Itchy pets always top any list of common ailments that make pet owners take their pets to the veterinarian. And there are lots of things that can make a dog itchy! Most common is atopy, or the doggy version of hay fever. This seasonal allergy to pollen causes more canine misery than any other one that I can think of. Dogs with atopy lick, chew, and scratch at any part of their body, but chronic foot chewing and repeated ear infections are most common. Does your dog have brown or red-tinted feet from regular chewing? Atopy is probably to blame. Chronic ear infections? Ditto.
Some dogs can also get hot spots, which are areas of red, inflamed, and infected skin, usually due to repeated scratching from…you guessed it – allergies. In addition to pollen, dogs can be allergic to food and the bites of fleas – more on this below. For severe hot spots, see your veterinarian right away for medical-grade relief.
Is It Something I Ate?
Food allergy is the other leading contender for itchy dogs, although it is far less common than atopy. It is essential to distinguish one from the other because the treatment approach to each disease is very different. A lot of time and money can be wasted pursuing the wrong problem.
Consider the following clues that might help you and your vet figure out if a food allergy is causing the problem diagnosis:
- Your pet has responded poorly or only partially to cortisone-type medications
- Your pet’s itchiness is not and has never been a seasonal problem
- An itchiness pattern that’s common for food allergy – more itchiness on the face and belly than is typical with atopy
Any of the above findings or observations warrants a pursuit of food allergy. See your veterinarian for details.
Many people erroneously assume itching due to food allergy is caused by a recent change in their pet’s diet. In fact, the opposite is true. Food allergies require time to develop, as most animals suffering from this itchy problem have been eating the offending food for years with no trouble.
The Flea Factor
Some animals have many allergies, all contributing their part to the overall level of itch. Also, it’s common for a pet with a food or inhalant allergy to be allergic to flea bites. As allergies “add” to each other, it’s possible a dog with food allergies may not itch (or itch less) if fleas are well controlled and can’t add to the misery or spread disease. Since new technology has made flea control easier and more convenient, it’s essential (and no longer difficult) to prevent fleas from complicating a pet’s itching problem. With some prevention, you can rest assured that your pet is protected against fleas and ticks.