The Itchy Dog

Nary has a day gone by in the typical veterinary clinic that one or more itchy dogs won't walk in having extreme discomfort. Skin itch or pruritus is extremely common and can have many causes such as parasites, allergies and other diseases. 

Puppies and young dogs are very prone to parasites such as mange mites (Scabies, Demodex, and Cheyletiella), fleas and worms (hook worms). These parasites induce skin lesions and intense itch. Older dogs are also predisposed to parasites because their immune systems are weaker.  Dogs of all ages can still be affected by parasites, as well as allergies. Often the allergy will develop toward parasites. Therefore, flea and mite allergies are quite common. Yeasts can also cause itchy skin infections. They are common in ear infections and may involve other locations such as between the digits and footpads. 

Allergies to food components (food allergy) and to particles in the air (inhalant allergy/atopy) are an important group of diseases. As dogs are exposed to environmental substances, they become too sensitive and over react to the foreign material. There is a genetic basis to hyperactive immune systems. Seasonal allergies are associated with seasonal plant particles in the air. Allergies are frequently complicated by secondary infections that can aggravate the conditions and complicate the problem. 

The diagnosis may be long and frustrating and includes laboratory tests and trial treatments. Skin parasites are diagnosed by combing, tape blotting and skin scraping. Some parasites can be seen by naked eye, but most require microscopic examination. Intestinal parasites are diagnosed via fecal exam and various allergies can be diagnosed using skin testing and blood tests. 

The treatment is designed to relieve the symptoms, treat the specific cause (i.e. parasite control, anti fungal medications and antibiotics) and to avoid exposure to the cause. There are several food preparations made for allergic dogs and food trials are a common practice. Specific allergic component desensitization is a common and often effective method of treatment of inhalant allergy. 

If your dog itches a lot, he needs to visit your veterinarian and undergo diagnostic testing and appropriate treatment. Most skin conditions will not heal spontaneously. On the contrary, they tend to worsen with time and become more difficult to treat. Also, ongoing parasite control will prevent many parasitic skin infections.

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Veterinarians, Animal hospital