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Dog Scratching Explained

By Dr. Kait Link, DVM and medically reviewed by Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
published: May 18, 2016 - updated: January 18, 2023 • 2 min. read
Dog scratching explained
Dog scratching explained

Every dog has the occasional itch, but if your pup’s scratching becomes consistent or excessive, it’s time to take action. Relentless itching can be caused by a variety of conditions, and it’s important to identify the underlying issue before it can be treated.

Skin Infections That Cause Dog Itching

Even healthy, non-itching dogs have a certain number of bacteria and yeast on their skin, but an overgrowth of either can turn into a problem. Skin infections are generally always secondary to another issue, such as fleas or allergies. Intense itching can disrupt the skin barrier and allow bacteria or yeast to penetrate, resulting in an infection.


Most Common Dog Allergies

One of the most frequent and recognizable signs of dog allergies is itchy, red skin, and one or more of the following allergens may be to blame.

  • Environmental allergens can be found in your home and commonly include dust, storage mites, chemicals, and mold. You can reduce the number of mites in your house by using mattress covers and washing your linens weekly. Controlling humidity in the home through proper ventilation will help cut down on mold. Other environmental allergens include pollen, hay, grass, and ragweed. Dogs often suffer from itchy feet and bellies with allergens found outdoors.
  • Fleas are the most common allergy in dogs. They inherently cause a dog to itch; however, some dogs can have severe allergic reactions to flea saliva. Dogs with flea allergies become itchy in their hind ends, especially near the base of their tails. Fleas survive on your pet, carpeting, and bedding. If one pet in your home has fleas, all of them need to be treated as well as the environment to eliminate the infestation.
  • Dog food allergies are caused by animal or plant-based proteins that can trigger hypersensitivity reactions. Dogs suffering from food allergies usually scratch around their faces, ears, and back ends.

Mites, Ticks, and Lice: Oh My!

In addition to fleas, other parasites can cause your dog to itch.

  • Ticks, which feed on the blood of a host animal, can be picked up from outdoors. When they attach to the skin of your dog, they can cause irritation and pain.
  • If you’ve noticed tiny, white insect-like specks crawling on your pup—usually under the tail, near the rump, along the back, or on the face—he or she might have lice.
  • Low numbers of certain types of mites can be normal in dogs, but when there is an overgrowth, they can cause a problem. There are many types of mites, and irritated skin can be found throughout the whole body.

If you notice your dog has become itchy, reach out to a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause and get appropriate treatment.

Dr. Kait Link, DVM, is a veterinarian and co-founder of Treat, an innovative vet practice. Treat is reinventing pet care, offering instant access to affordable in-home veterinary care, training, and grooming. Book in under a minute or chat free anytime. Download the Treat app at

kait link
By Dr. Kait Link, DVM

Dr. Kait Link, DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), is a veterinarian and co-founder of Treat, an innovative vet practice in operation from 2015-2016. She served as the Chair of External Affairs Committee for International Veterinary Outreach from 2018-2020. Dr. Link works as a clinical research veterinarian in San Francisco, Calif. She graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 2014.

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About DVM contributor, Brittany Kleszynski
By Brittany Kleszynski, DVM

Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a freelance veterinary and medical writer for Healthy Paws who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers and speaks directly to the intended audiences. She writes and edits educational articles for pet parents and creates continuing education and online learning modules for healthcare professionals. She has worked in research and small animal practice since graduating veterinary school and is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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