Why Is My Labrador Constantly Scratching? Understanding the Causes and Remedies

It is normal for your pooch to itch every once in a while. But sudden, intense, and persistent bouts of scratching can be a sign of an underlying problem. Labradors are particularly susceptible to certain skin conditions that may cause this. The key to relieving your Lab is by finding out what the cause could be, accompanying symptoms, and helpful remedies.

Causes of intense itching in your Labrador retriever

The general term used to describe skin disorders in our canine friends is pruritus. Common causes of skin conditions in your Lab are food and other allergies, pests, skin conditions and diseases, and environmental conditions.

Food and other allergies

Unlike other dog breeds, the highly intelligent and exuberant Lab has an irritating tendency of developing allergic reactions to certain foods. This is because the immune system in Labs produces more immunoglobulin E (IgE), a protein produced to counter the effects of allergens. Food allergies in your Lab may be as a result of such ingredients as beef, chicken, chicken eggs, corn, fish, soy, and wheat. Processed foods are the most common cause of allergic reactions in a dog. 

Other allergies can be classified into contact and inhalant allergic reactions. Contact allergies are caused by irritants in the environment. Such irritants may include carpet deodorizers, dyes, dog shampoos, and certain medications. Other items such as poison ivy sap, wool, and rubber can also cause contact allergic reactions. This type of reaction develops in areas with little or no fur, such as the muzzle, paws, and lower abdomen. These areas are highly susceptible to coming into contact with the allergen. The affected might get inflamed or develop blisters.

Also referred to as atopy, inhalant allergies are rather popular in Labs. They are allergic reactions to things such as pollen, dust, and mold. Your Lab is likely to develop an inhalant allergic reaction during the spring and summer. A Lab with an allergic reaction will bite and scratch themselves, particularly on the face, ears, armpits, groin, and legs. 

How do I treat my Lab’s allergic reaction?

To treat an allergic reaction in your Lab, you will first need to rule out what’s causing it. For instance, you can alleviate a food allergy is by changing your Lab’s diet. You can also carry out an exclusion trial to determine whether it is a contact allergic reaction. For example, if you think a new carpet deodorizer is what’s causing the allergy, keep him off the carpeted area. 

If your Lab’s condition does not improve, consider taking him to the vet. The vet is likely to perform one or more allergy tests to establish its cause. One of the tests involves injecting an allergen into the pooch’s skin to observe the reaction. They may also take a blood sample to test IgE antibodies. An unusually high amount of IgE antibodies could indicate that your Lab has an inhalant allergy. 

It is impossible to cure allergic reactions, but they can be managed. Once an allergy management plan is in place, your Lab will be able to live a comfortable and itch-free life. 


Parasites in our four-legged friends are quite common. Even the cleanest and the most well-kept dog will be infested with pests and parasites occasionally. Some of the most common pests and parasites in Labs include:-

  • Fleas – these are the most common parasites in dogs. Indeed, it is impossible for a dog to last a lifetime without being infested with fleas at one point or the other. An adult flea lays up to 50 eggs every day, which fall off the dog and into the surrounding area. The next generation starts to grow in every place your Lab has access to. These areas need to be treated when you are treating your dog for fleas. In some instances, flea infestations get out of hand. In that case, you’d have to enlist the help of a professional to help you decontaminate the house. Therefore, seek to treat the flea problem as soon as you notice it.
  • Ear mites – these are a common affliction, particularly in the floppy-eared Labrador. This is because such ears form a perfect moist environment that is the perfect environment for ear mites to thrive. Once they infest your Lab, these critters irritate the ear canal, causing your dog to be uncomfortable and itchy. You will know that your dog is infested with ear mites if the constantly flap their ears, scratch them with their feet, shake their head, or rub them on the ground.
  • Ticks – just like fleas, ticks are blood-sucking creatures that could attach themselves to your dog. Apart from skin irritation, ticks can cause such diseases as Ehrlichia, Lyme Disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. You can prevent ticks from engorging on your Lab by using certain medications. Use these medications when taking your pooch where ticks lurk.

How to prevent pest infestation in your Lab

The most effective way of dealing with pest problems in your Lab is by preventing them from happening in the first place. You can achieve this by maintaining a clean environment for your dog. Make sure that items such as food and water dishes, his coats, and bedding are regularly cleaned. Keep your Lab away from infested dogs or cats, dead animals, and garbage.

Watch out for any behavioral changes in your dog. Pest infestation might not always result in constant itching and scratching. Changes in your dog’s appetite or the amount of water he drinks could also be a sign of such.

If you notice that your Lab is already infested, try to handle it as soon as possible. Ask your vet to recommend the most suitable solution.

Skin conditions and diseases

Labradors are predisposed to certain skin conditions and diseases that may result in intense itching. 

They include:

Atopic Dermatitis

This is an inherited condition that is characterized by heightened sensitivity to such things as weed pollens and grass. Labradors are particularly predisposed to this condition that causes skin inflammation and itching. Apart from localized itching, your pooch may sneeze a lot and have a running nose. Later on, the itching may spread across the whole body.

Demodectic Mange

Demodectic Mange is a condition that is characterized by severe itching, flakiness, and redness on your pet’s skin. It often occurs in the advanced stages of mite infestation, especially if your dog has a weakened immune system.


Seborrhea is a common condition in Labs that is as a result of the overproduction of sebum. This results in skin problems such as dryness, flakiness, or oiliness. It affects such areas as the ears, elbows, hocks, and knees. While this condition is incurable, it can be treated using antibiotics and medicated shampoo. However, always ask your vet what the most appropriate treatment method is.  


This is a bacterial infection that may affect your Lab’s flanks, hips, lower back, and tail. Pyoderma is mostly as a result of underlying conditions such as seborrhea, dermatitis, or any other condition that causes compulsive scratching. In severe cases, you may need to have your pooch sedated for the lesions to be removed. If you notice this condition early enough, it can be treated using antibiotics.


By itself, obesity in Labs does not cause itching. However, it results in skin folds that may become itchy. This is especially the case when it comes to older dogs. The skin folds could trap bacteria and become infected as well as itchy.

If you think your dog’s itchiness is caused by a skin condition or disease, have the veterinary check him out immediately. You can prevent conditions such as excessive weight gain by observing the right diet and exercising your dog. You can learn more about helping your Lab lose some weight here. 

Environmental conditions

If you live in an area with low humidity levels, your Lab may have dry and itchy skin. This is characterized by dandruff or flakes in your pet’s undercoat. The skin may also become tough or develop lesions. The only way to treat this condition is by ensuring that your pooch stays well hydrated. Also, feed him with an appropriate diet. You can learn more about the causes of dandruff on Labradors here.

How can I tell my Lab has an itch problem?

Apart from the uncontrolled scratching, there are other tell-tale signs that your dog’s skin is itchy or irritated. For starters, such may lead to increased irritability, aggression, and anxiety. This is because skin irritation and inflammation in dogs increases the release of stress hormones. Such a dog is likely to be constantly guarding his body by reacting to or avoiding touch. If your dog appears jumpy or overly aggressive when you touch him, this may be a sign of itchy or inflamed skin. As soon as this condition improves, his behavior will change. 

How to handle compulsive scratching in your Labrador

Continuous and uncontrolled scratching may not only lead to self-inflicted injuries but also in anaphylactic shock. Although the latter is rare, it is better to be safe than sorry. Some of the things you can do to prevent this include:-

  1. Restrain your Lab
  2. Check his skin, especially the parts he scratches the most. If you can identify what’s causing the itch or irritation, get rid of it.
  3. Use a shampoo that contains phytosphingosine salicyloyl, a skin-calming ingredient, to provide your pet with temporary relief.
  4. Alternatively, apply cold compressors to the most affected parts for 10 – 15 minutes.
  5. If your Lab’s itching still continues, ask your vet whether you can give him an antihistamine. Remember to ask for the right dosage.
  6. If the condition still persists or gets worse, your Lab may have to undergo basic laboratory testing or a full physical exam.

Veterinary care for your afflicted Lab

The first step when it comes to veterinary care for such a dog is to diagnose what’s causing the itch. Ear swabs, impression smears, and skin scrapes are some of the methods your veterinary might use to diagnose the problem. He may also carry out food trials and blood tests to rule out any allergies. They may also ask you whether your pet is on any medication as the itchiness may be a reaction to certain medications.

The vet will only recommend treatment after a successful diagnosis. Treatment may include anti-fungal medication, antibiotics, immunosuppressant drugs, parasiticides, shampoos, cream rinses, and dips. You may be forbidden from giving him certain foods. Your vet may recommend a high fatty acid, or a hypoallergenic diet as this supports your pet’s skin barrier, thus preventing yeast and bacterial infections. Never try to implement a food restriction plan without consulting your vet.

Your vet may also recommend an allergen immunotherapy program. In this case, your Lab will be injected or given oral allergy drops that normalize his immune system’s response to allergens. Certain anti-itch medications will also provide your pet with much-needed relief.

Certain supplements such as Omega-3 oils and biotin have natural anti-inflammatory properties. This may suppress the itching, albeit temporarily. When used over time, they improve your pet’s overall skin condition. Wondering what to feed your Labrador? Check some top labrador foods, and the Labrador foods you should avoid

What to do afterward

Now that your Lab is better, it is important that you have a plan in place to prevent future flare-ups. Work hand in hand with your vet to develop a management plan. A good management plan includes coming up with a regular Labrador grooming schedule with a medicated shampoo. If your Lab proves difficult to bathe, most vets will be willing to do it. However, remember to bring along the prescribed shampoo. Take your pooch for a check-up every once in a while.

Basically, every dog breed is susceptible to conditions that may lead to obsessive scratching. However, breeds such as the Labrador are more predisposed due to their sensitivity to allergens and genetics. Just like humans, itching in your Lab is annoying, irritating, and uncomfortable. Also, constant scratching and licking may result in secondary infections that worsen the condition. Finally, keeping track of your Lab’s itching problem helps when it comes to the diagnosis. Be sure to check out the rest of our website for more Labrador tips

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