Ultimate Guide: Why Does My Dog Keep Scratching
Have you noticed your dog scratching themselves more than normal? It's perfectly normal for your dog to scratch once in a while, but frequent scratching is usually a sign of a more serious problem—and it can make the existing problem even worse.
Why does my dog scratch so much?
The first thing you should do when you notice your dog scratching excessively is check their fur for fleas. Fleas will leave behind small specks of black feces that look almost like pepper and will catch on a flea comb(if you don't already have a high quality flea comb, stop reading this and get one right now; it will save you a lot of heartache later).
What if your dog is itchy but doesn't have fleas?
Fleas may be the first thing most people think of when they notice a dog scratching constantly, but there are many other potential reasons why your dog could be itchy. You'll need to visit the vet to know for sure, but there are several symptoms you can check for at home to save time when you get to the vet's office.
Unfortunately fleas aren't the only bugs who love sticking to your furry friend. Lice, ticks, and several types of mites are attracted to dogs. Mites are the most common parasites other than ticks and fleas, and they can cause scabies. The mites themselves are impossible to see with the naked eye, but you will notice hair loss and inflammation around affected areas. You may also notice a rash or scabs in the affected areas.
It's also important to note that many parasites who are attracted to dogs can feed off humans, especially mites. If you've noticed that you're also more itchy than normal, get to a doctor right away.
Of course, your dog may also have something simpler: a single insect bite acquired while they were playing outside. If you can find and isolate a single bite and there are no other visible issues, you might be able to skip a trip to the vet altogether.
Many dogs have allergies, and their allergy symptoms look a lot like human allergy symptoms: itchiness, red eyes, and runny noses are the most common. There may also be some skin inflammation and redness if they come into direct contact with whatever they're allergic to.
Unfortunately this is one you definitely won't be able to figure out on your own. It also means medicating your dog for part of the year, every single year, unless the allergen is something you can avoid entirely.
Another common ailment humans suffer from, dry skin is just as unpleasant (and sometimes more unpleasant) for your dog as it is for you. This causes dandruff and the skin can eventually become so dry that it cracks at the slightest touch, causing instant and extreme itchiness.
Dry skin can be caused by your dog's environment or by their diet. Most commercial pet food has the oils removed so the food lasts longer, but these oils also have a major influence on the health of your dog's skin and fur.
You should take your dog to the vet even if you think their main problem is dry skin, as the dandruff and cracked skin can also be symptoms of more serious issues.
Your dog's constant scratching may also be caused by an infection. The most common types of infections are yeast infections and ringworm.
Dogs most frequently get yeast infections in their ear canal, although there are other areas of the skin where yeast infections can develop. If your dog has a yeast infection you will typically notice a bad smell coming from the infected area, redness and/or swelling, and crusted skin. There may also be brown, yellow, or bloody discharge from the infected area, especially if the infection is in the ear. Yeast infections require medication from your veterinarian and can take up to six weeks to treat properly.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that can cause red or scaly patches of skin to appear, particularly on the scalp, feet, and groin. These patches are often redder around the edges, appearing to have a ring. In extreme cases affected areas can develop blisters or begin to ooze pus or blood. Ringworm is typically cured with a medical shampoo or ointment, but some cases require oral medication.
Now we've gone through the most common causes for severe itchiness in dogs, but there are many other conditions that may be causing your dog's irritation. In fact, over 160 skin disorders can affect dogs. Many are related to hormonal problems and they can be difficult to diagnose. Most of these conditions aren't life threatening, but they do cause a considerable amount of suffering.
These conditions also often have similar symptoms to those listed above, which is why you absolutely must take your dog to the vet if you notice excessive scratching.
How can I relieve my dog's itching?
You'll obviously want to start by using any medication provided by your vet, but there are several other things you can do to relieve your dog's itching. There are also steps you can take to prevent future issues, making life better for you and your pooch.
Start with their diet
It's worth reconsidering how you feed your dog, even if you and your vet have decided that their diet isn't the issue. Your dog's diet influences how much energy they have, how well they can fend off infection, and how much moisture their fur and skin retains. And many dog owners simply don't understand pet nutrition well enough to make the best choice for their furry friends.
Here's the thing: your dog absolutely should not be on a kibble diet. Even "all natural" kibbles that use protein instead of carbohydrates for your dog are still devoid of oils that nourish their fur and skin. The cooking process also removes all healthy bacteria and many of the nutrients in the original meat.
Canned food is significantly better for your dog as it contains more nutrients and higher moisture levels, freeze dried or dehydrated is a little better than canned food, and homemade meals made with raw or cooked meat are healthiest. These options are all significantly more expensive, but making the switch may extend your dog's life expectancy by as much as three years.
You can also switch your dog to a mixed diet, feeding them kibble half the time (or less) and another type of food the rest of the time. This will be more affordable and still significantly reduce dehydration and other diet related health issues.
Clean up your dog's environment
Most people are concerned about a dog's behaviour when they think about cleaning up their dog's environment, but your dog's environment can also have a massive impact on their physical health.
Dogs are highly sensitive to a wide range of pollutants, including many common household cleaning products.
Dogs are also sensitive to pesticides and fertilisers. If you absolutely must use these on your lawn, find a friend or relative your dog can stay with for a few days while the chemicals settle into the ground. If you suspect your dog has been rolling around on pesticide heavy grass while out and about, bathe them as soon as you get home.
Pay close attention to your dog's hygiene
Many issues that cause skin irritation can be avoided or caught early if you maintain a regular bathing and grooming routine.The details of this grooming routine will vary depending on the type of dog you have, how often they go swimming or adventuring through the woods, and any existing skin conditions your dog has. Your vet can give you advice specific to your pooch and their lifestyle, but there are a few general rules you should follow:
- If your dog goes swimming frequently, bathe him once a week during swimming season. Lakes and rivers contain a myriad of bacteria and chlorine dries out your dog's skin, leaving it vulnerable to infection.
- If your dog doesn't go swimming, they may only need to bathe once every 2-4 months.
- Use an ear cleaning solution like the Pro Pooch Dog Ear Cleaner once a week if your dog swims and once a month if they don't. Our guide on How to Clean Dog Ears can walk you through this process.
- Brush your dog immediately after any long walks through the woods to clear away debris and any lingering books.
- Clip your dog's fur every 6-10 weeks; the more regularly you brush and bathe your dog, the longer you can safely go without trimming their fur.
- Trim excess hair in and around the ears once a month, as this hair causes an increased risk of yeast infections and other ear problems.
- Clip nails as necessary to prevent injury when the dog does scratch.
If your dog already has a skin condition you should create a grooming schedule with help from your veterinarian. They will know the best routine to deal with your dog's specific health problems. They may also prescribe a specialty shampoo.
What is the best shampoo for dogs with skin problems?
The best dog shampoo for itchy or dry skin is a hypoallergenic soapless dog shampoo.
Choosing the right shampoo for your pooch is particularly important when they have skin problems, and it can feel like an impossible task with the constantly growing number of options available. Companies aren't required to disclose an ingredients list for dog shampoos, making it even more difficult to find the right one.
Any dog shampoo you use should be specially formulated for dogs using all natural hypoallergenic ingredients. All ingredients should be listed on the bottle and there should be no "proprietary blend", as this term is often used to sneak in questionable ingredients.
Here's what you should look for in an anti-itch shampoo:
- All natural ingredients
- Nutrients important for healthy skin such as vitamins A, D, and E
- Aloe Vera or a similarly soothing ingredient
- pH balance to help dogs produce natural oils
- Colloidal Oatmeal to prevent future irritation
Pro Pooch have produced an oatmeal shampoo for dogs with sensitive skin which contains all of these ingredients and more, all chosen to soothe your dog's skin and prevent future issues.
There are no artificial fragrances or colours added to our shampoo; we only use 100% naturally derived ingredients, natural skin moisturisers and absolutely no abrasive soap or damaging detergents which are not only damaging to your dog’s skin but are certainly not environmentally friendly.
Always read the ingredient list on your bottle of dog shampoo to be sure of the quality of the product.
Pro Pooch natural dog shampoo helps to maintain the pH balance of your dog's skin. Our dog shampoo is in the neutral pH range, around 7.
What is the pH balance of my dog’s skin and what does it mean?
The pH balance is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity level, normally ranging from 1 to 14 with 1 being highly acidic and 14 being highly alkaline. There are many factors to be considered that will affect the pH balance of your dog’s skin such as the breed, gender, location climate, diet and physical size of your dog.
A dog’s skin pH level generally ranges from 5.5 to 7.5, leaning more toward an alkaline concentration. Pro Pooch natural dog shampoo will not disrupt the acid mantle of your dog’s skin, and so it controls the ever present bacteria, parasites and viruses that live there.
Here's what you should avoid in anti-itch shampoos:
- Soap or detergent, both of which can dry out your dog's skin and cause irritation
- Any type of artificial fragrance or colour; many manufacturers use these to sneak in preservatives and other chemicals
- Formaldehyde based preservatives, such as Bromopol, Doazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin (frequently mislabeled on dog shampoo bottles as DHDH hydantoin), Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-7, -15, -31, -61, and Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
- SD-Alcohol 40, more commonly known as isopropyl alcohol
- Parabens such as butylparaben, methylparaben, or propylparaben
- Sodium lauryl sulfate
- DEA-Cocamide, Lauramide, or Oleamidecondensates
You will notice that some of these chemicals are the same ones you've been told to avoid in your own shampoo. Many of these ingredients can also cause much worse than skin irritation.
It is always a good idea to give the ingredients list of any shampoo you're considering to your vet before making a purchase. They'll be able to confirm whether or not the shampoo can alleviate your dog's symptoms.
Learning to bathe your dog properly
Many vets and some groomers will be willing to walk you through this process, and you can also learn by watching some of the Youtube videos below:
- First Puppy Bath
- How to Bathe Your Dog Properly
- How to Bathe a Dog that Hates Water
- How to Bathe Your Dog at Home – the BIG Dog Version
- How to Bathe Your Small Dog
You may also want to get help from a friend or relative your dog trusts the first few times you bathe them, especially if you have a big dog.
Other grooming resources
There are also several resources online to help you learn other parts of the grooming process:
- Home Grooming Tips
- How to Groom a Dog: How to Use Clippers to Give Your Dog a Hair Cut
- How to Groom a Dog: How to Shave a Dog
- How to Use Clippers when Grooming a Shaggy-Haired Dog
- That Vet Show: How to Clip Your Dog's Nails
You are right to be concerned about your dog scratching themselves all the time, but many of the conditions that cause itchy skin can be treated within a month and avoided in the future with a regular grooming routine. A high quality hypoallergenic dog shampoo can soothe your dog's symptoms immediately and nourish their skin back to health.
Have more questions about how you can reduce your dog's itchiness? Want to know more about our Pro Pooch Anti-Itch Shampoo or the Happy Pooch Guarantee? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 44(0)121 562 1734 to speak with a Pro Pooch expert.
Why choose Pro Pooch?
Pro Pooch was founded on the belief that you should put as much attention to what goes into your dogs' bodies as you do to what goes in your own body. We design all Pro Pooch products with your dogs' health and wellness at the top of our minds.
Our commitment to your dog’s health is matched only by our commitment to quality. We work with expert manufacturers to make sure every product is the best it can be, every single time. We also offer a Happy Pooch Guarantee—if our products don’t work for you and your dog, you have a full 60 days to request a refund, no questions asked.