How many wolves in the wild have itchy skin caused by a food allergy? – I’d wager probably none! Despite the close genetic make up of our pet dogs and wolves, the number of dogs presenting at veterinary surgeries with itchy skin is going up. So what’s going on?
Identifying the cause of your dog’s itchy skin is very important. There are a number of checks you can do which may help you get to the root of the issue quickly.
Things that cause irritation in humans can also affect dogs. Think about how your dog spends his day and what he has been up to. Grasses, tree and flower pollens, molds and even house dust can trigger allergies. If your dog is partial to rolling in the grass this may be the cause of his problems. Remember all dogs are different, what causes reactions in one dog will not do the same to another – don’t rule anything out. If you think your dog’s itching may be due to an environmental factor like this, you can ask your vet to perform a skin test (like the ones performed on people). Shaving an area of skin and injecting a tiny amount of the test substance can perform tests for allergens. An allergic reaction will be shown by a small bump forming, this way your vet will be able to tell you what your dog is allergic to.
Without proper nourishment your dogs skin is just one of the areas which will show signs of stress. Being the largest organ and the one we can actually see, it is a good place to look to check how your dog is doing. Without proper nourishment your dog‘s body will be in a constant ‘stress’ state and his skin and coat will show this. Your dogs diet should be based on meat, just like its common ancestor, the wolf. Check the ingredients on your dog’s food, make sure the first one is meat. Some dog foods look as if they contain much more meat than they do– turn the bag over and read. Choose a high quality, high meat, natural food and you may solve your dog’s itching in one hit.
This said, your dog could have an allergy to one specific ingredient. This could be a number of things including chicken and fish but the most common foods that cause allergies are grains, milk, soy and artificial additives.
Grains are added to lots of dog foods as they ‘bulk’ out the food in a cost efficient way. This is not good for your dog although may be cheaper. If a grain free diet does not improve your dog’s condition seek the advice of a vet who may put your dog on an elimination diet to establish the cause of any other food allergy.
If your dog is chewing on his paw or leg, check for thorns and bramble barbs. They can be small so you will need to check thoroughly, you may be able to remove the thorn yourself but a vet is best placed for this job if it is not on the surface.
Scratches from sticks and twigs can also leave a sore and constant licking or scratching afterwards may lead to a secondary bacterial infection. This can create a cycle where the dog’s scratching damages the healing skin further, making it itchier. Check with your vet in this instance for advice on how to help your dogs skin heal.
You may also want to consider orthopedic problems – arthritis or hip dysplasia can cause repetitive licking in the problem area as the dog tries to sooth himself.
Just because your dog is scratching don’t presume it is fleas or ticks but you should eliminate this as a cause quickly.
A tick is visible and will look like a white spider that darkens in colour as it fills with blood (about 1mm to 1cm long). Ticks carry diseases you need to remove it as soon as possible. They can be removed with tweezers but this can be tricky as squeezing a tick can drip blood back onto your dogs skin increasing the risk of infection. Tick removal kits are available from pet shops or you can call your vet for advice.
Fleas on the other hand are harder to spot until they are greater in numbers. They will look like dark specks of pepper on the surface of the skin, they don’t like light so checking your dogs belly and inner thigh is a good place to look. Fleas can be annoying and persistent but pills and spot on treatments are your best option. Wash your dogs bedding and vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture too. Ultimately, keeping up to date with your dog’s flea treatment is your best option if you want to prevent fleas becoming a persistent problem.
If you have eliminated physical reason why your dog may be scratching perhaps the cause may be neurological.
Boredom, separation anxiety, frustration or confinement may cause your dog to scratch. Is your dog getting enough attention and exercise? Go through her routine to see if you can pinpoint high stress situations for her.
Special collars are available which prevent access to a particular problem spot, bitter sprays can discourage licking and biting of an area and providing interesting toys for your dog to chew can all help to stop your dog’s scratching.
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