Skin diseases are very common in dogs living in Georgia! We love our dogs so much, and we hate to see them suffering with skin problems. If your dog is itching, losing hair, or has other skin changes, they most likely have one of these conditions:
Scabies mites commonly infect the skin of dogs. This condition is very contagious to other dogs and often contagious from dogs to humans (zoonotic). The good news is that treatment is very successful. It is a curable disease. A classic sign of scabies involves what we call the “pinnal-pedal reflex”. Rubbing the tip of the ear causes a reflexive rear leg itch response 80% of the time.
Demodex mite infections are a result of an immature immune system (puppies) or immunosuppressed adult dogs. Unlike scabies mites, demodex mite infections are not contagious to other dogs or to humans. Most of the cases start with a few spots of hair loss on the face, muzzle, or legs. Itching is minimal unless there is secondary bacteria present. There is a good prognosis with treatment with dogs less than 1 year old. However, treatment can be very challenging with older dogs, because it means they have a poor immune system.
Most dogs itch a lot if they have fleas. However, if dogs have Flea Allergy, they are miserable even with just 1 or 2 fleas present. The classic sign of flea allergy is hair loss, red bumps, and severe itching on the lower back just above the tail. This “tail-base” area and the areas behind the back legs are the most reactive for these dogs.
Bacterial infections and yeast infections of the skin are very common. Most of these infections are very treatable. However, they commonly occur secondary to allergy problems and other causes of itching. This results in a vicious cycle of itching and infection when not treated properly. Therefore, it is important to know which “bugs” you are up against so that either an antibiotic or an antifungal can be prescribed.
Besides yeast, Ringworm is another fungal skin infection. Ringworm is not caused by a worm at all. It is caused by a fungus that dogs often get from dirt in the yard. Ringworm is usually not very itchy in dogs, but it can be. Since they get it from the soil, it is usually not contagious. However, it is contagious in 10-20% of the cases. On the contrary, when a CAT has ringworm, it is OFTEN contagious to humans and to other animals.
Some dogs actually have allergy to their food. When this happens, they are allergic to the protein in the food. There is not a good test for food allergy. Blood testing is available but unreliable. The best test is a “food trial”. This involves feeding a strict, novel protein diet for 6-10 weeks and watching the response. Food allergy is very over-diagnosed and not as common as the airborne/environmental allergies. However, a classic sign of food allergy in dogs involves itching and skin infection all around their bottoms (perianal area). It should also be suspected if the itching is year-round and in dogs less than 1 year old or greater than 5 years old at the onset of allergy symptoms.
Atopy is the most common cause of itching in dogs in and around Peachtree City. Just like their human counterparts, dogs breathe in “allergens” – grass pollen, tree pollen, molds, house dust, house dust mites, etc. When humans have allergies, we usually have upper respiratory symptoms. Dogs are allergic to the same things but they itch as they react to these allergens. They are usually itching all over their body. If your dog is itching and chewing his FEET, 85% of the time they have atopy instead of the other causes of itching.
There are many treatments than can help atopy, but the most important thing is to find the combination of things that get the best relief for the dog. Often a combination of oral medications and topical shampoos or sprays will keep the allergy symptoms to a manageable level. This symptomatic treatment is helpful in most cases. More severe and chronic allergy cases may need allergy testing followed by allergy shots. Another very good treatment for these more severe cases involves a daily medication called Apoqeul. Without allergy shots or Apoquel, many of these dogs would have to remain on long–term steroid therapy to control the symptoms. Using too much corticosteroids can cause more harm than good if used for extended periods of time.
Skin problems can be very frustrating because our dogs are often miserable with constant itching. Therefore, it is very important to determine the exact cause from the above list. In addition, the cause of the problem is often a combination of 2 or more of these at the same time. Allergy problems are especially frustrating because there is no permanent cure and treatment will be ongoing. There is always a lot more to consider than just “give your dog some benadryl” or “change the diet”. If your dog is itching excessively, consult with one of our veterinarians so that your best friend can get some relief as soon as possible.