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Summer skin problems. What causes that annoying itch?

Our veterinarian, Andrea Bookless from Lanes Vets, Lancaster, provides some answers on itch problems.

Picture © Steven Barber

There are many things that can cause dogs to itch and this is especially true over the summer months. You will find it very hard to define the cause just by looking at your pet.


If your dog suddenly starts to itch you should treat them for fleas EVEN IF YOU CAN’T SEE ANY! Most of the itch caused by fleas is due to a reaction to the flea saliva left in the dog’s skin when a flea bites to take its blood meal! (YUCK!) Dogs will usually scratch around the flanks, tummy, bottom of the back, near the tail and often down the back legs. Sometimes scratching is so severe that the skin is damaged and becomes infected.

Seek veterinary advice in this case. Using an effective flea treatment is essential on ALL the cats and dogs in a household – even if just one is scratching. Your vet can point you in the direction of newer, safer products for flea control and also advise you on the most effective way to use them. The flea population has started to become resistant to some of the older products that once worked very well….a bit like the head lice story in people.

In the home

It is also very wise to use an environmental treatment, especially if the problem has been ongoing for a while. Fleas that are seen on pets account for only 5% of the total flea population. The rest exists in the environment as eggs, lavae and pupae. Did you know that the pupa stage of the flea life cycle can remain dormant in your house for up to a year, ready to start biting you, your animals and your family at any time? (Double YUCK!)

Please remember NEVER use insecticidal products designed for dogs on your cat as this can be fatal.


Some dogs will lick, nibble, scratch, rub or chew at their feet, tummies and ears. This can be a sign of allergic skin disease which occurs when an individual animal develops a sensitivity to and starts to react to common things that surround us in the environment like pollens, moulds and house dust mites… It’s not unlike having hay fever but the skin is affected.

You can help your pet by removing these microscopic particles by washing your dog with a mild, soothing shampoo. This can also help to calm any inflammation. Even wiping their paws and tummy with a damp cloth or sponge after walks can help. You can reduce exposure to pollen,  especially if the pollen count is high, by avoiding walks in the early morning or early evening. If the problem persists or your dog is damaging itself excessively please visit your veterinary surgeon.

Harvest Mites

Harvest Mites (chiggers or berry bugs) are very interesting little critters. They itch tremendously and can cause dogs (and cat!) to attack their paws and sometimes round their ears, eyes, face and occasionally their tummies – all very similar to the areas affected by allergies.

The mites are the larval stage of a mite (Neotrombicula autumnalis). They live only in certain areas of the country where there is grass land growing on limestone. Mites are active between July and late September (depending on the weather) and can just be seen with the naked eye. Appearing as bright orange dots, the size of a full-stop, they are often found in small clumps. Between the toes, on the ear margin or round the eyes are most common.

A fipronil-containing spray such as Frontline® Effipro® (not the spot-on), can help kill them and may help prevent re-infestation if used every 1-2 weeks.

Some of the newer oral flea treatments may be effective but there is nothing currently licenced in the UK.

See your vet to get to the root of these problems.

Lanes Vets – Andrea Bookless