Every dog owner has seen it before: your furry friend going at their own skin like a brand new chew toy. While having an itch here and there isn’t uncommon for a healthy dog’s coat, too much can be a sign of a more serious skin condition.
Fortunately, there are solutions that can help ease your dog’s skin irritation.
In order to get your dog feeling their best, it’s important to understand the possible causes of their skin issue to find the best treatment. If you’re interested in putting your dog’s compulsive licking, biting, and scratching to rest, read on for everything you need to know.
Possible Causes of Skin Irritation
Whether they’re biting, scratching, or licking, you’ll want to determine what the root of the problem is before you can begin to solve it.
There are several common reasons why a dog may compulsively pick at their skin:
Fleas are one of the most common causes of itching in household pets, and they’re also a dog parent’s worst nightmare. A single flea can bite up to 400 times a day, and when multiple fleas make a home in your canine’s coat, it can be a recipe for nonstop scratching and biting.
To rule out whether or not a flea infestation is the cause of your dog’s skin troubles, you’ll want to look for some key signs:
- Inflamed skin – While your dog’s skin may also be red from scratching, flea bites cause a particular type of red, bumpy texture on the skin. Take a close look at the skin under your dog’s fur to see the condition it’s in.
- Flea dirt – Flea “dirt” is actually excrement left by fleas. If your dog has light colored fur, this will be easier to spot. Look for black flecks that may appear throughout their coat. If you see tiny, black flecks that are actually in motion, this is probably the fleas themselves.
- Widespread itching – Unlike some causes of skin irritation which may be more localized, a flea outbreak is probably going to have your pet feeling itchy all over. If they’re scratching from snout to tail, there’s a good chance fleas are the culprit.
- Larvae – Fleas lay tiny eggs that develop into larvae when hatched. Larvae are skinnier in shape, and don’t move around as quickly as adult fleas, so they can be easily discovered by running a comb through your dog’s coat.
Another common cause of skin irritation in dogs is allergies. Dogs can suffer from an allergic reaction due to a wide variety of foods, environmental factors, and chemical products. Dog seasonal allergies skin reactions can be intense and painful. Some of the biggest allergens for dogs include:
- Chicken and eggs
- Lawn pesticides
- Soaps and shampoos
To determine if your dog is having an allergic reaction, you’ll have to go through a trial and error process of switching out products that could potentially be the cause. Try changing up their diet, the products you use during bath time, and even your lawn maintenance routine to nail down a specific allergen.
Unfortunately, a man’s best friend can suffer from mental health issues in the same way people do. More than 70% of dogs display symptoms of an anxiety disorder, and compulsive licking, biting, and your dog scratching skin raw can be telling signs of this issue.
Many dogs suffer anxiety for a variety of reasons, including:
- Separation anxiety
- Fear of weather and loud noises
- Unease around unfamiliar people and animals
The best way to diagnose anxiety as the cause of a dog itching and licking skin is by studying their behavior in certain situations. If you notice these compulsive behaviors occurring when your dog is in a new or uncomfortable situation, then you may have a case of animal anxiety on your hands.
Dogs can suffer from dry skin for a variety of reasons. Itching is a major symptom of dry skin, and a common response to these dry patches is biting, scratching, and licking of the areas.
Dry skin can occur as a result of many factors. Some of the most common causes include:
- Fatty acid deficiencies
- Drying shampoos
- Seasonal changes
Dry skin will typically manifest as flaky, white patches on your dog’s skin. If the spots where your dog is scratching or biting are void of redness and bumps, then it’s likely that dry skin is the issue.
Though ringworm is often confused with tape worm as an ingested parasite, it’s actually spread through the skin via physical contact. Ringworm can be contracted by humans, but it’s also a common parasite found in dogs and other domesticated animals. Ringworm is caused by three main types of fungi:
- Microsporum canis
- Microsporum gypseum
- Trichophyton mentagrophytes
A ringworm infection usually appears as raised, red circles on the skin. These circles can be itchy, painful, or both—causing your dog to bite and scratch the area. If you see these distinct markings on your dog’s itchy skin, you’ll want to look into a ringworm treatment immediately.
Your dog may be suffering from a certain type of infection if they’re experiencing localized or widespread itching. Two common types of infection that can lead to itching in dogs are:
- Yeast infection – Dogs with skin folds, deep ear canals, and those who live in humid weather are all at higher risk of yeast infections. A yeast infection can cause flaky skin, severe itching, and a strong smell. The root of a yeast infection should be cleared up using the proper medication, but additional treatment may be needed to soothe the itching (more on that later).
- Bacterial infection – A bacterial infection typically occurs after some type of damage is done to the skin. Like in humans, a bacterial infection will usually require a treatment of antibiotics. Cuts, blisters, and burns can result in a bacterial infection with symptoms such as:
- Hair loss
Now that you’re familiar with the potential causes of your dog’s itching, you can begin to focus on the proper treatment that will stop their licking, biting, and scratching.
Whether your dog is suffering from an inflamed spot that’s causing pain, or they’ve created a wound by scratching and biting an itchy area—you’ll want to use products that can properly clean and soothe the raw skin.
Antimicrobial Skin Care
Skin care products for your dog can provide this relief and prevent further irritation in problem areas. At Vetericyn, we offer two types of treatment that can be used separately or together for optimal healing:
- Hot spot spray – Using our antimicrobial hot spot spray will help keep the area clean, reduce the risk of infection, and provide fast relief from itching and pain. This will help prevent your dog from further irritating the area.
- Hot spot antimicrobial gel – For a more direct treatment, the antimicrobial gel sticks to hard to reach areas for extended relief. The hot spot gel has a unique formula that helps add an extra layer of protection to raw patches, and adds moisture to prevent dryness. Pro tip: For best results you’ll want to first clean the area with the spray and then cover & protect with the hydrogel.
In addition to topical relief, it’s also important to treat the root of your dog’s licking, biting, and scratching. If your dog is suffering from itching caused by fleas, a medicated shampoo can help get rid of fleas, larvae, and eggs and prevent further infestation.
For dog’s who have contracted ringworm, a topical treatment combined with anti-fungal medication will help relieve both the symptoms and the infection.
If your furry friend is biting and scratching due to anxiety or other behavioral problems, it’s best to consult a veterinarian for the best course of action. A mixture of therapeutic treatment, ointment to relieve self-inflicted wounds, and possibly a prescription for anti-anxiety medication can help keep this issue at bay.
In any serious case of licking, biting, and scratching, always remember to consult a professional prior to administering any medication to your dog. Fortunately, our antimicrobial sprays and gels do not require a prescription, and can help relieve symptoms fast while you wait for a proper diagnosis.
Vetericyn: Your One-Stop Shop for Animal Wellness Products
For your pet-related issues, we’re here to help. With a wide selection of skin treatments, dietary supplements, bath products, and more, you’ll never have to search for affordable, high-quality pet products again.
From household animals such as dogs and cats, to larger livestock like horses and cattle—Vetericyn has products for any animal lover. Whether you’re treating cat skin allergies or dog skin allergies, we have the skin care suited to treat your furry pet. Our products are always formulated without:
- Tea tree oil
- Chemicals that burn or sting
Our treatments are safe for use on wounds, and won’t damage healthy tissue or cause upset stomachs if licked or ingested. Say goodbye to compulsive habits that cause your pet chronic pain, and make the switch to Vetericyn. In no time, you’ll find your dog feeling happier, healthier, and more like their normal self!
Reviewed by Dan Richardson, Veterinarian
Dan Richardson has been a practicing veterinarian for over 10 years. He specializes in surgery and orthopedics. Dan is originally from rural western Nevada and attended the University of Idaho for undergraduate study and Oregon State University for Veterinary School. The Richardson Family enjoys camping and spending time on the water fishing, paddle boarding, or digging their feet in the sand somewhere warm.
- Vetericyn. Our Technology. https://vetericyn.com/our-technology/
- Fetch by WebMD. Dogs and Compulsive Scratching, Licking, and Chewing. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dogs-and-compulsive-scratching-licking-and-chewing#1
- Convenia. 5 Reasons Your Dog Itches: Starting From Scratch. https://www.conveniafacts.com/5-reasons-your-dog-itches.aspx
- Sergeants. Flea Facts. https://www.sergeants.com/pet-health/fleas-ticks-and-pest-center/fleas/
- Adams. How Do I Know If My Dog Has Fleas. https://www.adamspetcare.com/expert-care-tips/flea-and-tick-pest-education/how-do-i-know-if-my-dog-has-fleas
- American Kennel Club. Dry Skin On Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dry-skin-on-dogs-causes-symptoms-treatment/
- American Kennel Club. Ringworm in Dogs — Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/ringworm-in-dogs/