The dog’s coat can look normal, but often the skin is red, or grey-black and sticky. It can also have areas that are crusty and ooze a little, and occasionally you can see dandruff. Some dogs have concurrent ear infections and sore feet as well. They look miserable and can be quite unwell.
Fleas are generally the culprits, and you can usually detect these by looking through the coat over the dog’s back just in front of the tail. If you see fleas or small black crumbs (flea droppings), then all you might need is flea control. Excellent flea control products are Bravecto, NexGard Spectra and Simparica Trio, which all treat more than just fleas.
However, once the skin gets damaged from continuous scratching and biting, it starts to become more challenging to find out what the cause is. Sometimes skin damage can be secondary to contact allergies (Kikuya grass and Wandering Jew are high on this list), or infection (parasites, bacteria, yeast, fungi, viral), which can be treated accordingly with anti-itch medication, antibiotics, and medicated shampoo. Dogs with recurring yeast infections in their ears often do very well on BlackHawk fish and potato biscuits or Royal Canin Skintopic.
Most dogs recover fine after treatment or diet change.
However, just like people, some dogs may have more serious underlying medical problems that need to be diagnosed if treatment is going to be successful. If a skin condition does not clear up or recurs frequently, then your vet can investigate further. Blood and urine tests can be done to assess a pet’s overall health and check for hormonal diseases (like thyroid or Cushing’s disease), often followed by skin scrapings, skin biopsies for histopathology, or ruling out food allergies with dietary trials. Alternatively, they can offer a referral to a skin specialist for further workup or allergy testing.
If you are getting a new pup, always try to see the pup’s parents, as skin issues can be inherited. Start pet insurance as soon as possible to avoid exclusion of preexisting conditions.
Itchy dogs can be expensive to treat, and sometimes a cause cannot be found. Fortunately, these days there are several anti-itch drugs available (Apoquel, Cytopoint) to treat chronic itchy dogs before they damage themselves, and with careful management, these dogs can have healthy and happy lives too.
Dr Asse Bosch BVSc BSc
Franklin Vets Waihi