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Why is my dog scratching?

Dogs can get itches just like humans.
Dogs can get itches just like humans.
Nicole Adams (Examiner)

It is not unusual to see your dog scratch from an itch. Many dog guardians have witnessed their pooch, at one time or another, scratch behind his ear with his back paw. Dogs get itchy, just like humans, but how do you know when it is a problem?

Excessive scratching could indicate a health issue, so it is important to pay attention to the duration of scratching, the location and frequency. Itching is a vague symptom at best and could mean a wide variety of things. Your dog may scratch via his paws, use his tongue to lick the itchy area or bite the itch to find relief.

The most common reasons for an itchy dog include, but are not limited to:
environmental allergies
food allergies
neurological disorder
medicinal side effect
underlying organ disease

It is always advisable that your dog see a veterinarian if you suspect a more serious problem than just the occasional itch.

Fleas are a common problem among pets. The itch from the flea is due to an allergic reaction and can cause quite the irritation to your dog's skin. The first sign of fleas, aside from scratching, is usually flea dirt, which can be spotted on the dog's skin or her usual resting spot.

Environmental allergies are similar to human environmental allergies. Your dog may suffer from common allergens such as grass, trees, weeds, dust, pollen, etc. Often a dog's face is the area an environmental allergy will show itself. Your dog may rub his nose or paw at his face.

Food allergies or intolerances can be more difficult to determine. However, itchiness is a common symptom of food allergies. Common foods dogs may be allergic to include chicken, dairy, beef, grain, soy and corn.

Parasites are something every dog guardian needs to be aware of. There are many different kinds of parasites that have a variety of symptoms, and sometimes no symptoms at all. Itching may be from mites, worms or mange.

Infections may cause itchiness in dogs. Bacterial, fungal or yeast infections often irritate the skin to the point of alopecia, or hair loss. A common fungal infection is ringworm (and is not actually a worm), which is contagious but treatable. Yeast infections typically have a foul odor that accompanies the scratching. Bacterial infections can spread if left untreated and usually have an infected area or sore that is itchy.

Neurological reasons for itchiness include obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, boredom, confined anxiety or frustration. These reasons are often harder to diagnose. Many times all other possibilities are ruled out first.

Potential side effects of medication can include itchy skin. Some dogs are sensitive to certain medications, whether given orally or applied topically. You may or may not notice a rash on your dog's skin from a reaction to medication.

Itching may also be a symptom of something more serious: an underlying disease affecting a major organ, like the liver, kidneys or pancreas. As the body releases toxins due to a disease such as Cushings, Addison's, diabetes or cancer, they come out through the skin. This can cause rashes, itchiness, redness or scaly skin.

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