Face rubbing in dogs is a very common behavior that can have multiple causes.
What does face rubbing in dogs look like? Face rubbing in dogs can manifest in multiple ways.
Some dogs may rub their face using one or both of their front paws. Others may rub their faces against furniture or the floor, especially carpet material.
When outside, dogs may rub their faces in the grass. Some dogs may even rub their faces against their owners!
6 Causes of Face Rubbing in Dogs
Most often, face rubbing indicates that something is irritating to the dog. Dogs that face rub may be experiencing irritation or discomfort coming from the mouth, nose, eyes, ears, or facial skin.
Itchiness is an especially common cause of face rubbing, and can be due to multiple underlying factors that are described as follows:
Skin allergies in dogs are becoming increasingly common. Dogs can be allergic to multiple things, including environmental allergens (dust, pollen, grass, etc.), food (most often a protein source), and fleas.
Each of these allergies can, and very frequently do, manifest as excessive skin itchiness, including potential itchiness of the face.
Depending on the cause, mild allergies can sometimes be treated conservatively through the use of monthly flea prevention, regular bathing for allergen removal, fish oil supplementation for skin health, and/or use of over-the-counter antihistamines.
However, allergies that are more severe often require prescription shampoos, foods, and/or medications for good control. Always consult with a veterinarian before administering any medication to your dog.
Just as humans can get mosquito or spider bites, so can dogs! These may look like raised, round, reddened areas of a dog’s skin, just like the appearance of a bug bite in humans.
In addition, flea bites can be itchy and irritating to dogs, but do not cause visible raised bumps.
Often over-the-counter antihistamines are sufficient to control bug bite itchiness, but some dogs may require stronger prescription medications if very bothered.
Some flea and tick prevention products repel mosquitoes; dogs frequently suffering bug bites may benefit from this protection.
Contact dermatitis is severe itchiness and skin irritation that occurs when a dog touches an allergen or a substance that causes skin damage. This may appear as skin redness, swelling, and/or hives in the affected area.
Many different things can cause contact dermatitis depending on what the dog is sensitive to; potential triggers include grasses, synthetic materials, cleaning products, and lawn pesticides, among others.
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What's a Snipey Muzzle in Dogs?
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Identifying the cause and avoiding further contact is important for prevention.
Skin infections of the face are common in dog breeds with facial folds and in dogs with underlying allergies. Skin folds on a dog’s face can accumulate moisture, which promotes excess bacterial and/or yeast growth.
Large numbers of bacteria or yeast on the surface of the skin can cause irritation and infection. Underlying allergies can also cause skin infections by producing inflammation that compromises the protective outer layer of the skin, allowing bacteria and yeast in.
Abnormalities in your dog’s fur can also cause itchiness. Fur mats, which are thick clumps of extremely knotted hair and/or debris commonly seen in long-haired dogs, can pull at and irritate the skin, resulting in itching.
Skin infections can also develop under mats. In the head area, mats most often occur under the eyes, around the mouth, or behind the ears.
Mats should be safely removed by a groomer or veterinarian, and should not be cut out using scissors as this may cause accidental skin laceration.
Foreign material such as food, twigs, burrs, or tree sap, among others, may also get stuck in your dog’s fur and lead to irritation and itchiness.
Mild, temporary itchiness triggered by stimuli such as contact with irritating materials, dry skin, or fur disruption such as flattening from head collars, among others, can also occur.
If you only notice your dog occasionally head rubbing (a few times per week or less) there may not be a significant underlying issue.
Dry skin is common in dogs, especially in the winter, and may be associated with skin flaking (dandruff). Feeding a fish-based diet or adding fish oil to the food, reducing bathing to no more often than once every two weeks using hypoallergenic shampoo, and using a hypoallergenic skin conditioner may help with this.
Have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian if you notice excessive skin flaking, flaky skin with patches of hair loss, or areas of red or crusty skin.
What to Do If My Dog is Face Rubbing Excessively?
If you notice that your dog is frequently face rubbing (every day or multiple times per day), you may first examine them to identify anything that might be causing irritation and remove it if possible.
Look at your dog's mouth, nose, eyes, ears, and skin if your dog allows.
You may brush out small knots in the fur, remove foreign material, take off irritating collars, or bathe them to remove allergens or irritants.
If you notice skin lesions such as redness, raised bumps, hair loss, open wounds, crusting/scabbing, or pus, you should have your dog examined by a veterinarian.
If possible, you may place an Elizabethan collar while waiting for the appointment to prevent further face rubbing.