Introduction: Knowing When Too Much Is Too Much
All dogs chew and bite at their skin. It is a perfectly natural canine behavior that should not be any cause for alarm. However, a persistent habit of chewing at themselves can indicate a problem with your dogs’ health.
As most people will readily tell you, dogs mainly bite themselves to scratch an itch. In most instances, it comes down to some variation of that issue. However, there are many things that can cause a dog to itch.
The trick is knowing when too much is too much. It would be incredibly silly to upset yourself every time your dog bites his backside, so don’t get too paranoid. Still, it is important to recognize when the habit has become an excessive one.
Pay Attention To The Area They Are Chewing
Before we get into the many reasons that dogs engage in this behavior, let’s start with some practical advice. After all, we aren’t just trying to teach you how to identify this problem, but also how to deal with the results.
If you have noticed a problem with your dog persistently gnawing at themselves, take a good look at the area of the body that they are targeting. In most cases, this behavior will be centered around one or a few specific areas.
It may be that there is no clear pattern and that they are biting themselves all over. Either way, you need to part their hair and take a good look at the skin. If there is a serious problem, you are likely to see some visible signs of such.
You can use your hands, but a set of gloves is recommended just in case you are dealing with something contagious. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to run a comb through their fur so that you can check for pesky little bugs, their droppings, or their eggs.
Keep your eyes out for “hot spots.” These are small patches of skin that have become red, raw, and irritated. Dogs tend to dig at these spots, making them worse. They can be an indicator of several problems including rash or parasites.
You should also keep your eyes out for any visible creatures like fleas, mites, ticks, etc. Sometimes, an irritated patch of skin can be as simple as a big fat tick that won’t let go. There are many ways to get rid of ticks, but that’s a separate topic.
Obviously, you should also keep your eyes out for any obvious wounds that your dog might have incurred. Like humans, dogs have a bad habit of picking at scabs and wounds, thus spreading infection and making the problem worse.
If you see no obvious problems, you will need to dig deeper. In most instances, your dog will not be consistently gnawing at themselves without some kind of reason. Don’t just blow the problem off because you don’t notice anything obvious.
Most likely, this will require a visit to the vet. They can test your dogs’ skin and hair for signs of disease, bacteria, parasites, etc. They can also recognize the symptoms that warn of a more serious issue, and that is very important.
Dogs Bite Themselves As A Response To Flea Infestation
Everyone knows that fleas are a frequent problem for dogs. Everyone also knows that a flea-bitten dog will gnaw and chew on itself constantly. In some cases, they will do this until they have literally worn the flesh from their body.
Of course, most flea infestations are not that bad. This is a problem that dogs have been dealing with since the dawn of time, and fleas are unlikely to stop targeting dogs any time soon. If this is your problem, you’ve gotten off light.
Dealing with fleas isn’t terribly hard. If nothing else, it is easy and cheap to obtain a bottle of flea shampoo. Frequent bathing with an anti-flea shampoo should solve most of the minor infestations. For bigger infestations, more serious measures may be necessary.
Your Dog Might Be Trying To Remove A Tick
Like fleas, ticks have been sucking the blood of our canine friends for a very long time. Some have theorized that fleas and ticks have evolved to specifically target dogs since we humans tend to bring dogs everywhere.
While ticks are a common dog problem, they should never be ignored. Ticks are like dirty needles with legs and teeth. As they pass from one host to another, they will sometimes carry dangerous diseases and toxins with them.
These diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and a whole host of others. Even if your dog doesn’t get any diseases from ticks, the blood loss will certainly be a detriment to their health, not to mention the skin irritation.
Dogs Bite Themselves As A Response To Allergies
Allergies are also a frequent problem for many dogs. While most people think of allergies as a human thing, dogs can and often do develop allergies. External exposure to an allergen (a substance to which your dog is allergic) will often irritate the skin.
If your dog is digging at themselves all the time, and you cannot find an external cause, try switching dog food brands. Try to switch to something of higher quality if you can afford to do so. Food allergies can cause massive itching problems.
Dogs Bite Themselves As A Response To Mite Infestation
Mites are a little harder to handle than fleas. The main problem comes from the fact that the little creatures are so tiny. It is very hard even to see them, much less target them for extermination. Thankfully, there are some good solutions.
Your Dog Might Just Have Dandruff
Seborrhea, more commonly known as dandruff, will sometimes afflict dogs. This condition is caused by a yeast-like bacteria that causes red, itchy, and irritated patches to form on the skin. This is usually accompanied by dry skin and lots of flaking.
If your dog is shedding flakes of dry skin, you will probably notice it when they shake. I recall one instance in which my largest male dog had dandruff, and when I watched him shake, it looked like a small dust storm!
Many people seem to believe that dandruff is caused by dry skin, but this is not the case. Although dry skin can play a role in aggravating the problem, this condition is caused mainly by a specific strain of bacteria.
As with humans, dogs with dandruff are usually given a medicated shampoo that is designed to kill the bacteria. This is another problem in which you can be said to have gotten off light, as dandruff is not particularly hard to deal with or to treat.
A Word About Thorns, Splinters, And Stingers
When you see your dog digging like an angry gold miner, don’t forget to consider the possibility of a physical obstruction. There are many things that can become lodged in your dogs’ skin and which can then lead to irritation and chewing.
Dogs often aren’t very cautious when it comes to thorns. Obviously, this isn’t a problem for dogs that spend all their time indoors, but outside dogs will sometimes get themselves stuck. If these small punctures become infected, a bad irritation can develop.
Dogs will often use their teeth to try and pull foreign objects out of their skin. However, if the foreign object happens to be very small, the dog is likely to have trouble getting a grip. This won’t stop them from trying, hence the obsessive chewing.
The same kind of trouble can result from a stinger. Many insects will leave their stinger behind when they sting. Bees, in particular, exhibit this behavior. Even if the stinger isn’t left behind, the venom will be present.
Since the venom is the part that causes the pain and irritation, you can use a simple home remedy to draw it from the wound. All you have to do is take a little bit of tobacco, wet it with your spit, rub it into a gooey paste, and put it on the stung spot.
Use a bandage to wrap the affected area and bind the wetted tobacco to the surface. The wetting is necessary because it transfers to essential compounds of the plant into a liquid, in which form it can easily be absorbed into a wound.
This may seem like a crude and disgusting remedy, but it will draw the venom from the wound and keep the sting from swelling. This will do a lot to hold down the itching and keep your dog from eating a hole in itself. It works within only a couple of hours.
If you don’t want to use your spit, I suppose you could use water. I use spit because that is the way I was originally shown, and I prefer to stick with methods that have served me well. I see no reason, however, why water could not be substituted.
If you are sketchy about using tobacco, there is a common plant called Plantago Major that can help. This plant is common throughout the world and has a long and documented history of medicinal use. Like tobacco, it can draw poison from a wound.
A few tips if you choose to try this: Don’t gather plants from beside the road. Always wash your plants very well before use. Use only the leaves for this purpose, and rip them up into little pieces before wetting them. Expect results within a few hours.
Dogs Might Simply Do This As A Nervous Habit
It is entirely possible that dogs might chew their hide as a nervous habit. It might be similar to the way that some humans bite their nails or crack their knuckles. When dealing with animals, it is important always to consider simple solutions.
Although the dog is a remarkably intelligent animal, it is still an animal. As such, a dogs’ mindset tends to be pretty simple. This is why you can go wrong ascribing complex motives to a relatively simple creature. Always check the simplest explanation first.
Boredom can cause a dog to gnaw themselves, simply because they have nothing better to do with their time. Anxiety can cause them to chew themselves much like an anxious schoolchild chews a pencil. Fear can cause them to use chewing as a coping mechanism.
When we start getting into the thoughts and motivations of a dog, we are treading on uncertain ground. However, dogs seem to experience and show most of the same emotions that we do, so it isn’t too far-fetched to believe that their emotions are similar to our own.
Other Possible Causes
Excessive itching can also be caused by thyroid dysfunctions, nutrient deficiencies, chemical exposure, and any number of other unlikely conditions. Remember; unlikely doesn’t mean impossible.
This is where we get into a very difficult problem; the problem of dealing with the unknown. There is always a chance that your dogs’ issues could be related to something rare and serious. As such, keep a cautious eye on this problem and don’t give it too much time.
Needless to say, you will need the help of a veterinarian to confirm or disprove the presence of these strange and miscellaneous causes.
This is yet another subject where we cannot be 100% certain of why our dogs engage in a certain type of behavior. However, the cause will usually become obvious with a little bit of careful investigation. Don’t snooze on the problem.
It might be said that a dog biting itself is one of the most normal occurrences on earth. This is exactly what makes it a potential problem. When excessive gnawing is an indicator of larger problems, it is more likely to go unnoticed.
We hope that this article has armed you with the knowledge you need to interpret this behavior, and to know when it is right and proper for you to step in and take some corrective measures.