When dogs itch but don’t have fleas, it’s likely due to shedding or other dermatological conditions. The most common causes of itching are skin infections, dry skin, allergies, autoimmune diseases, or skin conditions caused by mites. Stress and anxiety can also be the culprit.
Excessive scratching in dogs is sometimes just a behavioral problem. Other times, there’s an underlying issue.
Itching is most commonly related to a variety of dermatological problems. Skin problems are common in dogs, just as in humans. But unlike humans, dogs can’t say what is bothering them, so it can be complicated to identify the cause.
If the itching and scratching occur in the shedding period, there’s likely nothing wrong. Ask a veterinarian for advice.
Keep reading if you want to find out why your dog is itchy but has no fleas, what you can do, and more.
Why Is My Dog Itching but Has No Fleas?
There are many reasons why dogs itch without fleas. They can be harmless, such as shedding or dry skin, or severe issues caused by dermatological problems. The most common dermatological problems are skin infections and allergies.
Dogs often scratch, but the exact cause of itchiness can be hard to identify. When this behavior persists, excessive scratching can cause problems.
If the situation is prolonged, it can lead to skin damage and hair loss.
Here are the most common causes for itchiness in dogs without fleas:
- Dry skin
- Skin infections
- Autoimmune diseases
Shedding in dogs is a normal phenomenon that generally happens twice a year: in spring and fall. Dogs renew their fur to prepare for the coming season.
In spring, they get rid of their winter coat, and in autumn, they grow longer and thicker hair for the cold season.
When dogs shed their hair to make room for new ones, they typically start itching. This can last for a couple of days.
Dogs can shed excessively in some situations:
- Improper nutrition
- External parasites (fleas and ticks)
- Hormonal disorders
There are many things you can do to prevent excessive shedding (and thereby itching):
- Use antiparasitic products for fleas and ticks regularly.
- Brush your dog’s hair once every two days or at least once per week.
- Do not bathe your dog too often.
- Give your dog skin and fur supplements, such as those with omega-3.
- Take your dog to the vet regularly.
2. Dry Skin
Dry skin is a common problem in dogs and one that causes a lot of itching. It can have many causes, some of which are easy to solve, while others indicate a chronic problem.
It is important to know what causes your dog’s dry skin to be able to treat it and ensure your pet a comfortable life.
Dry skin can be caused by many things:
- Cold and dry weather
- Fatty acid deficiency
- Improper diet
- Frequent bathing
- Systemic disorders
The symptoms of dry skin in dogs are not the same for all dogs but can include the following:
- Dry and cracked skin
- Hair loss
- Red and inflamed skin
- Bad odor
- Excessive sebum production
Here is what you can do to improve your dog’s dry skin:
- Use a humidifier on cold and dry weather
- Use vet-approved shampoos when bathing your pet
- Reduce your dog’s bathing frequency
- Use dog skin moisturizers
- Use fur and skin supplements
- Eliminate or treat the primary cause
Dogs scratch and itch if they have an issue, including injuries. If your dog is in pain, it’s likely going to paw, lick, bite, and scratch the area.
Make sure to check the problem area if you notice an excessive amount of these behaviors.
Excessive scratching, biting, or licking can also represent an adaptive response to an orthopedic problem your dog has, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia.
Repeated scratching of the ears could indicate an ear infection.
4. Skin Infections
Skin infections occur due to bacteria, fungi, or yeast. They can be primary or secondary, but they usually appear as complications.
Bacterial and Yeast Skin Infections
Staphylococcus pseudointermedius and Malassezia pachydermatis are the causative agents most frequently diagnosed in dogs with skin conditions. These pathogens are normally found on the skin, but symptoms occur when they overgrow due to a weakened immune system, causing opportunistic skin infections.
They cause the skin to change, itch, and lose hair. In wet bacterial infections, dogs’ skin also starts smelling.
Fungal Skin Infections (Ringworm)
Although rare, fungal infections are contagious and must be treated urgently. Infections with Microsporum canis or, more rarely, Trichophyton mentagrophytes can be the reasons why dogs scratch.
These infections generally occur in the following scenarios:
- Poor care
- Close contact with an infected animal
Transmission happens through fungal spores in the environment or through infected hair. Itching occurs where the spores or infected hair comes in contact with healthy dogs’ skin.
In the case of Trichophyton mentagrophytes, transmission happens when dogs come into direct contact with contaminated soil.
Symptoms of fungal infections in dogs include:
- Flaky or crusty skin, especially on dogs’ skin folds, nails, armpits
- Intense itching and scratching
- Ear infections in some cases
- Ringworm specific lesions (central clearing surrounded by a red, inflamed border)
Contact the veterinarian if your dog shows one or more of these symptoms.
Allergies are another cause of itching in dogs. There are generally three types to look out for:
- Contact allergies: dust mites, mold, and pollen
- Food allergies
- Allergies to medicines or care products
Excessive scratching is often caused by food allergies or external factors.
More and more dogs develop allergies to pollen, mold, grass, or common grooming products like shampoo. These cause contact dermatitis occurs, which is an irritation of the skin that causes itching, scratching, and hot spots.
Food allergies are more difficult to treat and manage as the ingredient that causes the reaction is usually unknown.
To treat food allergies, your dog must go on a diet. Dieting can last up to 8-12 weeks or more.
Medical allergies are relatively easy to identify. If you have given your dog a new medicine and it starts scratching, it’s likely that it has an allergic reaction to that drug.
Stop the administration and contact the vet.
Several species of mites can cause generalized itching in dogs. Here are the most common ones:
- Predatory mites (Cheyletiella spp.)
- Mites that cause sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei)
- Harvest mites (Trombicula autumnalis)
The most dangerous mites are those that cause sarcoptic mange. This is a contagious disease and can also be transmitted to humans.
Sarcoptic mange usually occurs in spring and winter in unhealthy or vulnerable dogs:
- Malnourished dogs
- Poorly cared dogs
- Pregnant or lactating females
It is transmitted through direct contact or from the environment, where the parasites can survive between two and four weeks.
There are many signs that your dog has mange:
- Extreme itching
- Excessive scratching to the point of self-mutilation
- Redness and rash
- Thick yellow crusts
- Hair loss.
- Secondary skin infections
In advanced and extreme cases, symptoms include:
- Thickening of the skin
- Inflammation of the lymph nodes
- Weight loss
Dogs can die from sarcoptic mange if they don’t get treatment.
7. Autoimmune Diseases
Diseases such as pemphigus or lupus erythematosus are chronic conditions that occur when a dog’s immune system fights against its own body, attacking and destroying its cells.
Besides the specific symptoms, these conditions can also cause generalized itching and red spots on the body.