Your dog is adept at looking after itself, which includes itching or scratching occasionally to get rid of insects and other irritants. But if you've noticed your dog consistently scratching over a number of days, or can seen that their skin is inflamed, it could indicate something is wrong.
Scratching due to insects and fleas on your dog
One of the most common causes of constant itching is a parasite attaching itself to your dog. These include fleas, lice and other insects or acari, all of which can cause your dog irritation. Flea treatment should be a regular part of the routine with your dog to reduce the risk of infestation. For dust mites and other external parasites present in your home, you can keep your dog's skin from becoming aggravated by vacuuming regularly and providing your dog with an anti-mite mattress or bed.
However, your dog may be scratching for another, more complex reason: allergies.
Your dog and allergies
Some dogs have a genetic predisposition to allergic reactions of their skin, called "atopic dermatitis." It affects a significant number of the canine population in some countries, and some breeds—such as the French Bulldog, German Shepherd, or Labrador Retriever—are more at risk than others.
Atopic dermatitis occurs because your dog's immune system is over-responding to a normal environmental or dietary element, reacting excessively which leads to vigorous itching as your dog tries to alleviate its discomfort. This behavior can then lead to problems with their skin as it becomes broken or ulcered, and makes your dog more prone to other infections.
What sort of things are dogs allergic to?
There are a number of things dogs may be commonly allergic to. These include environmental factors, like feathers, molds or mites, some of which are seasonal—such as grass or tree pollen. They also include particular foods, like certain dairy products, beef, chicken, egg, soy or some cereals. Allergic reactions happen when your dog has been sensitized to something early on in its life, and from then on has an adverse reaction. By spotting early signs of allergic reactions, you have a better chance to find the best treatment for this lifelong condition.
How will my dog be tested for allergies?
It's important you take your dog to the vet if you suspect they have an allergy to something; your vet will ask a series of questions to find out more about the dog's symptoms, then conduct different tests to find out what the allergen might be. These could include skin scrape and blood tests, and if the vet suspects there is a dietary allergy, you'll be asked to put your dog on an eight to 12 week exclusion diet. This enables the vet to identify what specific food is triggering your dog's allergic reaction by feeding them a brand new food source, then reintroducing the old food sources one at a time and monitoring the result.
Looking after your dog's skin
There are some simple ways to look after your dog's skin which will help alleviate any allergic reactions plus make sure it's as healthy as possible. Washing your dog regularly with a specialist shampoo helps keep them clean and can soothe their skin, offering immediate relief. Topical treatments like gels and creams are also available for medical care. You can also support your dog by giving them a food rich in nutrients which are known to support their skin's health. This includes omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids, which play a role in helping maintain a healthy skin barrier, antioxidants, and aloe vera which is considered a useful addition to the management of some skin conditions.
It's important to consult your vet if your dog has been itching or scratching for several days, and you can also speak to your vet at any time to find out more about caring for your dog's skin.