What’s one of the most common dog problems veterinarians hear about?
If you guessed itchy skin, you’re right. Fortunately, if you are diligent in treating it, the prognosis for relieving your dog of his constant scratching, chewing and/or licking (the medical term is “pruritus”) is very good.
First your vet needs to determine the reason your pooch has itchy skin, and then you can help make your pup less miserable.
What’s Causing My Dog’s Itchy Skin?
These are some typical reasons why your dog may be scratching:
- Allergies – “Allergies are probably the most common reasons we see dogs with chronic itching,” Dr. Michelle Hoag writes on i Love Dogs. Your dog may be allergic to flea bites, food or something in his environment.
- Fleas – The flea bites themselves may be making your dog itch, or he may be allergic to the bites.
- Bacterial or fungal infection – As with humans, these types of infections can cause dry skin and itchiness.
- Hormonal problems – Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) or Cushing’s disease could be an underlying cause of your dog’s scratching.
- Stress – Dogs may constantly lick their paws due to stress, writes Eugenia Vogel, i Love Dog’s Ask a Trainer. The stress may be due to a change such as a move, a new family member or a different daily routine.
How Will My Vet Determine the Cause of My Dog’s Itching?
Diagnosing the reason behind your dog’s scratching may be a long process. “Rarely is there one cause,” Dr. Patrick Mahaney writes on i Love Dogs.
Mar Vista Animal Medical Center concurs. “Some animals have many allergies. It would not be particularly unusual for an animal with a food or inhalant allergy to also be allergic to flea bites, especially considering that flea bite allergy is an extremely common allergy among pets,” according to the website.
The following are some of the more common allergies that may cause your dog to scratch his skin.
“It only takes one or two flea bites for an allergic dog to start scratching like crazy,” writes Hoag. For that reason, it’s important to control fleas all through the year. But even then, Hoag notes, your dog “may still have occasional outbreaks throughout the year.”
Hoag writes that this is one of the easiest allergies to treat since “we have a lot of control over what our pets eat.” According to Mar Vista, “Animals eat a variety of processed food proteins, fillers, and colorings which are further processed inside their bodies. Proteins may be combined or changed into substances recognized by the immune system as foreign invaders to be attacked. The resulting inflammation may target the GI tract or other organ systems but, in dogs and cats, it is the skin that most often suffers from this immunologic activity.”
Mar Vista notes that while pet parents may assume a food allergy is caused by a recent change in their dogs’ diets, food allergies actually take time to develop: “Most animals have been eating the offending food for years with no trouble.”
Your vet will probably ask you to feed your dog a limited-ingredient, hypoallergenic diet for at least two months. If he stops scratching, this confirms he has a food allergy.
Your vet may give your dog a series of injections to desensitize him to various allergens. Be aware that your dog’s symptoms may temporarily worsen since he’s being injected with particles he’s allergic to. Hoag writes that this process can take up to two years and only has a 60 percent improvement rate.
An alternative to the injections are allergy medications such as prednisone, cyclosporine and antihistamines, but these can have an adverse affect on your dog’s immune system as well as long-term side effects. Using an anti-itch, hydrocortisone-based shampoo and giving your dog dietary supplements can help reduce the amount of medication he needs.
Your vet may take a blood sample from your dog to test him for hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. Both of these health issues can cause your dog to have dry, itchy skin.
To see if your dog has a bacterial infection and determine the type of bacteria, vetinfo.com reports that your vet will remove pus from a pustule or bump, and then examine it under a microscope to see if there is an elevated number of white blood cells, indicating an infection. Your vet may also gently scrape off some of your dog’s dry skin and examine it for parasites.
Just like humans, dogs have yeast in their systems to help with digestion and other body functions. If the amount of yeast becomes unbalanced, vetinfo.com explains, dogs can get yeast infections. Your vet may be able to diagnose this infection from a physical exam, or may take a swab of the yeast and examine it to confirm the diagnosis. Dogs with weakened immune systems are more likely to get these infections.
What’s the Best Way to Treat My Dog’s Itchy Skin?
It is important to be proactive in treating your dog’s itchy skin, because his excessive scratching can lead to bacterial or fungal infections, which make your dog’s skin even itchier.
“If the infections are not also addressed, a vicious cycle of itching and infection occurs that is never resolved,” Hoag writes. “Infections of the skin are particularly difficult because it can take three to four weeks for your dog’s body to make new skin. If the infection is not treated for long enough, the bacteria repopulate and the itching starts again.”
Depending on the diagnosis, your vet may prescribe allergy medication, and may advise you to apply hydrocortisone lotion and use an anti-itch shampoo.
Adding a reishi supplement to your dog’s diet may also be beneficial. “Because the reishi mushroom provides immune system support, and skin problems virtually always come down to some form of immune system abnormality, it is likely a safe bet to improve the health of your dog’s skin,” Mahaney writes.
Patience is key. Since it may take a long time for dogs to show improvement, petmd.com notes that some pet parents may become frustrated. “There are currently no known preventative measures, but with maintenance and treatment, recurrence can be avoided or minimized,” according to the website.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.