I’m honored to be called up to share my veterinary perspective for any like-minded media outlet. So, I was extra enthusiastic to have my client request my perspective on the causes of itching dogs. Check out: Itchy Dog? Dr. Patrick Mahaney Can Help! on Body Temple L.A.
One of the biggest problems I see with dog owners in regards to their pets is Itching! Incessant itching, biting, scratching and chewing to the point where their skin is raw and they can develop bald patches and scabs.
I, myself, have gone through this for years with Cosita and know how maddening it can be and how confusing it is on a myriad of levels to try to find the root of the problem and get the proper care. In the meantime, the poor dog is miserable and the owner is increasingly frustrated.
I was finally able to “solve” Cosita’s itching problem! Here’s how…
I had Cosita properly diagnosed and then the correct steps were put into place to remedy the situation – starting at the root of the problem – when I went to see the incredible veterinarian, Dr. Patrick Mahaney.
(Cosita had a history, with previous traditional vets, of being administered the drug prednisone as a band-aid solution to stop the itching – the problem was that I wasn’t properly advised on how to actually eliminate the underlying problem.)
On the contrary, Dr. Mahaney uses a combination of Western (conventional) and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) including acupuncture and Chinese herbs to provide a more balanced approach to one’s pet’s health care.
Dr. Mahaney was kind enough to sit down with BTLA to shed some light on this insidious problem.
Dr. Mahaney – Many dog owners are puzzled by why their dog is itching. What are some of the reasons a dog may be itching incessantly. What triggers should pet owners look for in their homes, the dog’s diet etc.?
The skin is the body’s largest organ, so there are an incredibly large number of reasons why a dog could potentially itch, including:
Allergic Skin Disease – Seasonal allergies- Regional plants or flowering blooms that are seasonal or non-seasonal in their growth cycle produce pollen and other allergy-triggering substances.
Atopic Dermatitis (AKA Atopy) – A challenging disease to treat which is caused by non-seasonal allergens (environmental chemicals, grasses, dust mites, cockroach feces, wool, etc.).
Food Allergies – Protein (chicken, beef, lamb, etc.), carbohydrates/grains (corn, wheat, etc.), or other substances in food (protein and carbohydrate meals and by-products, artificial flavors and colors, etc.) can cause the body to mount an allergic response which manifests in pet behavioral changes including licking, chewing, or scratching.
Ectoparasites – Fleas, mange, and other biting insects (flies, etc) will cause inflammation directly at the site of the bite or potentially have irritating saliva (like fleas) that can lead to more generalized itching. It is important to keep the home environment free from fleas by vacuuming all surfaces and upholstery and washing all human and pet bedding on a weekly (at least) basis. Make sure to dispose of the vacuum bag or empty the canister immediately after vacuuming and away from your home. Additionally, using veterinary prescribed topical or oral products under the guidance of a veterinarian can help to keep a pet free from ectoparasites.
Infectious Agents – Bacterial and fungal organisms (yeast, dermatophyte [Ringworm]) are the most common culprits and can either normally live on the skin or be introduced to the skin from the environment. These typically grow when the environment of the skin is made friendlier to their development, which commonly stems from some degree of underlying irritation (inflammation) from allergies or another underlying disease condition.
Metabolic Disease – Cushing’s disease (Hyperadrenocorticism), Hypothyroidism, and others can alter the body’s normal hormonal levels and lead to increased susceptibility to skin infections (bacteria, yeast, etc.).
Cancer – Cancer is primarily a disease of the immune system. Immunosuppression associated with cancer or it’s needed treatment can increase the body’s susceptibility to infectious agents or modify the ability to acclimate to allergens.
Sex Hormone Abnormalities – Intact male and female dogs are more prone to skin problems due to the cyclic nature of their sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, etc.). Spay or neuter your dog as per your veterinarian’s recommendation. Sex organ (testicles, ovaries, etc.) tumors can release hormones which even can occur in a pet that has previously been sexually altered (i.e. unkown retained testicle in a neutered male dog, etc.), so unusual cases of skin disease always merit further evaluation (laboratory testing, diagnostic imaging, etc.)
Iatrogenic – Sometimes we pet owners inadvertently do things to our pet’s skin which causes them to itch, including the application of chemical irritants (shampoo, perfume, flea/tick medication, etc.), excessive bathing, or aggressive brushing/combing. Keep your home environment as free from fragrances and chemicals as possible.
What topical remedies are helpful to apply to an itchy dog? For example, I never knew whether I should apply Benadryl or white vinegar or increase his bathing etc. Are there any truly effective over the counter topical solutions or anti-itch shampoos?
One of the most beneficial topical remedies that can help an itchy dog is bathing. It is always best to use a shampoo that is made for a pet’s skin or is veterinary prescribed, as our canine and feline companions have a different pH on their skin than we humans.
Bathing helps to remove allergens, infectious organisms, and excessive skin (flaking, crusting, etc.). Additionally, warm water bathing promotes blood flow to the skin which invigorates the surface with oxygen and nutrients and helps to remove metabolic wastes.
Benadryl cream can be applied to a localized area of skin irritation to reduce the release of histamine and quiet down itching. It should not be licked off from the site, so your pet may need to wear in Elizabethan collar. Vinegar (AKA known as acetic acid) may be included in some shampoos or could be added to shampoo to potentially modify the pH of the skin. I would only suggest doing so under the guidance of a veterinarian.
What is the first thing a pet owner should do when a dog starts to itch incessantly?
When a pet owner observes their dog starting to itch incessantly, it’s very important that the dog is brought to the veterinarian for a physical examination. Diagnostic testing (skin impression smear, skin scraping, blood and urine testing, etc.) may be needed to explore why a pooch is having a problem with itching. Based on the veterinarian’s examination and diagnostic testing, the appropriate treatment or combinations of treatment (medications, shampoo, cream rinse, etc.) can be recommended.
I’ve personally heard horror stories about friends taking their itchy dogs to traditional vets to try to get a solution and literally being told, “it’s just allergies – there’s nothing you can do about it” or “he’ll grow out of it.” I, too, have had similar experiences. Why is this and what should one do in terms of next steps?
There is always something that can be done about skin problems. The solution may be bathing, dietary changes, medication, supplementation with Omega fatty acids (fish, flax, or other oils), a combination of the above, or other treatments.
Bathing with an appropriate shampoo, Omega fatty acid supplementation, and keeping your pet free from ectoparasites are some of the safest and most beneficial means of treating allergic skin disease. Additionally, focusing on feeding diets that are fresh, whole food based, and minimally processed (i.e. NOT kibble) provide the body with a variety of nutrients in the form that nature intends them to be consumed and can greatly help with a variety of skin conditions.
Yet, if a skin problem cannot be resolved by one’s regular veterinarian, then it’s important to have a consultation with a veterinary dermatologist. The American College of Veterinary Dermatology (ACVD) has a helpful tool on their website: https://www.acvd.org/locator/locator.asp
What things should a concerned pet owner avoid doing if a dog is itching?
When a dog is itching, pet owners should avoid waiting too long until there are multiple inflamed or infected areas on the body before examination by a veterinarian is pursued. Too often, owners wait until their pets problem is generalized (affecting larger areas of the body) instead of localized (affecting a single or smaller areas). Generalized skin problems typically require more long-term therapy and oral (antibiotics, steroids, etc.) instead of topical (spray/ointment, bathing, etc) medications to achieve resolution.
Itchy dogs can be unhappy dogs – skin problems can be extremely uncomfortable and sometimes quite painful. The most important thing is to get to the root of the problem – what is / what combination of things are causing the itching. Stopping the itching immediately at the root is key to avoid having the problem worsen!
Thank you Dr. Mahaney!
Thank you for reading this article. Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.
Copyright of this article (2013) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.