Itching and scratching, licking and chewing are all synonyms for the term we have in medicine called pruritus. Pruritus or itching in dogs is one of the most common problems we treat. When you bring your dog in to be evaluated for itchiness, your veterinarian will want to determine a few things. Is the itching acute or chronic—has is started within the past few weeks or is it a constant or recurring problem? Is it seasonal or non-seasonal, meaning do you notice any changes throughout the year? Is the pet up to date on flea control and other preventative care? Has the diet changed recently? Has the environment changed recently? These are all important for us to figure out the cause of the itching and how to best treat it.
The number one reason why dogs are itchy is because of a flea bite allergy. It’s really that simple. One flea bite can make your dog itchy for up to two weeks! So even if no fleas are found during the exam, if your pet has not received regular flea prevention, and it goes outside at all (even on concrete or dirt or “just for a minute”), and you live in Southern California, we will be discussing flea control in addition to other recommended therapy. That being said there are many other causes of pruritus including environmental allergy (Atopic Dermatitis), food allergy, mange, dry skin, bacterial infections, yeast infections, contact allergy and more.
So what can you do? If you are not doing so already, you can start by administering effective flea prevention. There are many products available on the market for this. Many do not work at all or only last for a few weeks, many are unsafe as well. Check out the article we have about Flea Allergy Dermatitis to learn which products we recommend. Give your dog a bath. Bathing as often as once per week with a mild, soothing shampoo can help cool the skin down and reduce pollens and allergens. Avoid flea shampoos as they contain harsh chemicals that can irritate your pet’s skin more. Antihistamines like Benadryl and Zyrtec are very safe as well. The recommended dose for Benadryl is 1mg per pound of body weight. They come in 25mg tablets, so a 25lb dog gets 1 whole tablet, a 50lb dog can take two tablets, and so forth. Just be sure to never give your pet any human products that contain Tylenol (acetaminophen) or any decongestants. Finally, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) are a great supplement for itchy skin, they work synergistically with antihistamines as well.
What will we do? After obtaining a detailed history and thorough physical exam of your itchy dog, your veterinarian will help guide you through a diagnostic and treatment plan. We may recommend performing simple skin tests like scraping to look for mites, swabs or smears to look for bacteria, yeast, and abnormal skin cells. We may discuss allergy testing, food trials, or skin cultures. Even sometimes testing for hormonal changes like hypothyroidism. Once a diagnostic plan is in place and the cause for the itchiness has been identified, the treatment may involve medicated shampoos, lotions or sprays. Additionally, antibiotics may be prescribed as well as steroid or non-steroid medicines to alleviate the itch. If you are concerned about your dogs’s itching, please don’t wait to have it evaluated by a veterinarian—early detection is often the key to successful treatment outcomes. Call for an appointment today!