Scratch­ing that itch

The great out­doors is a won­der­ful place to be with your dog but it can end up with gun­dogs and pets alike shar­ing an itch they just have to scratch. Dr Karen Davies looks at the main causes and how to pro­vide re­lief …

Field and Game - - VET ADVICE - With Dr Karen Davies

Pets that are ex­ces­sively itchy are of­ten hav­ing an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to ir­ri­tants around them.

These al­ler­gens may in­clude pol­lens, dust mites, foods or con­tact with spe­cific plants or clean­ing prod­ucts. For this rea­son, treat­ments are of­ten based around re­duc­ing con­tact with al­ler­gens or im­prov­ing the health of the skin.

Al­ler­gies need to be dif­fer­en­ti­ated from other causes, such as par­a­sites like those that cause mange.


These par­a­sites have two com­mon forms: de­modex and sar­coptes.

De­modex is of­ten re­ferred to as puppy mange with the on­set of signs typ­i­cally around the time they ap­proach pu­berty (i.e. four to five months). Sar­cop­tic mange is more com­mon in pup­pies and adult dogs raised in ru­ral re­gions where they may come into con­tact with ar­eas where wom­bats and foxes live.

The re­sult with ei­ther form is thick swollen itchy skin and hair loss, sec­ondary in­fec­tions, and scab for­ma­tion in se­vere cases.

Erad­i­cat­ing the mites re­quires treat­ment with spe­cific in­sec­ti­cides and may re­quire re­peated treat­ments over a num­ber of weeks.

In the case of sar­cop­tic mange, re­in­fes­ta­tion af­ter com­ing in con­tact with an­other car­rier an­i­mal is pos­si­ble. De­modex, how­ever, is only con­tracted within the first one to two days of life whilst suck­ling on a car­rier mother.

Flea bite der­mati­tis

Fleas tend to have a sea­son of in­creased ac­tiv­ity dur­ing the warmer and drier months, how­ever, when we in­vite our pets into our homes with cen­tral heat­ing etc, we cre­ate an ar­ti­fi­cial en­vi­ron­ment suited to fleas all year around.

In some dogs, the in­di­vid­ual can also be al­ler­gic to the saliva of fleas.

Fleas will lay up to 400 eggs a day, which can take up to 180 days to hatch, so one flea can cause a prob­lem for six months.

Flea treat­ment can take sev­eral forms: spot-on prod­ucts such as Ad­van­tage, Revo­lu­tion or Front­line may not be suit­able if your dog is a bit of a wa­ter hound, you may be bet­ter to choose an oral prod­uct like Com­for­tis, Nextgard or Bravecto. All pets in the house­hold will need to be treated to keep flea num­bers min­i­mal.

It is also a good idea to thor­oughly wash your dog’s bed­ding, vac­uum your house and any fur­ni­ture the dog sits on, and con­sider treat­ing your house with a suit­able sur­face in­sec­ti­cide. Some dogs re­act dras­ti­cally to mos­quito or fly bites.

Keep­ing these dogs in­doors at night and us­ing in­sect re­pel­lents strate­gi­cally may be very ben­e­fi­cial.

Al­ler­gies and de­creas­ing exposure

In some cases it is pos­si­ble to de­crease exposure to cer­tain al­ler­gens. This is most com­monly done by stop­ping the use of new prod­ucts that may be re­lated to the prob­lem, or by re­mov­ing prob­lem plants from the an­i­mal’s en­vi­ron­ment.

Some plants that com­monly cause dogs to itch in­clude wan­der­ing dew (a dark green creep­ing plant with a pur­ple tinge to the leaves) chives, English ivy, mint plants, liv­er­worts, poi­son ivy, tree ferns and ginkgo biloba. Other plants re­lease pollen that may af­fect an­i­mals, even at a dis­tance. Some of these are chamomile, chrysan­the­mum, daf­fodils, lilies, sun­flow­ers, laven­der, marigolds, dan­de­lions, Peru­vian lilies and tulips. Dur­ing the warmer months, the broad­bladed grasses that grow tend to have a furry look to them. These lit­tle spikes pierce the skin caus­ing ir­ri­ta­tion (rather than an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion), how­ever, the symp­toms are of­ten the same: red, dry, itchy, trau­ma­tised skin.

Many an­i­mals are al­ler­gic to grains, ce­re­als, and es­pe­cially an­i­mal pro­tein de­rived from beef, lamb, chicken and pork.

An ex­clu­sion diet may need to be trailed, such as Hills z/d or Royal Canin Hy­poal­ler­genic. If you pre­fer to home­pre­pare, use an­i­mal pro­tein de­rived from a novel source (one that your dog has not had be­fore): fish, horse meat, crocodile and camel are all avail­able these days. De­pend­ing on your hunt­ing pref­er­ence, veni­son or kan­ga­roo meat may be suit­able if your dog has not had it be­fore. It is im­por­tant that these tri­als run for a min­i­mum of two to three months and that in this time ab­so­lutely no other food, in­clud­ing treats made from other an­i­mal pro­tein, is al­lowed.

Im­prov­ing the bar­rier

The epi­der­mal bar­rier is the part of the skin that helps to keep al­ler­gens from in­ter­act­ing with the dog’s im­mune sys­tem. If al­ler­gens do not get through this then the dog should not be­come itchy. In many itchy an­i­mals the bar­rier is de­fec­tive, al­low­ing al­ler­gens through far too eas­ily.

This can be im­proved by two meth­ods: re­mov­ing build up and im­prov­ing hy­dra­tion.

Reg­u­lar wash­ing is im­por­tant for itchy dogs. Sham­poo­ing helps re­move al­ler­gens from the coat and rins­ing helps re-hy­drate the bar­rier. Me­di­derm is a good sham­poo that does this but also con­tains an­tibac­te­rial and an­ti­fun­gal prop­er­ties. Start wash­ing your dog twice a week to start with, de­creas­ing the fre­quency as

your pet itches less. Make sure you soak your dog in Me­di­derm for at least five min­utes for the ac­tive in­gre­di­ents to work.

Mois­tur­is­ing (con­di­tion­ing) also helps to re­hy­drate the bar­rier. For a small dog about a 5-cent-piece-sized pud­dle of sham­poo is suf­fi­cient and should be mas­saged over the dog’s coat in the di­rec­tion of fur growth only. This should then be rinsed very thor­oughly for a min­i­mum of five min­utes. This step is very im­por­tant. Then a con­di­tioner may be ap­plied. In some cases, it can be left on, or you may need to rinse briefly.

Good prod­uct choices for this are Aloveen or Nutri­d­erm. These con­di­tion­ers may also be used in-be­tween washes as a lo­tion.

Pro­vid­ing nu­tri­ents to the skin

Omega three and six are pow­er­ful an­tiox­i­dants that can be used to help in re­duc­ing in­flam­ma­tion. Sci­en­tific stud­ies seem to sug­gest that fish oil is poorly ab­sorbed. Oral sup­ple­ments such as Me­ga­derm, and spe­cial skin and coat foods, in­clud­ing Royal Canin Skin Sup­port, are avail­able and can be very ef­fec­tive. Some dogs are not very good at trans­port­ing and con­vert­ing oral nu­tri­ents into the prod­ucts re­quired by their skin. For this rea­son, prepa­ra­tions that can be ap­plied top­i­cally have been de­vel­oped, these in­clude: the Nutri­d­erm con­di­tioner (out­lined above) and Essential 6 spot on treat­ments. Essential 6 treat­ment helps to nor­malise oil pro­duc­tion in the coat, de­odorise, fight dan­druff and de­crease non-sea­sonal hair loss. It also pro­vides an­tiox­i­dants and im­proves the skin bar­ri­ers to de­crease itch­ing.

Mod­i­fy­ing the im­mune sys­tems re­sponse

When all else fails or when symp­toms be­come very se­vere we may need to pre­scribe drugs that mod­ify the im­mune re­sponse.

Old medicine used cor­ti­cos­teroids and they act to dampen the body’s at­tempts to fight the al­ler­gens it en­coun­ters. The re­sult is a re­duc­tion in in­flam­ma­tion and itch­ing. Short term, the most com­mon side ef­fect is an in­crease in thirst, whereas long-term use of steroids is best avoided if at all pos­si­ble as it may lead to the de­vel­op­ment of some dis­eases: mainly di­a­betes and Cush­ing’s dis­ease as well as marked weight gain.

The de­ci­sion to use steroids long term is some­thing that must be de­cided be­tween you and your vet. An­i­mals on long-term steroids should ideally have reg­u­lar blood pro­files run to de­tect any ab­nor­mal­i­ties as early as pos­si­ble.

More re­cently, newer drugs with a much more spe­cific method of ac­tion and there­fore greater safety for your pet, have be­come avail­able. Apo­quel is the new­est of these drugs and only in­ter­acts with the hor­mones pro­duced in the skin it­self dur­ing the in­flam­ma­tory process. It does not in­ter­fere with the an­i­mal’s whole im­mune sys­tem or other or­gans, like cor­ti­sone and other im­mune mod­i­fy­ing med­i­ca­tions.

We do on oc­ca­sion use an­ti­his­tamines de­vel­oped for hu­mans. Ask your vet if this would be ap­pro­pri­ate for your pet, and a dose rate.

Some­times dogs will scratch to the point they cre­ate an open wound that may be­come in­fected. Your vet­eri­nar­ian may feel that an­tibi­otics are nec­es­sary. If so, it is im­por­tant that the whole course is com­pleted. If stopped too early the wound may get worse or re­cur. Hot spots

Hot spots or py­otrau­matic der­mati­tis are trig­gered by mois­ture and usu­ally oc­cur where the coat is thick, as this traps mois­ture. This en­vi­ron­ment en­cour­ages bac­te­ria to mul­ti­ply and pro­duce tox­ins that ir­ri­tate the skin. This causes se­vere itch that re­sults in self-trauma caus­ing a wound to ap­pear very quickly. Hotspots may ap­pear overnight and can be­come very large; they are also sus­cep­ti­ble to fly strike and usu­ally re­quire treat­ment. To pre­vent them from re-oc­cur­ring we need to stop the hu­mid en­vi­ron­ment from aris­ing. This may in­volve clip­ping the dog’s coat short and reg­u­larly dry­ing prob­lem ar­eas. The most com­mon cause of hot spots are flea bites, so make sure your flea con­trol is up to stan­dard.

Nat­u­ral Anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries

Green-lipped mus­cle cap­sules, var­i­ous plant oils (co­conut, saf­flower, sun­flower and lin­seed) and tumeric all have well recog­nised ben­e­fits.

Green-lipped mus­sels are avail­able from Paws as a cap­sule. For oils, the dose for a medium-size dog is 5 mm per feed.

Tumeric paste recipe: Mix 1/2 cup tumeric pow­der and 1 cup of wa­ter into a paste and place over a low heat un­til thick­ens, then add 1/4 cup co­conut Oil and 1 1/2 tea­spoons of fresh ground black pep­per. Stir well, then place into a con­tainer (glass is best) and keep in the fridge.

Give 1/4 tea­spoon per 5 kg body weight once daily. In­tro­duce slowly as may cause di­ar­rhoea at first.

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