Why is my dog constantly itching?
The most common causes of itchiness in dogs can be split into two main categories: parasites and allergies. External dog parasites include fleas, ticks, lice or mites. Dog skin allergies can be caused by a variety of different allergens, often seasonal, such as pollen. However, there are other allergens, such as dust, which can be irritable on your dog’s skin.
Less commonly, some dogs can have certain food allergies causing skin flare-ups. In cases where a dog has been excessively scratching, skin infections can occur. You may also notice your dog licking or biting their paws.
Some signs that may suggest a more serious underlying problem include excessive scratching, discharge, ulcers on the body, hair loss and open wounds from scratching and biting.
Breeds like the Labrador Retriever and French Bulldog are predisposed to acquiring allergic skin disease. Being the two most popular breeds in the UK, allergic skin disease should be on everyone’s radar, as it is most likely that you will meet an unfortunate dog affected with this disease!
What should I do while waiting for my appointment?
Most importantly, try to stop your dog biting or scratching their skin, if possible. Keep your dog’s living area and bedding clean and try not to expose them to possible allergens such as dust, detergents, and any other household chemicals. If you think it might be a seasonal problem, it may be a good idea to keep them inside until you’ve seen a vet.
Remember, some conditions such as ringworm can be passed to humans, so in these cases, it would be recommended to wear gloves when handling your dog.
You may also choose to use Felcana's soon to be launched online chat-based Symptom Checker, where you can get free advice on what to do next.
If your dog is very itchy and begins to scratch much more frequently, this may start to cause wounding to their skin. You should call your vet and they may be able to see you more urgently.
How should I prepare for my appointment?
It may not be possible for the vet to immediately diagnose the underlying issue, but if you’re able to provide them with a good history, it can help them decide the best treatment option to start with. You could also bring in some photos to show any changes in the affected areas.
Some of the questions the vet might ask include:
- Where are the worst affected areas of skin? This can indicate to the vet what might be the most likely cause, as different allergies/parasites can more commonly affect certain areas.
- Do the symptoms get better/worse depending on the season? This may indicate if an allergy or parasite is more likely.
- What sort of soap/shampoo do you use to wash your dog? Some soaps may cause irritation on your dog’s skin, so if you are using a certain soap to wash your dog, you could try changing this to see if it is the cause of itchiness.
- Has your dog been treated for fleas/ticks/mites? This information can allow the vet to either rule out or consider parasites as a potential cause.
What will the vet do next?
Your vet will perform a clinical exam on your dog to look for possible causes, such as parasites, and to examine the condition of the skin so they can decide which course of treatment is best. If your vet finds any fleas, they can provide a treatment to apply to your dog’s skin and will advise how regularly this needs to be repeated.
They may also provide itch-relief medication, such as soothing creams, medicated dog shampoo for itchy skin, or a steroid treatment if the skin is more severely inflamed. Investigation of dermatitis in dogs (allergies) can take much longer and your vet will discuss the plan for any further tests.
Allergic skin disease in dogs
Allergic skin disease can be treated but cannot be cured. They are lifelong diseases which are unpleasant for the animal and require substantial commitment from the owner.
Atopic dermatitis in dogs happens when the animal’s immune system overreacts to non-harmful allergens. The immune cells produce substances that cause an intense itch, which can sometimes be seasonal if the allergen is plant related or can be caused by allergens in your dog’s diet. Most commonly, however, and what is frustrating for us pet owners and vets is that the cause is unidentified.
Therefore, management of this disease is aimed at controlling the symptoms without treating the underlying cause. Immunosuppressive drugs, such as prednisolone or ciclosporin, have been used by vets for a long time to control itching. These drugs, while effective, have certain undesirable side effects if used long-term. More recently developed drugs, such as oclacitinib, target the itch directly and may be a safer option for your pet.
For food-related allergies, a diet trial is recommended. During this 6-8-week trial your dog will eat only (and absolutely nothing else) a novel protein or hypoallergenic diet. If the itching improves it is likely that the diet will be for life.
Whatever medication works best for you and your dog, it is important to have an objective measure of treatment efficacy. Felcana Go can aid you and your vet in managing this disease.
Felcana’s smart wearable device monitors sleep patterns in your dog and intelligently analyses activity data. It will alert you and your vet if it detects your pet scratching at night and give us a better idea of how well we are managing our pet’s condition.
How can I prevent this in the future?
We know it can be very worrying to see your dog constantly itching. Skin disease is very common in our companion animals and we have yet to find a definitive cure for this unpleasant condition. Make sure you are regularly using effective external parasite control on your pet, including all other animals in the household – you can discuss with your vet which products are best to use. If the problem is an allergic reaction, take care to avoid allergens that cause irritation.
This article was written by Alex Huppert, Ben Smith and Daniel Low from the Royal Veterinary College.