Scratching is a common symptom in dogs, and a whole range of underlying causes can be responsible. If your dog is scratching, it is advisable to seek treatment as soon as possible, as self trauma can cause secondary injuries that may extend the duration, and cost, of treatment. So, if you have noticed your dog scratching, what should you do about it?
Firstly, ask yourself when was the last time I put anti-flea medication on him/her? Most spot-on flea products only provide protection for a month, so if it has been longer than this then you should re-apply the medication. Be aware that anti-flea products that are on sale in supermarkets and pet shops are general sales list products, and are not as effective as the products available from your veterinarian. However, Frontline® has recently been made available on general sale and so can be purchased without a prescription.
If flea treatment is up to date, with a reputable product, the next step is to rule out mites. Most anti-flea products do not kill mites. The most common type of mite infection in dogs is sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies. This mite causes an intensely itchy dermatitis that can also be transmitted to humans. It is often spread by foxes, so if you have many foxes in your area, this is one to be especially aware of. This is one you have to approach your veterinarian for. Scabies is diagnosed either by doing skin scrapes (using a scalpel blade to scrape debris from one of the affected areas, placing it on a microscope slide, staining it and examining it under a microscope) or via a blood test. Many vets though will choose to simply apply the appropriate drug and if the itchiness stops, a presumptive diagnosis is made. If your dog does have scabies, your vet might give a one off steroid injection to alleviate the itchiness in the short term until the anti-parasitic drug kicks in.
If external parasites have been ruled out, the next step is to rule out a bacterial infection, a yeast infection or ringworm. Of these, only ringworm is potentially transmissible to humans. Ringworm is not actually a worm, but a type of fungus. It is usually tested for by examining the affected area with an ultraviolet light, which causes a certain type of ringworm spore to glow green. If ringworm is diagnosed, your vet will dispense either oral or topical medication to cure it. Bacterial infections are treated with a 2-3 week course of antibiotics, whereas yeast infections are usually treated with a medicated shampoo.
If parasites, bacteria, yeasts and ringworm have all been ruled out then your pet probably has an allergy. This could be a food allergy, a contact allergy or an environmental (e.g. pollen) allergy. For further information on allergies in dogs, see my next article: “The Itchy Dog: is it an Allergy?”
The skin: why your dog is itching
The skin is the largest organ of your pets’ body and reflective of what is going on in the body. Regularly brush your pet looking for fleas, lice or ticks. The hair coat should be soft and shiny.
If you are seeing areas of excessive shedding in your pet then you may be dealing with certain skin conditions such as mange, ringworm, hypothyroid disease or allergies; treatments for these are discussed in detail in my book, Veterinary Secrets Revealed.
If your pet has areas of hair missing around the face that are not itchy, then he may have a type of mange called demodex. This small parasite shows up in pets with depressed immune systems.
One very safe effective treatment is Vitamin E given at 400IU per 40lbs once daily for 3-4 weeks.
If your pet has an excess of flaky skin (dandruff), then she may be in need of a essential fatty acid supplement. Flax is the best source for dogs at a dose of 1 teaspoon per cup of dog food. For cats use the liquid supplement (such as fish oil).
Take note of any palpable lumps or bumps.
Lipomas (benign fatty tumors) commonly occur on the chest wall. If your dog has a soft moveable lump on her chest, then it is probably a fatty tumor.
Sebaceous cysts are another common lump; they can often be distinguished by squeezing out a cheesy substance. They are also very soft. Lumps and bumps become more prevalent as your pet ages and their immune system weakens.
The most important thing in helping your pet is having them on a premium quality diet and supplementing with additional antioxidants. The ones I suggest using are Vitamin E, Vitamin C and specific flavonoids.
Any lumps that are firm, rapidly growing, not easily moveable should be considered serious and examined by your veterinarian.
Allergies are one of the most common reasons that I see pets. There are a huge number of allergens. The 3 main classes are Food, Fleas and Environmental. The most common signs are excessive scratching, paw and anal licking, hair shedding and excess dandruff.
If you suspect that your pet has an allergy, then the first 2 things that I suggest are to eliminate external parasites as a cause, and to feed a hypo-allergenic diet for 4-6 weeks (there are many available).
Some very helpful at home remedies that I often use are:
TO THE BATH. An oatmeal shampoo with cool water will ease the itchiest skin. Leave the shampoo on for 10 minutes then rinse well. With the most severe allergies, bathe your pet twice weekly.
SOOTHE IT TOPICALLY. Calendula ointment is a herbal medication that has been successfully used to relieve the itch. Apply a thin coat twice daily to affected areas.
THE SUPPLEMENT CONNECTION. Fatty Acid supplements are very helpful in decreasing the level of inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids are most important. A great, inexpensive source is ground Flax Seeds; I give 1 tsp per cup of dog food. Cats are unable to metabolize Flax, so I only recommend the liquid supplement for them. Other sources include fish oil, primrose oil and specific veterinary supplements.
Evaluation of the Genital and Urinary system – cat bladder infections…
In male dogs look at the sheath of the penis to ensure there is no abnormal discharge. This is more common in intact males, so an easy remedy is to have your dog neutered. In female dogs examine the vulva. A common problem is skin fold infections.
These can be treated by washing the skin folds twice daily with an antiseptic such as Hibitane and applying a soothing cream such as Aloe Vera.
The urinary system is more difficult to evaluate, but there are some things you can do at home. Signs of a bladder infection are frequently urination, which may have blood and may be painful.
There are a number of home remedies for bladder infections, the most effective are Vitamin C and Cranberry juice. The Vitamin C acidifies the urine making it more difficult for the bacteria to grow, as well as dissolving the more common type of crystal, struvite. The Vitamin C dose is 250mg per 20lbs daily.
If you have a male cat, then it is imperative to determine that he is not completely blocked up. Using your thumb and other four fingers, palpate the entire lower abdomen. An obstructed bladder will feel like a firm distended balloon. If your male cat has this condition, it is an emergency and he must be treated by a veterinarian!
I discuss ways to prevent your cat from getting obstructed in my book; the most important thing is to feed a diet higher in moisture. This is accomplished with canned food. Then depending on the type of crystal he has it is important to either acidify the urine (with struvite) or make the urine more alkaline (oxalate crystals). An easy way to acidify the urine is to raise the meat protein level. Making the urine more alkaline involves decreasing the protein level and adding a supplement, potassium citrate.
If some of these tips and treatments have helped you, then get your copy of my book, Veterinary Secrets Revealed, today.
Dr. Andrew Jones
The skin, your pet’s largest organ, acts as a barrier against harmful invasions from the environment. As an organ of elimination, symptoms of disease often show up in the skin and the body rids itself of toxins
Skin problems are probably the most common ailments seen in dogs. Usually they are not a disease in themselves, but a symptom of another underlying problem.
The most common reason for skin problems in both dogs and cats is an allergy. Foods, pollens, dust or medications may cause signs of allergy. Problems can also show up due to dietary deficiency or poor diet in general. Symptoms include such as itching, redness, and poor coat quality.
If no other reason for the problem can be found, it is time to look for food allergies. Changing to a premium or home-made dog food can usually make a big difference in a short time. Often simply adding raw meat to the diet is enough to see an improvement.
If the problem persists, or the pet is already on a healthy diet, then you must look at the specific ingredients in the food. Beef, chicken, corn and soy are the most common allergens, but cats and dogs, like people, can be allergic to anything. Try eliminating the above four things first, if that doesn’t work a more drastic “elimination diet” may be necessary. This usually takes at least 6-8 weeks to get a good reading.
If no food allergy can be identified, or if eliminating an offending food has not solved the problem, then you must look to the environment – inside as well as outside. Once an allergic reaction has been allowed to continue for some time, the immune system is taxed and the body may become sensitive to other irritants.
Play detective! Ask yourself if anything has changed in the house recently; new carpeting, new cabinetry, fresh paint? These things can all give off chemicals which may cause illness. Are the symptoms seasonal? Pollens are a common allergen, and difficult to avoid, especially for a dog. Did the symptoms start suddenly? What happened just before they appeared – vaccinations? Other illness? Emotional upset? Finding and eliminating the cause can be a long and difficult process.
Essential Fatty Acids, also known as Omega-3 and Omega-6 are important nutrients for the skin and coat of dogs and cats. You might also consider certain herbs, such as Milk Thistle or Dandelion, which support the liver and help the body detoxify. There are many natural topical products that can be used to calm the symptoms.
Bathing is not always the answer. If the dog’s coat is dry, bathing may just make matters worse. If you must bathe, use a gentle shampoo. For dogs or cats with itchy skin, look for oatmeal as one of the ingredients in a pet shampoo.
Another common cause of itching and redness for dogs and cats is flea bite dermatitis. Not all animals are allergic, but fleas will at least cause scratching or biting in all pets simply because they are annoying! Flea allergies however, cause the pests to be more than just an annoyance. Symptoms of flea allergy include hair loss, redness, and sometimes sores kown as “hot spots”.
If you suspect your pet has fleas but you haven’t actually seen any, look for the tell-tale black “specks” at the base of the hairs. Fleas particularly love the areas at the base of the tail, ears and hind legs (where they meet the belly). To determine if the specks are flea dirt (dried blood) and not just dirt, put some on a white paper or cloth and wet them. If they turn red, you’ve got fleas.
Some diseases cause symptoms of the skin and coat. Thyroid imbalances may cause dull, flaky or greasy coat and sometimes hair loss. Skin and ear infections are common with Cushing’s Disease.
There are some specific skin diseases as well. Mange is caused by a mite and causes lesions and hair loss, usually around the mouth and eyes. This most often clears up on its own, but some dogs and cats cannot rid themselves of the mites and have a more severe case. Ringworm is a highly contagious fungus affecting cats, dogs and people (especially children). It shows up as circular lesions that are raw, hairless and scaly. The disease spreads rapidly.
Boredom or anxiety can cause a dog to lick its paws repeatedly and constantly, resulting in “lick granulomas”. These are raised nodules, often rough and scaly. There is also a group of autoimmune diseases called Pemphigus which cause scaly skin, scabs and pustules. Some breeds are particularly susceptible to the disease.