Does Your Dog Scratch Endlessly?

There may be more than fleas causing him to itch.

There are so many things that can make your dog's skin itch, it can sometimes seem like you need a pet detective to determine the problem. The top 10 things that can irritate your dog's skin and cause him to scratch, bite and/or lick constantly are:

1. Fleas

2. Airborne allergens like pollen, which results in hay fever

3. Parasites, such as ear mites, scabies or cheyletiellosis, also known as walking dandruff

4. Skin infections caused by bacteria

5. Ticks and lice

6. Food allergies

7. Fungal infections, including yeast infections

8. Seborrhea

9. Contact allergies

10. Whole-body illnesses, such as liver disease, immune-system problems and some cancers.

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A pet who scratches constantly and never seems to get relief from the itch, can drive a pet owner crazy and if the animal continues with the biting and licking, can develop oozing sores and do considerable damage to their skin. Don't give up in frustration. It is possible to determine what is causing your pet to scratch, but it will take patience, and the sound advice of your veterinarian is always the best first step. Just the bite of a single flea can cause a fit of scratching and chewing. As we mentioned in a previous article, allergies from pollen, dust mites or any number of things within your pet's environment can cause him irritation. Watch your dog and keep track of how often he scratches and whether or not it seems like "typical" scratching or is more aggressive accompanied by biting and constant licking. It might be a good idea to note his behavior when he begins to scratch and even what he was doing when the scratching episode begins. Remembering such details may help you and your veterinarian narrow down the possible causes. Also try to remember if anything new has been introduced into your pet's environment, such as new bedding, another pet, new food, etc. No detail is insignificant; all this information will be very helpful for your vet when trying to determine the cause of the irritation.

You will most certainly want to help your pet feel better in whatever ways you can; however it is important that you don't scratch your dog's itch for him. This may have the opposite effect and actually cause your dog to itch even more. There are things you can do to relieve your dog's itching while you and your vet figure out the problem. Bathe the dog regularly in cool water. Water that is too warm will only make the dog itch more, so keep the temperature as cool as possible without being too cold for your pet's comfort. Allow your pet to just soak for at least 5 to 10 minutes, or a little longer if he seems to enjoy it. You can add epsom salts, baking soda or colloidal oatmeal to the water to help increase the soothing effects. Keep in mind though, this only provides temporary relief for anywhere from a few hours to a few days at best. After the bath pat, DO NOT RUB the dog with a soft, clean towel. Rubbing his skin may also increase your dog's itchiness. Also make sure you do not use a hair dryer on a heat setting. A cool (no heat) setting would be okay, if you want to use that to help dry his fur. Heat and rubbing will make the soothing bath ineffective. Make sure you keep his bedding clean and dry and do not use any sprays or other things on rugs or pads that he may sleep on, as this may irritate the itch further, and may even be one of the things causing him to itch.

Many dogs are very sensitive to simple lawn grasses, so it's a good idea to keep his coat brushed and clear of any loose grass that may stick to his coat when he rolls on the grass. Another cause may be Moist Eczema, often called a "Hot Spot". These skin lesions often occur as a result of moisture on the skin surface from rain, pond or lake water. In dense coated dogs or dogs where there is an accumulation of mats or shedding hair, moisture on the skin may remain long enough to allow superficial bacteria to reproduce and create an infection. Some cases of Moist Eczema will spread very rapidly and require rather aggressive therapy to correct. Keeping your dog's coat clean and dry and brushed often to remove loose and tangled fur, is key in helping to prevent this type of problem. It may be that your dog has allergies associated with increased pollen levels that are particularly high in spring. Consult your veterinarian on possible antihistamines that may provide relief. Your veterinarian will make sure you know about all available products and the proper dosage, to insure your pet gets relief.

Your dog may also be suffering from a new cleaning agent you are using or perhaps a food that he has not had before. Through the analysis of the patient’s history, the veterinarian will discover that the patient spends time swimming or excavating gopher holes or romping through fields where thistles seem prevalent. If the itch is caused by fleas, your veterinarian will be able to provide several options such as collars, special bathing solutions and or other treatments that will soothe your dog's skin and give him relief. If your pet does not show signs of fleas, then it may be a symptomatic condition of an underlying illness, so it's always a good idea to consult your veterinarian if you cannot determine your pet's problem on your own.


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