What it Means When Your Dog Is Constantly Biting and Scratching Themselves
"My dog is constantly scratching and biting himself. What gives?" Every dog scratches from time to time, but sometimes it goes beyond the occasional itch. Why do some dogs start scratching and biting themselves constantly? What’s causing it? And what can you do to help your itchy dog?9 minute read
Why Is My Dog Constantly Scratching and Biting Himself?
We never want to ignore it when our dog’s behavior suddenly changes. Behavioral changes can sometimes be signs of serious issues.That being said, most causes of dogs scratching aren’t serious. Some need a vet’s help to get under control, while others can safely be treated at home.Paying attention to where your dog scratches or bites themselves - and when they do it - will help you find the reason behind their itchy behavior.
9 Reasons Why Dogs Scratch or Bite Themselves
Parasites, Including Fleas, Ticks, or Mange Mites
No one likes to think about parasites taking up residence on their dog, but it’s something every pet parent needs to be aware of - and take preventative measures to stop!Flea bites, embedded ticks, and mange mites can cause horrible itching, skin irritation, and even hair loss. Mange mites can be particularly troublesome and may require a veterinarian’s assistance to completely eliminate them.An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure in the case of parasites, as a few isolated bugs can quickly become a major infestation.Female fleas may only live three months, but they can lay 50 eggs at a time or up to 2000 eggs during their lifetime! While a tick’s reproductive cycle takes months instead of days, it doesn’t help much, since they can lay thousands of eggs at a time.This rapid reproduction is a big part of why parasites are so difficult to eliminate after they get into your house or home.Besides the itch, parasites can also carry diseases to your dogs as well as other animals and humans in your household.
Preventing parasites usually consists of:
Avoiding parasite-infested areas.
Checking your dog for parasites after they come in from a walk in the woods or other areas with thick vegetation.
Using appropriate parasite prevention methods or medications.
If you notice your dog itching more as the temperatures drop in fall and winter, dry skin is a likely culprit. While it can strike at any time, dry heated indoor air often leads to dry, itchy skin. You also may notice doggy dandruff in their fur. Dry skin leads to itching, which leads to scratching and biting, which irritates the skin more, which leads to more itching… As you can see, it can be a vicious cycle.While some severe cases may need a vet’s assistance, mild cases can be helped by something as simple as adding omega-3 fish oil to your dog’s diet.
Try as we might, we can’t keep our dogs away from possible allergens completely. Whether it’s going on a walk or going outside to use the bathroom, our dogs will, at some point, have contact with the outside world.And with allergens come possible allergies.Just like humans can break out in rashes when they touch something they’re allergic to, our dogs can get skin irritation and inflammation when allergens head their way.Additionally, some internal allergic reactions can cause skin irritation as well. Depending on the severity of the allergy, your vet may prescribe prescription medication. They can also help you narrow down the source of your pup’s allergy.Omega-3 fish oil supplements for dogs are a great tool in the fight against your dog’s allergies. They have natural anti-inflammatory properties that help calm allergic responses – not to mention the benefits they have for supporting your dog’s heart, coat, and skin health. Our Omega-3 supplement comes from only the best ingredients with the highest level of quality. As an added bonus it comes in a powdered capsule form to keep it fresher longer and make it easy to give to your dog.
Food allergies can be a surprising source of your dog’s itchiness, mainly because they can prop up seemingly out of nowhere. Over time, a dog may develop a food sensitivity to something they have eaten for years without incident. A good way to prevent this from happening is to rotate through a variety of proteins in your dog’s food. Many brands will offer different proteins in the same dog food line, like chicken, beef, or fish.If you suspect a food allergy or sensitivity is the root cause of your dog’s itchy behavior, speak with your veterinarian. They can help you safely design an elimination diet to narrow down the cause of the allergy.
Infections can be caused by bacteria, yeast, or fungi. Any of these can trigger itchiness and lead to excessive scratching and biting.Additionally, bacterial infections can be caused by a dog scratching for another reason. For example, a dog suffering from fleas might scratch until he makes a sore. That sore could get infected, which would lead to him scratching even more.Dogs that live in wet climates or that have hairy paws are more at risk of fungal infections. If you take your dog on a walk in the rain or if he likes to play in puddles or streams, drying his paws after he gets back home can help prevent fungal infections.All potential infections should be treated as soon as possible to prevent complications.
An injury doesn’t have to be large to be painful. Anybody who’s ever had a paper cut knows how true that is. Our dogs can get small injuries without us even knowing it. A tiny rock or splinter in between their paw pads can be incredibly painful but also difficult to find. If you notice your dog scratching or biting at one particular spot on their body, it’s a good idea to check for a possible injury or embedded object.Small or minor cuts or injuries can sometimes be treated at home. However, embedded objects and more serious wounds should be left to your veterinarian.
Some dogs have thyroid or cortisol imbalances. When that happens, they can develop skin infections or bald spots. This can lead to itchiness, which can lead to your dog constantly scratching and biting themselves.Determining if your dog has a hormonal imbalance and developing a treatment plan is a job for your veterinarian.
Boredom or Anxiety
We all know our dogs are smart, but that intelligence means they can get bored or anxious. High-energy or working-class dogs are particularly susceptible to boredom, and a recent study found 57% of dogs show signs of anxiety.Bored or anxious dogs may scratch or bite themselves to comfort themselves or just pass the time. While it may be easy to identify if a dog is bored and needs more activity or stimulation, figuring out if our dog is anxious and why often takes more investigation. Dogs can show anxiety in many different ways, from panting to barking to hiding. Causes can vary wildly, with changes in routine, loud noises, or being left alone for extended periods of time possibly leading to dog anxiety.To help parents with potentially anxious pups, the website for Dog Anxiety Awareness Month contains a free assessment you can take to help determine if your dog suffers from anxiety.If you discover your dog suffers from anxiety - then what?Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help anxious dogs. These range from techniques like creating a safe space for your dog to giving them calming supplements.
Other Medical Issues
If you’ve gone down the list and can’t seem to figure out the source of your dog’s itchy skin, your veterinarian can test for additional medical causes of your dog’s itchiness. Medical conditions such as impacted anal glands or genetic disorders can cause excessive itchiness in your dog. Your vet can help you determine if one of these is the cause of your dog\'s scratching and biting and provide a plan to help.
The Final Woof
So why is your dog constantly scratching or biting themselves? The answer can be anything from fleas to allergies to an injury or other medical condition, but the vast majority of the time the causes are treatable. By figuring out the cause of our dog’s itchy skin, we can help them make a full recovery and go back to living their best doggy lives.