Is your dog itchy?
It may sound like a silly question, but how do you know if your dog is itchy?
Signs your dog may be itchy include the following.
- Red skin, eyes or ears, with or without sores or smell present
- Brown stained fur
- Head shaking
- Licking or sucking – belly, paws, legs, ground, other objects
- Fur loss
- Rubbing body or back on furniture
- Rubbing face or ears on ground
- Dragging bottom or “scooting”
How itchy is your dog?
The more often you see one of these signs, the more likely your pet is to be itchy. If you are seeing more than one sign then your pet is likely to be a very itchy pet. And if you haven’t noticed any of these signs, but the vet mentions your pet might be itchy, there’s a good chance that they are seeing red ears, brown stained fur, broken fur or fur loss in places you may not have thought to look.
Why is your dog itchy?
Itching sends dogs and their owners to the vet more often than many other illnesses. What causes the itch?
Your dog may be itchy because of one (or more) of the following.
- Fleas (even if you’ve never seen them) or a flea allergy
- Other allergies – to fleas, foods, pollens – the list is exhausting.
- Contact dermatitis
- Mites (sarcoptes and demodex)
- Yeast and / or bacteria
- Underlying disease
What can you do before you see the vet?
Is your dog itchy? If you have decided that your pet might be itchy, there are a few things that you can do before you see your vet. Doing these things makes the list of possible causes shorter, and might even stop your pet itching before you get to the vet. If you still need to see the vet you can be confident that you will have made the trip shorter and more pleasant by covering the basics first. Been to the vet and still find your dog itchy? Be sure you have been through these steps.
- Flea control (even if you have never seen a flea). Dermatologist recommendations change as better products are developed, so it’s worth calling the clinic to see if your current flea control is up to scratch. Understanding how each product works can give you the edge in making sure that you have ruled out fleas as a problem before you get to the vet. The more pets you have, the more important this becomes.
- Shampoo. There are a bewildering range of pet shampoos and lotions available, but as a first step a good long soak (minimum of ten minutes) in an oatmeal based shampoo can do wonders at reducing the urge to itch. Just try to leave a minimum of 48hrs between the bath and visiting the vet. Dirty, smelly skin provides your vet with lots of useful information as to the likely cause(s) of your pets itch.
- History. Once you’ve checked with the vet and given your pet the flea control recommended, and while you’ve got your pet soaking in a nice cool bath with the oatmeal shampoo, have a good long think about the history of your pet’s itch. When did it start? When does it recur? Are there times when it improves? Have there been any changes to the house hold – new pets, furniture, food, bedding, plants – that coincide with the itch? Are there any other symptoms that could be related – change in appetite, thirst or activity? That way if the itch doesn’t improve within 48 hrs of administering flea control and a bath, you’ll be all ready to discuss the itch with your vet.
What can your vet do?
Your vet is there to help you work through the history and physical signs of your pet’s itch, and may recommend some further tests to try to make sense of the information and stop your pet from itching. Once all the information available has been discussed, you and your vet can decide what you want to do to try and reduce your pets itch.
- Blood tests. To put it simply, a blood test can help to determine whether your pets itch is a skin problem, or the result of another disease. Blood tests can also help determine which medications are safest to consider for your pet.
- Skin tests. Although the skin has only a limited number of responses to an almost unlimited number of diseases, taking samples of the hair and skin can help in gathering information and determining between causes. Sometimes a bigger tissue sample, a biopsy, might be recommended.
- Ear checks. There is a very strong link between itchy ears and itchy skin. It could seem strange that your vet wants to peer in your dog’s ears, when you’re there because he is chewing his tail. But there is a reason. The ears are a narrow tunnel of skin, perfect for trapping moisture, bacteria and yeast. Add a little inflammation and repeated ear infections become one of the first indications that your dog may have underlying allergies.
- Bacterial and yeast tests. While all individuals, people and pets, have bacteria living without harm on their skin, in animals with allergies these populations can increase and cause significant itch. By determining what bacteria and yeast are present, and estimating numbers, your vet can often tell the difference between an infection caused by harmful bacteria and an overgrowth of normal bacteria because of an underlying allergy or disease.
- Recommend medication. Once you and your vet have discussed your pet’s itchy history, and worked through the information gathered, your vet may recommend medication to help reduce your pets itch.
Which medications help itchy pets get better?
There are so many reasons why your pet might be itchy, and sometimes it can be difficult to know which of these is the culprit. In the case of allergies, there may be more than one allergy, and some allergies are hard to eliminate from your pet’s life. A grass allergy can make life very tough for owner and pet alike. For these cases, as well as for infections and fleas, medication helps improve quality of life for your pet and the rest of the family too.
- Antibiotics. If your pet has a compromised immune system, overgrowth of bacteria can be an ongoing problem. For pets with a hypersensitivity to bacteria, this can get even worse. The increased sensitivity causes the skin to become very red and itchy, and the pet can make the skin even worse by scratching. This hypersensitivity is more likely to occur in pets with hypothyroidism, inhaled allergies (atopy) or flea allergies.
- Topical shampoos. Medicated shampoos can help reduce inflammation associated with bacterial infection, yeast infection and inflammation. Your vet can help you choose the correct medicated shampoo for your pet’s problem skin, and advise you on the best way to apply the shampoo. As a general guide, most itchy dogs will benefit from an oatmeal pet shampoo. Smelly dogs might require a little extra help, and a shampoo that targets yeast may be the right choice. For those dogs with signs of bacterial infection an antibacterial shampoo would be the best choice.
- Flea control. There are a huge number of flea control products available, and nearly every product will help in reducing flea numbers in some way at some time. Any number of these products might be recommended for a dog without itchy skin – but for pets with itchy skin the choice can be crucial. The key to flea control for itchy dogs is simple – we want it to work fast, keep working, and eliminate as many other causes of itchy skin as possible. The rapid development of new products means that the recommendation is going to change with time. Because flea control is so important, it can save a lot of time and money if it is done correctly.
I recommend a product that kills fleas within 8 hours. That’s fast relief for an itchy dog. It stays working that well for 35 days, so no increase in itch towards the end of the month. It also treats mites at the same time – no need for extra medication or change in dosing. Your pet will still require cover against intestinal parasites, heart worm and viruses.
- Ask your vet which flea control they recommend for itchy dogs
- Ask your vet when and how to administer the product
- If you have other pets, tell your vet and get the right flea treatment for all pets
- Apply the product as directed
- Keep flea control up to date
- Stopping the itch. Until recently the choice of itch control medication was limited. The most commonly used products either had frequent side effects (corticosteroids), were not very effective (antihistamines) or were extremely expensive (cyclosporine). With the development of new products there is now the choice of relatively affordable, easy to dose, generally very effective medication with less frequent side effects.
What can your veterinary dermatologist do?
For the pet that just keeps itching, despite the care described above, it is time to call in a veterinary dermatologist. A veterinary dermatologist is a vet that is a registered specialist in dermatology. Some of the services that a veterinary dermatologist can provide include
- Intradermal allergy testing and desensitisation
- Detailed ear examination and cleaning with the aid of the latest video otoendoscope
- Bee and wasp allergy testing and desensitisation
- Diagnosis and management of unusual and complicated skin disease – the dog that just keeps itching!
What are we excited about?
With the arrival of a new medication we have been seeing a greater number of owners and pets achieving a reduction in itch and an improvement in quality of life before referral to a veterinary dermatologist. This represents a significant saving and time and money for owners, and fast relief for pets. The aim of the following blog is to provide an example of the many itchy dogs that we have seen respond to care that includes the appropriate use of new medication.
Is your dog itchy? If you would like assistance or more information – please phone Vet24 Balcatta on (08) 9345 4644.
Relieving the itch – Dr Rowena Buxton.