Got the Itch? Why Is My Dog Scratching?

Is your dog licking his paws? Scratching at his back? Is it keeping you up and night and driving him crazy?  If so, don’t fret, relief is just a phone call away.  In the following article, I will discuss the causes of pruritus (itching) in dogs and how the doctors of World of Animals Veterinary Hospital can help your pet ditch the itch!

Did you know that 83% of dogs who lick their paws have some form of allergy?  Pets can be allergic to all kinds of different things ranging from pollens, molds, and even household dust mites!  The disease is called Atopic Dermatitis, and is best thought of in one of three different ways.  Environmental allergies tend to be more severe in warmer seasons, often starting in the spring and continuing through the fall.  Household allergies can persist year round.  Finally, dogs allergic to something in their food also tend to be affected all year. In the case of food allergies, Dermatologists believe dogs are most likely to be allergic to the protein source of their food, not grain.  Changing to a novel protein diet for 3 months will help determine if chicken or beef is the cause of your pet’s discomfort.

Treatment for allergies can range from Benadryl or other over the counter antihistamines, to more targeted drugs called Janus 1 Kinase Inhibitors.  There are even allergy injections your veterinarian can give that can provide relief for 4-8 weeks.  Finally, working with an Veterinary Dermatologist, intradermal skin testing can be done to determine what your dog is allergic to and an “allergy vaccine” can be created specifically for your pet.  The allergy vaccine will help your pet recognize the allergen, preventing the inflamed immune response which causes the allergy, in a manner similar to what is done for people with allergies. At World of Animals Veterinary Hospital, each treatment option is discussed with you during your visit so we can decide the plan that works best for your pet.

Along with allergies, fleas are a very common source of itching for our pets.  Fleas are insects that do not have wings and survive by feeding on the blood of their hosts.  Do you have squirrels, deer, or birds in your area? All these animals and many more can be hosts for fleas to live on. Adult fleas will mate on your dog and then drop eggs which develop into larvae in your home!  Larvae avoid sunlight and are blind, feeding on organic material in your carpet, bed, or furniture. After several developmental phases, larvae develop into a pupa which weaves a cocoon and wait for suitable conditions to emerge.  Vibrations, warmth, and increased carbon dioxide can all trigger pupa to hatch from their cocoons, jumping onto your pet as adult fleas and continue the flea life cycle.  Breaking the flea life cycle requires monthly flea/tick preventative for your pet, along with regular housekeeping to rid your home of larvae and pupa.  In addition, your veterinarian has several medications that are important for killing adult fleas quickly and for preventing tapeworm infections which your pet can acquire by eating a flea.

Mites are another cause of itchy pets and the Demodectic and Sarcoptic mite are the causative agents of scabies. Demodectic mites mostly affect young dogs by causing moderate itchiness and circular round patches of hair loss. Sarcoptic mange or “Scabies” causes extremely itchy pets of any age and is transmissible to humans.  Dogs with sarcoptic mange tend to scratch at their ears, elbow, and ankles where the mites tend to live. Your pet is most likely to pick up sarcoptic mange by being in contact with another infected dog or wild animal. Both conditions are treatable although infectious, so dogs with sarcoptic mange should avoid contact with other pets until treatment is concluded.

While there are many things that can make your dog itchy, allergies, fleas, and mites are all common causes. At World of Animals, our veterinary team will work to help diagnose the cause of your pet’s itchiness, and develop a treatment plan that works best for you and your pet.