Occasional scratching and nibbling on yourself is part of normal grooming for dogs.
However, if your dog bites itself more often, this can indicate parasite infestation, illness, pain or psychological discomfort.
Here you can find out how to define the cause, what you can do about it yourself and when you should go to the vet.
In a nutshell: Why does my dog bite itself?
If your dog bites itself, it can have physical or mental causes.
In the case of emotional problems such as stress, anxiety or needing attention, it helps to identify and eliminate the cause.
Physical causes can usually be recognized by other pain symptoms.
If the skin is red in places or even sore, skin inflammation, allergies or parasites can be the trigger.
If the dog bites itself in the leg, a joint disease is to be suspected.
7 reasons why your dog bites itself
In order to help your fur friend, it’s important to find out why your dog is chewing on itself.
This is the only way you can recognize health problems in good time and prevent behavioral disorders.
It can be difficult to find out the cause yourself. If you are unsure, you should always consult a veterinarian.
Count one day how often, where, and in which situations your dog bites itself. This will allow you and the vet to narrow down the cause more quickly.
1. Skin inflammation
Inflammation of the skin can be triggered by various causes, such as bacteria, worm infestation, fungal infections or thyroid problems.
Dry or inflamed skin will cause severe itching, which your dog will attempt to relieve by biting itself.
- Red skin or rash
- Spot hair loss
- Constantly scratching the same spot
- Crusty patches of skin
- touch sensitivity
Depending on the cause, the treatment is carried out, mostly anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics are administered.
There are also creams or dietary supplements for dry skin that are supposed to reduce itching. Ask your vet for advice on which ones really help.
Just like humans, dogs can have allergic reactions to all sorts of things – e.g. to pollen and grasses, house dust mites, mold or food.
The allergy can cause severe itching, causing your dog to bite itself.
- cough and sneeze
- Runny and dripping nose
- skin rash
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- breathing problems
To relieve symptoms and increase resilience, the vet may prescribe antihistamines.
If a food allergy is suspected, an elimination diet can be prescribed to find the trigger.
Fleas, mites or ticks feel comfortable on our dogs.
The parasite bites can cause severe itching and encourage your dog to bite itself.
You can see ticks and fleas with the naked eye, but not mites.
Other symptoms of parasite infestation:
- Small red pimples on the skin
- Constant scratching with paws
- Bite your own tail
- Black spots on the skin
You can remove ticks yourself with tick tweezers.
If there is a flea infestation or if mites are suspected, there are spot-on preparations for dogs that keep the parasites away.
The vet will also prescribe a pill that will kill the parasites as soon as they bite.
In addition, you should treat your home against parasites with an environmental spray. Make sure that the spray has a development-inhibiting effect so that the larval development is stopped – otherwise you will have a flea problem again four weeks later.
When joints become chronically inflamed, it is called arthritis.
The dog nibbles at his legs and joints because they hurt.
This is usually only noticed in older dogs.
- stiff gait, limping and limping
- Swelling and redness of the joints
- Aversion to stairs, avoidance of jumps
- Touch-sensitive joints
- Unusually slow running style
There is currently no cure for arthritis and osteoarthritis. The pain can be minimized with psychotherapy and medication.
5. Joint disease
In the case of elbow or hip dysplasia, a genetic malformation of the joints causes pain in the dog.
- rocking gait
- “Rabbit hopping” when running faster (dog pushes off with both hind legs at the same time)
- Your back is tense and your muscles hardened
- Dog licks or nibbles on hip area
- Trouble lying down or getting up
- Dog tires much faster
- Dog doesn’t want to go for a walk for long
- X-leg position of the hind legs
If the dysplasia is mild, the dog can be helped with psychotherapeutic measures. If it is more severe, it will require surgery.
Good to know:
Larger dogs and certain breeds have an increased susceptibility to it, e.g. German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and the Labrador Retriever.
6. Emotional problems
Dogs are sensitive creatures and react physically to stress and anxiety. A dog biting its own leg out of nervousness is like a human biting their fingernails.
Anxiety and stress can be caused, for example, by violence in parenting, loud or unfamiliar noise, separation anxiety, or loneliness.
A lack of socialization as a puppy can also make the adult dog more vulnerable to stress and anxiety.
- restless wandering
- destructive behavior (e.g. destroying one’s own basket)
- sudden aggressiveness
- continuous barking
- unusual stubbornness
First, find out the cause of your dog’s negative emotions. Then you can eliminate them and help your dog feel calm and secure.
Puppies beg for attention all the time – this is an important survival mechanism and therefore completely normal.
Adult dogs also vie for your attention and remember what they are successful at.
If your puppy bites its hind legs and then you interrupt or reprimand it, it will remember that as a method of success and will repeat the behavior.
- Whining, barking, or howling
- carry toys
- Jump high
If your dog is demanding more attention, he’s probably bored.
Engage with your dog. Hide treats and let them find them, or train a few tricks. This takes a mental toll on him and strengthens your bond at the same time.
In addition to longer walks, play dates with other four-legged friends also offer a change for physical exertion.
Challenging your dog for an hour will make him happier than a three-hour walk with no interaction and no task.
Puppy bites itself
Puppies explore everything with their mouths, including themselves. If your puppy bites its paw a few times, that’s no reason to panic.
You should definitely take a closer look at the paw or affected body part. You may discover an injury or other irritation.
If your puppy nibbles on itself more often, there are various reasons to check here as well.
Good to know:
If your puppy is overtired or very agitated, they may release pent-up energy by biting themselves. Put him in his place and give him something nice to chew, it will calm him down.
Puppy changing teeth
During the change of teeth, the puppy has an increased need to chew.
If his gums are itchy and he has no other alternative, your puppy may well be chewing himself.
Offer him a chew toy as an alternative so he’s easy on himself and your furniture.
Dog bites his leg
If your dog bites its hind legs, see if it always pinches the same spot. This can be a sign of joint disease.
There is a risk that the behavior will creep in and will no longer be noticed as abnormal – “he’s always done it”.
Joint diseases such as arthritis or elbow/hip dysplasia should be detected early so that the pain and spread can be reduced.
When should you see the vet if your dog bites itself?
If your dog’s skin is visibly irritated or your dog even bites bloody, you should consult a vet as soon as possible.
Even if you can’t pinpoint the cause or fix it yourself, you still need the advice of a veterinarian.
What you can do for your dog now
If your dog bites itself, offer an alternative such as a chew stick, chew toy, or dried beef scalp.
Even if he is not bored but in pain, this can help him – because chewing calms you down.
You should disinfect open wounds.
The sooner you go to the vet, the better. If the cause becomes chronic, treatment will take longer.
How can you prevent your dog from biting itself?
If the dog is in pain or stressed, using a stop signal to stop it from biting itself is not a solution.
So the most important thing is to find out the cause of his behavior.
Only then will it be clear how you can prevent your dog from chewing on itself.
When your dog bites itself, there can be both mental and physical causes.
It is often due to severe itching caused by skin inflammation, allergies, or parasites.
Joint disease is suspected when your dog bites its hind legs or joints.
Stress, anxiety, or boredom can also cause your dog to bite itself.
Since the causes of self-harm are varied, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian.