Do your dog's feet look like the photo above? Is your dog chewing on these feet at all hours of the day and night? Keeping you awake when he is itching, scratching, chewing and licking? You and your dog aren't alone. Unfortunately, this is a common problem with our pets. We see this daily, especially during certain seasons.
This is called Atopy and it caused when your dog has an allergy to something. People get hay fever symptoms. Our eyes get itchy, we sneeze and cough. Dogs have an entirely different response to an allergy. The most common responses dogs have to allergies are:
- Itchy feet
- Itchy ears
- Itchy tummy
- Red areas on their skin, especially the tummy, ears, feet and base of the tail
- Hot spots: This is skin that has a bacterial and/or yeast infection.
- Anal gland problems
Dogs can develop allergies to all kinds of things. The most common things dogs have allergies to are
- Outdoor environmental things like plant & tree pollen, grass and weeds
- Indoor environmental things like dust mites, laundry detergent, carpets, cigarette smoke and cat dander
- Food: more on this below
- Fleas!!!!! YUCK!
Now that your dog has this and no one is getting any sleep, what is the plan? Years ago, we used "The Allergy Shot". This was nothing more than a long acting steroidal injection to keep the body's immune system from going crazy. There were many side-effects to using this. The pets gained weight and would often start having bathroom accidents in the home. This medication also, often became less effective the more often it was used. This created a horrible cycle of injections that got closer together. It can also cause long term problems with the liver. Dogs who received this for years on end were at risk to develop a very serious disease called Cushing's Disease or hyperadrenocortism. This is a very serious disease and shortens the life of the dog. For these reasons, and more, The Allergy Shot isn't the first thing most of us turn to when treating itchy dogs anymore.
The allergy is the first part of why your dog is doing all licking and chewing. When the skin is damaged, first by the allergy itself, then by your dog's constant attention, a bacterial infection usually sets in. We all have bacteria on our skin. This can become a problem when the skin is damaged. This normal bacteria can overgrow and cause a skin infection. This makes the skin more itchy, damp and smelly. EWWW!! This can further damage the skin, making your dog even more itchy...if that's even possible!
Yeast, usually Malassezia, is another secondary infection that often happens. This yeast lives on the skin too and tends to really like warmer and damper environments, think floppy eared dogs. This yeast can thrive anywhere on the body, especially when the skin is damaged and your dog is CONSTANTLY licking the area.
Bacteria and yeast often happen together. Could this get any more complicated??? These secondary infections are the main reason that just "The Allergy Shot" fails. The steroid may help your dog not "feel" the itch and not scratch but any secondary infections will just continue to thrive. When the steroid has left the system, the itch returns with a vengeance.
Is there anyway to help your dog??!! OF COURSE there is! Getting a diagnosis is the first step. What are all the things that are contributing to your dog's discomfort? At Windhorse Veterinary Clinic, we start with a complete exam, including questions like when did you notice this starting? Do you notice that this is worse at a particular time of the year?
Lab testing is a crucial part of getting the correct diagnosis. We start by getting a sample from the itchy area and looking at this under the microscope. We can identify bacteria and yeast right away from this simple test. If your pet has gone through multiple treatments before, we send a sample off for further testing. This way we can use the correct antibiotic and KILL the bacteria once and for all. We can choose the best antibiotic for your pet. Be prepared: most skin infections require at least 20 days of antibiotic therapy.
We also want to control the itch ASAP! This way, everyone can get some sleep, finally. There are newer generation medications to help stop the itch cycle. We use a medication called Apoquel. This medicine inhibits the cytokines that create the itch. Your dog usually stops most of the itching in 48 hours! Sweet relief!!
We do use ORAL steroids often in itchy dogs. This can help stop the immune system from keeping the cycle going. Oral steroids, like prednisolone (pred for short), are given in a taper dose schedule to help prevent all the side-effects that steroids are known for.
Further testing might involve skin biopsies and some blood work. There are some immune-mediated diseases that make skin problems worse and harder to treat.
Dogs that have puritic skin and nothing is working are good candidates for allergy testing. This is a special blood test that will help identify ALL the things your dog is allergic too. This is especially helpful for food allergies. I don't recommend using the grocery store "Lamb & Rice for skin problems" food you can find anywhere. Much of the ingredients in this are not novel. It helps to find out exactly what foods your dog is allergic too. We have seen dogs that are allergic to venison, carrots, beet pulp (often found in "fancy" dog foods), chicken, beef, corn and oats. This can make choosing a food pretty intense. The lab we use does send a list of foods that your dog can eat, according to the testing panel
If your dog's feet look like the photo above, no one in the house is sleeping and your dog smells rancid, come and see us. Let's stop this cycle and get some sleep!!