Why is my dog so itchy? Should I be worried?

Why do dogs get itchy?  

The most common causes of itchiness in dogs can be split into two main categories: parasites and allergies. Parasites include fleas, ticks, lice or mites. Allergies can be caused by a variety of different allergens, often seasonal, such as pollen. However, there are other allergens, such as dust, which can be irritable on your dog’s skin. Less commonly, some dogs can be allergic to certain foods and in cases where a dog has been excessively scratching, skin infections can occur.  

Some signs that may suggest a more serious underlying problem include excessive scratching, discharge, ulcers on the body, hair loss and open wounds from scratching and biting. 

What should I do while waiting for my appointment? 

Most importantly, try to stop your dog biting or scratching their skin, if possible. Keep your dog’s living area and bedding clean and try not to expose them to possible allergens such as dust, detergents, and any other household chemicals. If you think it might be a seasonal problem, it may be a good idea to keep them inside until you’ve seen a vet. Remember, some conditions such as ringworm can be passed to humans, so in these cases, it would be recommended to wear gloves when handling your dog. 

If your dog begins to scratch much more frequently and is causing wounding to their skin, or you begin to see discharge, call your vet and they may be able to see you more urgently. 

How should I prepare for my appointment? 

It may not be possible for the vet to immediately diagnose the underlying issue, but if you’re able to provide them with a good history, it can help them decide the best treatment option to start with. You could also bring in some photos to show any changes in the affected areas. 

If you want to know more about what to expect when you go to the vets, check out our blog here.

Some of the questions the vet might ask include:  

  • Where are the worst affected areas of skin? This can indicate to the vet what might be the most likely cause, as different allergies/parasites can more commonly affect certain areas.
  • Do the symptoms get better/worse depending on the season? This may indicate if an allergy or parasite is more likely.
  • What sort of soap/shampoo do you use to wash your dog? Some soaps may cause irritation on your dog’s skin, so if you are using a certain soap to wash your dog, you could try changing this to see if it is the cause of itchiness.
  • Has your dog been treated for fleas/ticks/mites? This information can allow the vet to either rule out or consider parasites as a potential cause. 

What will the vet do next? 

They will perform a clinical exam on your dog to look for possible causes, such as parasites, and to examine the condition of the skin so they can decide which course of treatment is best. If your vet finds any fleas, they can provide a treatment to apply to your dog’s skin and will advise how regularly this needs to be repeated. They may also provide itch-relief medication, such as soothing creams, medicated shampoo, or a steroid treatment if the skin is more severely inflamed. Investigation of allergies can take much longer and your vet will discuss the plan for any further tests. 

How can I prevent this in the future? 

Make sure you are regularly using effective parasite control on your pet, including all other animals in the household – you can discuss with your vet which products are best to use. If the problem is an allergic reaction, take care to avoid allergens that cause irritation.