is an allergen. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 26, 2018

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