Why is My Dog So Itchy?

Itchy pets are always the top of any list of common ailments that veterinarians see. And there are a lot of things that can make a dog itchy! Most common is atopy, or the doggy version of hay fever. This seasonal condition causes more canine misery than any other one that I can think of. Dogs with atopy lick, chew and scratch at any part of their body, but chronic foot chewing and repeated ear infections are most common. Does your dog have brown- or red-tinted feet from chronic chewing? Atopy is probably to blame. Chronic ear infections? Ditto.

Some dogs can also get hot spots which are areas of red, inflamed and infected skin, usually due to repeated scratching from, you guessed it, allergies. In addition to pollen, dogs can be allergic to food and the bites of fleas — more on this below.

For dogs with miserable hot spots, hot spot spray can provide immediate relief from the burning and itching. For severe hot spots, see your veterinarian right away for medical-grade relief.

Is it Something I Ate?

The other main contender for itchy dogs is a food allergy, although it is far less common than atopy. The reason that it is important to distinguish one from the other is that the treatment approach to each disease is very different. A lot of time and money can be wasted pursuing the wrong the problem. Consider the following clues that might help you and your vet figure out if food allergy is causing the problem diagnosis:

  • Your pet’s itchiness is not and has never been a seasonal problem
  • Your pet has responded poorly or only partially to cortisone-type medications
  • A lesion distribution pattern that is common for food allergy — more itchiness on the face and belly than is typical with atopy

Any of the above findings or observations warrants pursuit of food allergy. See your veterinarian for details.

Many people erroneously assume itching due to food allergy is caused by a recent change in their pet’s diet. In fact, the opposite is true. Food allergies require time to develop, as most animals suffering from this itchy problem have been eating the offending food for years with no trouble.

The Flea Factor

Some animals have many allergies, all contributing their part to the overall level of itch. Also, it’s common for a pet with a food or inhalant allergy to also be allergic to flea bites. As allergies “add” to each other, it’s possible a food allergic dog will not itch (or itch less) if fleas are well controlled and can’t add to the misery (or spread disease — did I mention how much I hate fleas?)  Since new technology has made flea control safe, easy and convenient, it’s especially important (and no longer difficult) to ensure that fleas aren’t complicating a pet’s itching problem. With a little prevention, you can rest assured, knowing that your pet is safe from the gross horrors and itchy misery of disease-carrying fleas and ticks, once a month in an easy topical form.

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