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6 Common Reasons My Dog Scratches All the Time

Updated on December 9, 2017
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian in Brazil. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Some dog breeds have allergies to their environment.
Some dog breeds have allergies to their environment. | Source

The Most Common Cause Of Scratching

1. Fleas

"It can´t be fleas. My dog doesn´t have fleas."

Scratching is the number one reason people take their dogs to the vet, so do you have any idea how many times we hear this every day? The first thing to do, before you even take your dog in for an exam because of excessive scratching, is check for the obvious, fleas.

Run a flea comb (they are really cheap and well worth keeping around) through the hair along her back, especially over her rump and tail head. If she has any fleas you might see a few of the bugs but even if you do not you will see black flakes of “flea dirt”. Flea dirt is actually the dried blood that the fleas pass as stool when dining on your dog. Not sure about the dirt? Take the material collected from the dog and drop it onto a wet paper towel. If it becomes red around the dog, you are actually collecting dried blood.

Your dog´s blood!

Buy a flea control chemical (pill or spot-on) from your vet or for some alternatives read my article on non-chemical flea control. Some dogs become allergic to flea saliva and they are miserable, scratching constantly, so control this problem early before it is established in your home and yard.

This poor dog probably had mange as well as allergies, but if not treated the skin will thicken and become even harder to manage.
This poor dog probably had mange as well as allergies, but if not treated the skin will thicken and become even harder to manage. | Source

What other reasons do dogs have for scratching all the time?

2. Mange

No flea dirt? The problem is tougher to diagnose but definitely can be solved. If she seems to itch so badly that she cannot even sleep you need to consider mange. The most common type of mange, sarcoptes, can also affect people and you might notice little itchy bites around your waist. You will have to take her in for diagnosis but there are several good alternative therapies you can try. (The other type of mange, demodex, does not cause the intense itching that is seen with sarcoptes but you will notice the hair loss and maybe a secondary bacterial infection, which can cause some itching.)

3. Contact allergies

If she licks and chews at her feet all of the time there is a good chance she has a contact allergy. Contact allergies to a food dish will cause the dog to be red and itchy around the mouth, contact allergy to a shampoo will make the dog itchy everywhere the shampoo is used. Contact allergies are a lot less common than fleas or mange but if you want to try and rule out this problem you need to get rid of everything that the dog comes into contact with. Once the problem is found, it is solved.

4. Food allergies

If she itches all over, her ears are swollen, and she has GI upsets, she may have food allergies. Several types of food can cause allergies and the only way to find out is by eliminating all of the potential allergens and feeding something totally new. It is not sufficient to just switch brands of kibble, since many of them use the same fillers and the dog may continue to have problems. Once a good diet is found you can keep the dog on that food or start adding the old components slowly until you have found out what she is allergic to. (This is called a challenge diet.)

5. Inhalant allergies

Allergies to environmental allergens (pollens from trees, grass, weeds, etc) will also cause dogs to act itchy all over. Dogs with inhalant allergies might present with problems the same time every year, or it might be something in the house and so be a year-round problem. The only way to find out what is causing the problem is by doing allergy testing. The results are not very reliable but it is the only test available.

6. Fungal and bacterial infections

Itching and scratching may not be the main signs you notice when your dog has a fungal or bacterial infection. The itching may be pretty mild compared to the hair loss and the nasty smell. The dog might have patches of infected skin (hot spots) or have a generalized infection.

This dog looks like it has skin problems but this is normal!
This dog looks like it has skin problems but this is normal! | Source

How can scratching be treated?

The best treatment really depends on diagnosing the cause of the scratching, and since several of the allergies listed will appear to be something else, this is not always easy. Diagnosing allergies is difficult and not something anyone can master just reading articles.

Treating the primary problem is great if your veterinarian can figure it out.

1. Flea control: There are a lot of great products introduced every year, or you can use natural flea control.

2. Mange treatment

3. Removing the allergen from the environment: This may not be easy but if your dog is allergic to dust mites, for example, there are things you can do to reduce their buildup in the home. Find out some alternatives by reading my article on how to make an allergic dog feel more comfortable.

4. Allergy injections (immunotherapy): This method of controlling inhalant allergies may not be very effective, but if your dog is allergic this is a possibility.

5. Hypoallergenic diet

Some Scratching Relief

To give your dog some temporary relief, your veterinarian might also suggest:

1. Steroids. (Although steroids have a lot of side effects, in the short term they can provide a lot of relief for itchy skin and for that reason are still used frequently.) If your dog is in so much discomfort that he is not able to sleep at night, this is definitely something to consider.

2. Antihistamines. (Sometimes they work, sometimes they do not. They can help a lot in some cases but in others the dog may be just as miserable.)

3. Bathing. (You can use a soothing shampoo like oatmeal. This therapy can help a lot by removing the allergens on the skin and moisturizing the skin.) Bathing can end up taking a lot of time but in some cases they make a dog feel better than any other therapy.

4. Dietary supplements. (Like fatty acids, vitamin C, and some other antioxidants. They might take longer to provide your dog with some relief so will need to be used with other therapies.)

5. Antibiotics. (This may be a primary treatment in case of a skin infection but most likely it will just give the dog some relief while allergies are dealt with.)

6. Alternative therapies, like apple cider vinegar -this is a link to the brand of organic vinegar that I use--just add a teaspoon to the water. (Not all veterinarians will discuss these alternative therapies with you, so you might need to read about them and consult a holistic vet. If you want to avoid the negative side effects of therapies like chronic steroids, ACV and some herbal cures that may be of some benefit.)

Vinegar is a great alternative therapy and organic apple cider vinegar has many other positive effects. This is the brand I use. I add a teaspoon to my dogs water dish.

Get Help For Your Scratching Dog

If your dog has fleas, take care of it right away and avoid further problems.

Most dog owners will notice if their dog has another problem and find help early. If you ignore the problem though it can get much worse and will be much harder to treat. If your dog is itchy and scratching he is damaging his skin even if you cannot tell; you should investigate the problem as soon as possible and try to find a solution.

My dog is probably scratching because of:

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If your dog scratches excessively and needs help, leave a question or comment

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    • profile image

      Aliyah 5 months ago

      My new puppy is scratching all the time.She doesn't have any fleas that i know of and ive checked her multiple times but I couldn't find anything.

      I think its the shampoo that I cleaned her with (flea and tick shampoo)

      She only six weeks

      Sometimes I think she does it for no reason because it doesn't bother her at all

    • profile image

      dugans 2 years ago

      just a follow-up - can't tell as to the honey efficacy as the itching has greatly abated now in tandem with the ACV wash - Nova hated the taste of ACV in her food and water bowl but did like the "eau de parfum" of it with a several times a day wash down of armpits and tummy! it seems that this might have been a "short-term" environmental allergy reaction --- we are in Florida and something is always growing - of course, we are happy with the fact that she is rarely itching now! - because of the spindle cell cancer, we are still limiting the honey she gets, but still giving it to see if it will help ward off the next wave of allergens! Thanks for your constant helpfulness!!!

    • profile image

      dugans 2 years ago

      thank you for your input - we think that we will start with 1/2 tsp twice a week of our local wildflower honey - also going to add a small amount of ACV to her drinking water - the ACV topically has helped and we have been able to ease her off the bendryl - we let you know if the Lord blesses the means!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Dugans: the atopic injection therapy has not proved much good, but if you can provide her with a local raw honey you may provide her with some relief. She will be exposed to the local antigens and have a chance to make antibodies to make her feel a little better. Hope it works for you. Please let us know.

    • profile image

      dugans 2 years ago

      Dr. Mark: How do you feel about treating topical, seasonal allergies with raw, unfiltered, local honey? Anecdotal evidence indicates it could be helpful. How much could we give her to eat, do you think? However, the catch is, our girl has spindle cell cancer, so we have to watch her sugar intake. Is it worth the try? She's a 41 pound siberian. We are doing the ACV wash externally. Thanks for your input!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      It sounds more like fleas,ken, but it might also be sarcoptic mange. Definitely not allergies if you get bites too.You need to go back with this info. Good luck.

    • profile image

      ken 4 years ago

      My Boxer scratches all the time now it seems like whatever she has is effecting the entire family now. Took her to the vet he says it's allergies but I don't what to do with her anymore. The babies have what look like bite marks and I get them sometimes as well. Any help?

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks DrMark - I will definitely check it out. He is on a very low dose, 1 pill per day and the specialist has told me that giving him more than that could lead to long term issues and yes, I mean allergen injections.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      GlimmerTwinFan, do you mean you are giving him allergen injections? If your vet is giving him steroids every day he might feel better, but will be very sick later on. Google "long term side effects of daily steroids for dogs" if you want to learn more. There are other natural altenatives, like raw honey harvested in your area. Take a moment and look at:

      If you have any questions or I can help you can leave me a comment and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      I am currently dealing with mange and even though he has been given medication he is still itching. I found a mixture of borax, peroxide and water on the Internet, applied it last night and he is not scratching today. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

      This is a very useful hub to introduce people to the reasons dog scratch.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Glad this hub was shared. My dog has horrible allergies and takes a vaccine shot every few weeks along with a daily steroid pill. He still scratches, but not as much. It took us a very long time and many tests and money to figure out what he was allergic to and now he is pretty much ok. This is a useful hub.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Both of my dogs are supposed to be "water dogs", but they both hate baths. I found your video very interesting and helpful. This is another great hub on taking better care of our dogs. I really appreciate all your information! Voting up, useful, interesting and sharing!

    • profile image

      Ruth Lanham 4 years ago

      I like the idea of apple cider vinegar and herbs. I think I'll try it...thanks!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thanks much.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      I am just about to publish a hub with some alternatives to the steroids. I am glad she was able to get by with just the one injections.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

      Bella had to get a steroid shot which I dreaded but it helped in the long run to feeling better and getting her coat to look healthier. I give her derm caps. The change of food has helped definitely. I am glad she is better with the food and supplements. The vet suggested she may need to be on steroid tablets every other day or so if the itching got bad again. They are supposed to be a minor point than the shot itself, but I want to avoid those completely. We are doing pretty good.

      I loved watching the video of the dog afraid of the bath and as bella does, his dog looked so relieved when it was over.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Thanks for coming by. I´m glad the garlic is working for your friend´s flea problems.

      DoM, I am curious as to whether the fleas in your area have built up a resistance to that product through natural selection. It has happened with every other toxin invented, I am sure it will happen (or has happened already) with Advantage. It was good back in the late 90s but that is a long time for fleas

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 5 years ago

      Dr Mark thank you for this very informative hub. I have put a little garlic in their food, it seems to reduce the flea problem! Up, interesting and useful.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image

      Melissa Flagg COA OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Great hub as always DrMark. My puppy has dry, itchy skin, and I've been using Vitamin E on it which seems to help tremendously. But her skin is mainly dry. I'm going to try the vinegar as a flea control. I really don't like giving her Advantage and it doesn't work all that well anyway.