Why Is My Dog Scratching And How Can I Help Him?
My name is Darrick R. (D) and I am a veterinarian from San Diego California. My specialty is in animal medicine, however, I have been caring for dogs since they were puppies. Dogs are very social animals and love to spend time with their humans. They are very intelligent creatures that can learn new things quickly if given the chance. However, they tend to get bored easily and will often seek out something else to do.
Dog Skin Allergies: What Are They?
Skin allergies are a common problem among dogs. These allergic reactions cause redness, swelling or hives around the affected area. A dog may scratch or bite at these areas because of irritation caused by allergens such as dust mites, lice, ticks and other insects. If left untreated skin allergy can lead to infection and even death.
How Do You Treat Skin Allergies?
The first step to treating your dog’s skin allergy is to identify the allergen causing the reaction. There are many types of allergens which include dust mite bites, insect bites, hair dander from dogs’ fur and even parasites like roundworms. Once you know what type of allergens are causing your dog’s rash or itching then you can start trying to treat them.
For instance, if you live in an area where there are many ticks or mosquitos then your veterinarian can prescribe a topical ointment to put on your dog’s coat that will repel insects. There are also special shampoos for treating skin conditions such as these. If you believe there may be an internal parasite causing the reaction then your veterinarian can prescribe a dewormer that will kill the offenders.
If you know that the cause of the rash is a certain material or chemical then it may be possible to treat the symptoms with an over the counter product. For instance, if your dog has gotten a hold of some poison oak then you can treat the rash with calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream at home. However, if the rash is severe then you should take your dog to the veterinarian right away.
The itching is causing my dog’s skin to become red and raw, it looks like he has been burned all over his body!
What is causing this and how do I treat it?
There are many different reasons why a dog’s skin would react in this manner. It could be an allergic reaction to something or even a type of infection. The best thing you can do for your pet at this point is take it to a veterinarian immediately. They will likely perform several tests in order to narrow down the cause of the skin condition. These tests may include a skin scraping, bacterial culture and identification, fungal culture and identification, as well as tests for other types of parasites.
After the veterinarian has determined what is causing your dog’s skin to react in this manner they can begin treating the problem. This may involve giving your dog antibiotics if an infection is present. It may also involve putting your dog on a special diet to eliminate certain ingredients that may be causing an allergic reaction. If the veterinarian believes the problem is external, such as insect bites or allergies, they may also prescribe an over the counter medication to help alleviate the symptoms.
It is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions exactly to ensure that your dog makes a full recovery.
My dog has developed blotches on his skin and his fur is falling out in these spots. I have noticed tiny insects crawling in the areas where the fur has come out.
What is causing this reaction?
It is very possible that your dog has an infestation of something such as fleas or ticks. These tiny little insects can cause a great deal of skin irritation and lead to hair loss in your pet. The good news is that your veterinarian can prescribe special treatments to eliminate these parasites from your dog’s skin and environment. The bad news is you will have to cooperate with your veterinarian in ensuring proper treatment, because if the bugs are not gone then the problem will continue.
In addition to the problem you have already noticed, there are other things that can develop over time if your dog’s skin is continually irritated. Some of these include:
Allergies – Some pets will develop an allergy to the saliva of insects such as fleas or mites that can cause significant skin irritation and a great deal of discomfort.
Asthma – Allergies can also severely affect the respiratory system and cause a pet to have difficulty breathing. This is known as asthma.
Your veterinarian will likely prescribe some type of medication or special diet to eliminate the parasites from your pet’s skin and environment. In addition, it would be a good idea to have your veterinarian check your dog over from head to tail to ensure that no parasites are left behind.
While treatment is going on, it is very important that you do not treat your pet with any over the counter medications or shampoos. These products could be detrimental to your dog’s health and may actually cause a chemical reaction if used in addition to the treatment your veterinarian has prescribed.
If you have questions about the medications that are being prescribed for your dog or you want to know more about the side effects of these products, ask your veterinarian before giving the medication. It would also be a good idea to inquire about what the medication is supposed to do, how it is supposed to work and the risks and side effects of the product so you will know what to expect and when to contact your veterinarian if the symptoms get worse or don’t go away.
My dog has these scabs on his skin and they seem to be growing. I’ve taken him to two different veterinarians and neither one can figure out what is causing these growths.
It is very possible that your dog has developed an allergy. Allergies can develop for a number of different reasons, but whatever the reason, the symptoms are similar in that your dog’s immune system over reacts to something in his environment. This causes the body to creates antibodies to fight off the allergen which results in skin irritation and sometimes a growth of some sort.
The first step in determining and treating your dog’s allergy is to have his skin scraped to determine exactly what he is allergic to. This can be quite a simple process or quite complex depending on how many different types of allergens your dog is allergic to.
If your dog is allergic to just one or two things, a simple process of elimination will determine what he is allergic to. Your veterinarian can treat the problem and figure out what is best for your dog based on the results of the skin scrape.
If your dog has multiple allergies or if the skin scrape does not give your veterinarian a definitive answer as to what is causing the allergy, it may be necessary to perform a battery of tests. This will entail blood work as well as application of different substances, such as pollens, grasses, insect venom and other things on your dog’s skin to see if anything sets off an allergic reaction.
There are a variety of treatments available for your dog depending on what he is allergic to.
If he is allergic to something like insect venom, treatment may involve giving him injections of antihistamines either weekly or monthly depending on how severe his allergy is.
If he is allergic to grasses or pollens, your veterinarian may recommend that you keep your dog indoors when the pollen count is high or that you give him allergy shots on a regular basis. Allergy shots involve getting injections of small amounts of what your dog is allergic to on a regular basis. This helps build up the immune system so that it becomes more tolerant of these allergens.
Regardless of what your dog is allergic to, it is very important to clean the area where he normally sleeps. Use of a vacuum cleaner is very helpful in removing allergens from the carpeting or flooring. You should also keep the furniture clean by covering with plastic and using an allergen free cleanser on the surface. In addition, keeping your dog’s bed clean will prevent him from being exposed to what he is allergic to.
Another important part of treatment is to make sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise. Allergies tend to cause a dog to feel run down and if he is feeling run down, it is more likely that his body will have a negative response to an allergen and this can cause or worsen symptoms.
If your dog is itching himself bloody and the skin is broken in places, your veterinarian may recommend an anti-inflammatory drug to reduce the swelling and ease his discomfort. Antibiotics may also be given to fight off any infection that may have resulted from his self-inflicted injury.
In addition, your veterinarian may recommend a special shampoo and conditioner for your dog’s skin that will help soothe the skin and reduce his itching.
What Else Could Be the Cause?
Other things can cause itching in dogs such as mites (mange), infection, food allergies and other environmental allergies. Mange mites live and breed in the hair follicles of a dog. These mites can cause extreme itching and skin infections. Mange mites can be transmitted between animals and humans so if you have more than one pet, they could all become infested.
Food allergies are also another possibility in your dog and this is something you can discuss with your veterinarian as well.
The skin may be infected by bacteria, yeast or other microorganisms. These can cause the skin to become red, irritated and itchy. Your veterinarian will need to perform tests to see what the cause is.
Allergies of the skin are pretty common in dogs and depending on what part of the country you live in, your dog may come in contact with certain types of plant life that he is allergic to as well. Plant life such as grasses, weeds, bushes and trees are broken down into different categories by intensity of allergen production. These are termed Moderate to Severe to Lethal. Your veterinarian can tell you which ones are present in your area and which ones your dog is most likely allergic to.
Sometimes the cause of itching is internal rather than external. If this is the case, your dog’s skin will not improve until the allergen that is causing the problem has been determined and treated systemically (throughout his body).
The main types of causes for itching that are systemic are parasites, food, and atopy (inhalant allergies).
Parasites such as fleas, ticks, mange mites and worms can all cause intense skin irritation and inflammation. It can also affect your dog’s overall health due to the constant exposure to these allergens. The dog might also be allergic to the food he is eating or even something in the water that he is drinking. If your dog spends a lot of time outside, he could also have short term, season allergies to something in the air such as trees, grasses or weeds.
Your best bet in treating your dog’s skin condition is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. He will ask you several questions regarding the signs and symptoms your dog is presenting, his medical history and his diet.
Your veterinarian may want to do some testing in order to determine what is causing your dog’s skin condition. Certain skin scrapings and cultures may be performed to rule out certain parasites. Intestinal flushes may be performed to check for worms or other intestinal parasites.
If your dog is itchy, he can begin to develop hair loss around the area that he is itching. If this is the case with your dog, your veterinarian can perform a test to rule out atopy. This is done by taking a small piece of hair from the area of hair loss and applying a mild solution of allergens. If this solution causes a rash to appear in the same location within 48 to 72 hours, atopy is the cause.
In addition to performing physical tests, your veterinarian will ask you questions regarding your dog’s overall health to help narrow down the possibilities of what might be causing his skin condition. Certain questions will help him rule out internal problems while others pertain to diet.
If your veterinarian believes that your dog’s skin condition is being caused by one of these factors, he may recommend that you try a simple diet change such as replacing your dog’s beef-based food with a chicken and rice mix. Discussing the possible use of supplements may also be necessary since poor nutrition can lead to a lack of vitamin absorption which can contribute to skin problems.
If your veterinarian believes that your dog’s skin condition is being caused by external factors such as mites or fleas, he may recommend the administration of a topical treatment or an internal medication. If your dog is experiencing severe itching related to parasites, an anti-inflammatory medication may be necessary to prevent your dog from damaging his skin further.
There are several different types of shampoos available to treat itchy skin. Some of the most common shampoos you may come across include those that treat allergies, demodex (a type of mange mite), fungal and bacterial infections, and itching due to other medical problems.
It is important to never give your dog any over the counter flea or tick medications. These are designed for human use and can be poisonous when ingested by a dog or cat. If you suspect that your dog has an allergy to something in his environment, make an appointment with your veterinarian who can recommend the best type of shampoo to treat it.
Pica in Dogs
Pica is a condition where animals eat non-food items. In dogs, this is most commonly seen with pups eating their mother’s droppings (though this is more a problem in small dog breeds and toy breeds). Other items that they have been known to consume include rubber, cloth, coal, paper, sand, and a variety of other household and/or environmental items.
The eating of these materials can lead to a number of health problems including digestive issues, blockages, and poisoning. If you notice that your dog has suddenly starting eating non-food items, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Hair Loss in Dogs
Many different things can cause hair loss in dogs and it is necessary that the problem be dealt with quickly in order to minimize any future complications. While many types of hair loss are non-life-threatening (such as hair loss related to seasonal allergies), there are several other causes that should be taken seriously.
Alopecia is a general term for any type of hair loss and can be broken down into several different categories including: genetic, infectious, neoplastic, inflammatory, hormonal, toxic, nutritional, and traumatic.
Some of the most common types of dog hair loss (and their potential causes) include:
Alopecia areata – autoimmune disease that results in patchy hair loss.
Congenital/hereditary – sometimes pups are born without hair or lose hair shortly after birth. While this is a rare occurrence, it can be passed down through genetics.
Diabetes – high blood sugar levels lead to a variety of complications including hair loss from the tail, feet, and nose.
Hypothyroidism – low thyroid hormone levels can result in hair loss that is typically seen around the paws and underarms.
Some medications including anti-biotics, chemotherapy drugs, and even some types of heartworm medications can lead to hair loss.
Fungal dermatitis – fungal infection that typically affects the footpads as well as the skin. It is highly contagious and can be life-threatening in some cases.
Skin mites (along with their feces) are typically spread from animal to animal directly through skin contact. The presence of skin mites leads to hair loss and inflammation (and sometimes even bleeding) of the skin.
Skin infection – typically caused by Staphylococcal bacteria. This type of bacterial infection is extremely contagious and can be life-threatening in some cases.
Cortico sidedermatitis – caused by the combination of the dog’s own immune system attacking the skin as well as the immune system being compromised by a virus (such as parvo). Hair loss is typically seen around the face, paws, and underarms.
Parvo – a deadly virus that attacks a dog’s intestines causing diarrhea, vomiting, and in most cases, death. While many dogs survive parvo as puppies, they are carriers for life and can re-contaminate other dogs.
Ragwort – also known as Hound’s-tongue, it is native to Europe and was introduced into North America. While it is relatively harmless to humans and other animals, it can be deadly to dogs. It causes a condition known as “hairy vetch toxicity” which results in profuse vomiting and diarrhea (and death if not treated immediately).
Hair loss can also be caused by improperly balanced or insufficient diet.
Abortion – this is typically seen in pregnant dogs and results in miscarriage.
Allergies – while some allergies can lead to skin irritation and hair loss (as described above), some dogs suffer from an allergic reaction (typically a type 1 hypersensitivity) that results in acute anemia or thrombocytopenia. This can be life-threatening and therefore requires immediate medical attention.
Excessive hair loss can also be caused by a hormonal imbalance (such as Cushing’s syndrome).
Growth – in some cases hair loss is caused by the growth of new hairs that are emerging at a faster rate than usual. Typically seen near the ears and eyes of small dog breeds. This type of hair loss is typically harmless and will remedy itself over time.
Paralysis – damage to a dog’s spinal cord can cause temporary or permanent paralysis. When this occurs it typically affects all muscles including those responsible for activating the hair follicles. As a result, the coat will lose all of its color (which may or may not grow back).
Tumors – cancerous tumors anywhere along the neural pathways within the body can affect a dog’s ability to grow or maintain its coat. Although rare, it is more common in older dogs and typically affects males more than females.
Allergies – these can be to anything from food to fleas to the environment and can cause a variety of skin irritations and related illnesses. Allergies typically cause redness and irritation first, which can then lead to hair loss and even open sores if left untreated.
Sources & references used in this article:
- Scratching the Belly of the Beast (B Mensch, A Freeman – Tikkun, 1989 – digitalcommons.law.buffalo.edu)
- The Itchy Dog, Part 3: Taking the Stress Out of Fall Allergies (D Liska – fearfreehappyhomes.com)
- Scratching at Scabs: The Garryowens of Ireland (DA Ayo – Joyce Studies Annual, 2010 – JSTOR)
- Itch scratching, patio building, and pesky flies: Biocentric individualism revisted (V Davion – Environmental ethics, 2006 – pdcnet.org)