Pruritus in dogs causes pups to lick, bite, and chew themselves constantly, and it can drive you both crazy. Here’s why it happens and what you can do about it. 

Photo courtesy of Scenthound

Key takeaways:

  • Pruritus is the sensation in the dog’s skin that causes them to scratch.
  • It is a symptom caused by dry skin, allergies, parasites, or other underlying conditions.
  • Anxiety and boredom can cause dogs to lick, chew, and bite as a response.
  • Changing your dog’s diet may be the key to stopping obsessive-licking behavior.
  • Fatty acid supplements can help ease pain and itching from dry skin.

Skin problems – including pruritis in dogs – are a part of pup parenthood. Did you know more than 160 skin conditions impact dogs? It’s no surprise that skin-related issues are the number one reason for vet visits! These conditions can cause constant itching, painful hotspots, and eventually infection if they’re left untreated.

Compulsive scratching, biting, and licking are typical in dogs, but they can become harmful, so getting to the bottom of a constant itch is important. Here’s what you need to know about pruritus in dogs.


Pruritis is the sensation in the skin that causes you to scratch. It is a symptom of an underlying condition, not a disease itself. The most common causes for dogs are allergies, infections, and parasites such as fleas and ticks. Some canine skin conditions don’t cause itching until they have progressed.

Dogs suffering from pruritus will incessantly chew, lick, and bite themselves. This behavior is typically kept to one area of the body, but it can manifest all over. When hotspots – irritated and infected red spots – develop, it’s time to see a professional to find out what’s causing your pup’s pain. Here’s what you need to know about potential causes:


When you notice excessive licking and scratching, there’s a good chance your pup is experiencing a bout of allergies. It could be a reaction to a food or something in the environment, such as mold or pollen. Contact dermatitis, a skin irritation that occurs when a dog comes into physical contact with harsh cleansers or pesticides, is another possibility.


Many people are surprised to hear that dogs experience anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. Some breeds, such as German shepherds and greyhounds, are prone to anxiety, but all can experience it. Human anxiety often manifests as hair twirling, nail-biting, or tapping feet. Dogs have physical responses as well, and they include chewing, scratching, and licking. These responses can be very dangerous and even develop into obsessive-compulsive behavior, causing hotspots, irritation, and infection.


Dogs that don’t get the proper exercise and stimulation will often lick and chew to relieve their excess, pent-up energy. A bored dog will find something to do, even if it’s destructive.


Winter weather, dietary deficiencies, and other factors contribute to a pup’s dry skin. When skin dries, it can crack, bleed, and itch. While most dry skin issues can be treated easily, they can also be a symptom of a more severe condition, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.

shiba inu scratch my ears


Too much cortisol hormone, not enough thyroid hormones, and other fluctuations can cause skin problems. Dogs suffering from a hormone imbalance can develop bald spots, superficial skin infections, and constant licking and biting behaviors.


Dogs don’t have a lot of response options when they’re in pain. It’s easy to tell a sore paw or leg when your pup is limping, but other painful issues can be harder to discern. When dogs are in pain, they may lick or chew at the area in response. For example cases of hip dysplasia, a dog might be biting the back hip area.


Parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites are one of the most common causes of compulsive licking and biting. Ticks can usually be seen easily with the human eye, but the others can be trickier to spot. Many pet parents assume their pup doesn’t have a parasite problem because they don’t see them, but that isn’t the case. Fleas can be detected with a thorough inspection, but mites are microscopic.


The way you treat pup pruritus depends on its underlying cause. Here’s what you need to know:

  • When parasites are the cause, the answer is to get rid of them. Ticks can be removed and discarded. Fleas and mites can be more challenging to exterminate and may require prescription medications from a vet. Scenthound offers a flea and tick treatment, so be sure to ask about it if you need help getting rid of these parasites.
  • Routine care is critical in the fight against fleas and other parasites. Regular bathing and haircuts help keep fleas, ticks, and mites less interested in taking up residence on your pup.
  • Changing your dog’s food is one way to deal with allergens that cause pruritus. Eliminating problem foods eliminates the allergic reaction. If the allergen is environmental, allergy medication may be necessary.
  • Supplements such as essential fatty acids can also help soothe irritated skin and provide itch relief for dogs. They help keep your pup’s coat healthy and shiny, too.
  • Addressing boredom and anxiety is crucial to curbing obsessive-licking behavior. Make sure your dog has plenty of toys, entertainment, and outside play to keep boredom or anxiety at bay.

Obsessive licking and chewing behavior isn’t just maddening for you. Your pup is miserable, too. Fortunately, pruritis in dogs can be stopped once you figure out the cause.


Regular care and basic hygiene are important to keep your pup clean and healthy. Scenthound provides the routine care that all dogs need. With every groom, we do a 6-point wellness check and provide a detailed assessment of your dog’s external health. This helps identify small problems that can turn into big problems if ignored or undetected.

Find a Scenthound near you and snuggle up to a clean, healthy pup.