Browsing tag: allergic skin

Ask a vet online – ‘Can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please?’

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.

Dog Scratching Flea

Getting the itch!

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.

Ask a vet online – ‘My dog keeps shaking his head and scratching his ears’

Question from Amanda Shaw

My dog keeps shaking his head and scratching his ears, they feel a little bit swollen but they are cleaned often so no mites he is lively and not off his food I’m at a loss.

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet

Hi Amanda and thank you for your question about your dog’s ears. It is great that you are cleaning your dog’s ears regularly. I will discuss a list of possible causes for your dog to be shaking his head, scratching his ears and for the swelling followed by some treatment options.

Why is my dog shaking his head and scratching at his ears?

The symptoms you have described could be due to a foreign body e.g. a grass seed down the ear canal, bacterial or yeast infection, skin allergy, parasites e.g. ear mites, polyps or an aural haematoma (blood blister) all of which can be painful.

Grass seeds are a common finding down the ear canal of dogs that go for walks in the countryside. The shape of a dog’s ear canal has an upright tube (vertical canal) and then a 90 degree bend and a sideways tube (horizontal canal) at the end of this is the ear drum (tympanic membrane), this lends itself to getting things lodged inside. A foreign body like a grass seed can usually be seen by your vet with the help of an otoscope (hand held torch with a magnifying lens and a funnel). Grass seeds can usually be removed using a special pair of long grabbing forceps; some dogs will however need sedation or a general anaesthetic to allow the removal and examination to be carried out safely. We often send dogs home with antibiotic and pain relief after foreign body removal to combat any infection and pain.

Bacterial and yeast infections of the ear are conditions that affect the skin that lines the inside of the ear canals. The shape of the ear canal along with the ear flap (pinna) tends to funnel in moisture and trap germs. Dogs with a large floppy pinna such as Spaniels have the added feature of a closed lid over the ear canal all leading to a great environment for germs to breed. Infection may be present on other parts of the body and the whole animal may need treatment not just the ears. If the condition is only affecting the ears then ear cleaning solution and antibiotic drops can be a very effective treatment. If you are new to applying ear cleaner and ear drops then ask your vet or veterinary nurse to show you the best way to use them. If the condition is affecting other areas of skin then injectable or tablet medications may be given so that the drugs can travel in the blood stream to reach more areas of the body. When infections are not clearing up your vet might suggest taking swabs from the area. The swabs are sent to the laboratory for bacteriology and sensitivity. This tells us which bacteria and yeasts are present, and which drugs should be effective against them.

Skin allergy can affect the ears as the ear canals are lined by skin, diagnosis and treatment of skin allergy can involve swabs, biopsy samples and skin scrapes analysed at your vets or sent to a laboratory. Treatment of skin allergy can involve use of low allergy diets, shampoos, desensitisation vaccines, antibiotics, antihistamines and various immunosuppressant drugs.

Parasites including ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) and ticks (Ixodes varieties) can lead to irritation and then bacterial infection of the ears. Ticks are usually visible to the naked eye but ear mites are more easily seen under a microscope. Use of an appropriate antiparasitic treatment and removal of the parasites are the best method of treatment.

Aural haematoma, this is a blood blister usually found on the outer skin of the ear pinna, seen as a swollen area which often causes the ear to droop. The swelling is soft and fluid filled, it is often the result of a trauma such as a dog fight or vigorous ear shaking. The haematoma develops as small blood vessels in the ear burst and the blood leaks under the skin, this separates into a pink tinged fluid and a thicker dark red clot. Some dogs are prone to recurrence of aural haematomas and repeat treatments may be needed. There are two main methods of treatment, draining via a needle or surgical drainage under a general anaesthetic. Antibiotics, steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs may also be given in the form of tablets, injections or directly into the ear.

Ear polyps are growths of different size that occur inside the ear canal, they are usually diagnosed on examination using an otoscope. Polyps are usually not cancerous but if there is any doubt then the polyp can be sent to a laboratory for analysis after removal. Small sized and numbers of polyps may not cause a problem to your dog but if there is irritation they can be removed surgically, in more serious cases removal of part or all of the ear canal may be an option.

In conclusion it is really important to have your dog’s ears examined by your vet so that a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment can be started. I hope that my answer has been helpful and that your dog has much more comfortable ears as soon as possible.

Shanika Winters VetMB MRCVS (online vet)

If your dog has a problem with its ears please book an appointment to see your vet, or use our online symptom checker

Ask a Vet Online – “My dog gets frontline flee treatment ..”

Question from Tracey Newall

My dog dexter gets frontline flee treatment but recently he seems 2 scratch more i havent found anything but his skin flakey

Answer from Shanika Online Vet

It is good to hear that you are treating Dexter for fleas; fleas are definitely high up on the list of causes for an itchy dog. Dry flaky skin may well be as a result of scratching due to flea infestation but can also be affected by allergies and medical conditions.

It is really important to remember that a pet suffering from a flea allergy or irritation does not need to be full of fleas. All it takes is one flea to bite your pet to set off the allergic reaction cascade that leads to the skin being irritated.

What is a flea?

Ctenocephalides canis or felis (the dog and cat flea) are a small wingless parasitic insect that live on our pets and in the environment.  Fleas can jump but they can’t fly, they need blood feeds to survive and a large proportion of the flea population are in the environment as oppose to on your pet.

Where are the fleas coming from?

Fleas live on animals as well as in the environment. The flea population consists of adult fleas, immature larval stages, dormant pupae and then eggs, as you move down the list the numbers increase significantly which is why we refer to them as a pyramid.

Fleas in the environment, by this we mean anywhere a pet with fleas has been, the warmth of our homes provides a great breeding ground for fleas in carpets, pet bedding and just about any nook and cranny.

Cats can also carry the fleas and they do not even have to be your own cats, for example if a cat comes through your home or garden then the fleas can jump off or deposit eggs as they go. This is why we often advise treating the home environment and in-contact animals also.

So how can you tell if your pet has fleas?

Gently part your pets fur and search through close to the skin, fleas are a reddish/brown colour and quickly move away from the light. It can be easier to find fleas on the underside of your pet as the coat is naturally thinner here. It is often easier to see the flea dirt in your pet’s coat than the actual fleas.

So what is flea dirt and how can you tell if there is any on your pet?

Flea dirt is the waste product produced by fleas and when dry it looks like little black specs, however if you wet it these black specs turn red as they contain digested blood. This brings us to the ‘wet paper test’, we comb through your pets coat and collect the debris onto a piece of wet white paper, if there is flea dirt present there will be small red dots visible where the flea dirt has dissolved in the water. The wet paper test helps to distinguish between flea dirt and just dried mud that may be on your pet’s coat.

Can the fleas live on humans?

You will be relieved to hear that cat and dog fleas don’t tend to live on humans, fleas can however bite humans and cause an irritation at the site of such bites. Commonly humans find flea bites on their ankles, wrists or at their waist band as small itchy raised red areas on the skin.

How to treat the flea problem?

I would recommend using a veterinary flea product either in the form of a spot on (applied to skin at base of neck), impregnated collar or a spray directly on your dog. It is however really important to treat any in-contact animals not just dogs but cats too. Lastly do not forget to treat the environment; this is most easily done by use of an aerosol spray applied to the carpets, skirting boards and soft furnishing. Instructions often advise to vacuum carpets before you spray to help the chemicals to be more effective. Always read the safety information as the chemicals may be harmful to fish or birds and it is important to allow good ventilation after spraying also. In my experience it is best to treat half the house at a time so as to leave somewhere for pets and people to hang out without having to breathe in the spray. The chemicals in the spray are designed to kill or prevent further development of the fleas and their various life stages. The effect of the environmental sprays can last for a year.

Why is my pet still scratching even though I have treated him/her for fleas?

Provided a thorough approach to flea treatment using appropriate products has been undertaken then if your pet continues to scratch there are likely to be other factors contributing. These may include allergies or intolerances to food substances, cleaning products and or an underlying medical condition.

What medical conditions may be causing my pet to scratch?

The skin has its own inbuilt barrier to substances that can cause irritation this however can be weakened in conditions such as Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (over production of natural steroids) and bacterial skin infection.

What should I do if after treating my pet, in-contact animal and the environment my pet is still scratching?

It is likely you will need to discuss further investigations into your pet’s skin condition with your vet, to try and rule out some of the conditions listed above. The investigations may involve blood and or skin tests. There is also the possibility that an exclusion diet or low allergy diet may be suggested if diet is suspected as a contributing factor to the skin problem.

So in conclusion an itchy pet may well need more than flea treatment. That is not to say that fleas are not very high up on the list of things to rule out by taking a thorough approach to flea treatment. If you are in any doubt always talk to your vet as we are here to help you and your pet.

It is good to hear that you are treating Dexter for fleas; fleas are definitely high up on the list of causes for an itchy dog. Dry flaky skin may well be as a result of scratching due to flea infestation but can also be affected by allergies and medical conditions.
It is really important to remember that a pet suffering from a flea allergy or irritation does not need to be full of fleas. All it takes is one flea to bite your pet to set off the allergic reaction cascade that leads to the skin being irritated.
What is a flea?
Ctenocephalides canis or felis (the dog and cat flea) are a small wingless parasitic insect that live on our pets and in the environment.  Fleas can jump but they can’t fly, they need blood feeds to survive and a large proportion of the flea population are in the environment as oppose to on your pet.
Where are the fleas coming from?
Fleas live on animals as well as in the environment. The flea population consists of adult fleas, immature larval stages, dormant pupae and then eggs, as you move down the list the numbers increase significantly which is why we refer to them as a pyramid.
Fleas in the environment, by this we mean anywhere a pet with fleas has been, the warmth of our homes provides a great breeding ground for fleas in carpets, pet bedding and just about any nook and cranny.
Cats can also carry the fleas and they do not even have to be your own cats, for example if a cat comes through your home or garden then the fleas can jump off or deposit eggs as they go. This is why we often advise treating the home environment and in-contact animals also.
So how can you tell if your pet has fleas?
Gently part your pets fur and search through close to the skin, fleas are a reddish/brown colour and quickly move away from the light. It can be easier to find fleas on the underside of your pet as the coat is naturally thinner here. It is often easier to see the flea dirt in your pet’s coat than the actual fleas.
So what is flea dirt and how can you tell if there is any on your pet?
Flea dirt is the waste product produced by fleas and when dry it looks like little black specs, however if you wet it these black specs turn red as they contain digested blood. This brings us to the ‘wet paper test’, we comb through your pets coat and collect the debris onto a piece of wet white paper, if there is flea dirt present there will be small red dots visible where the flea dirt has dissolved in the water. The wet paper test helps to distinguish between flea dirt and just dried mud that may be on your pet’s coat.
Can the fleas live on humans?
You will be relieved to hear that cat and dog fleas don’t tend to live on humans, fleas can however bite humans and cause an irritation at the site of such bites. Commonly humans find flea bites on their ankles, wrists or at their waist band as small itchy raised red areas on the skin.
How to treat the flea problem?
I would recommend using a veterinary flea product either in the form of a spot on (applied to skin at base of neck), impregnated collar or a spray directly on your dog. It is however really important to treat any in-contact animals not just dogs but cats too. Lastly do not forget to treat the environment; this is most easily done by use of an aerosol spray applied to the carpets, skirting boards and soft furnishing. Instructions often advise to vacuum carpets before you spray to help the chemicals to be more effective. Always read the safety information as the chemicals may be harmful to fish or birds and it is important to allow good ventilation after spraying also. In my experience it is best to treat half the house at a time so as to leave somewhere for pets and people to hang out without having to breathe in the spray. The chemicals in the spray are designed to kill or prevent further development of the fleas and their various life stages. The effect of the environmental sprays can last for a year.
Why is my pet still scratching even though I have treated him/her for fleas?
Provided a thorough approach to flea treatment using appropriate products has been undertaken then if your pet continues to scratch there are likely to be other factors contributing. These may include allergies or intolerances to food substances, cleaning products and or an underlying medical condition.
What medical conditions may be causing my pet to scratch?
The skin has its own inbuilt barrier to substances that can cause irritation this however can be weakened in conditions such as Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease (over production of natural steroids) and bacterial skin infection.
What should I do if after treating my pet, in-contact animal and the environment my pet is still scratching?
It is likely you will need to discuss further investigations into your pet’s skin condition with your vet, to try and rule out some of the conditions listed above. The investigations may involve blood and or skin tests. There is also the possibility that an exclusion diet or low allergy diet may be suggested if diet is suspected as a contributing factor to the skin problem.
So in conclusion an itchy pet may well need more than flea treatment. That is not to say that fleas are not very high up on the list of things to rule out by taking a thorough approach to flea treatment. If you are in any doubt always talk to your vet as we are here to help you and your pet.

Allergic Skin Disease in Dogs

Probably the second most common skin condition I see in dogs (after flea-related problems) is allergic skin disease, or atopy.

Dogs can develop an allergic reaction to any number of things in the environment, or, less commonly, to their food. Common indoor allergens include house dust mites, detergents and carpet cleaning products. Common outdoor allergens include grasses and pollens. Food allergens include beef, pork, dairy products and wheat. And of course fleas themselves can cause allergic skin disease in some unlucky dogs.

atopic paw

An allergic reaction is caused when the immune system makes antibodies to common substances instead of to those which are “foreign” to it. The antibodies cause mast cells in the skin to release chemicals like histamine, which cause irritation and inflammation.

The most common age for dogs to show the first signs of allergic skin disease is when they are young, usually 1-3 years old. Some breeds are more commonly affected than others, and the tendency seems to run in families. For this reason, and because it can be a very distressing condition, it is not advisable to breed from affected dogs.

The signs of allergic skin disease can occur all over the dog, but usually are most obvious on the feet, the ears and the tummy. The affected areas will be red and itchy, and usually this leads to the dog licking or chewing at the area which does further damage. Areas which are licked a lot will become reddish-brown in colour due to staining by saliva. After a long time the skin will become thickened and more pigmented, so may be black in colour especially on the tummy. Surface infection will often be present and have to be treated first before the cause can be found.

Diagnosing the problem is by a mixture of examination and tests. A full examination of the dog will be needed to see if the skin disease is part of a bigger problem, e.g. thyroid disease. Blood tests may be needed to rule out such problems. Then the skin will be examined in more detail. The appearance of the skin gives clues but is not usually enough on its own to find out the cause. In any itchy skin condition it is important to rule out fleas, mites and lice, by taking a skin scraping and a hair sample. This can also be used to look for fungal spores.

Once infection has been treated and parasites have been ruled out or treated, allergic skin disease may be a chief suspect. Finding out what causes an allergy is not very easy. There may well be more than one trigger, and allergy may develop to a substance which the animal has been exposed to before without any problems.

If food is suspected, a special diet based on very few food sources may be recommended, but any improvement may take some weeks to show so it is important not to give up too quickly and not to feed any additional tit-bits.

If a skin condition is very seasonal, always flaring up in the summer months, it makes it more likely that the cause might be grasses or pollens.

Finding out what substances cause an allergy can be done with skin tests or blood tests. Skin tests involve the injection of minute amounts of suspected allergens under the skin and is usually done under sedation. Blood test have to be sent to a laboratory specialising in these types of tests. All the most common causes of allergies can be checked to see if an individual reacts to them. This is most useful if the allergen is something which can be avoided or removed from the dog’s environment. If avoidance is not possible, or if many allergens are involved, then treatment will be needed for the whole of the dog’s life.

Antihistamines can help to reduce the distressing itch. Food supplements containing essential fatty acids can also be useful. Medicated shampoos also improve general skin health.

Some cases may need to be treated with steroids, which help control the inflammation and itch but do not tackle the cause. The disadvantage is the risk of serious side effects, so they must be used appropriately. Steroids can be very useful and very necessary in some cases but are not ideal for all or for long term use.

Another frequently used drug is cyclosporine which is an immunomodulator. It is unlikely to cause serious side effects and can give good long term control. Some dogs suffer from diarrhoea and vomiting at first but this often stops as treatment continues.

Desensitisation is a technique where a unique vaccine is created for an individual dog according to the allergens which were identified by blood testing. This vaccine is then injected monthly, starting with very small doses and building up to a regular monthly dose. This can also be very successful for some dogs but may take months to take effect.

Allergic skin disease is a very unpleasant condition, causing painful and distressing itchiness and often needing lifelong treatment. Diagnosis and treatment are not easy and will take time, which can be frustrating for both dog and owner. The best treatment will vary from one dog to another, so a lot of patience may be needed.

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