Scratch, scratch, scratch….scratch
“Max! Stop it!”
Scratch, scratch, scratch…whine.
Skin problems in dogs are not only annoying to your dog, they can signal that your dog may have a medical problem that needs attention.
Skin problems can take many forms. It may be just a general itching, with no apparent source. The skin can be red and inflamed over a large part of the dog. Or there may be specific “hot spots” that the dog scratches and bites raw. There may be scaly patches or scabs.. The dog may experience hair loss. This is frustrating for you and worse for the dog.
Generally, skin problems can signal one of several problems including allergies, pests, parasites, infections, or metabolic problems.
Allergies: What is your dog allergic to?
This is often the hardest part to pin down. The first thing is to note if there have been any changes. Here is a checklist to help narrow things down:
- Is the pollen count really high this week?
- Did you wash the dog bedding in a new detergent?
- Did you try a new dog food (or even a “new and improved” formula of his old food)?
- Fun new dog toy or yummy treat?
- Did you just apply a flea treatment?
- Did the dog just come back from the groomer?
- Try a new shampoo?
- Did you take the dog to a new park or a different walking path?
- Swimming at the beach or a local pond?
- New rug or was the rug shampooed?
- Any medications or changes in medications?
- Sudden warm spell hatch bugs?
- Did you give your dog “a taste” of your food?
Anything the dog may have ingested (food, treats, vegetation, toys), anything that touches the dog (bedding, dog clothing, rugs) or anywhere the dog might have visited.
To complicate things, just like people, sometimes dogs may not have a reaction one time to something and develop allergies later. Even if your dog has never had a reaction to something before, don’t discount that he could be having an allergic reaction now.
Pests: Fleas AND Flea Saliva
Here are some common skin problems – and treatments:
Dogs may not only scratch from flea bites, some dogs are allergic to fleas droppings or saliva. You treat the flea problem – and boom – some dogs are allergic to the flea treatments. If your dog does have fleas, bathing your dog more frequently with a mild dog shampoo may help soothe the itch. If topical flea treatments are causing the problem, try treating the environment.
Want to know more about battling fleas? Read this article.
Pollen, chemicals, weeds, dust mites, are just some of the things in your environment that not only make you sneeze and wheeze – but can make your dog itchy. According to Dr. Robert O. Schick, a dermatologist with Georgia Veterinary Specialists dust mites and dust are a more common allergen for dogs.
Wash pet bedding and toys frequently in a perfume- and dye-free detergent. Vacuum frequently – especially places where your dog sleeps. Sweeping and dry mopping may only spread the dust around. Vacuuming can take dust out of your environment. Dust mites hide in upholstery and rugs. If possible, eliminate rugs or steam clean them several times a year. Dust mites are not only allergens for your dog, they can cause respiratory problems for humans, too. Super-cleaning may be good for all members of the household – 2-legged and 4-legged.
Corn, wheat, soy – even meats such as chicken or beef can cause allergic reactions in dogs. If you suspect that your dog has food allergies, there are many dog foods which are labeled allergen-free. Often these may be potato and single-protein based meals such as potato and fish or potato and turkey.
What all these “allergy foods” have in common is a strict limit on what the food contains. The object is to remove foods which are shown to be allergy triggers in some dogs so that you can judge if your dog has these allergies. Generally, you feed your dog only the allergy food – no treats, no table scraps, no additives – for a period of a few weeks. The theory is that your dog’s digestive system has a chance to rest and the dog’s skin clears up because the allergens have been removed.
What to watch out for? Read the ingredients. Some allergy foods contain soy or fillers. For greatest success (and to eliminate the greatest number of allergens) choose food with as few ingredients as possible – and understand what each ingredient is. Another thing to watch for on the label is additional supplements. Again, it is important to understand why each ingredient is there and make a choice about whether you want to avoid the additive.
If your dog’s skin seems to improve on the allergen diet, take a look at what you fed the dog before the allergen diet. Examine the ingredients to determine which could be the potential allergens. Introduce one food at a time over a period of several weeks. If your dog’s skin flares up, you will be able to tell which ingredient is the trigger.
Still can’t figure it out? Probably time for a trip to the vet.
Your veterinarian can prescribe medications to provide temporary relief and can help prevent a short-term problem from turning into a serious skin condition. Your vet will also know if other pets are also experiencing skin problems which could signal an environmental problem. The vet will also examine the location and appearance of the skin problem as part of the overall diagnosis.
Your vet may want to perform skin tests to help diagnose the problem. According to Pet, vets may do skin scrapes, blood tests, fecal and urine tests, x-rays, and skin allergen tests. Prolonged testing can be expensive – and is not often covered by pet insurance.
Supplements and medications:
Disclaimer: DeluxePup.com is not a veterinarian (nor do we play one on TV). We recommend you speak with your veterinarian before giving any medications or supplements to your dog.
After consulting with your veterinarian, she may suggest trying antihistamines such as Benadryl. Benadryl is routinely used for dogs and can be quite effective in treating the itch. Your veterinarian can evaluate for any drug interactions, advise you on the correct dosage, and monitor your dog for any reactions. Just like people, antihistamines block the body from reacting to allergens and can provide relief for your dog. But also just like people. your dog should be evaluated for other medical conditions. If your vet approves, antihistamines may provide temporary relief when allergens are unavoidable.
If antihistamines are not easing the skin problems, your veterinarian may prescribe steroids, antifungals, or antibiotics.
Supplements for Skin Health?
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Oils: These are often confused but it is important to understand their different benefits and sources. Omega-3 comes almost exclusively from marine sources – commonly labeled as generic fish oil or cod liver oil.
Fish Oil: Dr. Andrew Weil, well-known health expert, recommends fish oil for dogs, citing its benefits not only for skin and allergies but also for cholesterol and kidney disease. We have been giving our labradoodle, Monty, fish oil for about 6 weeks. The results are mixed. His skin is a little better, but we are not sure if this is due to the fish oil or the fact that we are monitoring his food intake and limiting dairy (which does seem to be a trigger for him).
The fish oil isn’t hurting him, but we may end up discontinuing it and see if his problems return. Monty is getting the same fish oil capsules that I am taking – straight from my local pharmacy.
UPDATE: After trying fish oil for a couple of months, we determined that he was sensitive to the shampoo his groomer used, Even though it was a gentle, hypoallergenic brand, it still caused red, dry skin. A different shampoo made all the difference. We did notice that his coat seemed a little better while on the fish oil, so we may go back to it in the winter time.
Alpha-linolenic acid: Found in plant oils, alpha-linolenic acid also contains the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center “Omega-3 fatty acids — especially EPA and DHA — have been shown to reduce inflammation and may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease and arthritis. They may be also important for brain health and development, as well as normal growth and development.”
It contains anti-inflammatory properties. Generally. this is added as a supplement directly to the dog’s food.
If you choose to use plant oils such as olive oil, be sure that the oils do not contain any soy oil which can bind with the nutrients and actually make them unavailable to the dog. Soy can also be an allergy trigger in itself.
Gammalinolenic Acid (from primrose oil) is another fatty acid which can benefit your dog’s itchy skin. Some dogs also benefit from Vitamin A or zinc. You should also consult with your veterinarian before starting any supplements, especially if your dog is taking other medications. She can assist you determining proper dosages and set expectations for results.
How fast can you expect to see results?
Most supplements take several weeks to work. If you see no improvement after 12 weeks, consult with your veterinarian. She may be able to advise as to continuing the supplements or a whether it’s better to try a different course of treatment.
Most dog health experts do not recommend dosing your dog with too many supplements at once. Even though it’s tempting to want to throw everything at the problem, you can actually make the itching worse if your dog has a reaction to one of the supplements. And worse, if you’re mixing supplements, you won’t know which is making the problem worse.