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Excessive Scratching: Causes and Treatments
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M Duffy Jones, DVM posted:
Thud, thud, thud...

It's the dreaded sound of your pet's scratching, and keeping you up all night. Unfortunately it happens, and this lack of sleep is what typically pushes owners to bring their pets in to my office. However, by this point, the itching has usually been going on for a while, and things are pretty out of control. And it may take more drugs and office visits to straighten things back out than it would have if we had been able to see the pet when the scratching first started.

Of course, scratching in and of itself is not a bad thing. We all do it from time to time, and so do our pets. It only becomes a problem when it is excessive. Excessive scratching disrupts the natural barrier of the skin and sets your pet up for infections, commonly called "hot spots". Itching can be caused by many things, including parasites (fleas and mites), allergies (airborne or food), and allergic reactions. Each of these conditions has different treatments and very different long term prognoses.

Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions occur when your pet's system has an adverse reaction to something in the environment that we would normally deem harmless. The most common type of allergic reaction we see in the pet world is related to bees. Dogs in particular have a bad habit of chasing and eating bees. So lots of dogs get stung in the face, which causes their face to swell and become really itchy. The dog may scratch its face with its paws and/or rub its face on the ground or on your furniture. And you may not pay too much attention to the scratching. But then you look at your dog, and her face is so swollen that it looks like she went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson!

Usually an allergic reaction will subside after using a combination of antihistamines and steroids. The swelling and the itching will decrease rather quickly, and should not come back, unless, of course, your pet did not learn his lesson and he tries to eat another bee.

Allergies
Allergies are as frustrating in pets as they are in people. Some pets have seasonal allergies. Some have food allergies. And many have both. Sometimes a veterinarian can figure out what your pets are allergic to, but sometimes we can't. And although allergies aren't curable, they are manageable. Treating allergies involves decreasing inflammation, which is what causes the itching. Your veterinarian can do this with drugs, bathes, and diet changes, just to name a few. The vet will also have to treat any secondary infections, such as those from bacteria or yeast. But the most effective management of allergies requires dedication and diligence on the part of the pet owner.

Fleas and Mites
Although they sound terrible, fleas and mites are a very treatable cause of itching. These bugs are called ectoparasites because they will live on the skin of animals and can cause them to scratch a lot -- especially if your pet is allergic to fleas. Yes. Believe it or not, many pets are actually allergic to fleas. This means that just one or two fleas on your dog or cat could cause excessive scratching and redness. In contrast, a pet that does not have a flea allergy could be housing thousands of fleas and only scratch a little.

When fleas are involved you'll need to see your vet, who can recommend the best forms of treatment. When pet owners come into our hospital with itchy pets -- and we find fleas -- we actually celebrate. It's much better to have fleas be the cause of your pet's itching than allergies, because once you get rid of the fleas, the itching goes away.

Share your experiences with the group. Has your pet ever come down with a serious case of the itch? What was the cause, and what kind of treatment was successful for relieving it?
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miller7433 responded:
My 5 yr old Lab mix progressively would itch, be placed on Prednisone, get well then about three weeks later start again. She was losing her under coat and generally her skin looked unhealthy despite premium dog food and regular vet care. Finally I had her tested for allergies - other than food because she was already on Duck & Potato dog food. She is allergic to a storage mite. I now have all food in air tight containers and have her on allergy shots. The allergy shots AND daily Zyrtec were started at the same time per vet instructions. She immediately stopped scratching and her coat improved. I added a good omega 3 fish oil supplement. I think the Zyrtec (generic) is the reason she is better because I was told that the allergy shots would take a year to work. I am probably stopping the expensive allergy shots. I found that even giving her a dog toothpaste with a poultry flavor caused her to itch, so I gave an extra zyrtec one time and she stopped scratching. She gets a bath only occasionally and stays outside part of the day.
 
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M Duffy Jones, DVM replied to miller7433's response:
I am sorry that you have been having some much trouble but it sounds like you are on the right course. It can take time to figure out what is causing the itching. I am very happy that she is doing better.
 
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mpanich responded:
My shepherd chow mix started scratching his face insensately now and won't stop. If we tell him to stop then he bites his feet. He's loosing hair on his snout and it looks like he's about to gouge his eyes out when he scratches. His diet has not changed, he does like chasing bees, but I couldn't find any stingers on his face. We can't get into the vet for about a week. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
 
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rohvannyn replied to mpanich's response:
Depending on why he's itchy, there could be different fixes for this. If he's got a flea allergy, then a flea treatment would help. If he's got another form of allergy (and they can develop later in life) then try a Benadryl or generic diphenhydramine. Check his dog food to see if the manufacturer changed the formula, they do that sometimes. If it's a behavioral thing, try distraction, like a peanut butter filled Kong or extra play time.

Hope your pup feels better!
 
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duffy_jones replied to mpanich's response:
It sounds as if he is having an allergic reaction. Benadryl does work on many pets but you do need to be careful because if you pet has a seizure history Bendaryl could cause him to have a seizure. You can also consider cool water baths. They can make a big difference until you can get him to the vet. He might need something stronger to control the reaction.
 
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salito82 responded:
My 8months-old Boxer is scratching really bad, his armpits and behind his ears. The vet recommended Clavamox and he got better, but after we finished the treatment he went back to the same, his armpits now have scratches and bruises and the hair is gone. We are very concerned about him.
We also changed his diet, he is eating Blue Buffalo Wilderness grain free, hoping that could help him. this started around 3-4 months ago, and we have been on and off with the vet regarding this situation.

Thanks for your imput, will be very appreciated.
 
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duffy_jones replied to salito82's response:
I am sorry to hear you are having trouble. The Clavamox is an antibiotic and the fact that your dog improved while on it shows that there is an infection component to this issue. The infection might have been set up from and underlying allergy — such as food or even environmental. The diet change you have done could be helping but remember that to know if a diet change will work, it can take 6 to 8 weeks of feeding that diet only. If you are feeding treats, raw hides, or any other products, it might work against your food trial.


If he is still having trouble, I would suggest that you go see your regular vet again. They might want to perform some cytology on the skin to see if there is either yeast or bacteria or both. If there is still bacteria they might want to culture the skin. This is where they take a sample of the bacteria to know which antibiotic will work the best. Sometimes you have to treat them for a few weeks to totally clear the infection. They might also suggest frequent baths to help. Baths sometimes can make a big difference in helping control the infection.


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