What Causes Itchy Skin In Dogs April 1, 2015 15:02

dirty dog itchy dog shampoo

Hands down, one of the hardest parts about pet ownership is that our furry friends don’t speak human! If only they could talk to us, they could tell us what’s wrong, and what they need from us. For the dog owners among us, it’s only a matter of time before we’re faced with the all-too-familiar scenario: We’re sitting at home with our dog, enjoying a nice evening, and suddenly we notice that our dog is scratching, and scratching, and scratching…Come to think of it, she’s been scratching more than normal for a few days now, we realize. “Why is my dog itching?” is a question that’s bound to come up in our dog-loving minds at one point or another.

Itchy skin in dogs is an extremely common problem. After gastrointestinal problems, itching is the second-most common reason people take their dogs to the vet. It’s a challenging issue because the reasons a dog is scratching can be varied. If you find yourself living with an itchy dog and you’re not sure the cause, you’re not alone. Read on to explore some of the options your dog may be scratching, licking, or chewing her skin. 


Fleas are like the rats of the insect world—they’re ubiquitous pests who are nearly impossible to escape. It’s no surprise that flea allergy in dogs is one of the most common reasons dogs suffer from itchy skin. Similar to bee stings in humans, it is not the bite itself that causes the discomfort, it’s the allergy to it. Most dogs, though, are allergic to fleas. That’s why even if your dog was only bitten by one flea, an allergy to flea saliva can trigger an uncomfortable bout of dog itching. Using a monthly flea control treatment, for your dog and any other animals in your environment, is crucial when it comes to preventing the negative effects of fleas.


While fleas are the most common and well-known parasites affecting dogs, there are others that can cause uncomfortable dog skin problems as well. A parasitic mite infestation in dogs is called sarcoptic mange, and it’s no fun for your furry friend. Mites usually prefer areas of the dog’s skin that don’t have much hair, such as the ears, elbows, or stomach, so check for it by observing your pooch to see if those are the spots she is itching the most. Additionally, dog skin problems can also be caused by a condition called demodectic mange, or demodex, which is caused by small mites naturally found on most dogs—they won’t typically cause problems with itching unless your dog’s immune system is compromised or still developing. If your dog is a puppy, demodex could be the culprit. Both sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange can be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. 

Dry Skin

Diagnosing the reasons for dog dry skin can be challenging, because the condition can be caused by anything from living in a low-humidity environment, to diet, to the wrong dog shampoo, isn’t too difficult. Gently part your dog’s hair and see if the skin beneath is flaky, cracked, or if dandruff comes out. (Your dog may even flinch at the very act of you touching her skin.) If this is the case, changing your dog’s diet or shampoo brand may be able to provide relief. Using a shampoo with too many synthetic ingredients, or using human shampoo on your dog, can be very detrimental to her health and cause itchy skin. Also check with your vet to make sure you are not bathing your dog too frequently, or not frequently enough.


While many people have dog allergies, we can sometimes forget that our dogs have allergies, too! Allergies are another cause of itchy skin in dogs, and they’re becoming increasingly common. Many veterinarians believe we are currently experiencing an “allergy epidemic.” Allergies can be caused by a number of different things—from diet, to vaccinations, to a dog’s breeding. How to determine whether your dog’s itchy skin is caused by allergies can be a confusing process without clear answers. Making sure you feed your dog a high-quality diet and use high-quality shampoo, may help.

A Larger Health Issue

Sometimes itchy skin in a dog is a symptom of a larger problem. A condition like alopecia, which involves hair loss and other skin issues, can be caused by hypothyroid conditions. Anxiety can also play a roll. For many dogs and cats alike, grooming is a comforting activity that provides them relief in stressful situations or life transitions. But taken to an extreme, a dog can lick or groom to excess—even if she is not experiencing itchy skin—to cope with anxiety.

Whatever the reason, witnessing a dog experiencing the biting and scratching that comes with itchy skin is always stressful. The first step is to become aware of the problem and watch your dog closely. Pay attention to where on her body she is licking, and how frequently—if you need to seek veterinary attention, this information will provide useful in diagnosing the root cause.