If you have a dog who’s constantly scratching, licking, biting and chewing at their skin, you’re not alone. In fact, itchiness (called pruritus in veterinary-speak) is an extremely common reason pet parents seek veterinary care for their dogs. Nationwide® pet insurance reports that the top two medical conditions affecting dogs in their database of more than 550,000 dogs were skin allergies and ear infections (which can be related to both environmental and food allergies).
Persistent scratching has many causes
Relentless scratching, rubbing, chewing and licking could signal your dog has allergies — or something else. Because there are many possible causes for your dog’s symptoms, it’s important to have them evaluated by your veterinarian. Pruritus can be triggered by:
- Allergies, including environmental and food allergies
- Parasites, such as fleas or mites
- Boredom or anxiety
- Fungal infection, such as yeast or ringworm
- Hormone imbalances, including too little thyroid hormone or too much cortisol
Your veterinarian will want to examine your dog’s skin and perform some diagnostics to find the cause for your pet’s incessant scratching. Once the most likely cause — or causes — are identified, your veterinarian then will be able to determine the best approach to helping your canine companion.
How you can help your best friend
Controlling your dog’s itchiness may require a combination of therapies, depending on what is making them uncomfortable. Steps may include:
- Eliminating parasites like fleas or mites. If you live in an area where fleas are a common problem, or if your dog is allergic to flea bites, you may need to protect your dog from fleas year-round. Ask your veterinarian to recommend the best products for your canine companion and your area. You may need to treat your home and yard to control fleas, too.
- Administering medication or using desensitization therapy. If your pet has environmental allergies, “allergy shots” can be given to help your pet better tolerate exposure to their allergy triggers, but they don’t help all dogs. Medications such as Apoquel® (oclacitinib), Atopica® (cyclosporine) or steroids may be needed to manage severe cases of pruritus, while antihistamines such as Benadryl®, essential fatty acid supplements or medicated shampoos can be used for milder cases.
In addition, your veterinarian may dispense antibiotics or antifungal medications if a secondary bacterial or yeast infection is present. Just be sure to talk with your veterinarian before giving any medications or supplements to your dog.
- Changing foods. If food allergies are causing your dog’s scratching or licking, eliminating potential trigger foods, such as beef, chicken, wheat or soy, can help make a difference. Ask your veterinarian if a special diet, such as Diamond CARE Sensitive Skin Formula for Adult Dogs, is appropriate for your itchy friend.
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- Addressing boredom or anxiety. Sometimes, dogs develop compulsive licking and chewing behaviors as a way of dealing with stress, fear or lack of stimulation while home alone. You’ll want to make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and attention to avoid developing such behavior.
- Bathing your dog with an appropriate shampoo. If your dog seems itchy, bathing with a soothing shampoo can help by removing allergy triggers from their skin. And if your dog has a skin infection as a result of constant scratching or licking, your veterinarian may recommend bathing with a medicated shampoo to help relieve irritation. Talk with your veterinarian about the best shampoo to use, and never use a human product on your dog unless your veterinarian recommends it.
When it comes to managing itchy skin, early intervention is often the key to success. Contact your veterinarian at the first sign of a problem so your best friend can be comfortable.