Has your dog kept you awake at night with its annoying scratching or licking?
Have you noticed that your dog has a bad odour?
If so, chances are that your dog may have an underlying allergy or skin infection which is now driving you both nuts!
One of the most common reasons for visiting your veterinarian, particularly during the warmer months, is for investigating and treating an itchy dog. To accurately diagnose and treat your dog, we first need to obtain a thorough history from you which helps us rule in or out various causes and conditions. The next step is to perform a thorough physical examination of the itchy patient; this might also lead into additional pathology tests such as skin scrapings, cytology on ears, lump samples and blood/urine tests.
The list of conditions and diseases that can cause itchiness is extremely long and complicated, but there are two big common culprits: Fleas and Allergies.
Fleas are extremely common, particularly during the warmer months of the year, when fleas become more prevalent. They are spread through the environment usually through wildlife and feral cats. Fleas are often overlooked as a cause of allergies as pets with flea allergies don’t always have visible fleas. This is because a single flea can cause so much of the irritation; an allergy develops in response to the saliva the flea injects into the skin when it feeds.
This category can be further broken down into three main categories; contact, food and ‘atopic’.
Contact allergies are the easiest allergy to understand. Affected pets tend to lick their paws and scratch their bellies and armpits - which develops into an inflamed irritated rash - once they come into contact with a surface they are allergic to; commonly being grass, plants or types of weeds. This occurs mostly in Spring when plants are in their fast phase of growth and the environment is full of pollen.
Food allergies are interesting as affected pets might not develop obvious symptoms; such as an upset stomach or diarrhoea. Instead, affected pets may simply get itchy and lick there paws. Most food allergies in dogs and cats are towards a meat protein; such as chicken, beef, lamb or kangaroo. This is something that tends to develop over time, which means your dog or cat may have been eating something for several years before symptoms begin to appear.
‘Atopic’ causes are harder to explain. They can also be very difficult to diagnose and treat in pets; often being diagnosed by exclusion (ruling out all other causes). Atopy is essentially a blanket term used to describe ‘other things’ that can cause itching in dogs and cats. This group consists of environmental causes such as dust mites, pollens and molds – all of which tend to be difficult to eliminate from your pet’s world.
Many of the conditions described above may appear similar on initial examination however, once a diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian will develop a treatment protocol which may involve medications, lifestyle changes and medicated shampoos.
Itchy dogs can be frustrating at times but by being persistent with flea control and skin care and following your veterinarian’s treatment advice your dog will really appreciate your diligence AND there will be no more licking or thumping on the floor at night keeping you both awake!