A few swipes of the paws are okay, but constant scratching is not. Incessant itching and self-grooming often indicates skin problems, like the presence of parasites or an infection. There's not always a physical problem to blame though. Some canines develop compulsive chewing and licking habits as a neurological disorder.
Fleas are a prime suspect when dog owners catch their pet scratching with gusto. These tiny parasites are common pests among domestic dogs and other animals. Expect incessant scratching and nibbling if your dog has an active infestation of fleas. Skin damage is often the result of self-mutilation rather than injury from the parasite. Some canines also experience an allergic reaction to flea saliva, which turns a single bite into widespread loss of fur and rampant inflammation of the skin. To make matters worse, flea collars and other treatment products can also cause skin irritation in some dogs, according to the ASPCA.
Mange mites are another unwanted guest often found on the skin of domestic dogs. Unfortunately, they are more difficult to diagnose and treat compared to fleas. They are only visible with the aid of a magnifying glass or microscope, so a visual inspection of your pet's fur won't reveal much. Mite infestations create dry, scaly and inflamed patches of skin, which prompt your pet to itch with all his might. These parasites persist indefinitely and require prescription medication to treat, so don't hesitate to contact your veterinarian about your dog's skin problem.
There are tons of pathogens lingering beneath your dog's fur at any given time, waiting for the opportunity to strike. Fungal ringworm is a prevalent example of the opportunistic skin diseases that frequently infect canines. It's highly contagious and can spread between people and animals. Fortunately, most canine skin diseases are not contagious to humans. Foreign pathogens as well as permanent residents, like Staphylococcus bacteria, can cause skin infections. Your pet's constant scratching and itching creates open wounds, which makes it easier for pathogens to invade and spread across his skin.
Air and Food
Allergens abound in the modern home. Some dogs experience significant allergic reactions to certain particles or chemicals. Both airborne and dietary allergens can produce severe skin problems, including widespread inflammation, fur loss and itchiness. Identifying the allergen is often the most difficult part of resolving the problem. Removing the offending substance from your dog's diet or environment is the only path to a permanent fix. Your vet may prescribe antihistamines or other medication to curtail symptoms in the short-term.
In the Mind
Your dog's fixation with his fur and skin might not be connected to a physical health problem at all. It could just be a matter of the mind. Neurological disorders prompt compulsive behavior in dogs, including tendencies for over-grooming and self-mutilation. Compulsive scratching, licking and chewing may stem from boredom resulting from neglect, unpredictable living conditions and frequent exposure to sources of fear. There is also evidence that certain breeds tend to develop compulsive habits. Doberman Pinschers are prone to developing "flank sucking" habits compared to other canines, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.