Does you dog keep you awake at night with its annoying scratching? Have you noticed that your dog has a bad odour? If so, chances are that your dog has an allergy or skin infection which is driving you both nuts.

Owning an itchy, scratchy dog is one of the most common reasons for visiting your veterinarian, particularly in summer. Dogs, like us, suffer from allergies and skin diseases, so it is important to have an understanding of the many causes of the itchy dog syndrome.

Diagnose the problem

To accurately diagnose and treat your dog, you will need to work closely with your veterinarian as many skin conditions require long term treatment. Your constant monitoring of your dog’s progress and feedback to your vet is vital, as is your commitment to managing and treating the condition.

To assist your veterinarian to diagnose and then treat the itch, you can help a great deal by providing some key information. For example,

  • does your dog scratch its face, feet, ears, body or tail?
  • does it chew its feet, rub its body along the walls of your house, or does it scoot along the ground?
  • did you first notice the itch as a puppy, or did it develop later in life?
  • does your dog scratch mostly in spring or summer, or is it all year round?
  • is you dog confined to indoors, or does it run in the bush?
  • do you have other pets?
  • is a family member is itchy?
  • which shampoos and flea control products do you use,
  • what is your dog’s basic diet?
  • have you had success or failure with any previous treatments?

After careful examination of your dog, your veterinarian may perform some pathology tests such as skin scrapings, samples of skin flakes, cytology on lumps or ears, skin biopsies, or a series of blood and urine tests.

Some causes of itchy skin

Your veterinarian is then able to advise you of the one or more medical conditions which is causing your dog to scratch which may be due to any of the following:-

  1. Allergies.
    • The most common is flea allergy dermatitis, which is worst in the hotter months. The itch is mostly on the lower back, hind legs and tummy.
    • Inhaled or atopic dermatitis which is most prevalent in spring and summer. Inhaled pollens, house dust mites or mould spores may cause an itch on any part of the body.
    • Food allergies which often lead to tummy upsets and skin irritations. Food allergies are mostly triggered by animal protein in the food.
    • Contact allergies are commonly caused by grasses and succulent weeds. The itch is often noticed on the feet, tummy and chin.
  2. Infections.
    • Staphylococcus bacteria frequently lead to pimples and hot spots. In the more severe cases deep seated pyodermas or furunculosis may develop.
    • Fungal infections (Ringworm) which are uncommon in dogs lead to patches of hair loss.
    • Malassezia yeast infections are often associated with dandruff and a rancid odour on a dog.
    • Mange mites such as Demodex or Scabies will cause intense itch and hair loss.
  3. Seborrhoea is an inflammatory skin condition that may result in dry or oily skin. The dogs are very itchy, lose hair, have dry scale and are very smelly.
  4. Hormonal or metabolic diseases:
    • Hypothyroid (underactive thyroid) dogs often develop an itch, dry scaly skin, maybe overweight and infertile.
    • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushings disease) due to an excess of cortisol production frequently causes the dog to itch, lose hair, have thin skin with dark pigment, drink excessively and have recurring skin problems.
  5. Cancers and immune mediated diseases may lead to itchy skin, weight loss, infections, development of lumps or growths and other conditions.

Treatment of itchy skin

Many of the conditions described above may appear similar on initial examination however, once a diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian will develop a treatment protocol which may involve injections, tablets, medicated shampoos, rinses and in some cases very careful monitoring and repeat blood testing. The aim is to eliminate the itch and odour, restore the hair loss and return the hair coat on your dog to its shiny best. Please follow the directions of your veterinarian carefully and report the progress regularly. Use shampoos and medications formulated specifically for the skin of dogs.

Itchy dogs can be frustrating at times but by being persistent with flea control and skin care and following your veterinarian’s advice your dog will really appreciate your diligence – and – there will be no more thumping on the floor at night keeping you both awake.