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No Fleas, But Still Itching: A Dog Owner's Guide to Understanding and Treating Dog Itchiness

Developed in collaboration with Andrea Johnson, DVM | Co-Founder | PetVet365

Last reviewed: April 16, 2024

Your dog’s itching and scratching can be caused by a variety of factors other than fleas, and it's important to identify the underlying cause to provide the appropriate treatment.

Just like humans, dogs can have seasonal allergies, environmental allergies, food allergies, dry skin, contact dermatitis from soaps or perfumes, allergic reactions to bug bites, or itchiness from an infection. 

In this guide, we will look at common causes of itchiness, or pruritus, in dogs and offer some tips on how to deal with them.

Key Facts
  • Your dog’s itching can be caused by a variety of factors that are not flea related.
  • Allergies, infections, parasites, and bug bites are common causes of itching.
  • It may also be caused by an underlying condition.
  • Keeping your dog clean with regular brushing and baths can help prevent itching.
  • Oatmeal baths, moisturizers, sprays, creams can also help.
  • When in doubt, contact your veterinarian for a diagnosis.

What is Pruritus (Itchy Skin)?

Pruritus is the medical term for itchy skin. It can be caused by a number of underlying conditions and is a common symptom of many skin disorders. Some itching is normal for dogs, but excessive scratching, chewing, and licking could be a sign of a skin condition that needs to be treated before it gets too bad.

In the early stage of pruritus, your dog’s skin may look red and inflamed. If the irritation becomes acute, your pet may scratch and chew the area so severely that it will end up with scabbed, raw, and bleeding skin and possibly even hair loss. This increases the chances of a secondary infection that requires medication, possibly long-term.

12 Common Causes of Itching in Dogs That Are Not Fleas

1. Allergies in Dogs

Allergies are a common reason for your dog’s constant scratching, licking, or chewing. Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with allergies. It can cause symptoms such as excessive itching, scratching, and grooming, rashes, paw chewing, and skin inflammation. For us humans, our histamine is mostly in our eyes and nasal passages so when we are affected by allergies, we have runny eyes and a stuffy nose.  In dogs, their histamine tends to be in their skin, so they itch instead.

2. Seasonal Allergies

Some pets experience seasonal, or environmental, allergies caused by the abundance of pollen, mold, dust, and other environmental allergens in the air during the spring and fall, just like we do. But when humans have seasonal allergies, we sneeze, cough, or have runny eyes and nose. Dogs, on the other hand, get itchy skin. 

If you notice your dog scratching more at one time of year than another, your pup could have seasonal allergies. Regular brushing and bathing during warm months can help minimize the itchiness. Another easy way to reduce skin irritation from environmental allergens is to wipe your dog’s paws and belly before going inside.

3. Food (Nutritional) Allergies

Your dog’s itching can be caused by food allergies. Many commercial dog foods contain allergens like wheat, dairy, chicken, and beef.  Food allergies can look just like environmental allergies, but some dogs will be more affected in their “ears and rears”. Repeat ear infections and itchy skin are often caused by underlying food allergy.

Determining which food product is causing the allergy can be difficult. Your veterinarian can perform allergy tests, but they are not always reliable for dogs. You and your veterinarian may need to work together to formulate an elimination diet plan to take away and then add back in foods your dog may be allergic to.

4. Insect Bites

Insect bites and stings are another common cause of itching in dogs. While some bites cause just minor irritation, others can cause a severe allergic reaction. If your dog has been bitten or stung, you’ll probably notice redness and swelling around the bite. Signs of an allergy to the bite can be serious. Always take your dog to your veterinarian if it vomits after being bitten or stung, or has difficulty breathing.

5. Skin Infections

Yeast overgrowth or bacterial infections can cause intense itching and discomfort, and scratching the affected area only makes the irritation worse. 

6. Yeast Infections

Yeast fungi overgrowth can cause infections. Infections from the fungus Malassezia are the most common, but there are others. Chronic yeast infections in dogs often lead to patches of dark, thickened skin that is very itchy and uncomfortable. Yeast infections can be extremely damaging to a dog’s skin, so it is important that you visit your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis.

7. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections from a cut or irritation can spread very rapidly in hot and humid weather. 

Regular baths using antibacterial or antifungal shampoos can help reduce the chances of infections, but only your veterinarian can determine if antibiotics or other medications are needed to treat the condition.

8. Ear Infections

Ear infections can be very itchy and painful. If your pet is shaking its head, scratching, rubbing its ears, you notice a discharge or foul smell coming from the ear, contact your veterinarian. It could be an ear infection caused by bacteria, yeast or less commonly ear mites. 

Ear mites are tiny, highly contagious parasites that live inside and around ear canals. They feed on your dog’s skin and cause irritation. If left untreated, mites often lead to a painful ear infection. Ear Mites are more common in puppies but still rare compared to other types of ear infections, but any dog can get them from another dog. If you board your dog or it goes to doggy daycare, be sure to check for ear mites frequently.

9. Mange

Mange is a skin disease caused by microscopic mites that burrow into the skin to feed and live. The burrowing and chewing of your dog’s skin creates inflammation and leads to secondary infections. It is caused by two different types of mites that lead to two types of mange: sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange. 

10. Sarcoptic mange

Sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies, is caused by Sarcoptes scabiei. This type of mange is less common than demodectic mange. It is also more common in dogs with compromised immune systems. It is contagious and can be transmitted from animals to humans (zoonotic).

11. Demodectic mange

Demodectic mange, or red mange, is caused by Demodex canis, Demodex injai, or Demodex cornei. This type of mange is transmitted between a mother and puppy during the feeding process. It is not contagious with other dogs and is not contagious to humans. It is considered a genetic occurrence since most normal dogs have a few of these mites in their skin, however those with itchiness and hair loss have immune systems that do not control the populations.

Symptoms of mange include: 

  • Severe itching.
  • Fur loss (Alopecia).
  • Superficial (skin lesions) or deep wounds (skin excoriations) caused by excessive scratching and chewing.
  • Raised bumps (papules), usually on the chest and belly.  
  • Thick crusted skin around the ears, ankles, armpits, and elbows.

Treatment of mange includes topical medications, dips, shampoos, and oral antiparasitic medications. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to treat secondary infections. Treatment is specific to the different types of mange and the severity of the infection. And, depending on the type of mite, you may need to treat their environment (i.e., your home) to eliminate further contamination.

In mild cases of localized demodectic mange, the mites can be eliminated by boosting the dog’s immune system in order to allow them to fight off the mites naturally. Keeping a dog in great health can often prevent mange infestations, but not always.

12. Parasitic Infections

Dog parasites can be internal, external, or intestinal and include fungal infections like ringworm. Ringworm is fairly common in dogs and can be contagious to people in the home so if there are itchy areas where the hair falls out easily, seek your veterinarian’s advice.

Pet medication logo

Your veterinarian may prescribe a customized, compounded medication. These medications are mixed by trained, licensed compounding pharmacists and often come in dosage forms designed to make giving or applying the medication easier and more accurate.

A Word About Fleas

Just because you don’t physically see fleas on your dog doesn't mean their itching isn’t caused by fleas.
Flea saliva is very allergenic, so a single flea can cause flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) that makes your dog itchy at the bite site, usually around the head, butt, neck, tail base, or groin. 

That is why flea prevention is important. Talk to your veterinarian and discuss which type of preventative is most appropriate for your pet. This may come as a topical spot on or oral chewable.

4 Ways to Relieve Your Dog’s Skin Itching

Oatmeal baths: Oatmeal baths can help soothe itchy skin and reduce inflammation. You can buy oatmeal-based shampoos or make your own by grinding oatmeal into a fine powder and adding it to your dog's bathwater.

Moisturizers: If your dog has dry skin, moisturizing can help relieve itching. Use a moisturizing shampoo or apply coconut oil or aloe vera to your dog's skin. This can be especially helpful in dry climates or in the winter months when forced air heat dries out the air in the house.

Anti-itch sprays or creams: There are a number of over-the-counter sprays and creams that can help relieve itching. Look for products that contain natural ingredients such as tea tree oil, chamomile, or calendula.

Go to the Veterinarian: If your dog's itching persists or is accompanied by other symptoms such as hair loss or a foul odor, it's best to take them to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can diagnose any underlying conditions and prescribe allergy medications for relief.


Your dog’s itching can be caused by a variety of factors, and it's important to identify the underlying cause to provide the appropriate treatment. With the above tips, you can help relieve your dog's itching and improve its overall skin and coat health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any tests to diagnose the cause of itching?

Diagnosing and treating skin disease is challenging. Your veterinarian can perform several tests, including skin scrapings and skin cytology to look for mites and other insects and bacterial or yeast infections. Some tests can be done in-office. Others need to be sent to a lab where it can take a week to a month to get results back.

Are some dog breeds more prone to pruritus?

Any dog can develop skin allergies or pruritus. Breeds that are more susceptible to skin conditions are Cocker Spaniels, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, French Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers.

What are some home remedies for my dog’s itching?

Some natural remedies to soothe itchy skin are coconut oil, a baking soda paste applied to the area or a baking soda bath, a 50:50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water in a spray bottle applied to the affected area, green or chamomile tea baths, and aloe vera.

Can I give my dog Benadryl for itchy skin?

Benadryl can be used to treat itchy skin in dogs caused by skin allergies. It also reduces many of the other symptoms of allergies. However, check with your veterinarian for the correct dosage based on your dog’s weight and if it might interact with other medication it is taking.

This article is meant to provide general and not medical advice. We strongly recommend that a veterinarian be consulted for the specific medical needs of your animal.


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