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Why Does My German Shepherd Itch So Much? (4 Top Reasons)

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

German Shepherds, like most dog breeds, are prone to allergies and itch so much. However, when your GSD is itching, it needs immediate attention as the cause doesn’t always zero down to the breed’s tendency. There are a lot of other reasons and simple home remedies to address this issue.

Your German Shepherd might be itching due to these reasons – canine pyoderma, skin atopy, demodectic mange, simple fur cleaning needs, food allergies, environmental cleanliness, and other genetic causes.

In this article, let’s look at the exact way to determine the cause and potential solutions to reduce the itching behavior of your German Shepherd.

A German Shepherd wrapped in a towel after a bath.

Why Does My German Shepherd Itch So Much?

1. Hypersensitive Skin

An allergy in dogs is an over-response or hypersensitivity from the immune system to a usually harmless substance known as an allergen. Anything can be an allergen if it causes your dog’s immune system to react adversely.

This results in inflammation, signs of which include reddening of the skin, swelling, and itching, known as canine atopic dermatitis.

Most German Shepherds that itch excessively can have a skin condition called dermatitis. While it influences the general immunity of the dog, types of dermatitis like mange, pyoderma, and atopy can also happen due to environmental conditions.

Some German Shepherds with poor breed lines are more prone to mange.

“If you notice sudden redness or flaky skin on your German Shepherd, there’s also likelihood for hair loss. Look for bald patches and take the help of your vet.”

On the other hand, you should also look at the document shared by your breeder.

The genetic predisposition is due to one or more gene mutations transferred through the dog’s parents. Having one or more parents who have developed allergies increases the chances that your German Shepherd will also have an allergy.

This study even found a novel gene, PKP2, to be involved in the development of canine atopic dermatitis in German Shepherds.

Watch This Video To Learn Why Your German Shepherd Itches…

Dogs may experience an allergy at any time. However, they usually develop between 2 and 5 years of age.

The immune system gradually builds up a sensitivity to the allergen before overreacting. This process is called sensitization and can take just months to years.

2. Contact Allergies

A contact allergy (contact dermatitis) is the least common type of allergy in dogs but can still be very unpleasant. It is caused by your German Shepherd’s skin coming into contact with a specific substance or material (the allergen) that causes an adverse reaction in itching and rashes.

The allergic reaction will occur to the part of the dog that came into contact with the allergen, usually the paws, chin, neck, chest, groin, tummy, anal area, and tail.

Some breeds are more susceptible to contact allergies, including the German Shepherd.

“The only confirmed breed predisposition to ACD is in Danish German Shepherd dogs, which are affected three times more frequently than individuals from the local canine population.”

Veterinary Clinics of North America

Short-haired German Shepherds will suffer more than the longer-haired variety due to the allergen getting to the skin quicker and easier. Dogs may develop a contact allergy at any age, although those with weakened immune systems are more likely to show signs.

Here are some examples of irritants:

  • Shampoo, soap, creams, or lotions
  • Household cleaners
  • Flea treatments and medications
  • Lawn pesticides
  • Fabrics: wool, leather, synthetics, carpets
  • Plastics, rubber, metal, concrete
  • Some plants

The offending allergen can be identified by what is known as a patch test. This is where the suspected substance is placed on a patch and taped to the dog’s skin for 48 hours to see if there is any reaction. 

Another method is to completely remove the suspected allergen and then return it to see if the dog’s symptoms re-appear.

German Shepherd in a Blanket on Bed

3. Allergies

There are quite a few different types of allergies in dogs. So, what are German Shepherds allergic to?

German Shepherds are allergic to four different types of allergies. These are fleas and parasites, environmental allergies (e.g., pollen, mold, or dust)food allergies (e.g., chicken, beef, wheat, egg, and dairy), and contact allergies (e.g., shampoo, fabrics, and lawn pesticides). 

Contrary to common belief, most dog allergies are caused by fleas. Environmental allergies are the second most common, followed by food allergies. As you can see from the below table, a contact allergy is rare.

Common German Shepherd Allergies:

Types of allergies in German Shepherds

Flea Allergy

In dogs, flea allergy (also known as flea allergy dermatitis) is an allergic reaction to fleabites or flea saliva! This will make your GSD extremely itchy, and he will react to even a single bite with severe local itching, often at the base of his tail. Your German Shepherd’s skin may become red, inflamed, and sore and may scab over.

Flea allergy dermatitis (and other skin allergies) can also cause secondary infection due to your German Shepherd’s excessively scratching, biting, and licking at his skin. These secondary infections, either bacterial or yeast, will also require treatment.

This type of allergy is simpler to diagnose as you may even spot the nasty fleas themselves! Once you have identified fleas on your German Shepherd, you can apply a flea treatment to kill the unpleasant creepy crawlies. It can be highly problematic as just one flea can cause a reaction.

Other flea sources can include:

  • Blackflies and deerflies
  • Horseflies and mosquitos
  • Ticks
  • House dust mites
  • Spiders and ants
  • Bees, hornets, and wasps
Group of ticks.

Environmental Hygiene

Most environmental allergies (also known as inhalant allergies) in German Shepherds are seasonal, which means your dog may only be prone at certain times of the year. However, the exceptions to this are molds, mildew, and house dust mite allergies, as these can occur yearly.

Here are the common environmental allergies in German Shepherds due to their genetic tendency to become sensitized to:

  • Tree pollens (oak, ash, cedar, etc.)
  • Grass and weed pollens (ragweed)
  • House dust mites
  • Mold spores and mildew
  • Other pet dander, such as cat or human skin

These allergies also cause atopic dermatitis (atopy), which causes red, itchy skin, rashes, hot spots, hair loss, and infections.

Likewise, you should also look at their environment. For instance, cleaning your dog’s bed, maintaining a neat atmosphere, and fumigating the surrounding region are vital.

“Performing a hygiene check every day can protect your GSD’s skin in the long run.”

If you and I suffered from these allergens, we would suffer from hay fever (itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing). Although dogs can have similar symptoms, they mainly suffer from itchy skin (pruritus), especially around the face, paws, tummy, and armpits.

Your German Shepherd will continually scratch, lick, or bite his skin, making it red, sore, and prone to infection. He may also try to rub himself on furniture or the floor to help relieve symptoms.

4. Wrong Diet

German Shepherds are predisposed to gastrointestinal problems. One example is Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, which affects the normal digestion of food. They are also at risk of bloat (GDV), a life-threatening condition.

German Shepherds are also more prone to food allergies than other breeds, along with Labradors.

Did you know that some GSDs have been lactose intolerant since their birth?

As they begin experiencing digestive issues, you can confirm the level of lactose intolerance. Further, if you aren’t diluting dairy products with water, it can disrupt their digestive system and turn into allergies at some point.

Although dogs can become allergic to a specific food, the overall percentage of dogs having food allergies is low, around 10%.

Dogs’ most common food allergens are chicken, beef, wheat, egg, and dairy. There is nothing unusual about these foods other than they have been the most common ingredients in dog foods for years, so dogs have been repeatedly exposed to them. 

Here are the common foods that may become an allergen to your dog:

  • Proteins: chicken, beef, pork, venison, rabbit, lamb, fish, eggs
  • Grains: rice, corn, wheat, oats, barley
  • Dairy: milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt, cheese
  • Root vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots
  • Legumes: soy, peanuts, lentils, peas, beans

Most dogs are allergic to proteins but don’t just think of meats and fish as the only type of proteins, as there are also proteins in grains and vegetables.

The occasional dog is allergic to a specific grain or vegetable, such as potatoes or even carrots, but this is less common than an allergy to an animal protein: 

“What surprises many pet owners is that grains are actually uncommon causes of food allergies – most pets are allergic to animal proteins!”

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
German Shepherd Allergies. Some examples of food allergy - Eggs, Milk, Nuts, Soy, Wheat

Finding The Exact Cause of Itching

A GSD’s itching is usually due to environmental, food, or flea allergies, and in any case, it’s easier to identify the exact cause with a few signs.

How To Find If My GSD Has Dermatitis

When your German Shepherd is itching too much, it can often happen due to dermatitis. While it needs the vet’s intervention to confirm the type of skin condition, there are still signs and symptoms to confirm the presence of dermatitis.

  • Dry, itchy skin, skin rashes (face, paws, tummy)
  • Red, inflamed skin, hot spots (patches of sore, infected skin)
  • Thickened, dark skin
  • Excessive scratching, biting, or licking
  • Swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids
  • Ear infections and itchy ears
  • Bacteria or yeast skin infections
  • Itchy, red, watery eyes, sneezing, pink nose
  • Loss of fur
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

What happens if your GSD isn’t treated immediately when they are itching too much? The skin condition can worsen and open the way for maggots to enter the body.

In aged dogs, this can lower the appetite and also impact every organ of the body over time.

How To Find If My GSD Has Environmental Allergies

Diagnosing flea, environmental, or food allergies in dogs can be complex and lengthy, as many symptoms overlap. Approximately 30% of pets with food allergies also have seasonal or flea allergies.

Besides, some dog allergies, for example, seasonal pollen allergies, can temporarily go away. Some symptoms can also be a sign of a completely different condition.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if your GSD is itching too much due to environmental reasons:

  • Did you recently change your floor cleaner?
  • Did another dog already use your GSD’s crate with a skin condition?
  • Is there another dog with a skin condition next to your GSD?
  • Are your dog’s food and water bowls clean and free from worms?
  • Do you find red spots on the belly?

In these cases, your German Shepherd might have a problem with the environment and needs immediate cleaning.

How To Find If My GSD Has Food Allergies

Food allergies are often diagnosed using an elimination diet. 

For example, when you give your German Shepherd a portion of dry food, and he begins to vomit or stop eating the food next time, it’s a sign to watch out for.

Likewise, it’s critical to closely monitor the consistency of stool. When your German Shepherd passes watery stools, it can often be the case of a food allergy.

What if you couldn’t zero down the cause to only one of them? Well, there are chances for your German Shepherd to itch so much due to multiple causes too.

How to Treat An Itchy German Shepherd

When a German Shepherd itches more than usual, it reddens the spot, and most importantly, it can lower the appetite and movement over time.

The best way to treat an itchy German Shepherd is to identify the underlying cause and choose a suitable plan of action.

GSDs with dermatitis need medicines and medicated baths, while those with environmental allergens need regular cleaning to eliminate allergens. Contrarily, those with food allergies need a change in diet.

Watch How To Treat An Itchy Dog And Stop Scratching…

Here are some treatment options for your German Shepherd to control the itchiness:

  • Medications. Antihistamines or corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory) can be prescribed to block the allergic reaction and help relieve symptoms. Immunosuppressive agents are also an option, but they must be used wisely due to possible side effects. Antibiotics can also be given for secondary bacterial infection.
  • Supplements. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, such as fish oil, have effectively treated skin allergies as they can improve the response to steroids and antihistamines. They are also good for your German Shepherd’s general skin and coat health. You can try chew treats such as Zesty Paws Omega Bites from Amazon or Pure Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil that you squirt on your dog’s food. 
  • Medicated shampoo or cream. These can help with severe itching and inflamed skin. Some therapeutic shampoos also contain anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal agents to help your dog. Frequent bathing can help to remove allergens from the fur.
  • Holistic medicines or natural treatments. Some dog owners opt for alternative therapies such as essential oils like chamomile or aloe vera. Always consult a vet familiar with their use if you wish to try these.
  • Immunotherapy (also known as hyposensitization). A series of weekly injections (allergy shots) is given to your German Shepherd to introduce the allergen to desensitize him to it, for example, pollen. Success rates vary, but approximately 50% of treated dogs with allergies will see significant improvements.
  • Hypoallergenic diet. This contains a novel protein, such as kangaroo, duck, or venison. You will need to change your German Shepherd’s diet to a protein never eaten before. It can also consist of a hydrolyzed (chemically split) protein, which requires your vet’s authorization. Feeding new foods will prevent a continuation of the over-response.
A GSD lying down.

Prevention Tips

Even though German Shepherds are susceptible to allergies, here are some prevention tips. Some of these tips can also be used if your dog already has his diagnosis to help to relieve his symptoms:

  • Flea prevention treatment. Make sure your dog’s flea treatment is up to date. My German Shepherd’s treatment is every three months, but consult your vet about what’s right for your dog.
  • Regularly vacuum carpets. To help prevent fleas and dust mites, vacuum carpets daily.
  • Wash your dog’s bedding. You should do this at least weekly with hypoallergenic, non-toxic detergents.
  • Regularly grooming. German Shepherds have two coats and require a lot of grooming as they shed all year round and even more when they “blow their coat” twice a year. For ease, I use the FURminator de-shedding tool from Amazon, which does a great job as it gets right through to the undercoat and safely removes loose hair. Check out my article on how to reduce GSD shedding for some cool tips!
  • Avoid pollen. Walk your German Shepherd before dawn and late afternoon to early evening, as this is when pollen is at its lowest. Wipe his paws and body after his walk to help remove pollen and other allergens.
  • Feed a nutritious, high-quality diet. Some of the preservatives and additives in commercial dog food may also cause allergies or intolerance. To prevent this, always make sure you feed your German Shepherd high-quality food. This is super important for your dog’s overall health and longevity. Opt for the most expensive you can afford.
  • Feed dog food with only one or two protein sources. This can help give you more choices later on, should your German Shepherd develop an allergy. 
  • Use an air purifier. Air purifiers help create a cleaner, healthier environment by capturing tiny particles such as dust, pollen, and mold spores. I use a Dyson (check the price on Amazon) to help with my pollen asthma, as it’s scientifically proven to capture allergens and bacteria. It’s also multi-functional, being a heater and fan in one. The latest model also comes with Wi-Fi enabled.
  • Use a dehumidifier. Dehumidifiers take moisture out of the air in your home. Drying out the air keeps allergy triggers to a minimum, subsequently relieving symptoms. For example, dust mites need a substantially high humidity level of 65% to survive.
German Shepherd lying next to air purifier
My German Shepherd Willow with my Dyson air purifier


Why Is My Dog Itchy But Has No Fleas?

When a dog keeps itching but has no fleas in the body, there’s a probability of a fungal or bacterial infection. In other instances, environmental and food allergies can also provoke a dog to itch regularly.

If you’re sure that the environment is clean and free from allergens, and your dog doesn’t have food allergies, then it’s time to take the dog to a vet to confirm the type of bacterial or fungal infection. Sometimes, a medicated bath does the job.

Is It Normal For German Shepherds To Scratch A Lot?

Most dog breeds, including German Shepherds, scratch with an aim to perform a self-cleaning of the body and ears. While it happens only occasionally, the increase in frequency is a red flag, and there’s an associated skin condition.

If your German Shepherd is prone to direct heat or extreme cold, he may scratch quite frequently, and this is only a reaction to the environmental allergen (temporary).

Why Does My German Shepherd Itch A Lot and Lose Hair?

When a German Shepherd itches a lot and loses hair, it’s a clear sign of canine atopic dermatitis, and it’s a form of environmental allergy. You can see bald patches on various parts of the body. Vets might recommend medicines along with medicated baths and changes in diet.

Are German Shepherds Prone To Allergies?

German Shepherds are prone to allergies. They are a high-risk breed predisposed to skin allergy known as canine atopic dermatitis (CAD). The most common allergies are caused by fleas, food, environmental triggers (such as pollen, dust mites, or mold), or contact with other irritants.

Final Thoughts

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have a German Shepherd itch so much all of a sudden. The situation worsens when you have multiple dogs at home. However, they are common and usually not serious, so don’t worry.

Although the German Shepherd breed is predisposed to different forms of allergies, they can still live a long, healthy, and happy life with the right treatment to control the symptoms.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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