My Dog is Scratching, But it’s Not Fleas.

Why is my pet scratching?

There are many reasons why pets become itchy. Sometimes the cause can be fleas, even if you can’t see them on your pet. Some pets experience seasonal allergies, just like people, but instead of having a runny nose and other symptoms we associate with hay fever, they actually get itchy skin. Food allergies may also be the source of constant scratching, licking and chewing. Skin  infections can also be itchy or painful and require treatment. Diagnosing and choosing the right treatment for your pet’s itch will be easier if it is addressed early, as a simple parasite problem can develop into a complicated infection, which may require not only a longer treatment course, but multiple different medications.

Constant itching and scratching can affect your pet’s quality of life, so it is essential that they get relief from their discomfort. ‘We often see dogs and cats who have scratched themselves to the point that the skin has been broken. This can lead to bleeding and infection – which in turn leads to further self-trauma.

This level of skin damage requires a visit to your local Greencross Vets to ensure a diagnosis and correct treatment are commenced.

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Skin disorders can be difficult to diagnose. The expertise of a professional veterinarian is needed to ensure safe and effective treatment is started to get your dog back to full health. Some common causes include:

Flea allergy dermatitis

Both dogs and cats can be allergic to flea bites, and it might only take one bite from a single flea to cause this allergic reaction. Dr. Namekata-Wales says, ‘Some dogs are particularly sensitive to flea bites. You may not find a flea or flea dirt in your dog’s coat, but one bite could be the cause of their itch.’ Often the itch is very intense, especially at the base of their tail. We recommend using effective flea control all year round, especially if your dog has sensitive skin. Don’t forget to treat all pets in your household for fleas, including cats, but remember to use a product that is safe for them.


Atopic dermatitis is an allergic reaction to airborne pollens or particles from grass, trees, dust, cleaning products, or mould. Atopy tends to be seasonal and can cause intense itching. Atopic dogs often chew their feet and get frequent ear infections, whereas cats tend to itch around their face and neck. There are many treatment options now available for atopic dogs and cats.  To diagnose atopy, other causes of itching  need to be ruled out.

Other causes

Food allergies account for up to 20% of all allergic skin diseases in dogs. Diagnosing food allergies can be difficult, just like with humans. A careful diet plan needs to be formulated together with your vet, as there are no tests for diagnosing food allergies. Chat with your local Greencross Vets team and they can provide advice on how to help your pet if you suspect a food allergy.

In addition to fleas, another cause of intense scratching could be mites. These parasites can lead to a skin condition known as ‘sarcoptic mange’. Mange is incredibly uncomfortable, and it is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed from animal to human. Treating the mites that cause mange involves treating your pet and their environment. Ask our friendly team for advice, we are here to help.

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If your pet is scratching their ears, they may have an ear infection. Ear infections can be very itchy and painful. If your pet is shaking their head, scratching or rubbing their ears please contact us for advice  –  it may or may not be related to an underlying skin allergy.

Yeast overgrowth or bacterial infections can also cause intense itching and pain, and the resulting scratching by the pet can make this worse. ‘Hot spots’ are bacterial infections that spread very rapidly in hot and humid weather in particular and can be very painful. Regular bathing, using antibacterial or antifungal shampoos can help, but your vet can determine if any antibiotics or other medications are needed to appropriately treat your pet’s condition.

Your local Greencross Vets team will work with you to diagnose your pet’s itch and decide on the best treatment plan.

If your dog has been scratching a lot lately, it might be time to find out why. Together we can ensure your pet is comfortable and happily enjoying life without the itching and scratching.

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