Dogs can itch for several reasons. Although it is reasonably easy in most cases to control the itch with medications, topical treatments and shampoos, it is vital the underlying cause is determined and addressed. This will make for an easier, cheaper, itch-free dog in the long term. Below are some of the main causes of itching in dogs.
Some dogs can develop a hypersensitivity to fleas which means one flea bite will drive them crazy. Others may cope with large burdens of fleas. However large burdens can cause anaemia and eventually be life threatening, particularly in puppies and debilitated animals. It is also important to note fleas act as the intermediate host for tapeworm so any dog with fleas is likely to have tapeworms too.
Most flea infestations will be apparent around the tail base area although they can spread to the whole body or accumulate around their abdomen. Quite often you can see live fleas as well as their dirt (black flecks) and eggs (white flecks). Often secondary infections are present due to the self-trauma caused by itching.
Prevention involves regular application of a product such as Bravecto. Curing a flea infestation is a little trickier and must be completed in a holistic fashion otherwise the fleas are likely to return. This involves the following steps:
- Treat the environment
- Vacuum thoroughly including furniture and rugs that the animal might like to lie on.
- Clean their bedding (and yours if they sleep on your bed) thoroughly with hot water and dry in the sun.
- Flea bombs are available. This is to be done only when the animal is out of the house. More than one may be required for a large house.
- Kill and prevent the eggs and larvae
- As mentioned above we recommend regular use of a preventative product. Please ask us for a recommendation of product brand specific to your pet.
- Kill the adult fleas
- Capstar tablets are available which kill adult fleas on the animal. It can be given once a day for up to six days and will kill the fleas within the hour.
- We also recommend the dog be bathed (any shampoo is fine) and then thoroughly dried and brushed to remove any dead fleas from their coat.
- Treat all animals in the household.
Because flea issues are so common in pets our vets will recommend all dogs are on regular, year-round flea prevention.
A food allergy is a condition in which the body’s immune system reacts adversely to a food or an ingredient in a food. Any food or food ingredient can cause an allergy and typically allergies occur with the animal having been on the same diet for months to years NOT with a change of diet. Protein, usually from the meat source of the food is the most likely offender. Proteins commonly found in dog foods are derived from beef, chicken, lamb and horsemeat.
Food allergies are quite rare in dogs compared to the other causes of itchy skin. Dogs are not likely to be born with food allergies. More commonly, they develop allergies to food products they have eaten for a long time. Food allergies can cause extreme itching, ear infections, respiratory distress and digestive issues. To determine if the itching is caused by a food allergy, an elimination diet will be recommended for at least 10 weeks. It is extremely important the dog is fed NO other food sources including treats; table scraps or supplements as this defeats the purpose of the trial. If the trial is successful, we presume a food allergy is present and gradually start re-introducing protein sources to determine what the dog is allergic too.
Please note simply changing your dog’s food to another brand or type is not enough to diagnose a food allergy.
Atopy includes any airborne allergens such as dust mites or pollens and is quite often seasonal. This is the most common cause of chronic itchy skin in dogs. Your vet will likely recommend referral to a veterinary dermatologist for intradermal testing and diagnosis. Treatment involves stopping exposure to the allergen or a series of desensitisation injections (50-60% of dogs improve). The dermatologist and your GP vet will also help set up a management plan for your dog which will likely include topical treatments, supplements and medications. There are a few promising steroid-free medications available that can significantly relieve itching.
Whilst referral to a dermatologist may seem daunting and costly it can make a huge difference in the long term and actually reduces ongoing vet bills associated with skin issues. Please discuss any concerns you may have with your vet.
Contact allergies involve anything that may brush up against the dog causing an allergic reaction. Most commonly this involves plants such as Wandering Jew or grasses. The distribution (or affected area) tends to be their belly and legs as these are the areas usually exposed. Usually avoidance of the cause solves the itching however sometimes the cause cannot be determined or avoided. If this is the case the vet’s will likely describe medication to alleviate the discomfort from itching.
Other ideas to ease itching:
Lice, mites, flies and other insects have also been known to cause extreme itching, so these should all be ruled out as causes of itchiness. Some of the flea & tick preventative products available on the market will cover some of these insects too so yet another reason to be on top of your preventative health.
Medicated shampoos & conditioners can significantly alleviate itching and discomfort. Follow the recommendations regarding frequency and contact time for maximum benefit.
Antihistamines can also be used and have very few side effects. Human brands can be used, be sure to check with your vet what the correct dose is.
Omega fatty acids can be useful for improving skin barrier health. Products such as PAW Dermega Oil can be added to food.
Even when food allergies are not suspected, diet can have a huge impact on skin health. Speak to your vet about what might be the right fit for your pet.