When one of our client’s Papillon dog began to dive and roll onto their couch in one motion, they thought it was hilariously cute. Her squirming and grunts were further entertainment and proof of her adorableness. But then she began to shoot awake at night and scratch at herself vigorously. Her once fluffy backside turned gradually pink as her hair thinned. Her tail started to look like it was sporting a Mohawk instead of the voluptuous waving locks that are common to Papillon’s. It was time to launch an investigation.
Itching in dogs is not uncommon. And neither is hair loss as they age. But it is preventable. So what causes this? How can it be treated? The causes behind itchiness are related to one another, but not complicated.
This is probably the most common reason, as unfortunate as it is to think about. Anytime your dog runs out onto the lawn to have a potty break, chase a ball, or yell at the wind, fleas can hitch a ride onto his fur. If you have other pets, fleas will happily set up shop on all of them. They also have no problem hanging around the house until an opportunity arises to settle down on your dog. Ticks and mites are also offenders in causing itchiness.
If you’ve already checked your dog for little black bodies scurrying between the stalks of his hair, be warned that parasites can be microscopic beings. Invisible to the human eye, they still exist and could possibly be existing under your nose, so to speak.
Treating dogs for invasive parasites is simple. Give him a bath, wait a day, then apply flea medicine. It is usually a small liquid amount that you put between his shoulder blades and on his rump. You can get this medicine from your doctor or over the counter at most pet stores.
2. Hot Spots
This is another common cause of itchiness, and usually more easily visible to concerned dog owners. Also known as acute moist Pyotraumatic Dermatitis (AMPD), hot spots are inflamed red spots on the skin that appear most often on the head, chest, or hips. You might not notice a hot spot until it appears as a reddened, bald patch that your dog can’t seem to leave alone.
Hot spots can be the result of parasites on the skin, which is another reason to make sure your dog isn’t suffering from tiny intruders. But the common reason is an infection, which can be both bacterial or fungul.
There are many natural ways to treat hot spots, such as placing green tea leaves on the affected area. To prevent your dog from chewing the spot into a larger problem, you can use the infamous Elizabethan collar. Many dogs will behave as if such collars are a form of medieval torture, but it is important to thwart their impulse to lick or chew at hot spots. Consult your vet if you notice hot spots. Besides parasites and infections, dry skin and allergies are also known to cause AMPD.
3. Dry Skin
Dry skin is usually caused by two factors: deficient fatty acids in their diet or harsh weather. As we enter into winter, make sure that your dog has enough fatty acids, such as coconut oil or salmon oil, in his diet to supplement what may be lacking in his regular dog food.
Pay attention to what does on your dog’s skin. Don’t apply harsh shampoos when you bathe him. Research a gentler option, and apply conditioner, as well –yes, dogs should use conditioner!
4. Nutritional Allergies
A beleaguered terrier was my first encounter with nefarious gluten. According to my childhood neighbor, her terrier was allergic to gluten! The poor pup would break out into itching fits and inflamed skin anytime he was able to score a bit of bread or pasta.
An easy way to test out if this is the case for your pet, simply eliminate gluten from his diet. In most cases, this will effectively solve the problem. Gluten can be found in dog food, so find a brand that doesn’t have it. Better yet, concoct your own all natural meals. Be sure to include enough fatty acids!
5. Environmental Allergies
Mold and pollen can affect dogs, too. Mold should be removed in any case. The treatments for allergies are remarkably similar to those for humans. Wipe your pet’s paws after they’ve been outside, bathe them regularly with gentle shampoos and conditioners, and give them fish oil with their meals. (As you can see, fatty acids are an important component of your dog’s diet.)
Anti-histamines also work, but consult your veterinarian before giving them to your dog. The doses differ for dogs than humans, and it’s dangerous to just ‘wing it’.
6. Hormonal Imbalance
If your dog is either thyroid deficient or cortisol proficient, this can cause itchy skin, as well as a host of other problems. Both of these problems are unfortunately difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of either too much or too little of these hormones are long and sometimes contradictory. They are also more serious than simply hair loss and itchy skin. If you have exhausted all other possibilities, a hormonal balance could be the reason. Because of its difficult diagnosis, check with your veterinarian to get a comprehensive outlook on this possibility.
7. Arthritis and Pain
If your dog is injured or experiencing joint pain, it’s customary for him to lick or chew at the affected area. Of course, arthritis is more common in older dogs, and you are likely to notice an injury. Your veterinarian would help you to diagnose these problems and treat them effectively.
If none of the above reasons can explain why your dog is attacking himself incessantly, he may be suffering from an emotional imbalance. Dogs can get anxious, too. If they are typically left alone for the majority of the day, they can also get bored. This might lead to self-destructive behavior like relentless chewing or licking, which can lead to hot spots, hair loss, or infection. If your dog has past experience with any of the above issues, they could have developed a habit of chewing or licking that doesn’t end when the problem does. It’s important to prevent this behavior from becoming a habit. While bitter sprays and consistent verbal correction can do the trick while you’re at home, consider hiring a dog walker when you’re not. A regular exercise plan will ensure your dog is getting in some healthy activity to break up his day.
Itchy skin affects your dog’s quality of life. It can disturb their sleep, cause them stress and discomfort in addition to their original problem, and it can become a disruptive but compulsive behavior. Our client’s Papillon suffered from allergies and now she is on her way back to being the fabulously well-coifed queen of her breed, and everyone is happy.
Your dog adores you. You owe it to your pup to address and correct this problem. It takes time and lots of investigative work, but it is worth the mental and physical health of your dog. Good luck on your investigation!
About Michele Sarver
Michele is the owner of Totally Tails Pet Care Services. A Pet Sitting and Dog Walking business serving Stanwood, Camano Island, and Arlington, WA areas.