The Skin of the Problem
Dr. Ashley Lim BVSc (Hons), Associate Veterinarian
Many of us have a love-hate relationship with spring. The warmer temperatures are a welcome change but along with that comes the allergy season. While human hay fever allergies normally manifest in the throat, nose and eyes, many of our dogs usually suffer from skin allergies. What are dogs actually allergic too? Flea bites, pollens, grasses, dust mites are just a small number of things at can make dogs itch.
Itchy dog behaviours include scratching, head shaking, chewing at fur, licking and facial rubbing. Their skin can suffer from hair loss, redness, bleeding and lumps and bumps especially around the feet, face, armpits and belly.
Before you ring your vet, here are some things you could do for your itchy dog:
- Collect information. When did the itch start? Is it worse at particular times of the day for eg. after a walk or being outside or just all the time? Where is my dog scratching- ears, body, feet, bum? Am I up to date with flea control? What flea control am I using? How bad is my dog’s itch- itchy sometimes, all the time, scratching to no relief? Are there any visible signs of a skin condition? The worser these signs are the sooner you will need to seek veterinary attention as apposed to a dog that is merely itchy with no visible signs of skin issues.
- Wash your dog. If you dog seems extra itchy after a big walk through the park, washing him can help to remove any allergens he may have picked up and provide some relief.
- Over the counter products: Some soothing creams from pet shops may provide some relief. However, if these fail, contact your vet!
If these have failed, what can we do for your dog?
- Identify the cause: Fleas and flea dirt are easily found at home. However, vets will need to use a microscope to diagnose skin infections that can often occur concurrently with skin allergies.
- Treating the cause: If a cause is found, for example a yeast infection, we can commence treatment with tablets or shampoos.
- Control the itch: In the past itch control meant giving your dogs a cortisone injection or tablets which often caused increased drinking, urinating, eating and weight gain. Nowadays, we have other options such as Apoquel which controls the itch pathway without the side effects or Cytopoint, an injectable monthly antibody therapy that targets proteins that trigger itch, doing away with the need for daily tablets. These provide immediate relief while we begin treatment.
- If we find your dog is sensitive to something in his environment that is not easily avoided (grass, pollens), we can refer you to a dermatologist to identify the allergens that trigger your dogs itch using a skin prick test or we can institute a longer term itch management plan.
Skin allergies can be difficult and frustrating cases for owners and veterinarians to manage, however, early intervention can help stop the itch escalating and causing more problems. Just like with human allergies, avoidance (if possible) and management rather than cure means that while your pooch may never be itch-free all the time, we can often manage the skin issue so that your pet is as comfortable as possible.