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Dog scratching behind his ear

When we see our pets scratching incessantly, we may be tempted to grab the first over-the-counter cream or shampoo we see at our local pet store. In some mild cases, over-the-counter products will do the trick. However, it's always important to determine the root cause before reaching for a Band-Aid solution so you can be sure the treatment you're using will be the most effective.

The first step in finding relief for your pet starts with understanding the various causes of increased scratching. Pay attention to your pet's symptoms and reach out to your local vet for help.

Common Reasons Your Pet Is Scratching

Sometimes our pets scratch themselves out of pure boredom, anxiety, or anticipation. However, there are also some other health conditions or environmental triggers that may lead to excess scratching such as:


As a part of your pet's natural defense system, their immune system will create antibodies to protect them against any foreign substances. This is normal, but it can cause increased itchiness in pets and humans. It's important to first identify what type of allergy is causing this reaction so you can help your pet avoid it in the future.

Contact Allergies

Contact allergies can occur from your pet touching things they come in frequent contact with such as insecticides in the garden, laundry detergent, shampoo, or other cleaning products around the house. If your pet is around these triggering products it could lead to an allergic reaction and cause them to scratch the skin irritation.

Environmental Allergies

As the seasons change, so will the allergens in the environment. Spring can bring excess pollen from the trees and the rainy season may increase the risk of mold. All of these environmental allergens can cause your pet to start scratching at their skin if they are exposed.

Food Allergies

If you recently introduced new food into your pet's diet and they have begun scratching themselves, you may want to check what ingredients you're putting into their food bowl. Common pet food allergens include wheat, soy, dairy, beef, chicken, or other animal-based products.

Skin Conditions

Skin conditions in pets can commonly produce symptoms such as redness, swelling, and soreness. These symptoms are often also accompanied by itchiness and irritation. This irritation can cause your pet to start scratching themselves to relieve their symptoms.


Dermatitis is typically caused by contact or atopic allergens. The inhalation of dust, for instance, can cause atopic dermatitis, while pollen on the skin can cause contact dermatitis. This skin condition is similar to an allergic reaction and is usually treated by removing the allergen or prescribing medication to soothe dermatitis symptoms.


When the hair follicles on a pet become inflamed, this can gradually become an active skin condition called folliculitis. The irritation can cause scabs or sores on the skin from the spread of the bacteria. As the bacterial inflammation worsens, pets will try to scratch the sores to stop the itchy sensation. Folliculitis usually needs a dose of antibiotics or skin ointments to reduce inflammation.


Impetigo is caused by staph bacteria, and can also cause symptoms in people. When the staph starts spreading rapidly, it can be difficult to treat due to the ongoing resistance this strain of bacteria has to antibiotics. If your pet has crusty yellow skin they continue to scratch at, take them to a vet as soon as possible for medical intervention.

Insects or Arachnids

Dog scratching behind his ear

As the summer comes around, so do more insects. Insects can especially be a cause of pet scratching if your pet spends a lot of time outside with all of the other critters. Here are some of the most common insects that can cause an itchy feeling in pets.


If you see a host of small black bugs, especially around the ears and scalp of your pet, fleas may be the culprit. Fleas can be extremely bothersome to pets and require special medication such as flea drops or medical-grade shampoo.


When a tick burrows into the skin of a pet, it will cause itchiness, pain, and irritation at the site of the host. When a tick is present an animal may impulsively start chewing or scratching where the tick entered their skin.


Mites, or scabies, is a parasite commonly found on pets. Mites are small arachnids, which means they aren't technically classified as an insect. However, they have similar qualities to other bugs in that they can infest the skin and lead to excess scratching, hair loss, or other signs of skin irritation.

Infection or Illness

Certain infections or diseases can lead to skin problems in pets. If you are having a hard time determining the common reasons a pet is scratching themselves, you may need to take them in for further medical testing.

Cushing's Disease

Hypoadrenocorticism, or Cushing's disease, is when there is too much cortisol in a pet's body. The cortisol can lead to hormone dysfunction which can cause changes in the skin. Other symptoms to look out for include increased urination and lethargy.


Pyoderma is a bacterial infection that causes pus on a pet's skin. The lesions are usually accompanied by dry skin and surrounding pimples. Pyoderma often is caused by coinciding autoimmune conditions, so it's important to determine what is causing this irritation under the care of a vet.

Skin Cancer

Just like humans, pets can also be at risk for getting skin cancer. Skin tumors in pets, or mast cell tumors, can lead to the malfunction of healthy skin tissue. The lack of healthy tissue in the skin from the cancer cells can cause itching and tingling, which will make pets want to scratch.

What Are the Treatments for Pet Scratching and Itching?

If your pet is constantly scratching themselves, it's normal to want to find a solution and bring them some solace. Depending on the root cause of each particular problem, the treatment course options will vary. These are some of the most common treatments for itchy, scratchy skin in pets:

  • Antihistamine
  • Flea or tick medication
  • Specialized soap and shampoo for sensitive skin
  • Allergy-friendly diet changes
  • Steroids
  • Antibiotics
  • Antimicrobial cream
  • Hyposensitization vaccine
  • Collagen or fatty-acid supplements

Always Consult With a Vet

Before running to the store, always consult with a vet for further testing and evaluation. A vet can help you figure out what exact condition or allergen is bothering your pet and prescribe the best-associated medication or ointment. Peace of mind is possible, with a professional.

How to Get Started

Step One:
Call us to book your pet’s appointment.

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Step Two:
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Step Three:
Get back to enjoying your happy and healthy life with your furry best friend.

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Dr. Bilal Qasim, DVM, established Dr. Phillips Animal Hospital in 2011 after practicing veterinary medicine for over 17 years with the help of talented and caring veterinary technicians.