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Updated August 11, 2022 – How many of us have given our dogs a scratch and seen a rear leg start moving? Or you’ve heard the jingle jangle of a collar as a back paw comes up to scratch an itchy neck. Although dogs experience the occasional itch (just like we do), as pet owners it’s important to recognize when an itch is an indication of a more serious problem.

“Itch can sometimes be mistaken as normal behavior by pet owners,” said Dr. Linda Messinger, a Denver-based, board-certified veterinary dermatologist. “I find this especially true with dogs that lick or chew their paws. Many people feel this may be normal grooming, a soothing activity or a habit, when in fact it may be a sign of underlying allergies. Itch can be displayed in many different ways, including scratching, biting, chewing, rubbing and scooting. Itchy pets are uncomfortable – something we don’t want for them."

What are the top causes of itchy skin in dogs? According to veterinary dermatology experts (and considering some regional differences), the top five disorders, listed from most common to least common “itchy” diseases in dogs are:

  1. Flea allergy dermatitis/flea bite hypersensitivity
  2. Allergies to environmental allergens (like pollen)
  3. Bacteria/yeast infections of the skin (including the ears)
  4. Food allergies/adverse food reactions
  5. Ectoparasites other than fleas (sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies, is most itchy)

As pet parents, we want our dog friends to be healthy and comfortable. Not all itching and scratching is normal, and getting our pets evaluated for skin disease early can help avoid more serious skin problems, such as secondary skin infections. Many allergic diseases are treatable and have an excellent long-term prognosis, especially if diagnosed early.

Itching in dogs is not a new problem. Morris Animal Foundation has been a leader in funding research on allergy and itching since 1957, when we funded one of the first studies to categorize skin disease in dogs. Since then, we’ve supported 20 additional projects focused on many causes of itching in dogs, from environmental allergies to mange.

One of our newest projects will leverage the power of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study cohort to take a deep dive into improving our understanding of itching and allergy. Using a series of questions developed by the University of Nottingham for the Itchy Dog Project, the Study team is collecting information that will provide new data for researchers. Since launching in June 2022, just over 200 participants have responded to the questionnaire. The Study team will continue data collection for one year before analyzing the findings. We can’t wait to see what they discover!


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