Dogs scratch. A lot. But it’s easy to notice when your dog is scratching an area that he hasn’t been scratching before — or when he’s scratching more frequently than he ever has scratched before. If your dog is scratching his mouth a lot, you should be aware that it could be a medical issue. Let’s take a look at what scratching a mouth could mean and what you could do about it.

Why does my dog scratch his mouth so much?

Dogs frequently scratch to show discomfort. If your dog has started scratching his mouth a lot, there are a few potential reasons:

Your dog might have something between his teeth

Your dog can’t floss. Dogs can get things between their teeth like bits of food and then have to pry them out with their paws. If your dog seems to be trying to get into his mouth with his claws, it’s very possible that he’s just trying to remove something from between his teeth. You should be able to see it by looking into your dog’s mouth and you should be able to remove it gently with your fingers.

Your dog might have a toothache or other tooth problem

This is fairly common for dogs. Dogs can’t communicate when their teeth hurt. As your dog gets older, it becomes more likely that your dog might experience some tooth damage. Your dog could chip his tooth on a bone or could get cavities (especially if he occasionally eats human food). This has to be dealt with by a vet.

Your dog might be allergic to his food

If you switched your dog’s food recently, this is likely. Your dog may be experiencing an oral allergy even if he’s not experiencing any other type of reaction. Even if your dog hasn’t switched foods recently, it’s possible that he’s just now developed an allergy, that the recipe has changed, or even that there’s something toxic in the food. Pet food recalls are actually quite common.

Your dog might just be grooming

If your dog isn’t “scratching” so much as gently pawing at his face, licking his paws, then pawing at his face again, that’s actually his way of cleaning his face. After all, a dog can’t just wash their face in the sink. This type of behavior is normal, but if you see your dog doing it more frequently than usual, your dog might be experiencing other allergies — such as eye-related allergies.

Any of these issues are something that a vet can help you with. You can schedule your dog for a dental visit to clean his teeth and to check to see whether any of his teeth might need to be pulled. If there isn’t anything visibly wrong with your dog’s teeth, it’s possible that it’s an allergy and he’s just uncomfortable.

While it’s rarer, it’s also possible that a tick has gotten somewhere around your dog’s mouth, or fleas may be biting your dog and irritating his skin. It’s also possible that a bee might have stung your dog or ants might have bitten him. If any of these things are the case, it’s very likely that your dog is going to stop scratching the area eventually. You should watch your dog carefully for any major behavioral changes.

Why does my dog scratch his mouth after eating?

If your dog is eating and then scratching his mouth, it’s likely that something about his food is irritating him.

First, he might have bits of food stuck in his mouth. You can try to brush his teeth after a meal with a special dog toothbrush and enzymatic toothpaste. This is a good thing to do regardless to keep your dog’s teeth healthy and clean. There are also water additives that you can use to cut down on the volume of bacteria in your dog’s mouth.

Second, he might have a broken tooth or a cavity. You can take your dog to the vet. They will take a look to see whether he might have a cracked tooth or another issue. The easiest and most effective way to deal with this is usually to pull the tooth. Most dogs do just fine with fewer teeth. Some are fine with no teeth at all!

But you can also try changing your dog’s food. It’s possible there is something in that specific food that’s started to irritate your dog. If you recently changed foods, this could be the case. It’s also possible that your dog has developed an intolerance. Just like people, dogs can occasionally develop an intolerance to certain types of food.

Regardless, if the behavior continues, you should take your dog to the vet. This behavior can also be because of something more serious, such as an infection in your dog’s jaw, or a cancerous growth somewhere in your dog’s mouth. Dogs can sense when there’s something uncomfortable or wrong in their body and will start to scratch or chew because of it.

What to do about my dog scratching his mouth?

When your dog is scratching his mouth, the first thing you should do is try to figure out why. Any new behavior for a dog could indicate that your dog is sick or uncomfortable. And a lot of your dog’s health can be assessed by the general condition of his teeth.

You can take a look inside of your dog’s mouth yourself. Sometimes it’s as simple as your dog having something stuck in its mouth, such as a bit of wood (from fetch) or some food (from dinner). You can gently remove anything inside your dog’s mouth with a finger or a dog toothbrush.

But if your dog seems to have inflamed gums or an issue with his teeth, you’re going to have to take him to the vet. Your vet will be able to diagnose your dog through a visual assessment as well as x-rays. Once your dog’s teeth have been assessed properly, your vet will give you recommendations. 

It’s usually not worth it for a dog to get a cavity filled. Instead, their teeth are pulled. It doesn’t affect them adversely, though there is some healing time. Your vet may recommend that you pull some teeth if it seems as though your dog’s teeth is bothering them. Alternatively, there could be an injury inside your dog’s mouth that needs to heal. Your dog might need antibiotics to combat an infection.

Sometimes, dogs can get mouth cancer or tumors inside their mouth. While this is rare, it can happen and has to be caught early for treatment. Finally, your dog could just be scratching his mouth because of something else, such as fleas. If your dog is itchy, your dog might need a bath, flea treatment, tick treatment, or other mitigation.

As with many unexpected dog behaviors, it’s always best to connect with your vet. Your vet will be able to tell you exactly what’s wrong with your pup, as well as recommending future changes. Sometimes it could be a dietary issue and your dog might need a sensitive skin diet. Other times it could just be that your dog is bored or grooming.

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.