Summer Itch In Dogs, Why Your Dog Is Itchy In The Summer?
Summer is great. The weather is warm, there are longer daylight hours and you can go out exploring more with your dog. Sadly, there is something that might stop you both from enjoying this season to its fullest – itchy skin.
If your dog is more itchy than usual, then no doubt he will be feeling uncomfortable, and a bit fed up. It can be frustrating for you too, hearing constant licking and scratching, as well as feeling worried about your furry friend.
In this article we are going to address what is summer itch in dogs and why your dog may scratch more in the summer months.
Symptoms Of Summer Itch In Dogs
A dog that is suffering from summer itch may show the following signs:
- Increased scratching
- Increased nibbling, licking, and chewing, particularly of the paws and groin area
- Saliva staining – a brownish-red tinge to the fur in the areas that have been excessively licked
- Inflamed skin which appears red and warm to the touch
- Crusting, spots or sores on the skin
- Parasites on the fur and skin
- Hair loss
- Restless behavior, unable to get comfortable, overgrooming at night, etc.
- Rubbing against furniture or the floor to relieve their itchiness
What Causes Summer Itch In Dogs?
There are several reasons why your dog might have a summer itch. It may be just one of these causing the problem, or a combination.
Ectoparasites (external parasites) can cause your dog to become itchy. The following are the most diagnosed in practice:
- Sarcoptic mange mites
- Demodectic mange mites
- Ear mites
- Chiggers/Harvest mites
Using a preventative treatment regularly, as recommended by your vet, is advised to reduce the risk of parasite problems.
Some dogs can be allergic to things in their environment. This condition is known as atopic dermatitis. Common examples include grass pollens, tree pollens, house dust mites, and other animals’ dander.
Pollen allergies tend to be more noticeable in the spring or summer months due to higher levels at this time of year, as well as your pet possibly being outdoors more. Some animals are also allergic to flea saliva (flea allergic dermatitis) meaning that they react much more severely to flea bites than other animals would.
Common food allergens that could trigger itchy skin include many ingredients found in a variety of commercial dog foods and treats such as chicken, beef, dairy, and wheat. A diagnosis of food allergy can only be made after a strict dietary trial, under the supervision of your vet.
Yeast infections are usually a secondary problem but can contribute to your dog’s itchiness. A yeast called Malassezia pachydermatis affects dogs. This yeast lives in small numbers on healthy dogs, but it can multiply in animals with irritated skin.
Yeast overgrowth is also common in areas of the body that are warm and moist such as armpits, skin folds, ear canals, and in between toes. Breeds with excessive skin folds such as shar peis or English bulldogs are more prone to yeast problems.
The most common bacterial infection in dogs is Staphylococcus pseudointermedius. This bacteria lives at low levels on the skin of healthy dogs, but can grow in animals with other underlying issues such as allergies or parasites.
These conditions cause inflammation and damage to the skin surface, making bacterial pyoderma much more likely to occur. So just as with yeast infections, bacteria are unlikely to be the primary issue, but they can contribute to your dog’s problem making things much worse.
Why Are Dogs More Itchy In The Summer
So, why do dogs itch more in the summer? There are many reasons why they might be more irritated at this time of year.
- The warm summer weather provides more favorable conditions for parasites such as fleas and harvest mites. Although your pet can catch these at any time of year, their numbers may increase during this time making it more likely to occur.
- Pollens from trees and flowers are present at higher levels compared to the colder winter months.
- Dogs and their owners may be out and about much more during good weather increasing their chances of encountering pollens and parasites.
- Warm humid weather will make your pet more susceptible to yeast and bacterial overgrowth, especially in dogs that have excessive skin folds and wrinkles.
- Swimming is something lots of dogs like to do in warmer temperatures, but this can make areas of the body moist such as ear canals and between toes, contributing to yeast issues.
When To See Your Vet About Your Dog’s Itchiness
If you suspect your dog is scratching more than usual, or you are noticing other issues like skin sores, hair loss, or inflamed ears then you must see your veterinarian. This online assessment tool from Zoetis can also be a useful aid to help you decide if your dog has a problem or not.
Your vet will start by examining your dog. If there is a flea problem, this can often be picked up by a well-trained eye. Fleas or their dirt may be found in your dog’s coat. However, your vet may suggest some diagnostic tests to work out the underlying cause of their skin problem if things aren’t so obvious.
Skin scrapes and hair plucks are relatively simple tools to screen for ectoparasites. Your vet will take samples to examine under a microscope for parasites like mites or lice. Impression smears can be examined too, which look for yeasts and bacteria, as well as swabs that are taken for culture and sensitivity.
Sometimes allergy testing is discussed. Blood tests (serology) can be taken or intradermal allergy testing performed. It can be useful to work out what triggers your dog’s itchiness, particularly if you are planning on going to go down the road of immunotherapy. This treatment involves administering controlled amounts of injectable allergens to your dog over time to desensitize its immune system.
For suspected food sensitivities, a strict dietary trial is the next step. Usually, this involves having your pet on a controlled diet for up to 12 weeks to see if this reduces his itchiness.
Biopsies are needed on occasion, taking small samples of skin tissue for laboratory analysis.
Your vet can then come up with a treatment plan for your pet based on their findings.
How To Stop Your Dog’s Summer Itch
Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best course of action for your pet. It’s important you follow their advice, as treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your dog’s itchiness.
Possible treatment options may include:
- Anti-parasite treatments such as topical spot-on, oral tablets or sprays
- Medicated shampoos to help with bacterial and yeast infections, as well as soothing inflamed skin
- Anti-histamines, steroids, or other allergy medications to reduce itchiness
- Antibiotic tablets or topical ointments
- Dietary management (prescription diets or avoiding proven food allergens)
- Supplements rich in ingredients like essential fatty acids (EFAs) aimed at promoting a healthy coat and skin
It’s important not to ignore the problem otherwise it could get worse, with secondary infections creeping in. Also, while it’s tempting to look for remedies online, your money is best spent getting a definitive diagnosis and some appropriate prescription medication from your vet.
While the odd scratch is perfectly normal, a dog that is constantly itchy or suffering from sore, inflamed skin is not. Problems can occur all year round but are much more likely in the warm summer months.
If left untreated, secondary yeast and bacterial infections can make the problem much worse, so getting your pet seen by a vet as soon as possible is always recommended.
Rebecca is a companion animal vet who lives and works in the UK. She graduated from The Royal Veterinary College (London) in 2009 and since then has gained a wealth of experience in all aspects of veterinary care. She has also recently completed a British Small Animal Veterinary Association postgraduate qualification in medicine, passing with commendation. Outside of work, she enjoys writing on a variety of pet health and behaviour topics, as well as spending time with her young family and her flat coated retriever, George.
Rebecca is currently a Veterinary Surgeon at Vets4Pets