Itchy Dog: Causes and Treatment

Do you have a dog that scratches constantly? Itchy dogs are one of the most challenging problems in veterinary medicine to diagnose. It can be difficult to determine the cause of itching and, even if it is found, the dog will need ongoing therapy.

Itching in dogs: Causes

Fleas were the main cause of itching in dogs decades ago. With better flea control products, this is not as common today. However, if you don’t use a flea treatment product, it’s a good idea to start. Fleas can still be found even if you don’t see them. Flea control products that are effective and safe can offer significant benefits. Discuss with your vet which flea control product is best for you dog.

Allergies are the leading cause of itching today. The problem is: What are your dog’s allergies to? What is the best treatment for your dog once you have identified the substance? Most people start with an antihistamine, such as cetirizine (or hydroxyzine), or prednisone (the steroids), and then move on to shampoos. Sometimes one of these remedies is the magic tonic. These methods may not be enough to relieve itching.

Diagnostic tests

These are the recommended steps by Best Friends’ veterinarians. This order can be adjusted based on signs and results.

There are several standard diagnostic tests that can be performed. Systemic diseases and infections can be detected by a CBC (complete blood count), and chemistry profile. It can also give clues to endocrine diseases that can cause skin disease, such as hyperadrenocorticism, overactive adrenal gland, and may point to further testing. A thyroid test can determine if a dog is suffering from hypothyroidism, which is a common form of skin disease in dogs. It is important to perform skin scrapings in order to check for mites. Ringworm testing is also recommended for suspicious cases.

Diet trial

A diet trial may be an option if the initial treatment fails to work or standard diagnostic tests fail to reveal an answer. A diet trial should last at least six weeks. It is based upon the fact that many dogs are allergic or unable to digest certain protein and grain sources. The trial involves feeding the dog a novel food containing unique protein (such a salmon or duck) as well as carbohydrate (such a sweet potato or peas). The dog should only be given this food. Allergies can flare up even if you give your dog a small treat.

The dog should be on prednisone and antihistamines at the beginning of any diet trial to stop the cycle of itching and scratching. This is because once a dog begins to scratch, it can cause its own inflammation which can lead to more itching. Even if the allergen is removed, the dog will still itch.

Dog itching treatments

Secondary skin infections are common in dogs with allergies. They can be either bacterial or yeast-based. Dogs with allergies will likely need to be on antibiotics, antifungals for the yeast or special shampoos for at least six weeks. These infections can cause itchiness that will not go away even if they are treated.

If routine lab tests are normal and medication, flea control, and diet don’t solve the problem, then one of these two options can be used. You can biopsy and culture persistent skin lesions. Your veterinarian will examine your pet for signs of autoimmune diseases, resistance infections, or other unusual forms of standard diseases. If the vet suspects that there is something unusual, they may perform biopsies before proceeding with the above.

Allergy testing

Your vet may also perform an allergy test. You can have allergies to food for dogs, but you can also have allergies to pollen, trees, mites and other outside substances. There are two methods to test for allergies in dogs. First, a blood test is done to check for common allergens. This test is simple, and most veterinarians can perform it.

Another option is intradermal skin testing. This involves injecting allergens under your skin and then measuring the response. This test is not performed by most veterinarians. It is usually done by veterinary dermatologists. Hyposensitization injections (allergy shots) are used to treat any identified allergens. These allergy shots are usually given for the rest the animal’s lifetime. They can be costly and time-consuming for some people.

Supplements and immunosuppressive drugs are some of the remedies.

Sometimes, a stronger immunosuppressive drug can be administered to the dog such as cyclosporine. This can reduce the dog’s reaction to allergens by lowering its immune response. Apoquel, a relatively new medication that treats allergies, may have fewer side-effects. Supplements such as fish oils and other fatty acids can have a tremendous impact on your health. There are many other nutritional supplements and herbal remedies that may also be beneficial.

Veterinary dermatologist

A veterinary dermatologist is the best choice for treating itchy dogs. If indicated, these specialists will be able to pinpoint the problem and perform intradermal skin testing. Best Friends often refers people to us in cases that are not responding or when they feel helpless. These cases may require lifelong therapy. Although the condition is not curable, it can often be managed to ensure that the animal has a high quality of life.