Dog scratching his ear on the front lawn.
A scratching dog shares his misery with everyone. There is no escaping the jingling of his tags as he scratches or the foul smell of infected skin. Between painful pet and owner irritation, there are few things more uncomfortable for both dog and human.

Unfortunately, there is no magic cure.

Why Dogs Scratch

The reasons dogs scratch vary widely, as do the possible treatments. That’s because itching is a symptom, not a disease. Figuring out what’s triggering the scratching can rarely happen in a single visit and a same-day is unlikely.

For veterinarians, dealing with an itchy dog is like being a detective, putting together clues, such as the age and breed of the dog (some breeds have more problems), triggers, and affected body parts.

After obvious issues are either treated or ruled out, the real work begins. Unlike humans who sneeze and wheeze their way through allergies, dogs often react with skin inflammations and may obsessively scratch, lick, chew, or rub their faces and bodies. The list of things dogs can be allergic to is formidable — everything from pollen, mold spores, and grass to common cleaning agents and pet food ingredients.

Fortunately, most dogs aren’t so severely affected by skin problems as to require massive commitments of time and money. Effective parasite control (fleas are a major problem), prompt veterinary attention to occasional skin flare-ups, and owner commitment to some simple home strategies will ease the misery for most pets.

Tips to End the Itch

Here are four ways to control itching at home.

Eliminate fleas. Even if you don’t see them, they’re likely there, and they’re one of the top reasons for skin irritation. Check with your veterinarian for the most effective treatment for your pet in your area. At home, your washing machine and vacuum are a flea’s worst enemies. Wash pet bedding at least weekly and vacuum areas where pets sleep — both are simple ways to break the life cycle of fleas. Outdoors, use a spray where pets lounge and play. In all cases, follow label directions precisely to protect yourself, your pet, and the environment.

Bathe your dog regularly. It comes as a surprise to most people, but dogs can — and should — get a weekly bath with a gentle shampoo recommended by your veterinarian. Frequent baths wash away allergens. For really itchy dogs, cool (not cold) baths with an oatmeal shampoo made for pets are very soothing. For more difficult cases, your veterinarian can prescribe a shampoo with antibiotic properties to ease the itching and target secondary infections.

Get your dog some clothes. A simple T-shirt or form-fitting dog suit made of a light fabric may help control itching. The fabric keeps allergens off the skin and prevents a dog from chewing an irritant into an open sore.

Switch foods. But don’t do so without talking to your veternarian. If your dog has a food allergy, you’re unlikely to find the cure in the aisles of your pet store. Work with your veterinarian to find a specialty food or home-prepared diet that will ease the itch.

Whatever you do, don’t delay in getting help for your pet. An itching pet is in constant misery.

This article was written by a Veterinarian.