My Dog Is Constantly Licking and Scratching Himself
Compulsive scratching, licking, and chewing behaviors are quite common in dogs. The medical term for itching is Pruritis–and it’s a common symptom in many types of skin disorders in dogs.
One of the first signs your dog has a problem might be the development of a “hot spot” — a red, wet, irritated area that arises on the skin from persistent chewing, licking, scratching or rubbing.
Although hot spots, or ‘acute moist dermatitis’, can occur anywhere on your dog’s body, they are most often found on the head, chest, or hips.
Because dogs often incessantly scratch, lick, or bite at an area once it becomes irritated, hot spots can become large and incredibly sore very quickly.
Hot Spots on Dogs
Reasons Why Dogs Compulsively Scratch, Lick, or Chew
Hot spots are one of the most common skin conditions in dogs, particularly in the summer months. These painful, oozing sores can appear seemingly out of nowhere and often spread rapidly. While hot spots are frustrating to deal with, they can be treated and even prevented with the right skin care management.
What Are Dog Hot Spots?
Canine hot spots, also known as Pyo traumatic Dermatitis or Acute Moist Dermatitis, are localized areas of red, inflamed skin lesions and bacterial infection that are exacerbated by itching and scratching. Lesions can appear quickly, ooze, and may contain pus.
Often a hot spot will begin as a small red area that owners may mistake for an insect bite. But unlike an insect bite, a hot spot will rapidly worsen and spread, developing into a hot, red, oozing, and painful lesion.
What Causes Hot Spots on Dogs?
Hot spots are often triggered by scratching, licking, or chewing the affected area of skin. The resulting trauma to the skin causes inflammation and secondary bacterial infections.
Unfortunately, this self-trauma only makes the area itchier, which causes a self-perpetuating cycle of itching and scratching.
Thus, any condition that causes your dog to feel itchy has the potential to result in the development of a localized hot spot.
Why Is My Dog Scratching?
Dogs scratch for many reasons–but despite the cause, the resulting hot spots created require attention and treatment.
Common causes of the itching/scratching cycle in dogs include:
- Allergies – Including food allergies, inhalant allergies or contact irritants (flea allergy dermatitis) can cause itching.
- Reaction To Insect Bites – Fleas, mites (Sarcoptes, Cheyletiella) or other small insects (caterpillars, bees, wasps, lice, gnats, or mosquitoes) can cause a dog’s itching.
- Ear Infections – Bacteria or yeast in the ear canal can be so irritating that the dog scratches at his ear creating hot spots on the ear flap, behind the ear, or on the neck.
- Pyoderma – Primary skin infections can also caused by bacteria or yeast that may incite the dog to scratch an area so much that a secondary hot spot forms.
- Poor Grooming – Dogs with unkempt or dirty hair coats bite at tangles, creating open wounds. Matted fur prevents air from reaching the skin and retains water after a dog swims or gets caught in the rain, so the skin stays wet. This sets up a perfect environment for a hot spot.
- Anxiety, Stress & Boredom – An anxious, stressed-out dog will often bite and chew their paws & nails and lick excessively to relieve pent-up stress.
- Pain – Orthopedic Problems – Dogs will lick or chew at painful joints much like people rub a sore knee to relieve the pain, creating hot spots in the process. Dogs with arthritis or back problems tend to lie down much of the time. Lying on one side creates abrasions over pressure points, like hips or hocks (ankles), where bony protrusions have little muscular padding, especially in elderly dogs with diminishing muscle mass. When the dog licks the abrasion, a hot spot erupts.
- Anal Gland Disease – Infected or impacted anal glands are painful and annoying. Dogs lick the area around the rectum and can cause hot spots under or on top of the tail.
- Parasites – Among the most common causes for compulsive dog licking, chewing, or scratching behaviors are fleas, ticks, and mites. Although ticks are often visible to the naked eye, fleas often go unseen until there is a large infestation, and mites are microscopic. So don’t assume that your dog isn’t suffering from parasites just because you can’t see them.
Dog Hot Spot – Home Care Remedies for Itchy Dogs
The goal in treating a hot spot is to stop the trauma and prevent the development of a deep skin infection–so the first step in treating hot spots is to stop the scratching ‘self-mutilation’.
If your dog is itchy, there are plenty of totally safe, all-natural ways to treat occasional or mild itching at home.
Here are 7 simple tips & suggestions to help improve your dog’s skin, avoid skin allergies & prevent hot spots to give your pooch some well-deserved relief:
1. Provide A Balanced Diet
Dry, itchy skin can be influenced by a number of factors, especially diet. Commercial pet foods process out the good oils that contribute to healthy skin and a lustrous haircoat.
Dry pet foods have an even more dehydrating effect on skin and hair and also stimulate increased thirst, which only partially compensates for the drying nature of these diets.
Feeding your dog, a balanced diet with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and healthy carbohydrates can help soothe dry skin and heal skin from the inside out. Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and promote skin health. Plus, many dogs are allergic to the ingredients found in standard chicken, beef, or turkey-based dog foods, as well as wheat or gluten ingredients.
Try feeding moist food (canned, cooked, homemade or raw). If you feed dry kibble dog food to your pet, be sure to have plenty of fresh water for your dog to drink to prevent dehydration and loss of skin moisture.
2. Address Anxiety, Stress & Boredom
In some cases, compulsive biting, chewing, or licking develops in response to fear, stress, or inadequate stimulation. To reduce this likelihood, be sure your dog receives enough exercise and loving attention.
If boredom or behavioral issues are the reason your dog traumatizes himself, then training & behavior modification along with consistent exercise and mental enrichment activities can help release stress and scale down anxiety.
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3. Nutritional Supplements
If you must feed dry foods, then by all means add digestive enzymes to your dog’s meals. Digestive enzymes are good to use with any type of food as they improve the release of nutrients and assist in the digestive process.
Consider supplementing your dog’s diet with probiotic bacteria at each meal. Clinical research has shown that one important way to reduce the likelihood that dogs will develop allergies is to give them high-potency cultures of beneficial probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus when they are still very young.
Supplement your dog’s regular food with beneficial oils high in Omega 3-6-9 EPA/DHA (E.g. Sea Buckthorn Oil, fish oil, etc.).
As an extra health measure, add nutritional yeast or hypoallergenic B-complex vitamins to every meal.
4. Regular Grooming
Some dogs benefit from seasonal grooming, as well as regular brushing and bathing.
When your dog needs a bath, try using plain water with a good, non-drying solvent. If you must use shampoo, use a moisturizing type with humectants, and follow up with a moisturizing conditioner.
To prevent causing dry, flaky skin, avoid HOT blow dryers! And if you have your dog groomed, speak to the groomer about turning down the heat on the blow dryer (it’s usually set too HIGH to save time).
5. Eliminate Parasites
There are a variety of flea and tick products that your veterinarian can recommend. Additionally, if your dog’s biting or chewing problems are caused by fleas, be sure to wash your dog’s bed and vacuum your carpeting and upholstered furniture on a regular basis to reduce the likelihood of reinfestation. You also need to treat any other animals in the household.
6. General Allergy Care
If food allergies are making your dog itch, eliminating potential trigger foods (such as beef or wheat) can make a huge difference. Changing foods can help eliminate potential allergic trigger foods. Additionally, your vet may recommend a special diet if this appears to be the case.
In addition to certain foods/ingredients, your dog can also be allergic to an infinite variety of irritants in the environment.
These can be outdoor allergens like ragweed, grass and pollens, as well as indoor irritants like mold, dust mites, cleaning chemicals and even fabrics like wool or cotton. Also, remove any potential chemical triggers like household cleaners and scented candles your dog may be unintentionally exposed to. As a general rule, if your dog is allergic to something inside your home, he’ll have year-round symptoms. If he’s reacting to something outdoors, it could very well be a seasonal allergy problem.
Also, your pet’s immune system is partly influenced by genetics, so he can actually inherit a tendency toward hyper-sensitivities to both a food and/or environmental allergen.
Dogs that suffer from seasonal allergies to pollens, molds, and/or mites may benefit from allergy desensitization injections or allergy shots. Allergy desensitizing injections should not be confused with anti-inflammatory injections (such as corticosteroids) that may be used to suppress itching.
7. Preventing Scratching Behavior
Because compulsive behaviors can cause serious damage and affect your dog’s quality of life, it’s important to do your best to stop your dog from chewing, licking, or scratching too much.
Some ideas include using bitter sprays to discourage licking, having your dog wear a special protective collar (Elizabethan or E-collars) to prevent access to hot spots, or keeping your dog close by your side when your home.
Continued monitoring and treatment of the underlying cause should prevent future hot spots.
When You Can’t Treat a Dog Hot Spot Alone
The bad news is that about 30% of the pets who develop hot spots actually have some other kind of skin disease such as a deeper skin infection, a bite wound or other trauma, or even immune-mediated disease. If you have any concerns whatsoever, it is best to have your veterinarian assess them.
Other times that may require veterinary intervention is when a hot spot becomes so big and painful that it requires sedation to properly clip and clean the infected area.
Concern is if a hot spot is accompanied by deeper skin infection, which would require more extensive therapy such as oral pain medications, oral anti-inflammatory medications and oral antibiotics in addition to topical preparations to treat your dog’s itchy skin.
Curtis has been passionate about the health and welfare of animals since his first dog rescue.
After studying Sports Medicine & Biology at the University of Oregon, Curtis went on to excel in a career of Clinical Nutrition, later owning a health care supplement company serving private-practice physicians.
Known for his expansive knowledge of natural health and alternative medicine, Curtis believes that natural plant-based therapies can be applied to veterinary animal care which led him to study the science of Cannabinoid Medicine. His expertise in Functional Medicine led him to formulate a unique hemp-based canine care product, Canine Support Formula, fulfilling a dream to combine natural pet-care strategies with the new therapeutic potential of medical cannabis.
In reverence for his own dog, Parker, Curtis has dedicated his company–K9 Medibles–to improving the health and longevity of all dogs.
To learn more about Curtis and how K9 Medibles can help your dog, click HERE.