This is Kona. Kona has been really itchy lately. She spends almost all of her time licking and chewing her paws, abdomen, and hindlegs. Over time, her skin has become red, swollen, and scabbed, and despite frequent bathing, she always gives off a foul odor. As you can imagine, this has been really frustrating for her owners for quite some time. At first, it started as a little occasional scratching in the spring and fall, but as she matured and became an adult, her problem seemed to intensify.
Kona suffers from a condition known as atopy, or environmental allergies. Atopy, along with flea and food allergies, make up the three primary causes of itchy skin in adult dogs. Atopy can be triggered by anything in our environment most commonly including pollen, ragweed, dust mites, trees, grasses, and even human dander. You may recognize these things as many of the same triggers that irritate humans with allergies although our symptoms are more often sinus and respiratory related. Especially as the seasons change, the same things that cause our sinus headaches and runny noses cause our dogs to keep us up at night with their constant licking and scratching.
While a little itchiness may not necessarily be a big problem, the continued effects of frequent licking and scratching can lead to very serious dermatitis and skin infections. All animals have bacteria and yeast organisms on our skin and hair normally. Our dermis, the outer layer of our skin, serves as a protective barrier against infection. However, when skin becomes abraded and inflamed, this defense is compromised and these harmful organisms are able to colonize our skin leading to even more painful and itchy dermatitis.
This is what eventually happened to our friend Kona. Her constant scratching and chewing eventually caused the dry, cracked skin and large scabs and crusts you see around her ears, eyes, paws, abdomen, and hindlimbs. When her concerned owners brought her into our office, I performed a series of simple tests to determine that her skin and ears are infected by both bacteria and yeast. This told me that I would need to begin therapy to treat these secondary infections as well as the underlying atopy that caused them. I began by administering a short acting cortisone injection to quickly control her intense itchiness followed by a low dose oral steroid medication called Temaril P she will continue to take in tapering amounts over the next few weeks to safely and effectively decrease her allergy response.
Kona is scheduled to return in 2 weeks for a recheck visit. We will likely need to continue these recheck visits for 4-6 weeks to ensure that these infections have resolved. Because allergies are caused by the body’s own immune system and can never be completely eliminated, we will also need to determine the best long term management to prevent her allergies from ever getting this bad again. I will post updated pictures here so that you can track her progress along with me. If you have any questions about your dogs’ itchy skin, please feel free to contact me or any of our doctors at either of our offices or via our Facebook page.