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My dog is itchy: why? How to treat it?

When a dog scratches, bites or licks itself excessively because of itching (pruritus), it can quickly become irritated and the lesions can become infected. It is therefore necessary to identify the cause of the itching without delay in order to relieve the animal with an appropriate treatment. The first cause of itching in dogs is infestation by external parasites. But skin infections and allergies can also be the cause of itching.

Pruritus (itching) in dogs: the different causes

The main causes of itching in dogs are

External parasites

Fleas, lice, mites are all parasites that can settle in the dog's coat and cause itching, the flea being present in most cases. This parasite can be found in the outdoor environment but also in the house because a flea lays hundreds of eggs that hatch quickly. It feeds on the blood of its host but the saliva of the flea can cause allergic reactions. This is called Flea Allergy Dermatitis or FAD.

It is very important to regularly inspect your dog's coat for the presence of external parasites. Careful brushing should be done several times a week, and special attention should be paid when returning from a trip to the wild.

Fortunately, external parasites can be eradicated with a shampoo or anti-parasite lotion. A flea collar, for example, is a preventive measure, but you can also give your dog a treatment in pipettes or tablets.

Skin infection

The skin is an organ that forms a protective barrier between the external environment and the body. But when a dog scratches excessively because of itching, it can create small lesions on the skin. Infection can therefore be a secondary cause of itching.

Fungal infection

When itchiness is associated with an increase in sebum production (seborrhea), an infection due to a yeast (fungus) such as Malassezia may be suspected.

Allergy in dogs

The pruritus is severe but well localized. Of various causes, the allergy can be - as we have seen - due to flea saliva because of the presence of allergens, and DAPP is the most frequent allergy in dogs.

But the animal can present other forms of allergy such as sensitization to contact with a plant, a synthetic substance (plastic), a cleaning product, and that is called contact allergy. The dog may also have a food allergy or an environmental allergy (pollen, mold, grass, dust, etc.). In this last case, we talk about atopic dermatitis.

Itching is sometimes very localized on a single area and the causes are numerous: ear scabies, presence of internal parasites (intestinal worms), an engorgement of the anal glands, a polyp in a nasal cavity, a conjunctivitis (eye)...

Itching in dogs: solutions

You can start by giving your dog a treatment against fleas and at the same time cleaning rigorously all his environment in order to eliminate the eggs that may have been deposited in the dog's basket, between the floorboards, on the living room carpet, etc.

Then, it is recommended to consult the veterinarian if the dog has been itching for a few days and spends a good part of his time scratching or licking himself insistently, especially on a particular area. If he shakes his head frequently, for example, this may indicate that the itching is in his ears. Whatever the symptoms, the cause of the itching must absolutely be identified so that the veterinarian prescribes an adapted treatment, case by case.

He inspects the animal's skin to look for scales, redness, pimples, excoriations, crusts. Erythema and rashes are not always present if the condition is recent. But it is better not to wait to consult, because chronic pruritus leads to hair loss in the affected areas and, by dint of insistent scratching, to a thickening of the skin or lichenification. This is the case, for example, with dogs that suffer from allergic contact eczema.

There is a solution for every cause of itching: antiparasitic, antifungal, antibiotic... If the itching is due to an allergy, the solution is to avoid the allergen. Some owners want to give their dog a natural treatment against itching. In these cases, a specialized veterinarian can prescribe alternative solutions such as aromatherapy or phytotherapy.

If no treatment is given, and whatever the cause of the itching, the dog is caught in a vicious circle because it scratches a lot, and scratching maintains the itching since the lesions created lead to itching... In addition, the animal's comfort must be considered, as it can be considerably disturbed by the itching.

Finally, a dog that scratches a lot can simply suffer from anxiety. This is the case of psychogenic dermatosis. Compulsive scratching and licking are again the cause of skin wounds and inflammatory lesions that require a consultation. An anxiolytic is usually prescribed in this case, and in parallel a behavioral therapy is strongly recommended.