Why Does My Dog Scratch His Face? (5 Reasons)

If you ever wondered why your dog scratches his face, you’re in good company. Dogs have many surprising behaviors, and face scratching is one of them. Sometimes they scratch their faces with a paw, but other times you might notice your dog rub his head against the carpet. 

But why does my dog scratch his face?

why does my dog scratch his face
Why Does My Dog Scratch His Face? (5 Reasons)

While this behavior can indicate a medical condition, there are equally benign reasons why your dog might be scratching his face. 

Why Would My Dog Scratch His Face? 

The reasons range from the mundane to medical. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons your dog scratches might seem annoyed and scratching their face. 

Ticks, Fleas and Other Parasites

If your dog continuously seems to be clawing at his face, it might be because of parasites. The most common parasites that make your dog want to scratch his face include:

  • Ticks 
  • Mites 
  • Fleas 

All of these parasites carry potential health risks. Luckily, there are other ways to confirm this diagnosis. If you suspect fleas, take time to inspect the skin under your dog’s fur thoroughly.

Pay special attention to the areas around the neck, base of your dog’s tail, and under their arms.

Although you might struggle to spot fleas, you should be able to see their eggs. 

Ticks, on the other hand, burrow into the skin. In theory, they get easier to spot as the tick feeds because they swell with blood. However, sometimes the tick drops off and leaves a part of itself behind. 

That makes the tick harder to spot, so look for other symptoms of tick-borne illness, like: 

  • Fever
  • Lethargy 
  • Appetite loss

Face Scratching in Dogs and Anxiety 

Not many pet owners jump to this conclusion from the get-go, but your dog might be anxious. Your dog has various self-soothing mechanisms to cope with this, and scratching its face is one of these. 

If anxiety or stress is the trigger behind your dog scratching his face, it’s usually possible to work out the cause. Changes in routine are often the culprit. Consider whether or not you have recently:

  • Moved house 
  • Introduced a new family member/animal to the house 
  • Changed your dog’s routine 

The death of a human or pet is another common reason for canine anxiety, as are loud noises. 

Whatever the cause, anxiety usually manifests with other symptoms on top of your dog’s face scratching. Look for signs of:

  • Inappropriate urination 
  • Destructive behavior/ inappropriate chewing 
  • Whining 
  • Pacing 
face scratching in dogs and anxiety 
Face Scratching in Dogs and Anxiety 

Your Dog Has an Ear Infection 

At first, this can seem unlikely because it’s hard to see a connection between face scratching and your dog’s ears. However, ear infections are surprisingly common, especially in dogs whose ears flop rather than sit alert on the top of their heads.

And if your dog can’t mitigate the ear pain, they might scratch his face as a diversionary tactic.

poodle ear cleaning solutions
Using an ear cleaning solution can help with narrow ear canals and fix stinky problems

Your Dog Has Allergies 

Usually, if a dog has allergies, you’ll know about it because he will exhibit other, equally apparent symptoms like:

  • Red, irritated skin 
  • Hair loss
  • Hives 

The hair loss gets exacerbated by a dog that scratches his face or any other body part. If he persists in scratching, he can break the skin and develop infections. 

However, diagnosing allergies can take a long time, so if your dog is suffering itchy skin and face scratching in the meantime, short-term solutions like Elizabethan collars or post-surgery jackets to protect his skin can help. 

Boredom as a Cause of Your Dog’s Face Scratching

Sometimes the reason why your dog scratches his face isn’t medical. 

A bored dog finds creative ways to add stimuli to its life. These can range from gnawing your antique chair legs to scratching his face. Neither is ideal.

An excellent way to combat this is by investing in toys to enrich your dog’s life. 

Puzzle toys and other toys that encourage independent play are excellent for this. Long walks or a dog walker can be another way to get your dog’s paws on the ground and away from his face

Cute sleepy cavapoo
Cute sleepy cavapoo lying on bed

Face Scratching Due to Interesting Smells 

Anyone who’s owned a dog can vouch for the canine love of an interesting smell. In the case of our dogs, interesting typically means potent and terrible. Dead animals are a favorite. 

Since dogs are walking noses, the stronger the smell, the happier they are. It seems it is especially true when they can get up close to a terrible smell and roll in it. 

If your dog is scratching his face or rubbing it against a particular part of the garden, have a look around for possible health risks and remove any dead animals before your dog seizes the chance to do more than roll on them. 

cavapoo puppy outside
A Cavapoo puppy exploring the garden

Your Dog Is Marking His Territory 

Finally, a dog that scratches his face or rubs it against your carpet might be territory marking. This is because dogs have scent glands in their anal glands and their faces. 

When your dog scratches his face, he taps into those scent glands and releases pheromones unique to your dog. Similarly, when he rubs his face against you, your furniture, or the carpets, he’s asserting ownership. 

mini labradoodle puppy max sleeping on a couch
A Mini Labradoodle puppy on the couch (his name is Max!)

How to Prevent My Dog Scratching His Face? 

By now, you realize there are many reasons why your dog scratches his face. But what can you do about it? And do you need to do anything? Of course, this depends on the reason why your dog scratches his face. 

Face Scratching and Medical Conditions 

If you suspect that the reason for your dog scratching its face is medical, it’s time to see a vet. 

Parasites, allergies, and ear infections can all be treated with prescription medicine that will help relieve your dog’s symptoms. 

Keep in mind that while some treatments, like oral or topical flea care, are fast-acting, others can take a while to show results. 

Allergies are notorious for being hard to pinpoint, and it may be several months before you notice a decrease in your dog’s face scratching as a result. 

A vet can also advise on the best way to handle canine anxiety. Typically, they recommend pheromone dispensers and calming collars to soothe your dog, but they may have other ideas, too. 

a vet holds a dog
A dog being held by a Veterinarian.

Non-Medical Face Scratching and My Dog 

If the reason for your dog’s face scratching isn’t medical, then the best thing you can do is discourage the behavior. 

Doing this is especially beneficial for bored dogs. When you notice your dog scratching their face, gently distract them with another activity. A Kong with a bit of cheese or peanut butter inside it can be an excellent way to do this, as can a slow feeder. 

The important thing is that it takes your dog’s attention off his face and redirects it towards a more positive interaction. 

chihuahua playing tug
A Chihuahua playing tug on a carpet

Why Does My Dog Scratch His Face: Final Thoughts 

If you’re getting worried about your dog constantly scratching its face, don’t panic. While it’s true there could be an untreated medical condition behind the behavior, it could equally be a sign that your dog is bored and in need of attention. 

But you know your dog best. So if your dog’s scratching starts to feel excessive or if other symptoms develop, don’t hesitate to call the vet. They’ll help you diagnose your dog’s face scratching, and with luck, your dog will be back to his former self in no time.