Suspect #1: Allergies
Dogs itch due to some reaction inside their bodies to an allergen. Similar to people allergies, but we get a runny nose and itchy eyes; dogs chew and scratch. What are the different types of allergens? One of the more common is environmental allergies that cross the skin’s protective barriers, those can be trees, grasses, pollen, molds, weeds, and even dust mites in the house. Another common is parasitic allergies. Fleas are the most common, but not every dog that has fleas scratches, they are not allergic to fleas or flea saliva. Other parasites include mites and even internal parasites. The final big category would be food allergies. Animals become allergic to proteins in their food, examples of this are the chicken, beef or fish that is found in the food.
Vicious Cycle of Itching
When dogs begin to itch and scratch, they start to damage the skin. The allergy may start as a mild irritation to the skin and then it starts to build on itself as the inflammation starts to get worse. The redness to the skin can then lead to a decrease in the protective layer of the skin that allows bacteria to enter and cause a skin infection. This can also occur in the dog’s ears as well, leading to an outer ear infection. Once an infection has taken hold, the itch is magnified in intensity and can interfere with the dog’s daily activity and sleep. Bacterial infections, if left untreated, can then lead to yeast or debilitating skin and ear conditions that can become painful, life-long and very expensive for the owner to treat. Deep bacterial or yeast skin and ear infections can also lead to your dog having an unpleasant odor.
Symptoms to look for in my dog:
- Chewing, biting, scratching
- Redness to skin
- Greasy coat
- Unusual odor
- Rubbing or scooting
- Hair loss
- Shaking head, scratching at ears
- Rashes or scabs
Ways to treat allergies:
In the case of parasites, seek advice from your veterinarian for what parasite control works best for your situation. Not all products are the same and in most cases, you get what you pay for. There are many oral or topical flea medications on the market and most last at least one month. Breaking the flea cycle in the house or environment is the most important. Continuous flea control is the key to breaking any flea infestation. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they are not there.
Food allergies are currently being controlled with either a “novel” protein diet (a protein source your pet has never eaten before), but in a more recent trend, hydrolyzed proteins are used. A hydrolyzed protein is a protein source that has been broken down into its building blocks called amino acids. These are small molecules that the body is less likely to react too. Some hydrolyzed foods even use plant-based protein sources such as soy.
Environmental allergies are the most common and have multiple treatment options. Classic remedies have been prednisone and antihistamines. Prednisone has many side effects but does have its place in allergy control in the most severe cases. Antihistamines as largely ineffective in severe allergy cases and mainly help in the early stages. Currently, there are medications such as Apoquel (oral) and Cytopoint (injectable) that work very well to control allergies and have fewer side effects than oral prednisone or cortisone injections. The biggest side effect of these medications are on your pocketbook. They are fairly expensive due to the lack of generics on the market.
Ways to prevent allergies and skin conditions:
naltrexone is an all-natural plant-based omega fatty acid supplement. It is an oil that can be placed on your dog’s food daily and will provide the nutrients to keep your dogs coat full and shiny and adds to the protective layer that stops the allergens from crossing the skin barrier and causing the itch. What is the old saying, “one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”