Question from Sharon Barett:
Hi can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please? I used the spot on treatment off the vet for 3 months but it did not make any difference she still scratches it a King Charles Spaniel 5 months old thank you .x
Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet
Hi Sharon and thank you for your question regarding your itchy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. In order to answer your question I will discuss the possible causes of the itch, how we work out a diagnosis and then some treatment options.
Why is my pet scratching/itchy?
If your pet is scratching itself then something will be causing an irritation, most commonly this is due to the presence of external parasites such as fleas (Ctenocephalides canis or felis) or mites (e.g. cheyletiella, sarcoptes scabeii). Itchiness can also be due to the presence of an allergy to things you pets eats (food allergy), contacts (contact allergy) or inhales (atopic allergy).
How to diagnose the itch
It is really important to work with your vet to find out the cause of your pet’s itch. The first thing your vet will do is ask for a detailed history of your pets condition including how long it has been going on, any changes to your pets routine, any changes to your household, what treatments have already been tried and if they have had any effect.
The next step is for your vet to perform a full physical examination of your pet paying extra attention to the skin and coat, underlying diseases can have symptoms that affect the skin which include Hypothyroidism( under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease ( over production of steroid) and diseases of the immune system.
Finally your vet may suggest performing some diagnostic test on your pet such as skin scrapes, hair plucks, sticky tape strips, skin biopsies, wet paper test, swabs and blood tests.
Skin scrapes: these involve use of a sterile scalpel blade to scrape the surface of your pet’s skin to collect surface cells and debris, which is then examined under a microscope usually for parasites and or fungi. For certain parasites such as Demodex mite (not usually itchy) a deep scrape has to be taken.
Sticky tape strips: a strong sticky tape is applied to your pet’s skin and then removed, again this is examined under a microscope looking at the surface cells and debris similar to above but it is a less invasive procedure.
Hair plucks: as the name suggests a clump of hair is plucked from your pet and examined as for skin scrapes and sticky tape strips, sometimes this can help to show up Demodex mites (which live down the hair shaft in the hair follicle) or ring worm (actually a fungal skin disease). Hair plucks can be cultured to try and grow bacteria and fungi; this is usually done at a laboratory.
Skin biopsies: this is usually performed under general anaesthesia or sedation as a full thickness sample of the skin is cut out, put into preservative and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Often several samples are taken from different sites. This gives a lot of information about how the skin is reacting and what types of cells and changes are present.
Wet paper test: your vet will comb through your pet’s coat and collect the debris and put it onto a sheet of wet white paper, if small red dots appear this is suggestive of fleas, as the flea dirt contains digested blood and this turns red when wet.
Swabs: there are sterile cotton bud tipped sticks which are wiped in any discharges present on the skin (often in the ears), the material on the swab can then be stained and examined under a microscope or sent off for culture and sensitivity to grow bacteria and see which antibiotics are affective against them.
Blood test: these can be routine to check overall body function or very specific looking into what your pet is allergic to. The test chosen will be a decision made with you and your vet depending on your pet’s condition.
What treatment will help my pet?
As external parasites are the most common cause of an itchy pet this is often the first treatment approach whether parasites have been detected or not. It is important to use a product recommended by your vet that is safe for your pet and covers the suspected range of parasites. It is also important to use the treatment correctly and repeat as advised. It can take several weeks to clear up some parasites. Your vet may also advise you to treat other pets in your household and the home environment itself. Especially in the case of fleas as the majority of the flea population is living in the environment ant not only on your pet.
Parasite treatments come in tablet, injection, spot on and spray preparations. Your vet will help to direct you to the method which is most appropriate for you and your pet.
Food allergies are usually treated by feeding a low allergy or special diet (in which protein molecules are broken down so as not to cause reaction). In some cases your vet may recommend a home cooked diet. The diet needs to be stuck to strictly and can take 3 months or more to begin to allow improvement in your pet’s skin signs.
Contact allergies usually are present on the paws and tummy, which are areas in contact with the ground. Once the substance your pet is reacting to has been worked out it is then needs to be avoided or stop being used.
Atopic allergies are usually diagnosed by a combination of examination, skin and blood tests. There are several treatment options which include medical therapy using drugs or special vaccines. The drugs often used to treat atopy include antihistamine (reduce allergic reactions), steroid (anti-inflammatory and suppress the immune system from reacting), immunosuppressant (which suppress the immune system form reacting) and antibiotics may be used to treat any infection present on top of the allergy. Special vaccines can be made up in some cases to try and help desensitise your pet to the individual things that he or she reacts to; these are administered in gradually increasing doses over many months by injection.
I hope that I have managed to answer your question by explaining how complex an itchy dog’s condition can be. I really recommend that you return to your vet and come up with a joint plan of attack to help your pet. I hope that your dog is feeling much more comfortable very soon.
Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)
If you are worried about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet or use our interactive symptom guide.