I often get owners contacting me about their itchy Australian shepherd. Rightfully so, it can be concerning when you notice your Aussie itching excessively. This article explains the common causes and how to help.
Common causes behind itchiness in Australian Shepherds:
- Canine Atopic Dermatitis
- Too Many Baths
- Skin Infections
- Fleas, Skin Mites, Parasites
- Harvest Mites
- Other Allergies
When Itching Is Normal Compared To Excessive
Before worrying too much, it helps to know when the scratching is actually nothing to worry about.
Like with all pooches, your Aussie will need to scratch from time to time. Periodic scratching throughout the day, here and there, isn’t anything to worry about.
It’s common to notice your Aussie scratching more throughout summer when her body temperature is raised.
It’s also normal for the skin to get a little itchy where her collar is, especially if she wears a collar all the time. If it’s safe to do so, it’s best to remove your Aussie’s collar while inside.
When itching becomes excessive:
Excessive itching does usually indicate something is wrong, and this is identifiable when your Aussie is scratching for prolonged periods of time, many times throughout the day.
If you see her scratching every 5 or 10 minutes, that would certainly be considered excessive, compared to only a few times per day.
It’s also considered excessive if she just can’t stop scratching until you physically intervene.
If this is the case for your Aussie, check out the next section.
6 Reasons Why Your Australian Shepherd Is So Itchy
Let’s run through the common causes behind excessive itchiness.
One thing: Narrowing down the exact cause of itchiness can actually be quite difficult to do yourself at home. Although I’ll run through everything I can to help here, it will likely be necessary to visit your local veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.
1. Canine Atopic Dermatitis
Canine Atopic Dermatitis, CAD for short, is a very common hereditary skin condition that many dogs have, including Australian shepherds.
Aussies that have this condition are extra sensitive to many allergens both in the environment and in food. Allergens from pollen, dust, grasses, and molds, to chicken, dairy, or peas. These can all cause allergic reactions that negatively affect the skin.
This condition causes the skin to become red, itchy, inflamed, and will likely cause your Aussie to be more prone to skin infections, ear infections, and infected anal glands.
One thing a veterinarian can do (that we can’t) is run allergy tests to determine what it is exactly that your Aussie is allergic to. Treatment usually involves avoiding those allergens, special diets, anti-itch medications, and skin supplements.
2. Too many baths
Bathing frequency is a commonly discussed topic among Australian shepherd owners, and for good reason, there are many opinions flying around!
The truth is that Australian shepherds are a naturally hygienic breed and do not require frequent bathing. Despite their long double coat, they do a great job at remaining odor-free and genuinely clean.
Unfortunately (but understandably) a lot of owners with good intentions, bathe their Aussie way too much. An Aussie only needs to be bathed once every three to four months, or less.
The issue with bathing too much is that the shampoo will dry out their skin, causing a lot of irritation, itchiness, excessive oil production, bad odor, and more.
3. Skin Infections
Skin infections and general bacterial infections are another common cause of itchiness.
Yeast infections can happen to any dog as can a general overgrowth of bacteria.
While infections can sometimes be caused due to greasy skin or hygiene issues, they are typically a secondary reaction to underlying health issues. Issues like CAD (explained above), Cushing’s disease, and hypothyroidism are known to cause skin infections, leading to itchiness.
Infections and bacteria overgrowth can lead to red, inflamed, and itchy skin. Skin infections nearly always cause excessive scratching and need veterinary assistance.
If this is the case for your Aussie, you might be able to see visible bacteria growth (usually whitish) around the paws, underbelly, armpits, ears, and bum area. Skin infections can also lead to a strong foul-smelling odor.
4. Fleas, Skin Mites, Parasites
Skin mites are parasites that you will not be able to see with the naked eye. Mites can cause mange which can even spread to humans as well as other dogs. Mange is known to cause extreme itching, scabbing around the elbows and paw pads, and hair loss.
Your Australian shepherd could have Dog Fleas. Fleas are by far the most common type of parasite that can live on your Aussie. They are usually visible (dark brown, around 1-2mm in length) and can live on your Aussie for up to 2 weeks.
Due to how many eggs female Fleas lay every single day (around 40) It’s very important to inspect your Aussie for fleas or eggs as quickly as possible, if not, they can multiply exponentially.
It’s generally very easy for dogs to catch Fleas. Fleas can pass on to your Aussie from their environment as well as other animals and dogs.
If you suspect your Aussie has Fleas (or you actually see them) it’s best to visit your veterinarian for quick and sufficient assistance.
5. Harvest Mites
Harvest mites are another form of skin mite, that can be seen without a microscope.
These mites are typically orange in color and usually live on the skin on paws. As many Aussies have hairy paws, they can be difficult to see if present.
These mites are particularly common in the Autumn months, depending on where you live.
If you notice your Aussie constantly scratching at his paws, it could indicate a yeast infection, bacteria, or Harvest mites.
6. Other Allergies
This is similar to CAD, but as it’s often overlooked I wanted to cover it again here.
Your Aussie could be sensitive to additional allergens in their close environment.
Things from the kind of washing powder you use (biological powder often causes skin reactions) to the home air freshener or perfume you wear.
These are considered contact allergies and reactions can be avoided by your Aussie not coming into contact with them.
If you have recently added a home air freshener, changed washing powders, or started wearing perfume, this could be the cause.
Recommended article: Why some Australian shepherds like to cuddle and others don’t
When To See a Veterinarian
Let’s run through the most important things to be on the look out for.
If you notice your Aussie to have any of the following then it’s best to call your veterinarian for a check-up and further guidance:
● Visible Fleas or eggs
● Visible Harvest mites
● Visible bacteria or yeast infections
● Severely inflamed or broken skin
● Puss or discharge
● Scabby skin
● Progressive hair loss
● You genuinely have no idea what’s causing the excessive itchiness
In these situations, it’s necessary to seek veterinarian help. Your Aussie will need a health check-up and guided treatment.
Excessive itching is not always an indicator of a serious issue, but it is likely to cause a lot of discomfort, so the quicker you can get your Aussie help, the better.
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What You Can Do In The Meantime
If you have an idea of what’s causing the itchiness, then it’s important to try and remove that trigger.
Think about recent changes in your home leading up to the itchiness… Different washing powder? perfumes? have you recently spring-cleaned? (dust) Have you changed your Aussie’s kibble?
If your Aussie doesn’t have any visible bacteria, skin infection, broken skin, mites, or fleas, then it could be a factor coming from your home, the changing of the seasons, or your Aussies diet.
If your Aussie hasn’t had a bath in a while, try giving him a thorough wash with an anti-itch shampoo, or better a natural-ingredient colloidal oatmeal/aloe vera shampoo. Only do this if his skin isn’t already inflamed, red or irritated.
In addition to this, if you realize you have given your Aussie a few too many baths, then this could be exactly what’s causing it. Revert back to few baths with a suitable shampoo and you might see the itchiness slowly decrease.
Something I always recommend to owners is an omega 3 fish oil supplement. Increasing omega 3’s can have excellent benefits for their skin and coat, and most diets do not contain a sufficient amount of it on their own. While fish oil is generally a safe supplement, I still have to advise you to speak to your veterinarian about this addition first.
You can also ensure your Aussie is up to date with their external parasite prevention. There are a lot of tablets or spot-on treatments that you can find in your local pet store, or from your vet.
Your Australian Shepherd Itches But You See No Fleas
If you see no visible Fleas or eggs, that’s great. But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Because of this, it’s advised to visit your veterinarian if you don’t have a good idea as to what’s causing the itchiness.
Not only can the fleas sometimes not be visible, but you also have to consider the fact that some skin mites are not visible to the naked eye anyway…
This leaves us with no other option than to seek veterinarian help, as they can perform the necessary skin tests to find out the cause.
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