Why Does My Puppy Itch?

Vivian Carroll, DVM
Published: May 25, 2011
Why Does My Puppy Itch?

So my editor boss-guy gave me a list of topic suggestions when we first planned out Purely Puppy. One of the topics was "diseases and conditions that affect puppies in their first year." Well, since that’s a little broad, we'll talk about something that I get asked just about every time I do a new puppy exam: "My puppy is itchy. Does he have fleas?"

Literally, when I walk into the exam room, a little clock starts ticking in my head. It’s almost like a game. "When will the itchy puppy question come up?" I ask myself.

Here’s the thing, I think all puppies itch. Sometimes it’s actually significant; sometimes I think they are getting used to their new collars, or maybe just their own skin.

Things that commonly make puppies itch:

Fleas – This is the one everybody worries about. Look for the little black-brown bugs, maybe the size of a pinhead, running around on the dog. Fleas like to hide at the base of the tail or on the belly where it’s dark, leaving behind "flea dirt," which is really flea poop consisting of digested blood. If you have superhuman eyesight, it looks like little black curlicues. For us mere mortals, it just looks like "dirt." Flea dirt turns rust-red when wet, so if you bathe the puppy and the water looks "bloody," it’s probably got fleas.

Mange – There are two kinds: Sarcoptic and Demodectic. Sarcoptic is contagious (to animals and humans) and itches like CRAZY. Demodex is usually less itchy and is not contagious. Dogs are born with a predisposition for the mites to multiply in their skin. You'll need a vet with a microscope to diagnose this.

Ear Mites – Little bugs that live in the dogs ears, wiggling around and eating. Not all itchy ears have mites. They are contagious. You need that vet with the microscope (or at least an otoscope) to diagnose these. For every client that comes in saying their dog has mites, maybe one in five of them actually have them. The rest have either a yeast or bacterial infection or both (the microscope and vet help figure this out).

Dry Skin – Sometimes it’s nutritional, sometimes it’s just environmental. It's common for pups to have mild flaky skin; however, your vet needs to examine the puppy to make sure it's only that and not an infection. Less commonly found is lice, or Cheyletiella ("walking dandruff"), which are bugs that can hide in, cause, or look like dandruff. (And no, dog lice don’t infect humans, and vice versa).

Puppy Pyoderma – Sort of like pimples on the skin, usually in the groin area. They are fairly common in puppies and we usually let them be unless they become numerous. Generally they go away on their own as the puppy's immune system matures. Again, have the vet check it out to make sure.

By no means is this list exhaustive, but it covers the important points.

Maybe you could surprise your vet by asking: "Does my puppy have Cheyletiella?" You know, instead of just asking about fleas … just to throw her (or him) off. ;)

Dr. Vivian Carroll

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