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My dog keeps nipping at what seems to be an itch on his leg and is always scratching behind his ears.  Why is my dog scratching and nipping?

Especially when the spring time rolls around, many dogs begin scratching.  Probably the most common reason is seasonal allergies.  Dogs inhale allergens like we do and they begin to develop inflammation on the skin which causes the sensation leading to itching and scratching.

Itching, scratching and chewing are commonly referred to as “summer itch hot spots”.  The symptoms of canine hot spots are an itch that can be so severe that the dog scratches and chews itself to such an extent as to mutilate and traumatize the skin, creating open wounds and severe infections.  These skin disorders are often associated with warm weather.  Hot spots are often diagnosed as eczema, pyoderma, or seborrhea: allergies to fleas, food, grass, mold, or other environmental substances.

Another reason for scratching is external parasites, fleas being the most common.  Preventative flea medications control fleas and help to alleviate any potential itching and scratching.

Allergies to food can also play a role and cause your dog to itch. Read the labels of any products you buy.  Try to avoid products that contain food dyes.  This would include treats as well as their main food.  Dogs may have an allergic reactions to ANY protein commonly found in foods (lamb, beef, chicken, wheat, corn, soy, fish or milk) and may need to be on a diet free of that specific allergen.

Bathing your dog may help by soothing irritated skin.  An anti-itch shampoo or a homemade oatmeal and baking soda bath can help clean and sooth your dogs skin.  Antihistamines may also help.  Many times anti-inflammatory agents and/or immunosuppressants are needed to control the itching.

If your dog is experiencing an extended bout of itchiness and scratching to the point of damaging his/her skin, take him/her to your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. Itchy “hot spot” skin conditions must not be confused with mange  flea infestations, ringworm fungus or any other medical condition for they require very specific treatment.

Joseph DeSanto, DVM

Dr. DeSanto graduated from The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine and completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Oradell Animal Hospital. He then joined the staff upon completion of his internship. Dr. DeSanto enjoys internal medicine and veterinary dentistry. He is one of the founding veterinarians of Bergen County's Animal Emergency Preparedness Program. Dr. DeSanto loves to travel and experience new cuisine. He sees appointments at Oradell Animal Hospital, Paramus and in our Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey office.