With the epidemic of dogs itching, I have to remember that it is normal for dogs to scratch here and there. But if your dog chews at one spot, scratches more than a few seconds or itches several times a day, interrupting normal behaviors like sleeping or playing, your dog may have a problem that will not get better without intervention.
Ruling out parasites like fleas, lice and mites is the first thing that needs to be done, however this task is not always that easy. Dogs with huge black undercoats like Bernese mountain dogs can be impossible to see fleas with a flea comb or examination so many times, these dogs are permanently taking flea medications; with prolonged use can be hard on the dogs liver and immune system not to mention creating resistance in our flea population. For more about fleas, see my standard website www.wholepetvet.com. Mites or mange requires a microscopic identification but this too can be difficult because a skin sample that just happens to show the parasites can be tricky and often an ivermectin trial is a perfectly fine thing to try since these parasites are killed easily with that drug. Lice are visable but not for those of us who are aging, so find a young, spry, gung-ho veterinarian to help you rule out these parasites.
If your dog is parasite free, it’s not as good as it sounds. He or she may have food allergies or environmental allergies causing the symptoms. Sometimes short-term itching can be caused by over-vaccination (vaccinosis) and can clear up with homepathic Thuja occentalis 30C One pellet nightly for one week. But if your dog has chronic itching, try a raw diet, changing single proteins. Avoid foods like grains, chicken, beef, fish. Secondary infections in the skin can complicate matters because although there is often a primary allergy, a secondary infection may become the primary source of the excess scratching. This requires a different herbal and treatment approach. When there is a secondary yeast infection, the dog may develop an unnatural odor. Bathing can help with tea tree shampoo, Zymox shampoo or white vinagar and green tea.
But what is the physiology of scratching? The dog’s immune system must be imbalanced for him to create inflammatory mediators such as histamine, bradykinin and prostaglandin inappropriately. These chemical protein mediators cause the heat and redness in the skin but they are part of an important quick-acting immune cascade that kill viruses and bacteria and cancer cells fast, before there is room for damage. The prostaglandin pathway is impeded by Apoquel, a very effective newer drug on the market (sort of it’s “hard to get” from the company creating a frenzied demand and increased revenue) but we worry that unless the dose is extremely low, the repercussions of stopping a natural immune cascade may lead to an increase of cancer or other body illnesses. Cytopoint, a new injection stops the production of interleukin (IL)-31, a key itch-inducing cytokine in atopic dermatitis but not in normal dogs. This injection may be a safer way to go but all of it’s health ramifications are not yet known and it needs to be repeated every 6-8 weeks. What generally happens with immune suppressors is straight forward: the immune system figures a way around the suppression. In holistic medicine, we work on ways to prevent the inflammation to begin with.
Five Steps when you first see your dog itch:
- Check for Parasites. Follow my flea protocol to boost immunity and clean environment even if you do not see fleas. If you are over 50, have someone with great eyesight be the designated flea comber. Use a metal flea comb.
- Start a raw diet, simplify supplements. Try to get to a bare bones list of supplements. Raw or homemade, calcium, hemp oil.
- Discontinue all grains (including treats), chicken, beef and fish (including fish oil). Wait 2 weeks for changes.
- Clean environment thoroughly. Launder all dog linens in hot water. Throw away vacuum cleaner bags.
- Use a drop of lavender oil rubbed into each ear to help the nervous system calm while you are figuring out the cause (s).