Why Is My Dog Scratching?

That can be the $64,000 question for pet owners and veterinarians alike.

Dog Scratching? 4 Common Itch Factors

Is it fleas or mange (yikes!)? Fortunately, both are treatable. If you think your dog has fleas, you need to treat both the dog and the environment.

Is it a food allergy? Pets can have food sensitivities just like people. This often shows up as skin problems and gets your dog scratching. Determining if diet is the culprit does not mean randomly trying out new foods for a meal or two and “poof” you have an answer. Work with your vet to carefully plan out any food elimination trials. Determining food allergies is doable, just plan carefully, follow the rules, and give it time.

What about the environment? Pets can have allergies to things just like we do–dust, smoke, grass, pollen, you name it. Obviously the list of environmental allergens is long and may require a formal allergy test to determine the culprits once and for all. Allergy testing can be costly, but it does provide answers.

Could it be an infection? Yeast in the ears, an ear infection, a bladder infection, even overly full anal glands, can all cause your dog to itch and scratch. Sometimes a trip to the vet for a head-to-tail check over can quickly solve the problem.

What To Look For At Home?

itching earsBeyond the obviously chewing, itching, and scratching, is your dog scooting his bottom on the ground? Is he missing hair along his sides or groin? Do you see red skin or patches of redness especially in the armpit or groin areas where it is warmer and moist.

And sometimes skin issues, like hot spots, are underneath the fur where we don’t notice until things get nasty. When the skin is infected, a trip to the vet may be the quickest and safest route to stop your dog from scratching and get him back on track.

What Can You Do At Home?

Always check with your veterinarian first, but over-the-counter products can provide relief from your dog scratching and itching.   Antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl) are an option. After checking with your vet, the usual dosage is 1 mg per pound of body weight. For example, if your dog weighs 25 pounds, then you can give a 25 mg tablet of Benadryl. You need to adjust the dose up or down according to body weight. Your vet should help determine the dosage.

Claritin in a 10 mg tablet is another choice. Start with 1 tablet per dog, but check with your vet on whether or not you should do 1 or 2 tablets and also how many times per day (this depends on size).

A caution on all of these OTC products—you must avoid products that contain pseudoephedrine. Some antihistamines contain this (e.g., Claritin-D) so read all labels carefully.

Benadryl can make your dog drowsy (which may or may not be a good thing!) so think about when to give the pill. Claritin does not usually make dogs drowsy, but each pet is different.

The generic versions of these drugs are safe—just avoid the ingredient pseudoephedrine.

What If Antihistamines Don’t Work?

Next up on the OTC anti-itch list are supplements. Products like fish oil or fatty acids indog biting his legcapsules can help soothe skin. Check with your vet for recommendations and dosing.

There are shampoos (both OTC and prescription) that may provide relief from your dog scratching. You can try topical sprays like “bitter apple” or anti-lick sprays or gels to discourage the licking, but that doesn’t take care of the root cause.

Heavy Hitters for Allergy Relief

If you are annoyed with the scratching, think of how your dog feels. Your vet may recommend a cortisone injection for instant relief. You’d be amazed at how quickly that can turn things around. There are drugs, like prednisone, that may offer short term relief, but try to avoid those for long term or chronic issues.

New prescription medications come on the market frequently. Apoquel is one where we’ve seen good results and is safe for long term use. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of any medications with your vet.

cone of shameAre You In It For The Long Haul?

Some breeds are predisposed to allergy and skin issues. Others just have seasonal flare ups. Whatever the case, discuss your options with your vet.  There is no sense in you and your dog being miserable.

Allergy testing, dietary changes, OTC meds, supplements, topical sprays or creams and immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots) can all be viable options to get to the root of the problem and stop the itching and scratching for good.

A little bit of patience along the way will help, too.  And there is always the Cone of Shame. But we hope it doesn’t come to that.