Why is my dog so itchy?
19 Nov 2018
By Dr. Clare Guichard
The most common question I get asked in the exam room is, “Why is my dog so itchy?”
The symptoms of itching or pruritus include: scratching, chewing, licking and rubbing.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because itching can be caused by many reasons, such as flea allergy, food allergy, seasonal allergies or Atopic Dermatitis.
Your veterinarian will first perform a comprehensive physical exam to rule out the most common cause of itching, which is external parasites, like fleas or mites. Even if you have not seen a flea on your pet, it doesn’t mean they are not suffering from flea allergies. Similar to how some people are more sensitive to bee stings than others, a person can be stung one time and go into anaphylactic shock, while another person may be stung several times and just have a local reaction, our pets can have varying degrees of flea bite allergy. Flea allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva, so even if you do not see fleas on your pet, a single flea can still cause a lot of damage. Typically flea allergy causes itching, hair loss, red bumps or scabs right above the tail base and extends down the hind limbs. The good news, is that treatment for flea allergy is as simple as giving your pet a pill, but in southern Louisiana, fleas are a year round problem, which is why we recommend monthly flea prevention for all of our pets. It’s always better to prevent fleas before they become a problem.
Food allergic dogs will typically lick their feet, have itching ears from ear infections and often scoot or lick their rears due to anal gland issues. The most common cause of food allergies in dogs is the protein chicken or beef. Most clients think that their dog does not have food allergies, because they have been feeding the same dog food since they were a puppy, but food allergies actually build up and start to manifest at around 4-6 years of age. Food allergies continue to cause itching year round with no fluctuations during the different seasons of the year. The only way to determine if food is really the culprit of your dog’s itching is to do a food trial for several weeks with a “novel” (one they have never eaten before)protein like Kangaroo or Fish. Treatment involves keeping your pet on that special novel protein diet for the rest of their lives.
Seasonal allergies are a common cause of skin and ear conditions in dogs. Dog with seasonal allergies are itchy around the same season or months every year, but NOT year round. Most of the time, seasonal allergies cause our pets to scratch or lick themselves, which then leads to a secondary bacterial or yeast infection. Treating seasonal allergies is not always straight forward, just like in people, you have to find the medication that works best for your pet. Your veterinarian will discuss several options like anti-histamines, steroids, Aapoqeuel, cyto-point injection, shampoos, etc and determine if antibiotics or anti-fungals are also needed to treat secondary infections.
If your pet is one of the unlucky ones, he or she may be suffering from Atopy or Atopic Dermatitis. Atopic dogs are genetically predisposed to allergies due to combination of all the above (fleas, food and seasonal allergies). These dogs are positively diagnosed with atopy after having intradermal skin testing or an allergy blood panel. The results of these tests are then used to develop “vaccines” which can be given either by infection or administered under your pet’s tongue to help decrease their sensitivity to their particular allergens.
Since itching can be frustrating for both you and your dog, please do not hesitate contact us so we can discuss the best treatment plan tailored to your individual pet.