You've settled in for a quiet evening on the sofa with a romantic movie. Suddenly, your cozy mood is disturbed by the sound of your canine family member biting himself. Learn about the most common reasons that dogs bite and chew on themselves, so you can stop the biting.
The most common reason a dog bites himself is to get rid of pesky parasites, especially fleas, mites and ticks. Dogs who chew at the base of the tail, stomach or underarms are almost always trying to get rid of some unseen pest. The most common cause of pest irritation is fleas. Some dogs have such bad flea allergies that even one flea bite can cause flea allergy dermatitis, which causes severe skin itching, irritation and sometimes infections. Prompt and aggressive treatment, generally including flea treatment, antibiotics and steroids, is often needed. Diet change can also be helpful.
While you may be able to see ticks, you can often miss small fleas and microscopic mites. Use regular flea and tick prevention year round, especially in warmer climates. If you suspect a mite infestation, including demodectic or sarcoptic mange, visit your veterinarian for a skin scrape and a view under the microscope. The cost of the vet visit and proper treatment will save your dog from more serious infections and discomfort.
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Dogs with seasonal allergies almost always show symptoms of skin irritation and itchiness. Common seasonal allergies like grass and pollen can affect dogs as much as they affect people. After walking outside, a dog may chew his feet or belly where the allergens have touched. Often, a bath with a soothing oatmeal base will eliminate most of the allergens and calm the irritated skin. Dogs with moderate allergies may need over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines. Severe allergies may even require steroids for effective treatment. Check with your veterinarian for antihistamine dosages or steroid medications.
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Some dogs develop can develop food allergies, and symptoms often manifest in the skin. Dogs with food allergies often chew their feet or the base of their tails constantly. If your dog does chew his feet or tail, consider making a food switch. The most common food allergens for dogs are corn, wheat, soy, chicken and beef. Try a limited ingredient, grain-free food with a unique protein like duck or venison. You may even want to consider a raw-food diet, also known as a biologically appropriate diet. Don't forget to also eliminate treats with the same common allergens. You will need to keep your dog on the new diet for at least four to six weeks before determining if the biting is the result of a food allergy.
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An injury, such as a small cut, can cause a dog to bite at the site of the injury. If a splinter or other item is embedded in a paw, your dog may be biting to try to remove what's stuck. If an injury lingers untreated, it may get infected, causing even more discomfort, which often increases the biting and chewing. If your dog always bites at the same spot on his body, carefully examine that area for any signs of injury or infection. If you suspect any abnormalities, make an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough examination and appropriate treatment.
Sometimes, the source of the biting is as simple as dry, flaky skin. Dogs need a healthy supply of fatty acids in their diets to maintain healthy coats and skin. Dogs who are lacking fatty acids, especially Omega 3 and 6, will often have dry, flaky and itchy sink. Consider adding Omega 3 and 6 supplements in the form of fish oil or flax seed to improve your dog's skin condition.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.