By Audrey Harvey, DVM
Some dogs constantly scratch themselves, even when it looks like there is nothing wrong with their skin. This may make you wonder if they are just doing it just out of habit.
Dogs can and do suffer from obsessive compulsive behavioral problems, and this may well lead to them scratching and licking to excess. However, these are not common. Constant scratching can also be a sign of anxiety. This can occur if a dog spends a lot of time alone, and doesn’t get enough physical and mental stimulation.
If your dog seems to be scratching at the one spot all the time, it’s quite possible that he is actually feeling pain or discomfort, and you just can’t identify the source. A dog doesn’t have many options to relieve his pain or itching except to chew and scratch.
Getting a Diagnosis
Before you reach a diagnosis of scratching out of habit, you need to rule out both pain and skin problems as the cause.
Unfortunately, your dog can’t tell you exactly how he is feeling, and where he might be itching. This means that he will need to visit your veterinarian for a skin check, and possibly further testing. These tests may include skin biopsies, bacterial cultures and even food trials.
Your vet will also ask questions about how long your dog has been scratching and whether he targets a specific part of his body. It’s also important to work out when your dog is scratching; if it is only when he’s alone, it may be due to anxiety. Alternatively, if he scratches badly after a romp in the garden, he may have a grass allergy.
In the absence of any obvious physical cause of your dog’s scratching, it’s time to consider a psychological reason.
How Do You Manage Psychological Scratching?
There are several parts to helping your dog get over his scratching habit.
Firstly, treat the underlying cause of his anxiety. This can mean more exercise, another dog for companionship, or extra dog training to keep your dog’s mind active. If he has to spend time alone, consider buying him an interactive toy to keep him occupied. This part will be a challenge, but you won’t stop him scratching unless you identify and remove the reason for his behavior.
Secondly, give him Sleepytime Tonic to help him relax. It is made from all natural ingredients such as passion flower and valerian to reduce his anxiety, and it is safe enough to use every day.
Lastly, use a gentle oatmeal shampoo and conditioner on your dog to soothe any skin irritation that has developed because of his constant scratching. Wash him gently with Comfy Dog oatmeal shampoo and follow up with Fur Butter conditioner. Both contain oatmeal which will ease the inflammation in his skin, and make him feel much more comfortable.
Dogs scratch for a reason. If your dog’s excessive scratching is due to a habit, it may take many months of hard work to stop his behavior. It’s worth making the effort, because your dog will be happier and his skin will be healthier.
Audrey Harvey is a veterinarian who has worked in small animal practice for 20 years, and has been involved in teaching and competing in dog obedience and agility. She is passionate about preventative health care in dogs, particularly obesity management and the prevention of boredom related behavioral problems. Audrey lives in Brisbane Australia, and shares her couch with an Australian Cattle Dog, an Australian Working Kelpie and two Whippets.