Itchy skin in dogs

1st March 2018

At Bollington Veterinary Centre we often see and treat dogs with all sorts of skin conditions. Pruritus is a sign that often features, and springtime is when we start seeing more of these patients.

What is pruritus?

Pruritus is the medical term we use for itching. It’s a common clinical sign of many skin conditions, and is often accompanied by red, inflamed areas of sensitive skin.

What causes itching?

Most dogs tend to get sensitive skin for one of the following reasons:

  1. Food Allergies
  2. Parasites
  3. Fungal infections
  4. Seasonal Allergies
  5. Indoor allergies
  6. Bacterial infections

Understanding what might be causing the problem can be quite a challenge, and our vets at Bollington Veterinary Centre like to get to the bottom of the problem.

Treatment can be both challenging and frustrating, and in order for us to make a diagnosis, several tests and treatments may be necessary. In some cases, this process may take weeks or months to come to a conclusion. Often the condition can’t be cured and the best we can do is offer lifelong treatment to control the signs.

1. Food allergies

Skin irritation with itching and rubbing are classic signs of an adverse reaction to food; though a true food allergy is frequently misunderstood. The vast majority of dogs with food allergies are allergic to a protein source in the food such as beef, chicken or lamb. It’s far less common for them to be allergic to grains and cereals.

Beware of the vast array of hypoallergenic foods sold these days though, as most of them may not deliver the expected benefits. Simply switching from one commercial brand to another to try to cure the problem is not sufficient as most diets have many shared ingredients. The only reliable method of diagnosing a food allergy is by feeding your dog an elimination diet. If you think your pet may be suffering from a food allergy, do come to see us.

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2. Skin parasites

All skin parasites can cause itchy skin, and depending on the type and number involved, this can trigger anything from an occasional nibble to continuous and extreme itching, biting and scratching. Other signs soon develop, including hair loss, red spots, pustules, scales and crusts. As a result, some animals can become quite unwell.

  • Fleas – these are the most common skin parasites found on dogs. Adult fleas bite as they feed, which can then trigger a reaction causing inflammation and itching. They tend to be more of a problem in the warmer months (from spring to autumn), but can also live in our homes all year round and so are ever present. To prevent the allergy it’s imperative that flea control is strict and effective. Always check with us at Bollington Veterinary Centre to make sure you’re using the most effective treatment.
  • Mange mites – from time to time we come across dogs with mange. This is where the animal has been infected by a small microscopic mite that burrows or feeds on or under the skin, causing intense itching and inflammation. There are several different mites, including Demodex, Sarcoptes and Cheyletiella. Any dog with intense itching, hair loss and skin inflammation needs to be see by a vet. Call us to discuss if you think your pet has a problem.

3. Fungal infections

  • Ringworm - this is a fungal infection that infects the hair follicles. It’s contagious to animals and humans and it’s therefore very important that we prevent the infection from spreading. Some animals with long hair are more likely to be carriers of the fungal infection. Young kittens and puppies are also a potential source of new infections, so if you’ve recently taken on a new pet and have noticed some patches of hair loss and itchy skin around the eyes and muzzle, let us know.
  • Malassezia – this is a common fungal infection that can make the skin very itchy. It’s sometimes known as ‘yeast dermatitis’ and is caused by the fungus Malassezia pachydermatis. Some animals and breeds are more commonly infected, including Basset Hounds, West Highland White Terriers and Spaniels.

The most common signs of Malassezia dermatitis are:

  • Thickened skin with dark pigmented areas
  • A musty smell
  • Scales, crusts and scurfy skin
  • Itching and redness
  • Chronic ear infections

Do let us know as soon as possible if your pet has any of the above signs.

4. Indoor allergies

Just like humans our pets are susceptible to a variety of environmental allergies, including those triggered by house and dust mites. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we see many dogs with sores, itching, licking and nibbling issues that are attributed to these mites.

Where do dust mite allergies come from?

Dust mites prefer warm, humid conditions, and the climate in the UK means that this is most of the year. Dust mites are found in mattresses, upholstery, dog beds and carpets.

The signs of dog dust mite allergies can include;

  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Itching on the feet and face
  • Ear infections
  • Inflammation
  • Itchy red skin

Avoiding dust mites completely is not really practical, so we tend to concentrate on minimising dust mite allergens in the home together with desensitising your pet to the mite allergen.

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5. Seasonal allergies

These are frequently diagnosed in the spring and autumn months. At the beginning of the year, pollens are released from trees and flowers, which then trigger an allergic response much like ‘hay fever’ in people. The reaction in dogs tends to make the skin red and itchy. Dogs will spend much of the day and night nibbling, scratching and chewing the skin looking for relief. Secondary skin infections are common.

Later in the year, the spores released from molds and fungi can cause a similar response.

Many dogs diagnosed with this form of allergy will be described as being ‘atopic’. The condition can’t be cured, but our vets will try hard to make a diagnosis and maybe offer desensitising treatments. Antihistamines, steroids and immunotherapy may be offered.

6. Bacterial infections

Many dogs come to us at Bollington Veterinary Centre with a condition known as ‘pyoderma’, which literally means pus in the skin. Bacterial infections are common and often need antibiotics and medicated shampoos. The infections don’t have to be infectious to other dogs, but in some animals the bacteria will set off an inflammatory response, which is intense and debilitating.

If you notice your dog with red spots or pustules, it’s time to let us take a look.

Call us if your dog is itchy