Why Is My Dog So Itchy? Causes & Easy Treatments

Five Minutes
Mar 04, 2024

Dogs love a good scratch, right? However, there’s a difference between a short-lived, satisfying scratch and chronic itching or scratching on your dog’s part… and it’s not always easy to tell which itch is which.

On top of not knowing what could be causing your dog to itch, figuring out what to do about it can be equally perplexing. Is it a “normal” amount of scratching? Could it be allergies, dandruff, or fleas? When is it time to call the veterinarian?

Read on to learn more about the underlying causes of itchiness in dogs, so you can make preventing and treating your dog’s itchy skin easier.

What Causes Itchy Skin in Dogs?

If your dog is experiencing excessive itchiness, also known as pruritus, they’re certainly not alone. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons pet parents seek care for their pets.1

Dogs can have itchy skin due to a variety of causes. Some purebred dogs — including poodles, cocker spaniels, and retrievers — are simply prone to developing itchy, irritating skin conditions.1 Meanwhile, other causes are external, such as parasites or seasonal allergens.

Here’s a quick rundown of common causes of itchy skin in dogs to help you understand what you may be up against.


When dogs start scratching, the first thing many pet parents assume is a flea infestation. But even if there are no fleas in sight, don’t assume your dog is off the hook. The bite of a lone flea can keep your dog itching for days if they suffer from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD).2 Other parasites, including mites and ticks, can also prompt itching in dogs.

Dry skin

Dogs can be itchy due to dry skin that occurs from too many baths or a dry environment. While dry skin can be an issue all on its own, it can also be a symptom of other issues, like parasites or allergies.3

Environmental and seasonal allergies

Mold, dust, and pollen can all cause dogs to be itchy, both through inhalation and direct contact with the allergen. Symptoms often follow a seasonal pattern, with heightened sensitivity during specific times of the year. However, prolonged exposure can worsen symptoms, leading to year-round discomfort.4 Seasonal and environmental allergies can also be inherited, which is referred to as atopy or atopic dermatitis.4

Food allergies or sensitivities

While dogs can develop allergies to any food or ingredient, some of the most common food allergens for dogs — such as beef, dairy, chicken, eggs, soy, and gluten — are also common ingredients in many commercial dog foods.5 Along with itching, food allergies might also be accompanied by symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting.5

Nutritional deficiencies

When dogs are deficient in certain nutrients, the health of their skin may suffer. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are one group of nutrients that support skin and coat health — and when dogs don’t receive adequate amounts, they may develop skin irritations or a patchy, dull-looking coat.6

Underlying health issues

While rare, itchy skin that isn’t caused by any of the factors listed above could be a sign of an underlying health issue, such as liver disease. In these cases, it’s best to work with your veterinarian to determine what could be causing the mystery itching to ensure you obtain the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Is a Costly Dog Itch a Concern?

Pet Insurance Can Help

How To Tell if Your Dog’s Itchy Skin Is a Problem

Just like us humans, dogs scratch themselves all the time. While some itching and scratching is normal, frequent, excessive, or incessant scratching is definitely worth monitoring and — in many cases — treating.

The Pruritis Visual Analog Scale (PRAS)7 can help you gauge how serious of an issue your pet’s itchy skin is. The scale prompts pet parents to answer questions, such as: Is your pet itching while eating or playing? Does it disrupt their sleep? Your answers can help determine whether your dog is experiencing an issue beyond normal itching.

Whatever the case, if you’ve noticed your pet scratching more often, a visit to the vet is a good first step that can save you a lot of time, according to Cincinnati-based veterinarian, Amanda Steffen, DVM.

“In the age of the internet, it is fairly easy to get lost in a rabbit hole of home remedies and expensive supplements that have no scientific merit,” says Steffen. Consulting with your veterinarian first will provide the most accurate information relevant to your pet’s condition.

What Your Dog’s Itchy Skin Is Telling You

What specific signs should you look out for to help you and your veterinarian figure out the cause of the itching?

  • Swelling and inflammation: One of the biggest signs that an allergy could be causing a skin problem is it becoming red and inflamed, says Steffen. But there are other clues, too. “One thing to look out for is a pet licking at their feet or chewing on their toes. This may be more noticeable at night when you are in bed and you hear them licking and chewing,” she says.
  • Bumps: You can also watch out for small, red bumps — especially along the belly — as these can be caused by scratching and can lead to skin infections. Look at your pet’s toes too, as they can turn red and inflamed. Steffen says that frequent ear infections and redness around or in the whites of the eyes can accompany itching due to allergies.
  • Chewing: Some of the above symptoms could also indicate itching caused by parasites. But Steffen says there are specific signs to watch out for that can help pet parents tell the difference. “Flea allergies usually potentiate from chewing around the tail base or hair loss around that area,” says Steffen, but she warns that fur may keep you from actually seeing active fleas.
  • Hair loss: Mange, a skin condition caused by mites that can’t be seen with the naked eye, is often accompanied by hair loss around the face, feet, and trunk, along with red, itchy skin.8 “Pets can also get ear mites that can cause itching around the ears or face. These can also cause thick, dry, black material in the ears,” says Steffen.

Pay attention to when your dog is itchy, as this can provide clues about the cause, too. If itching occurs seasonally, this is a sign it could be an environmental allergy caused by pollen, grass, or even dust and mold.

If you’ve changed your pet’s diet or introduced a new treat, then itchy skin may be a food allergy. “If a pet has an allergy to a diet, it is usually correlated with the protein source of the diet. The most common allergens in diets are beef, chicken, and dairy,” says Steffen, adding that wheat and grains are uncommon allergies.

No matter what’s causing your dog to itch, finding a way to soothe that itch plays a crucial part in a speedy recovery. Otherwise, Steffen cautions, excessive scratching can lead to open sores and further skin damage. “This would require immediate care and most likely a course of antibiotics and anti-itch medications,” she warns.

Dog scratching itself in a field

Itch Relief for Dogs: Remedies and Treatment

Providing relief from itching and scratching often depends on the cause. While some home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) solutions may prove effective, prescription medications may be required in some cases to stop the itching at its source. So if your initial efforts aren’t providing any relief, it’s a good idea to seek diagnosis and treatment recommendations from your veterinarian for your dog’s itchy skin.

Here are some common solutions pet parents can employ to relieve itching and scratching in dogs.

Home remedies

At-home remedies are often appealing to pet parents because they’re a convenient itch relief option that doesn’t require a trip to the veterinarian or prescription medications.

Baths are a good choice to help relieve itchy skin and remove environmental allergens. “Baths with an aloe- or oatmeal-based shampoo will be easier on the skin and can help with soothing,” says Steffen.

If fleas are an issue, Steffen cautions against using flea baths, which can contain harsh chemicals and toxic ingredients. Instead, she suggests bathing your itchy dog with Dawn dish soap. Though she warns, “This only kills the fleas that are on the pet and will not treat the fleas in your yard or house.” Be sure to use topical flea medication for at least 3 months to clear the entire cycle of the flea or parasite.

“There are also topical foams/sprays that contain fish oils and antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, that can help soothe the skin temporarily,” says Steffen.

If you suspect environmental allergies, use wipes to clean off your dog’s paws after they come inside, especially if you notice they’re itchier after a walk or at certain times of the year.

Dietary changes

Itching due to food allergies can be remedied by pinpointing what’s causing the problem and changing the diet. Often, prescription diets can help. “Diets based on a fish protein tend to be better for pets with skin issues,” says Steffen.

Adding supplements can also be beneficial for skin health. “Look for something that has fish oils in it, like omega-3, -6, and -9 fatty acids. You can also look for products that contain salmon oil and vitamin E for immune support,” says Steffen. She also recommends probiotics because they can support the immune system’s role in preventing itchy skin.


If your pet’s itchy skin is due to an underlying environmental allergy, Steffen says the best remedy is likely prescription medication — among other solutions, like avoiding the allergen. “Your vet can also discuss over-the-counter medication options to use if the itching is less intense,” she says. Antihistamines can provide effective relief to dogs. However, you should never dose your dog with allergy medication made for humans because the results can be unpredictable. Only give your dog medication your veterinarian has approved or prescribed, and only in the dosage recommended for your specific pet.

To prevent or remedy parasite issues, Steffen recommends keeping dogs on a parasite preventative medication. But always confirm the best treatment for your dog with your veterinarian to ensure it meets your pet’s specific needs.

How To Promote Healthy Skin in Dogs

Even if your pet isn’t experiencing excessive itchiness currently — or if you’ve already determined the cause — taking steps to keep your dog’s skin healthy plays a key role in helping them feel their best.

Here are three simple ways you can help dogs avoid itchy skin. While these measures can benefit all dogs, they’re especially important to consider if you have a dog breed that’s prone to skin issues.

  1. Avoid too many baths: Just as too many hot showers can dry out human skin, too many baths can make your dog’s skin dry and flaky. Minimize the number of baths your dog has, and be sure to use skin-soothing shampoos and hydrating products.
  2. Prevent parasites: It’s much easier to prevent fleas, mites, or other parasites from biting your dog than it is to get rid of them during a full-blown infestation. There’s a wide range of preventative treatment options available, ranging from OTC topical treatments to prescription medications. Always consult your veterinarian to choose the best prevention method for your pet.
  3. Feed a skin-healthy diet: Special diets that boost skin health aren’t just for dogs who suffer from itchy skin due to food allergies or sensitivities. In a balanced diet, key ingredients that promote healthy skin can also support overall vitality for all dogs. “Look for supplements or diets that have lots of fish oils, omega fatty acids, probiotics, and vitamin E,” recommends Steffen. “There are also daily probiotic powders that can be added to their diets to help promote healthy skin and immune systems.”

Many dogs experience excessive itching and scratching at some point in their lives. However, keeping a close eye on changes in your dog’s skin health can help you quickly identify and treat skin issues, no matter what’s causing them. Knowing what to look for can also help you choose the right course of action — whether that’s an at-home remedy, OTC treatment, or a visit to the veterinarian — to get your itchy dog feeling better fast.

How Pet Insurance Can Help Treat Itchy Skin in Dogs

If your dog won’t stop itching and scratching, there’s good news — pet insurance could help with expenses associated with treating your dog’s itchy skin. For instance, if allergies are the culprit, pet insurance may cover the costs of allergy medications and treatments.

Let’s explore the cost-saving benefits of pet insurance in Peaches’ case. This Shiba Inu from Florida underwent therapeutic treatments for environmental allergies, incurring a total care cost of $402.55. Thanks to their MetLife Pet policy, Peaches’ parents received a reimbursement of $177.55, resulting in significant savings of approximately 44%.9

MetLife Pet Insurance can also help cover the costs of flea, tick, and parasite treatments and preventatives when you opt into our Preventative Care add-on policy.10 See why pet insurance may be worth it for you, and then get a quote.

Help Your Pet Feel Better 

Dr. Hunter Finn is an integrative veterinary expert first, and social media star second. America’s favorite veterinarian owns Pet Method in McKinney, Texas, where he cares for pets while prioritizing their emotional well-being. When he’s not at his clinic, he’s starring in viral videos on TikTok (2 million followers) and Instagram (500K followers) — where he’s been known to snuggle puppies and conquer the latest dance trends.

**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “Pruritus - Itching and Scratching in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospital,

2 “Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospital

3 “Dry Skin on Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment,” American Kennel Club

4 “Allergies in Dogs: Common Allergens & Treatment,” BondVet

5 “Food Allergies in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospital

6 “Nutrition, Skin, and Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospital

7 “Pruritus Visual Analog Scale (Canine),” VetDerm

8 “Mange in Dogs: What You Need to Know,” American Kennel Club

9 All claims paid amounts are based on MetLife internal claims data from October 2022. Story altered for illustrative purposes.

10 For IAIC policies, optional Preventive Care coverage is based on a Schedule of Benefits. For MetGen policies, optional Preventive Care coverage is included in the annual limit.

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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