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Why Is My Dog So Itchy?

Itching May Signal Canine Allergies

Posted May 21, 2012 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Dog rolling and scratching

Dr. Terri Bonenberger, DVM, authored this article.

Just as allergies are increasing among humans, veterinarians are also seeing significant increases in allergies in dogs.  Interestingly, the symptoms of canine allergies cause different symptoms than typical “hay fever”—known clinically as allergic rhinitis in people. While people sneeze and wheeze, dogs tend to itch and scratch!  

What to Watch For
Consider speaking with your veterinarian about allergies if your dog suffers from:

  • Seasonal or non-seasonal itching, licking, scratching, rubbing
  • Foot licking, face rubbing/scratching
  • Rashes or patchy areas of redness
  • Recurrent ear infections or head shaking
  • Recurrent skin infections
  • Patchy hair loss

Canine Allergies: Many Forms
Canine allergies can be divided into three main categories: flea allergy, food allergy, bacterial and fungal infections, and environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis).  Although flea allergy and environmental allergies are most common, often dogs can have multiple allergies so a thorough evaluation by your veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist is recommended.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Flea allergy is caused by a hypersensitivity to flea bites. Dogs are exposed to flea saliva when bitten by fleas, and it doesn’t take many bites to cause an allergic reaction. Dogs with flea allergy typically develop itching over their backs, legs, bellies and tail. This condition is known as flea allergy dermatitis. The itching and allergic reaction can cause development of “hot spots” andsecondary bacterial infections. 

Diagnosis is made based on the pattern of itching, which your veterinarian can help to identify. In many cases (but not all) there will be visual evidence of fleas such as flea “dirt” (flea feces appearing as black specks).  However, visual evidence of fleas is not always present as fleas spend the majority of their lives “off” of the dog and fleas can be removed in the process of itching and grooming by the dog.  Treatment includes  preventing exposure to fleas in your pet’s environment in combination with strict flea prevention methods.

Fleas aren't the only critters that like to live on your dog. Mites can also be a pain, though they are a whole lot smaller. The two most common types of mites, sarcoptes and demodex, can cause secondary skin infections in addition to itching. And while sarcoptes mites tend to affect the ears, elbows, and chest of a dog, demodex mites are less particular and can appear anywhere on your dog's body.

Treatment for mites includes shampoos or special dips, topical

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