As you spend time with your pet, you may notice that they seem extremely itchy. An occasional scratch to the ear or body is normal for dogs but seeing your pet scratch or lick constantly is a concern. It is important to reach out to your veterinarian if you find your pet itching more than usual, have red areas on the body or paws or notice your pet consistently licking a spot, as there could be an underlying medical issue. Your veterinarian will do a complete physical exam on your pet and look specifically at the skin, paws, ears, tail, and anal glands to determine the cause of the itch or licking. Look for patterns in your pet’s licking and take notice of any specific locations your pet focuses on. Identifying the areas can be helpful when discussing itching or licking with your vet. Some dogs like to only itch around the ears, whereas others have more of a generalized itch. Some things to mention to your vet include the following:
- Specific location(s) where your pet scratches/licks most (ears, side, belly, paws, etc.)
- Specific times, seasons, or months when your pet is more affected
- Duration: how long has your pet been itching/licking?
- Environmental changes
- Current diet and any recent changes to their usual diet/treats
- Other pets in the household
- Has your pet been previously diagnosed with a medical condition?
- Medications or supplements your pet is currently taking.
The medical term for itching is pruritus. Multiple causes and underlying conditions could cause your pet to scratch, itch, or lick. Due to constant itching, you may see erythema (redness) or alopecia (hair loss). In some severe cases, your dog may break through the skin, causing hemorrhage (bleeding) and could lead to a bacterial or fungal infection. You need to bring your pet in to be seen by a veterinarian if you notice any abnormalities in your pet’s itching/scratching or licking behavior.
A few common causes of pruritus (itching) include allergies. Common allergies are flea/mite allergies, seasonal allergies, environmental allergies, and food allergies. It is important to discuss with your veterinarian when you notice your pet itches the most. Identifying specific months, periods, or events is important in helping to narrow down the cause. Some dogs are extremely sensitive to fleas and react significantly to just one flea bite. We recommend Simparica Trio for good year-round flea/tick prevention to avoid fleas and prevent flea allergies. Another common allergy is seasonal allergies. Like humans, pets can also be susceptible to changes in weather conditions or pollen. You may notice that your pet is itchier during a certain month or season than during the remainder of the year. It cannot be easy to determine the specific environmental allergen since numerous varieties are in our homes and yards. Some dogs are allergic to dust, mites, animal hair, laundry detergents, and fragrances. A specific skin test or blood test can help determine which allergen your pet may be susceptible to. The least common type of allergy is food allergies. Some dogs develop an allergen to specific foods (with chicken & beef being the most common) even after being on a diet for most of their lives. If this is the case with your pet, your veterinarian may try a hypoallergenic or novel protein diet trial. A grain-free diet is not typically recommended unless your pet has a proven grain allergy.
Other causes of itching can include contact irritates such as insect bites, shampoos, grass, and dry skin. We recommend using only dog-friendly shampoo products when bathing your pet. Humans have different skin pH, which can cause harm to dogs if using a human product. Other causes of itching are secondary to a primary medical condition. Secondary itching could include underlying ear infection, anal gland infection/impaction, anxiety/stress disorders, autoimmune, or an underlying medical condition.
If you start noticing any itching, licking, or change in your pet’s health, it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately to figure out the specific cause. Your veterinarian will be happy to look at your pet, discuss specific diagnostics to identify the cause, come up with a treatment plan to make your pet feel more comfortable, and answer any questions you may have. If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with our hospital; we will be happy to help!