Usually during the spring and the fall, we see an increase in the number of dogs that come into Mitchell Veterinary Services for itchiness. Just like people, many dogs have seasonal allergies. If your dog’s itchiness seems to be worse at certain times of the year instead of others, then you may have a dog that has environmental allergies. This is a diagnosis that can be difficult to obtain as the other possible causes of itchiness need to be ruled out first.
Fleas or other insects could be making your dog itchy. It is important to have your pet on a reliable product for flea control. Many dogs and cats are actually allergic to flea bites. Even if you don’t see fleas on your pet, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Dogs with allergies benefit from year-round flea prevention. To learn more about fleas, check out our article: Summer is Almost Here in Perth County! Mitchell Veterinary Services Gives a Flea Update. Your vet will also check for other parasitic insects, such as sarcoptic mange mites and demodex mites.
Food allergies are another common cause of itchiness in dogs. The only effective way to test for a food allergy is to put a dog on a strict hypoallergenic diet and see if the symptoms go away. During a food allergy trial, your pet cannot have any food or flavourings for several months other than what is prescribed by the veterinarian. We will discuss food allergies further in a future article.
Dogs that are itchy from allergies may scratch or chew excessively and weaken their skin’s natural defenses. This leads to secondary skin infections from yeast or bacteria that are in themselves itchy. Depending on the severity, skin infections can be treated with oral or topical anti-fungals and antibiotics.
Environmental allergies are known as atopy (or atopic dermatitis). An animal with seasonal allergies reacts excessively to allergens on the skin or inhaled from its environment – such as pollen, grasses, dust and mold. A dog that reacts to allergens becomes itchy; especially at the feet, groin, armpits and belly. Less commonly, dogs may have sneezing and watery eyes, similar to people with “hay fever” symptoms.
Environmental allergies cannot be cured, so symptoms need to be controlled lifelong when they flare up with the seasons. Treatment of individual dogs usually includes multiple therapies to maximize their effect. Therapies include anti-itch medications – such as antihistamines, steroids and immune-modifying drugs. Usually a combination of topical products and oral medications are implemented. Topical therapies, such as shampoos, are usually aimed at improving the skin’s natural barrier and reducing the amount of allergens that come in contact with the pet.
Allergy testing can also be performed. This involves testing the skin or a blood sample to determine exactly which allergens trigger an allergic response. A “vaccine” can then be made of very small doses of those allergens to diminish the pet’s reaction over time (this process is called desensitization).
Having an itchy dog can compromise your relationship with it if it is keeping you up at night with scratching and licking noises. There are many anti-allergy medications to help manage its symptoms. Pinpointing the underlying cause that a patient is itching with your veterinarian can allow therapies to be tailored to your pet’s needs.
If you have any questions or concerns about your pet, talk to one of our veterinary team members.
You may also want to read: Allergies in Dogs & Cats