9 Ways to Stop the Itch

Throughout the year, we see itchy dogs almost every day, spending their time scratching, nibbling and licking. Hair loss is almost always inevitable, with secondary infections complicating the problem. You will have seen some or all of the following symptoms many times...

Posted: 10 October 2019

9 Ways to Stop the Itch


  • Chewing – often associated with nibbling of the flank and feet
  • Rubbing – dogs will often rub their face along carpet
  • Scratching – concentrating on the ears and flank of the body
  • Ear infections – linked to recurrent and chronic inflammation of ear canals
  • Hair loss – primarily through chewing, licking and rubbing
  • Mutilated skin – self-inflicted injury triggered by skin irritation

What’s the problem?

The reality is that there are numerous common triggers as well as many other potential causes. In the spring we are more likely to come across pollens, whilst in the autumn it might be molds. All year round troubles are frequently caused by mites, foods and environmental allergens.

Look for these common allergens;

  • Pollens – from trees, grasses and weeds
  • Mites - house dust and storage mites 
  • Fleas – flea saliva!
  • Molds – often associated with seasonal allergies later in the year
  • Foods and food ingredients - meats, grains, soy and milk products
  • Fabrics - including wool and nylon

Diagnosing allergies

Most allergies are of the inhalant type and are also seasonal. Some dogs may be allergic to certain tree pollens that are only present in the environment for a few weeks of the year, whilst others may react to the house dust mite, Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, which lives in the environment all year round.

In order to determine exactly what your patient is allergic to and understand and manage the problem, you need to;

  • take a detailed history
  • examine the patient thoroughly
  • perform intradermal skin tests
  • run blood tests looking for IgE’s

Elimination protocols, where suspected allergens are removed from the animal's environment are also used in general practice.

9 ways to Stop the Itch

It is essential that pet owners understand that their dog’s allergy will almost certainly not be cured. The aim of treatment is usually to find a combination of therapies that will reduce and controls clinical signs and make the animal more comfortable. Take the time to explain and educate all about their specific allergy, and give them a realistic expectation of what to expect, including how time consuming it will be.

1. Avoid the allergen – if the allergen is known, and it’s possible to avoid, this is often the treatment of choice. True food hypersensitivities and allergies are usually easy to avoid, as the problem food can be entirely removed from the animal’s diet.

2. Treat the skin directly – owners are often keen to apply topical treatments for allergic skin diseases, including ointments, creams and shampoos. In recent years there have been great advances in topical therapy, and we now have a wide variety of preparations we can offer. Examples include hypoallergenic shampoos and hydrocortisone gels.

3. Immunotherapy – also known as hyposensitisation therapy. This has for many years been a very popular treatment offered to dogs with atopy. It is indicated in animals where the avoidance of antigens is impossible, symptoms are present for more than a few months each year, and in particular when other treatment options don’t seem to work. Success can be as high as 70%.

4. Omega-3 fatty acids - fatty acids have been recommended for years to improve coat quality in dogs. Most pets need to be on the omega-3 fatty acids daily for several weeks before any improvement is seen, and it’s important to understand that not all animals will respond. Omega-3 fatty acids are very safe and have very few side effects.

5. Antihistamines – these are widely used in both human and animal medicine. Most of the antihistamines used in veterinary medicine are antihistamines that were designed for and used primarily by humans. Some common side effects include sedation, hyperactivity, constipation, dry mouth, and reduced appetite. Always adhere to the Cascade when prescribing unauthorised medicines.

6. Cyclosporine – this is used very successfully in the treatment of atopy in dogs, especially those with severe allergies. The most common side effects

are diarrhoea and vomiting. It doesn’t work immediately, and may take 3-4 weeks to see an improvement. It can be used for short periods of time for seasonal allergies, or can be given long-term for all year atopy.

7. Oclacitinib - this is one the most recent drugs to emerge on the market for the treatment of allergic skin disease and atopy. Oclacitinib is not a corticosteroid nor an antihistamine. It works by reducing the production of inflammatory cytokines in some cells. There are side effects to be aware of, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and inappetence. Oclacitinib appears to be extremely successful in controlling pruritus in dogs with atopy and allergic dermatitis, but has only been used so far for short term control

8. Steroids - these are extremely effective at relieving severe itching and inflammation. The problem is that they can have many short and long-term side effects. If used correctly, they can be safe for short term use. The problem is that they work so well that they are often abused. Because of their potential side effects, they should be used with caution and at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

9. Diet – many dogs with allergic skin disease are managed with hyposensitive diets. If an animal has been show to be allergic to some of the more common food allergens found in commercial pet foods, then a hyposensitising diet may be preferred. There are some excellent prescription diets available these days to help. At Burgess Pet Care we have developed our own selection of hypoallergenic diets.

Food allergies and intolerance

The only way to successfully diagnose a food allergy in a dog is to perform an elimination food trial. The truth is they can become allergic to any food they’ve previously been exposed to, with the most common allergens in dogs being beef, chicken, eggs, cow milk, wheat, soy and corn. The range of clinical signs can vary, but will usually be expressed by a combination of;

  • Non-seasonal pruritus – itchy skin at times other than the common seasonal problems associated with fleas, grasses, pollens and molds
  • Otitis – inflammed, red and painful ear canals and pinnae
  • Eosinophilic vasculitis – look for purplish-red spots on the skin
  • Dermatitis – especially on the ears and bottom
  • Pyoderma – especially if it keeps recurring after treatment with antibiotics
  • Seborrhoea – you may find various forms of seborrhoea
  • Urticaria – raised patches, otherwise known as ‘hives’
  • Gastro-intestinal problems - these signs may include vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence or more frequent bowel movements
  • Steroids not working - if pruritis persists despite steroid therapy, then a food allergy should always be considered.

Elimination diets – what’s involved?

Intradermal allergy testing, serology testing and skin patch testing all produce unreliable results. An elimination diet trial is thus the only accurate method to identify a food allergy.

See our article of food allergies and elimination diets >

Whilst Burgess Pet Care doesn’t claim to produce prescription diets, we do produce a range of hypoallergenic and hyposensitive canine diets. For more information on our premium quality foods, check the links below.

See our Sensitive and Hypoallergenic Canine diets>