By Courtney Emken
co-written by Jen Larson, KPA-CTP, and Bart Emken, CPDT-KA
Most dogs love a good scratch from time to time, especially from an owner who knows their sweet spots. However, too much of a good thing can be bad— and scratching is no exception. Excessive scratching is a symptom of several serious conditions, including:
In this article, we’ll show you how to tell a simple case of seasonal allergies apart from more worrisome illnesses. Then we’ll share our best anti-itch tricks that we’ve learned over the years. Let’s stop scratching!
How To Identify The Cause(s) Of Excessive Scratching
This may seem obvious, but the very first step is to take your dog to the local vet. Typically, it’s quite easy to distinguish normal scratching from problematic itching. We’ll explain the difference in more detail later, but we want to emphasize the importance of getting your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Excessive scratching can be a sign of hypothyroidism, especially when accompanied by symptoms like:
- Hair loss
- Darkened skin pigment
- Weight gain
- Frequent infections
Hypothyroidism is a crippling condition on its own, but when left untreated it can lead to heart disease and death. If your dog has experienced any of these symptoms, then the safest course of action is to take them to the vet. Even if your dog just has allergies, the vet should be able to identify them and prescribe proper treatment. It’s always better safe than sorry.
Now that we’ve gotten the scary stuff out of the way, let’s explore some of the more common causes of excessive scratching. We’ll start with one that 50 million Americans are unfortunately all too familiar with— seasonal allergies.
If you suspect the changing weather is the culprit behind your dog’s itch, pay attention to where they’re scratching. For instance, redness on their paws is a sure sign of a grass allergy. Canine allergy symptoms are remarkably similar to our own, so watch for signs such as:
- Reddened skin
- Reddened ears
- Eye/nose discharge
If these are present without any complicating issues, then chances are you’ve just got a sniffly pooch on your hands. However, you should still perform a thorough examination of your dog’s skin and coat. Look for signs of fleas and other parasites. Also, be sure to rinse their coat well after a bath. Shampoo residue can cause irritation and itching.
Now let’s visit the other side of the allergy coin: food allergies. Food allergies are often more serious because they don’t come and go with the seasons. They also have a higher potential for severe allergic reactions. Along with scratching, look for tell-tale food allergy symptoms like:
- Hair loss
- Rosy-red ears
- Red, bloodshot eyes
Of course, it can be difficult to discern the nuances between food and seasonal allergies, especially without a major red flag like hair loss. Luckily, vets can perform a differential diagnosis to determine which allergy is causing your dog’s problems.
If the vet suspects food allergies, they’ll want to place your dog on a limited ingredient diet. They’ll have you test different types of food and take note of your dog’s symptoms. This helps them rule out certain foods and find out if a specific protein is to blame. You may be surprised to discover which common proteins dogs are most allergic to (hint: no more steak dinners!).
If you notice patches of dry and scaly skin, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. While dry patches can form due to simple scratching, they are also signs of mange or ringworm. While uncommon, both of these are highly contagious and need immediate attention.
How To Alleviate And Remedy Your Dog’s Scratching
Nobody likes to be itchy all the time— your dog included. Fortunately, there are many treatment options ranging from traditional medication to all-natural home remedies.
We mentioned how canine and human allergies share symptoms. Well, they also share treatments! Over the counter allergy medications like Zyrtec and Benadryl can relieve allergy symptoms in dogs. Of course, they’ll cause side-effects like drowsiness, but can be a cheap and simple remedy. The recommended dose of Benadryl is one milligram per pound.
One of Jen’s dogs, Charlie, experienced environmental allergies after moving to Texas from Wisconsin. He became so uncomfortable that he would chew his paw pads raw. Luckily, Jen discovered a medication called Apoquel that has worked really well for Charlie so far.
While it may have worked wonders for Charlie, Apoquel is a new drug and we’re not sure of all the long term health effects yet. If you think Apoquel is the right choice for your dog, make sure they’re getting regular blood tests and check ups to ensure there aren’t any complications.
If you’re uncomfortable giving your dog medication, then we recommend using coconut oil. Take a small dollop and rub it on your hands, then pat your dog’s coat to apply the oil. This helps relieve dry, itchy skin of all kinds, but should only be used as temporary relief and not a permanent solution.
If you’re having difficulty dealing with your dog’s scratching, please contact us today. We may not be vets ourselves, but we’ve built a large network of pet care professionals over the past twenty years who we can refer and put into contact with you. We wish you the best!