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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pet Smarts: Itchy dog? Getting to the root
of the problem is key to long-term relief

By Amanda Chism Briggs
KyForward columnist

Dogs of all shapes and sizes can become “itchy dogs,” and the causes can be as diverse as the dogs themselves. Treating itchy skin, or pruritus, is difficult because so many of the causes build upon one another. Many dogs start with one problem, and by the time they see the veterinarian, they have two or three. In these cases, treating the disease goes far beyond just treating the itch.

Some of the most common causes of pruritus that we see are allergy-related atopy (environmental allergies) and food allergies. If you would like to read more about atopy specifically, see Dr. Sachiko Miyakawa’s article here. We also see pruritic cases due to parasite infestation and systemic diseases.

Anything that weakens the immune barriers in your dog’s skin, such as physical damage due to scratching, or systemic disease can predispose them to bacterial or yeast infections. Almost any dog will respond positively to itch-control treatments, but for successful, long-term treatment your veterinarian needs to determine the underlying cause of your dog’s problem.

As an example, take one of Dr. Wendel’s patients – an older, female Boston terrier. She was 10 years old the first time she came to Sheabel and had been treated for itchy skin and ear infections for approximately five years. Despite repeated rounds of steroids and antibiotics, her problems kept coming back. Dr. Mara Wendel ordered bloodwork, which revealed abnormalities consistent with Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism. Cushing’s disease causes immunosuppression, which was decreasing the immune barriers in the dog’s skin, and making her more prone to infections. She is now being treated for her underlying disease, and her skin has improved.

Your veterinarian is an important force in healing your dog, but so are you. There are several things that you, as a pet owner, can do to help relieve your pet of its discomfort. First, go to your veterinary appointment prepared to give a detailed history of the problem, including how long it has been going on, how severe it is, if your dog’s diet has changed recently, or if your dog has ever had a problem with itchiness before.

Once your veterinarian has formulated a plan, keep track of how well it is working and stick with it. Food allergies can only be effectively diagnosed by exclusion, which means your pet may need to follow a strict food trial for a couple of months. It is very difficult not to offer treats during this time, but your veterinarian can help you come up with a plan that will fit within the constraints of the diet.  

During treatment, your veterinarian may ask you to keep a calendar on which you track your pet’s signs day-to-day. This calendar is useful in evaluating how your pet is doing at home and whether it is improving with the prescribed course of treatment.

Finally, make follow-up appointments a priority. Your veterinarian needs to see how well the treatment plan is working to formulate the next step in the process. A dog that feels better is a great start, but it is not necessarily a cured dog. Help your veterinarian get to the root of the problem, and you will be rewarded with a healthier, more comfortable dog.

Amanda Chism Briggs is a pet nurse at Sheabel Pet Care Center. She graduated from Georgetown College in 2006, and is currently working toward an associate’s degree in Veterinary Technology. Briggs has been working in veterinary medicine since 2007.



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