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Could Itchy Skin Land Your Dog in the Emergency Room?

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Today we have a guest post from Dr. Heather Loenser, DVM, of Crown Veterinary Specialists discussing a topic especially important during the summer months: itchy skin!


Learn what YOU can do to avoid a midnight visit!

I am an emergency veterinarian who works the overnight shift. I bet you’d be surprised to learn that one of the most common problems I see in the wee hours is a dog that can’t stop scratching its itchy and often foul-smelling skin. The sound of the scratching is enough to wake up a sleeping pet parent who then hightails it to the ER. Chances are his dog has skin allergies, also known as “Atopic Dermatitis.”

Skin allergies are more common than you think. According to VPI, a leading veterinary insurance company, 10-15% of dogs are afflicted, making it one of the most prevalent health issues veterinarians treat.

Here are the questions I’m most often asked by pet parents of dogs with itchy skin:

Is my dog scratching because he’s allergic to something?

Probably. The most common cause of scratching is allergic disease, which includes atopic dermatitis, flea allergies and skin infections. Dogs are often allergic to the same things people are like dust, pollen and mold that float through the air. However, unlike us, dogs don’t routinely show their allergies by sneezing or having runny eyes. Instead, their skin becomes inflamed, red and itchy. Incessant scratching further irritates the skin and can cause a foul odor from the yeast or bacterial infections that often follow. The diagram below illustrates the itching cycle.


 What can I do to relieve my dog’s itchy skin?

  1. Bathe your dog with a shampoo designed for pets with skin allergies. Look for a shampoo that:
    • Treats the skin infections and odor that often accompany allergies
    • Moisturizes and soothes
    • Is gentle enough to use several times a week
    • I like Splash Plus Pet Shampoo because it’s one of the few shampoos that does all of the above without the use of antibioticsOveruse of antibiotics can cause the bacteria in the pet and its environment to develop resistance to these medications. In a clinical trial, Dr. Valerie Fadok, DVM, PhD, DACVD, a leading veterinary dermatologist, found that 85% of the dogs with infected skin improved dramatically by shampooing with Splash Plus without using antibiotics.
  2. Use cool water to calm the skin and most importantly, leave the lather on for 5-10 minutes to let the shampoo work on the SKIN, not just the FUR or HAIR.
  3. Use a flea preventative. Fleas are sometimes difficult to spot, but if your dog is itching he may have flea allergy dermatitis, one of the most common skin allergies. Even the bite of one flea can cause an intense skin reaction. If you haven’t used a flea preventative recently, it’s time! Visit your vet to pick some up. Remember, even if your dog doesn’t have fleas, another dog can transmit them to him.
  4. Try over-the-counter antihistamines and fatty acid supplementation. Over-the-counter medications can be of some help to control allergies and soothe the skin. These typically do not work by themselves to alleviate the problem, but when they’re used in conjunction with topical therapies and flea preventative, they may provide some relief. Check with your vet for the correct dosage.

How do I know if all this itching requires a visit to the vet? 

When you have tried all of the above for no more than a few days without any improvement, it’s time to seek help from your veterinarian

What will the vet do to treat my dog? 

  1. Look for other underlying conditions. Although skin allergies are the most common cause of skin irritation, your dog might be suffering from mites, a deep skin infection, a skin tumor or a hormone imbalance. Further skin testing, allergy testing and blood work may be required.
  2. Test your dog for allergies. Your veterinarian can perform skin tests to determine what your dog is allergic to, breaking them down into specific types of pollen, grasses and insects. Testing for food allergies is more complex. They do occur in dogs but not as often as you think; research shows only 1-6% of skin issues have a food allergy component. Before you spend a lot of money on different types of food, follow the steps above. If the tests come back negative, your veterinarian might suggest a food trial over 6-8 weeks with a prescription diet. During this time, your dog cannot have ANY other dog food, treat, supplement or people snack.
  3. Prescribe medications to treat itchiness, inflammation and infection. There are several medications that may provide your pet with some relief, including Apoquel, a new drug that is FDA-approved to treat itchiness associated with skin allergies. There are also traditional drugs like prednisone or other steroids that suppress the immune system, subsequently decreasing inflammation and itching. And finally, there are broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat deep skin infections.
  4. Refer you to a veterinary dermatologist. If your dog’s case is complex, your vet may recommend that you see a veterinary dermatologist.

This post is brought to you by Splash Plus Pet Shampoo. Watch for our review!

Paris Permenter
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