Why Is My Golden Retriever Scratching So Much?

As a golden retriever owner, you’ve likely experienced at seen at least some scratching from your pup. Dogs can get itchy just like humans can, and it can be difficult and irritating in more ways than one to try and figure out just why your dog might be scratching.

Why is my golden retriever scratching so much? Your golden retriever may be scratching so much because golden retrievers store a lot of heat and humidity right next to their skin due to their undercoats, which leads to itchy “hot spots.” Golden retrievers are also prone to skin allergies like atopic dermatitis.

You’ve got questions about why your golden retriever seems to be so itchy, and we’ve got answers! We’ll walk you through the big reasons why your golden retriever could be scratching and let you know ways to manage it – so your pup can stay happier and scratch less.

Reasons Why Golden Retrievers Scratch So Much

Golden retrievers have solidified their place as the fourth most popular dog breed in America, and it’s no secret as to why.

These social, devoted, energetic dogs are touted as the perfect family dog, and their intelligence has even earned them some spots as working dogs. However, regardless of all their amazing qualities, golden retrievers are actually very prone to a variety of skin problems.

 As a golden retriever owner, you’ve probably seen some excessive scratching from your golden retriever (and that’s probably why you’re here). Maybe you didn’t think much of it, or maybe it became a larger, more concerning issue.

Either way, a dog who can’t stop scratching is an undesirable situation all around. Seeing and listening to your dog scratch is likely just as uncomfortable and annoying for you as it is for them; not only that, but no one wants to see their dog suffer – especially from excessive scratching and its effects.

So, why might your golden retriever be scratching so much? As it turns out, there are quite a few solid reasons. Let’s explore them so you can find out what’s bugging your golden, and help your furry best friend stop all that scratching.

Golden Retrievers Are Susceptible to Atopic Dermatitis

We noted earlier that golden retrievers are prone to skin issues, and this condition is one of them. Atopic dermatitis may sound like a scary, complicated medical term, but it’s actually fairly common in dogs, and totally treatable.

According to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Atopic dermatitis is a skin condition in animals in which the immune system reacts too strongly, or in the wrong way, to allergens that can be absorbed through the skin.

As a breed, golden retrievers are genetically predisposed to atopic dermatitis, and it’s especially common for them to develop signs of the condition before they turn three years old.

Atopic dermatitis can be both seasonal and year-round, but golden retrievers are commonly known to start exhibiting signs during the spring or fall – just like humans may exhibit signs of allergies during these seasons.

Golden retrievers aren’t the only ones that experience this condition, either; between 10 and 20 percent of dogs and cats can become affected with atopic dermatitis.

All in all, if you’ve got a golden retriever who just can’t seem to stop scratching, atopic dermatitis might be the culprit.

Signs of Atopic Dermatitis

While atopic dermatitis can, of course, be suspected when a golden retriever can’t stop scratching, there are some other signs to look out for to see if your golden might be experiencing this condition. Be on the lookout for:

  • Hair loss
  • Sores
  • Skin redness
  • Flaky skin
  • Thick, leathery skin (due to scratching)
  • Sweating
  • Reverse sneezing

If your dog experiences any or all of the signs above, he or she might be experiencing atopic dermatitis.

Golden Retrievers Store a Lot of Heat and Humidity Right Next to Their Skin

Golden retrievers are known for their long and beautiful coats. They’re part of what makes golden retrievers so great, but they can also be a cause for some of the golden retriever’s skin issues.

Because golden retrievers have a dense, water-resistant undercoat, heat and water (and therefore humidity) get trapped close to their skin. This can cause skin irritation and “hot spots.”

“Hot spots” are areas on the skin that can become raw due to skin irritation and scratching, and can even become infected.

They may look like red or swollen patches of skin. “Hot spots” are most common in areas of the dog’s body that are easily accessible – that means they’re easier to scratch and irritate.

These “hot spots” have a tendency to show up more frequently when your golden retriever has been wet recently or wet for a long period of time. That water gets trapped near their skin, causing irritation, frantic scratching, and “hot spots.”

Luckily, “hot spots” are preventable and treatable. The amount of heat and humidity stored close to your golden retriever’s skin is treatable too. We’ll talk about that in more detail later on!

Environmental Allergies and Triggers

Just like you, your golden retriever can develop allergies from things in the environment. Likewise, things in your golden’s environment can be a trigger of allergic reactions. Excessive scratching can be a side effect of environmental allergies your dog is around.

 Environmental allergies and triggers can be a large number of things; because of that, it may be harder to narrow down exactly which environmental factor is causing your golden retriever to itch so much.

Environmental allergies or allergy triggers could include:

  • Household cleaners
  • Different fabrics (and the fabric softeners and detergents used on them)
  • Perfumes
  • Air fresheners
  • Your dog’s bed or blankets
  • Your rugs and carpets
  • Grooming supplies (shampoos, conditioners, etc.)
  • Grass
  • Leaves
  • Pollen
  • Trees
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Plants
  • Smoke

Your golden retriever could be having an adverse reaction to any of these environmental factors, causing her or him to scratch excessively.

He or She Needs a Different Food

It may not be the first thing you consider when trying to figure out why your golden retriever is scratching so much, but food type actually plays a large role in skin irritations in golden retrievers.

If your golden just can’t seem to stop scratching, you may want to consider their food as a source of the irritation. Some dog foods don’t include a lot of the proper nutrients and ingredients necessary to help golden retrievers with their overall skin health.

Luckily, there are foods out there you can switch your golden retriever to that will help him or her with their skin sensitivities and skin and coat help. We’ll discuss this more later on.

Bacterial or Fungal Infections

Unfortunately, dogs can experience bacterial and fungal infections too. These infections that can cause excessive scratching in golden retrievers may be harder to spot or self-diagnose, and are almost always diagnosed and treated by veterinarians.

How do bacterial and fungal infections come about? According to Vet Harmony, yeast and other bacteria is common on the skin of dogs but only in minuscule amounts. When natural skin oils increase, mixed with golden retriever’s predisposition to skin problems, the yeast and bacteria can grow and cause an infection.

Fungal infections on golden retrievers are commonly characterized by being crusty, smelly, and very itchy. If your golden retriever can’t stop scratching an area that seems to be crusted over and exhibits an off-putting smell, he or she might have a fungal infection.

 Likewise, bacterial infections in golden retrievers are characterized by an area of the skin that is very itchy and crusty; the area might even be scabbed over or raw. If your dog has a bacterial infection, he or she may also experience hair loss and/or greasy hair in the affected area.

If your golden has a very itchy patch of skin that’s crusty, scabbed, losing hair, or has greasy hair around it, he or she might have a bacterial infection.  

Thankfully, bacterial and fungal infections in dogs are diagnosable and treatable with a trip to your veterinarian.

Fleas, Mites, and Other Ectoparasites

When you see the word ectoparasites, your mind probably immediately jumps to “parasites.” They may sound creepy, but ectoparasites are simply parasitic organisms that live on the outside of a host’s skin.

You actually likely know of a few common ectoparasites, whether you realize it or not; fleas, mites, and lice are all common ectoparasites. You or someone you know may have even had one at some point!

As with a lot of things in this article, your golden retriever can get ectoparasites just like humans can.

These tiny organisms like fleas, mites, and lice could be the reason your golden retriever is scratching so incessantly.

Demodex Mites

Demodex mites are a kind of ectoparasite. Small numbers of these mites are actually common in dogs of all ages, but it’s when those small numbers turn to large numbers that skin problems can arise.

These mites aren’t contagious, and are treatable; however, they could just be the cause of your golden’s scratching.


You’re probably familiar with fleas. You may even be thinking, “there’s no way my dog has fleas!” Unfortunately, it’s very possible, as fleas are the most common ectoparasite in dogs. Flea saliva is the culprit that causes such irritation to dogs’ skin.

Fleas are both preventable and treatable and can be the cause of excessive itching in golden retrievers (even if you can’t see the fleas!).

Something Is Caught On Your Golden’s Coat or Skin

If your golden retriever is scratching a lot, it’s a good idea to check out the affected area on your dog. Oftentimes, there could be something there that’s caught on or in the skin, or even just on the coat, making it irritated.

Common things that could be caught on your golden retriever’s skin (and therefore causing excessive scratching) are ticks, burrs, small sticks, or anything sharp or sticky. Check to make sure there’s not something stuck on to your golden retriever that could be making him or her scratch.

How to Manage Golden Retriever Skin Problems

By now, you know that golden retrievers are especially prone to skin problems, and therefore excessive scratching. Golden retrievers may also develop skin irritation from their environment or bacteria and fungus.

There are a lot of things that can contribute to a golden retriever scratching incessantly, but luckily there are a lot of things you can do to manage your golden retriever’s skin problems and scratching.

If your golden retriever seems like he or she is scratching a lot, read through and consider the tips below!

Keep a Close Eye On Your Golden

Details about and habits of your golden retriever can be a big help in attempting to figure out just what is making him or her scratch so much. Before you can figure out how to help your golden, you need to know more about what’s actually going on.

Keep a close eye on your golden and monitor him or her, especially when it comes to scratching. When does the scratching begin? Does your golden’s skin irritation seem to arise at certain times of the year, or is it all year round? What does the skin look like around the itchy area(s)?

Keep a mental note or even a log of your golden retriever’s scratching habits and if you have any hunches about what could be causing the scratching.

You may find out your pup only seems to be scratching after he or she uses a certain blanket, or maybe after taking a swim. Maybe he or she begins scratching after rolling around in the grass, or after you’ve used a certain shampoo at bath time.

Keeping a close eye on these types of factors can help you figure out what’s causing the irritation to your golden retriever’s skin – and can help you find a remedy for them.

Take a Trip to the Vet

This tip is naturally a given, as the professionals are always the best to seek advice from. If your golden retriever seems to be itching a lot, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up, you should probably take a trip to your pup’s veterinarian.

Your vet can take a look at your golden and conduct tests to see what’s the culprit of all that scratching. Veterinarians can conduct blood tests, skin tests, and even allergy tests to really zero down on what’s causing the issue.

They can also, of course, prescribe any necessary medications for your golden retriever and treat any issues with other remedies.

 According to Henry Cervy, DVM, your veterinarian may treat skin allergies and issues with some of the following methods and medications:

  • Cyclosporine
  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Medicated rinses, shampoos and conditioners

Your veterinarian will be your biggest help in figuring out how to properly treat any bad skin patches, rashes, skin discoloration, or just skin allergies in general for your golden retriever.

Vet visits can get expensive, and different tests and medications can add up. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to keep an eye on your golden to see if you can glean more information about what might be a trigger to his or her scratching.

You may be able to eliminate the problem yourself (like, say, using a different dog shampoo if that seems to be the culprit), but you may also be able to help your vet figure out what’s wrong more quickly and with less testing (and therefore less money).

Identify and Remove Potential Allergy Triggers

We previously talked about potential environmental allergens and triggers that can cause skin irritation and itching in golden retrievers.

To help alleviate itching and skin irritation, try identifying and removing potential environmental allergens and triggers (or removing your golden from their presence).

Identifying potential allergens goes along with monitoring your dog to see what may be causing their scratching. Do you notice your golden retriever scratches more after laying on the carpet? What about when it seems dusty inside? These could both be environmental triggers/allergens.

There are quite a few different potential environmental allergens out there, and a lot of potential allergy triggers. Since it can be hard to know where to start, we’ll list some of the common things you can do to reduce your dog’s exposure to allergens and triggers.

Limit Your Golden Retriever’s Time Outside

Outside allergens are just as big of a nuisance to dogs as they can be to us, humans. If you notice your golden retriever seems to be scratching or itching more when he or she comes back from being outside, you might need to limit outside time.

Of course, since golden retrievers have so much energy, this isn’t always practical. When your dog does need to go outside, brush off or wipe down his or her fur before coming back inside. This can help remove allergens from the skin and coat.

Use Your Air Conditioner Inside When It’s Hot

We previously discussed that golden retrievers have a dense undercoat that traps heat and moisture near the skin. This is one of the big causes of skin problems and excessive itching.

To keep heat and moisture to a minimum for your golden, and to try to prevent “hot spots” and a lot of scratching, try to use the air conditioner inside when it’s hot or warm outside.

Clean Your Golden Retriever’s Bedding

Bedding, like dog beds and blankets, can also be a cause of skin irritation and itching. Dust, bacteria, and other irritants can easily get trapped in bedding. Try washing and cleaning all of your dog’s bedding to see if that helps alleviate all the scratching.

If it doesn’t, you may need to try one of these solutions:

Switch Detergents and Cleaners

Household cleaners like laundry detergents and fabric softeners can be a source of irritation for your golden retriever’s skin.

If you’ve cleaned your dog’s bedding and he or she is still keeping up the scratching, you may need to look at switching your detergents and other cleaners.

PetWow has a list of pet-friendly detergents, cleaners, and wipes with brands like Nature’s Miracle and Seventh Generation that may be the solution to your scratching problem.

Clean Your Carpets and Rugs

Like bedding, carpets and rugs can harbor a lot of dust and other bacteria. Carpets and rugs also tend to be a cause of irritation for golden retrievers and can cause their scratching.

Try cleaning your carpets and rugs before allowing your golden retriever to lay or sit on them again. If possible, you can also try to keep your golden in a non-carpeted area of your home to see if that helps (and if the carpet is indeed the source of the scratching).

Use Perfumes and Scents Sparingly – or Switch Them

This one might be hard because, well, we like to smell good – whether that be ourselves or our home. However, perfumes and other person or room scents have been a noted source of irritation for golden retrievers’ skin.

If your golden retriever is scratching excessively, you may need to limit the number of room scents you use, like air fresheners and diffusers. Additionally, you may need to limit your perfume use. Likewise, you may need to switch scent and perfume brands.

Practice Regular Grooming and Bathing

Grooming can greatly affect the health of your golden retriever’s skin and coat. Not only is regular grooming important for overall health, but it also helps prevent skin problems.

Taking your golden retriever to the groomer or grooming your dog yourself with hypoallergenic products at least once to twice a month can help prevent and lessen the effects of skin issues and excessive scratching.

You may even consider grooming and bathing your golden retriever once a week if need be, but make sure not to exceed that limit. Too much bathing and grooming can strip your dog’s skin and coat of its natural oils, which can cause a whole other slew of issues.

Tips for bathing and grooming your golden retriever are:

  • Use lukewarm water
  • Use hypoallergenic, pet-friendly products
  • Use an oatmeal shampoo, such as Paw’s and Pal’s Natural Oatmeal Dog-Shampoo and Conditioner
  • Gently wash skin areas that seem tender or raw
  • Use a leave-in conditioner after the bath
  • Make sure your golden is completely dry afterward!

Always Completely Dry Your Golden Retriever’s Coat

This tip is so important that it gets its own section. Whether you’ve given your golden retriever a bath, taken them for a swim, or even just let them outside while it’s raining, you need to make sure to completely dry your golden’s coat afterward.

 Again, as we talked about, golden retrievers can hold moisture near their skin, and it causes “hot spots” and skin irritation. This can be a large factor in scratching frequently.

If your golden retriever isn’t properly and completely dried after getting even a little bit wet, there’s a greater chance of “hot spots” forming and irritating your dog. Make sure to keep your furry best friend extra dry!

It’s important not to use hair dryers to dry your golden retriever’s coat, especially in the warm or hot settings.

It may seem tempting, given how convenient they are, but hair dryers will only trap more heat near your golden’s skin and increase the chances of “hot spots” forming.

Switch Your Golden Retriever’s Food

Dog owners everywhere know that switching your dog’s food can be tough, but in the case of golden retrievers who can’t stop scratching, it may just be worth it.

Your golden retriever could potentially be allergic to an ingredient or ingredients in his or her food. The most common food allergies in dogs are beef, chicken, dairy, soy, and egg.

In order to figure out what food is going to be best for your pooch, you may have to put him or her on what’s called an elimination diet. This consists of feeding your dog things they have never had before (like a kangaroo) and reintroducing their normal food to see if they do indeed have an allergy to that food.

Your veterinarian can approve or disprove this method depending on your dog’s needs and may suggest other alternatives.

There are dog foods out there that are formulated to help golden retrievers with skin sensitivities. These foods can help the overall health of your golden’s skin and coat and may just alleviate all that itching.

Nutrients like omega fatty acids and borage oil are said to reduce skin inflammation, help the skin maintain its structure, and keep your golden retriever’s coat healthy.

Try to Keep Your Golden Comfortable

All in all, if your golden retriever has frequently been scratching, it’s pretty safe to say that he or she is pretty uncomfortable.

Keeping your golden comfortable through the trial and error process of finding out what’s triggering the scratching and what you can do to help can be a large help in and of itself. If your dog is more comfortable and less agitated, he or she may scratch less.

 Even if your pup doesn’t scratch less with this method, it’s still important to keep him or her comfortable. Remember, this could be a medical issue, and it’s no fun to deal with being sick or irritated.

You can keep your golden more comfortable by using medications like hydrocortisone creams and antihistamines; you can also give your golden a cool bath. Being more comfortable can help everyone in the situation!

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