Helping Your Dog’s Itchy Skin

Summertime can often trigger skin rashes and ear infections in dogs. You may be cleaning your dog’s ears, bathing them, or giving them antihistamines and they are still scratching away. There may be relief for a day or two, but it all comes back. The foot licking, scratching and gnawing starts to drive you crazy as well as your dog. You Google all the remedies and you still cannot sleep at night – nor can your dog. What is going on here?

There are some common factors that happen during the summer that increase allergy, infection or flea problems significantly.  When the days become more humid, the number of mosquitoes, fleas, and other biting insects markedly increase in a 24 hour period. These insects bite your dog, triggering an allergic reaction. A dog who could only tolerate a few bites may be overloaded and develop a rash. For some dogs they will have a rash on the belly; for others the ears will flare up. Baths in a soothing shampoo can help, but if your dog is still scratching or chewing intensely you should have them examined by your veterinarian. The bacteria, yeast and mange that is normally present will take advantage of the inflamed skin and make things worse. Delaying care will not only make your pet miserable, but create a bigger problem that will take more medication, time, and money to treat.

Other factors that increase skin and ear inflammation is the increase in inhalant allergens from growing plants. Often an animal has a list of things they are allergic to. They can tolerate a number of them at low levels with minimal skin or ear problems. After a rainstorm, the pollen and mold counts increase, triggering intense allergic reactions. This can increase the inflammation, resulting in a rash that is intensely irritating. Controlling the allergens, like a food or flea allergen, can help when the environment rears its ugly head. Please have your veterinarian outline a plan for the summer for your pet.

If you have taken your dog to the veterinarian, and everything is better, it is extremely important to have a plan to prevent continued flare-ups through the summer. Take your dog back in for that recheck even if the skin looks good and partner with your veterinarian to develop a management plan. This will prevent chronic flare ups which is best for your pet’s health and your sanity. It is important to maintain a regular bathing schedule using the proper medicated shampoo as a preventative. Which shampoo is best, and how often to use the shampoo is what your veterinarian will prescribe as part of this plan. If your pet is difficult to bathe, many groomers will use the shampoo you bring that the veterinarian has prescribed. You can also make bath time more fun through positive training.

Irritated skin and ears can also cause dogs to be more agitated, or even aggressive. That chronic pain and irritation increases irritability and even anxiety. Inflammation increases stress hormone release and decreases serotonin, an important brain chemical. This leads to bodyguarding – avoiding or reacting against touch. If your dog seems a little more “snarky” or “grumbling” (the terms I hear clients use) it is increasing due to the inflammation from the skin. When the skin improves, the behavior improves.

As with any condition or health concern, schedule an appointment with your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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