Dogs can itch for a long list of reasons – in fact, it is the most common condition we see dogs brought into the vet for. Persistent itching and scratching can lead to a broad range of other secondary skin problems so it’s important you try to rectify insistent scratching as soon as possible. Scratching can be a vicious cycle, because the more your dog scratches and bites itself, the more their skin is irritated – and so the more they scratch…
The most common causes of itchy skin are fleas, allergens, parasites, and even food intolerances. Below we’ll outline some information on each, and how best to identify your dog’s scratching cause.
Fleas are the number one and often most obvious contender for your dog’s itching behaviour. Fleas can become a serious problem for your pet and their bites are extremely irritating for their skin. If left untreated, often their bites can lead to a skin condition called flea allergy dermatitis. This can quite an aggressive condition and is not always easy to treat, so it’s vital that you kill fleas dead in their tracks as early as possible.
A single female flea can lay up to 40 eggs a day, so at times preventing fleas can feel like a never-ending battle. That said, once you’ve removed all your dog’s fleas, it’s much easier to keep them away. It’s vital that you treat your dogs coat with a flea treatment product that breaks the flea life cycle. The flea can take an adult form in only a few weeks, and live on your pets for up to a year. If you can choose a reputable flea product you should see a substantial improvement in just a couple weeks.
It is vital in this time to be vigilant around the home. Your pets will drop fleas from their coat and they can live around the house without a live host for up to a few weeks. This is why you must be continually cleaning your carpets, couches, rugs, floors and even beds – especially while their first flea treatment is in.
Once all fleas have been removed from both your house and your pet, you should start to see a massive improvement in your dog’s scratching and biting. Continue flea treatment as prescribed and your dog and your home will remain flea-free!
Shampooing Your Dog
Your dog’s coat is very delicate and its natural balance must be maintained when washing your dog. Either washing your dog too often, or with the wrong shampoo can have detrimental effects on their skin, fur and coat. As a broad example, human shampoo is developed for humans, so using it on a dog will often strip their coat of any natural oils, causing irritation. It’s important you use shampoo and conditioning treatment that is right for your dog. Be sure to read the label and do some research about what is best for your breed. At Vet’s North we have dermatologically tested products that we have been using for years. Our dog grooming service in Auckland has years of experience with hundreds of breeds and types of animals.
It’s also important you don’t wash your dog too often. Although there is no hard and fast rule to the right frequency it is generally accepted that you shouldn’t wash your dog with shampoo more than once a fortnight, and especially not more than once a week.
When looking for the right product, ensure the shampoo you choose is sulphate-free, soap-free and hypoallergenic.
Dog allergens can be somewhat harder to diagnose. Generally, if your dog isn’t suffering from any external parasites or excessive shampooing then we may have to look into your dog having a skin allergy. Allergic dermatitis can be associated with topical materials that are either ingested, inhaled or rubbed across the skin of your skin. These could be anything from grass, spores, dust mites or other animals. Generally, atopic dermatitis may be more noticeable if your pet is concentrating their scratching or biting on a few specific areas. It is most prominent in the ears, groin, wrist, ankles and underarms.
It may also be diet-related, so be sure to ensure your dog isn’t getting out and ingesting something they shouldn’t. If you’re concerned it may be diet-related, we suggest mixing up their food for a couple weeks, or limiting any suspected causes and seeing if their scratching improves.
If you are worried your dog may be allergic to a certain material than it’s best to take it to your local vet where they can run specific allergen-related tests. This will generally involve a medical history test, followed by either serologic or intradermal testing. Intradermal is usually more highly regarded as small amounts of test allergens are injected and tested to diagnose which materials are most likely the cause.
If it discovered your dog has an allergy to something in its environment that is out of your control, there are several courses of action you can usually take. These will usually include either semi-regular injections or course of medications which can limit the reactivity of their skin and their itchiness.
Although one of these issues (or some derivative) will usually explain your dog’s scratching, there can be rare cases where something else is the cause. If one of these does not diagnose your pet’s issue, then it is important you take them to your nearest veterinarian.