Pruritus (itching) in dogs

Health care questions and answers about puppies and dogs

What is causing my dog's itching?  
Questions and answers about itching and scratching in dogs.

Few disorders cause more hardship for dogs and cats than conditions that create Pruritus... an itchy skin.  Pruritus is a hallmark of such issues as allergic dermatitis from inhaled dust, pollen, and mold.  Contact allergy or irritants from chemicals (see the dog below that reacted to shampoo), fabrics, plants, carpeting and even reactions to foods can create an itchy, inflamed skin.  Mites and fleas can cause severe itching and skin damage. There's a difference between an allergy to a substance and a sensitivity to a substance; but each has a pruritic component...itchy skin! 

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Can you tell me why my dog Fritzie is always itchy?  I've had him to the vet's 2 or 3 times a year the past 3 years and Fritzie gets a shot of cortisone or something like it and he gets better for a while but the itching and scratching always comes back.
     The doctor thinks it's an allergy and I heard there's no cure for allergies, just medicine to make the dog feel better.  
     Oh, yes, and the shots make him drink lots of water and he wets the carpet after those shots.

Answer:  dogs... itching... scratching... pruritus
If Fritzie has an allergy to something there are a number of good tests that help find out what those allergens are; and there may be several substances Fritzie reacts to including foods such as corn, wheat and even chicken!  Veterinary hypoallergenic diets that are fed for 3 -4 weeks to rule in or out a food allergy should be utilized because about 10% of "allergies" are due to food items.
     Most veterinarians do a treatment protocol (not using cortisone) to rule out scabies mites.  These mites seldom show up on a skin scraping like demodex mites do, and scabies mites commonly fool the doctor into assuming the itchiness is due to an allergy.  Once a cortisone shot wears off the intense itching and chewing at the skin starts up all over again!  When scabies  treatment is done, if the dog stops itching within a few weeks the assumption is that the itchiness was due to those mites and was not a "an allergy".
     Contact with grass and inhaling airborne pollens, dust and molds can trigger an allergic episode with licking and itching that can go on for hours.  In dogs with FAD (flea allergy dermatitis) the dog is hypersensitive to flea saliva.  The bite of a single flea triggers a systemic pruritus and can even cause hair loss and skin thickening.
     You need a diagnosis that delineates to what the dog is allergic!  It just might turn out to be due to scabies mites.  So tell your veterinarian you want some detective work done to see what is instigating the itching.  Allergy tests, special hypoallergenic diets, scabies mite trial therapy, improved diet with supplemental Omega Fatty Acids all can be part of a successful resolution to the itchy skin.  Then Fritzie may be able to forego the cortisone injections.

Doctor's Notes
     In general, any skin condition can be improved by optimal nutrition.  Healthy dogs seldom have itchy, allergic, skin with scabs and crusts.  Dry, flaky skin almost always causes itchiness.


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dogs_itch_fleadirt dogs_itch_earmite_microscopic dog_itch_shampoo_irritant dogskinitchyscabies
Fleas are very elusive so look for "flea dirt", the feces of the blood sucking fleas.  If you see "flea dirt" there ARE fleas present! This is a medium power microscopic view of an ear mite, a common cause of ear itchiness in dogs and cats. This dog was shampooed 2 hours prior to exam for severe inflammation of the skin.  The shampoo acted as an irritant so this may not be a true allergic reaction. Scabies mites start out as tiny, very itchy skin eruptions or scabs.  Scabies are often mistaken for "allergy" because the mites seldom are recovered in skin scrapings.
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     I've been told that dogs and cats shouldn't get cortisone shots because they get dependent on them and the cortisone makes them gain weight.  Is this true?

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Answer:  dogs... cortisone shots... effects
     First, there are several kinds of "cortisone".  Some injectible corticosteroids are short acting, some long acting, some have strong side effects such as increased thirst, appetite and weight gain.  Some have good anti-inflammatory effects and only mild side effects. 
     Third, frequent use of any cortisone medication decreases the body's natural output from the adrenal glands.  If the long term use of cortisone is suddenly terminated a very serious drop in circulating hormone occurs and a condition can rapidly develop called Iatrogenic Addison's Disease.  (Iatrogenic means caused by human action.)   Addison's Disease denotes a condition of dangerously low blood level of adrenal hormones and can be fatal if not treated.
     Fourth, cortisone-related medications can be life enhancing miracle drugs when used properly.  Like a two edge sword, though, they can defeat the enemy but have potential to do us harm, too.  Always ask your veterinarian about the pros and cons of cortisone use in your dog or cat.

    Scratching, licking and chewing at inflammed and itchy skin. An itchy or itching is a sensation in an animal that triggers the desire to scratch.  While scratching at an itchy spot the act of scratching can further harm the skin.  The urge to scratch the itchy skin results from changes in the normal, harmonious skin microstructure.
     The particles of or contact with antigens the animal's body senses as irritating or threatening triggers a cascade of reactive chemicals in the skin and bloodstream.  These chemicals intend to help but some will harm normal cells which release even more harsh chemicals.  If individuals cells could, they'd scratch themselves!
     Because we can't program cells to not react we are left with either avoiding the triggering antigens of assisting the body in ignoring the presence of those itch instigators.

Doctor's Notes  
arrow right  
Always pursue a precise diagnosis whenever your dog or cat has a persistent itchy skin condition.  Don't settle for a "let's try this" kind of therapy.

arrow right   Establishing a diagnosis will probably cost a bit but getting the precise diagnosis is imperative for successful management... and maybe even a cure... for itchy (pruritic) skin.

arrow right   Remember this: There is no cure for allergies; the best we can do is suppress or manage the effects of the reactions to the allergen.

arrow right  Dogs and cats potentially can be allergic to literally one or more of thousands of substances. Below are displayed just a few...



Common environmental allergens

molds insecticides corn
wheat carpeting grasses
fabrics sunshine peanuts
dust dust mites feathers
 rubber   cigarette smoke plastic
pollens shampoo drugs
plants perfumes  

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