Why does my dog kick his leg when I scratch his belly?

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We all know and love doggie idiosyncrasies. They’re wagging tails, shoelace slobber, puppy eyes when we are trying to eat, and of course, the leg that seems to have a mind of its own when we scratch just the right spot. The spot is different for every dog. Sometimes it’s their belly. Sometimes it’s their rump. For others that spot is their ears or their back. Wherever that spot is, it can throw a leg into spasm. They might kick, or lose balance, or their whole rear end can end up quivering. What is this silly reaction and what does it really mean?


Dogs-Shake-Their-Legs-Vet-OrganicsWe have different names for this rapid kicking reactions. “Oh, we’ve got a thumper,” some might exclaim. Others call it a “schroedering,” tickle button,” “hammer foot,” “sewing machine leg,” and more. It turns out their kicking leg has a not-so-scientific name, the scratch reflex. As suspected, it’s involuntary. The reaction is similar to someone getting tickled and not being able to help but laugh or react. When we hit that spot, wherever it may be, we are activating nerves. It’s a quirk of animal anatomy that itching and scratching can cause nerves to send a signal to another part of the body. And in some cases, we are reaching a spot that our pup can’t sufficiently reach, which gets their leg twitching like they are trying to help. Cats experience something similar. When we scratch their head or rump, and they raise their tail in the air, that is a nerve reaction as well.


Even though most of us are convinced our pup loves it when we find their spot, it’s worth mentioning that there are some body indicators that may reveal whether or not this is true. For many dogs, scratching is a relief because we are reaching a place they can’t reach or satisfy. Sometimes, their legs starts kicking because we are actually causing irritation.


Dogs-Shake-Their-Legs-Vet-OrganicsIf our pups seem relaxed while they involuntarily kick, they are probably loving it. But if their body stiffens, they may actually be bothered. Some dogs will also close their mouths, try to move away, lower their ears, or lower their tail without relaxed, happy wagging. All of these are indicators that we are irritating the area, rather than relieving an itch. If they remain relaxed, leave their mouth open, maybe even have their tongue hangin’ out and keep their tail in a relaxed position, they are clearly enjoying whatever nerve you’ve hit. We can also watch whether the kicking is ongoing or intermittent. Occasional kicking can also be a sign of irritation. Ultimately, as long as our pups don’t show signs of aggression, leave their bellies exposed or remain in the same position while we’re giving that scratch, their probably all for it.


Dogs-Shake-Their-Legs-Vet-OrganicsIt’s also worth noting that nerves don’t move. Our dogs will have the same nerve reflex in the same spot. If the spot moves, spreads, suddenly shows up in a new place, or the kicking seems to become more fervent, it can be a sign of allergies or pests. Dogs can end up with flea bites, mosquito bites, or spider bites. Just like in humans, these pests often leave an itchy, irritated area. Some dogs can also suffer from seasonal allergies or dry skin. We can resolve this by learning to listen to our pup and the type of reaction Fido is having to our scratches and belly rubs. If it’s a pest problem, try EcoBug. It’s an all-natural formula that is gentle on doggy skin but acts as a strong repellent against the trifecta: fleas, ticks, and mosquitos.


Dogs-Shake-Their-Legs-Vet-OrganicsIf the spot becomes an area that spreads or seems to show up in several places, it could be hot spots. EcoSpot is an all-natural, fast-acting spray that works on fungal, bacterial, yeast, and skin mite infections. It heals Demodex and demodectic mange and is perfect for those places that seem to be more than a simple, stationary nerve.


Where is your pup’s favorite spot? What about your cat? Any videos of funny kicking behavior while helping your pup reach those itch zones? Share them with us on Facebook or Instagram, using #VetOrganics. We’d love to hear from you.

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*Results may vary based on factors such as age, size and physical condition of your pet.