My dog's really, really itchy, and my vet hasn't been much help.
October 18, 2009 2:07 PM   Subscribe

My dog's really, really itchy, and my vet hasn't been much help. She's got bumps, sores, and the occasional scab on her underside. Allergy treatments haven't been much help (barring prednisone which isn't really a long-term solution) nor have special skin-treatment foods. And she doesn't have parasites, either. I'm kind of at a loss.

(I'm asking this for a very frustrated friend of mine...)

She's a terrier mix. I adopted her from a shelter last January, and she was doing fine for the first couple of months. Then she started to develop sores. They're more noticeable on her underside where there's little to no hair, but if you feel around on her back you can tell that she's getting them there, too. Mostly they look like little red bumps, not entirely unlike chickenpox, but occasionally she'll appear to have a scab somewhere too. Lately it's gotten really bad, where she's actively trying to bite at herself. I go through her hair with a wire brush at least once a week, but lately almost every day - sometimes little flakes of dead skin come off in her hair. If I scratch her, sometimes I even end up pulling what looks like clumps of dandruff off of her.

I've just about run the gamut of tests with her. She's been on cephalexin and prednisone, which cleared up the bumps and the itchies. As soon as she was done with the cephalexin, however, the bumps came back, and as soon as she was taken off the prednisone the itchies came back too. She's gone on the cephalexin without the prendisone, and it has cleared up the bumps, but she remained itchy. And again, once she came off of the cephalexin, the itchies came back.

She's on a monthly Advantix treatment for flea and tick prevention. I took her off of it for a month or two just to see if she was having a reaction to it, but that hasn't helped. (She's back on it now.) Her vet has done skin scrapings and deep skin scrapings as well, and has not found any parasites. I switched her over to Royal Canin Skin Support for a couple of months; not only was it prohibitively expensive but it didn't do anything for her, either. (She currently eats Dave's Naturally Healthy.) I've tried giving her benadryl three times daily, but that hasn't done anything for her, either. I've even tried adding a little cod-liver oil to her food; all that did was make her breath stink.

Is she just allergic to *something* in my apartment? I keep the place fairly clean, trash goes out when it gets full, etc. There aren't any plants or any toxic substances or anything she might be getting into, either. She gets a bath once per month with a basic oatmeal shampoo, and resumes scratching a few hours after she's done. She goes for a ten minute walk every day, and a much longer one once every week or so, and there's plenty of room for her to bomb around in the main living area, so I don't think it's a psychosomatic response brought on by lack of exercise.

She has a great life otherwise, and it makes me sad to see her so uncomfortable. Can anybody offer any advice?
posted by shirobara to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For our dog who had similar crazy itching it appears to have been mostly food allergies and bedding that got to him. We swapped out bedding, changed shampoos (and as silly as it sounds started using a separate conditioner), and then moved him over to a Innova Evo, after trying about 4 other types of food. Nothing fixes it totally so some part of it is likely seasonal allergies but it seems to have helped a bit. We also do the whole fish oil thing for him, but I doubt it makes any difference.
posted by iamabot at 2:16 PM on October 18, 2009

ROYAL CANIN Veterinary Diet® canine SKIN SUPPORT SS™ 21 dry
Brown rice, fish meal, rice, rice protein, chicken fat, natural flavors, powdered cellulose, dried beet pulp (sugar removed), soya oil, anchovy oil (source of EPA/DHA), salt, curcumin, potassium chloride, taurine, Vitamins

Dave's Naturally Healthy:

Beef, Sufficient Water For Processing, Beef Liver, Chicken, Brewers Rice, Egg Product, Guar Gum, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Carrageenan, Vitamins

Chicken, Sufficient Water For Processing, Brewers Rice, Egg Product, Guar Gum, Potassium Chloride, Natural Flavor, Salt, Carrageenan, Choline Chloride, Vitamins

Your dog's skin condition is probably due to a food allergy. Many dogs have allergies to rice, or eggs, or beef, or chicken.

High quality single-protein / single-carbohydrate source dog foods include:

Taste of the Wild
Innova Evo
Natural Balance

You can compare different dog food brands at these sites:
posted by Seppaku at 2:34 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Indeed, a food allergy is vastly more likely than an environmental allergy. Dogs can be allergic to anything, right down to beets (a common allergen). I would eliminate rice first and work backwards from there or just say "fuck it" and feed raw.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:54 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

What do you feed her? Nthing the food allergies - corn allergies are also very common.
posted by dilettante at 3:01 PM on October 18, 2009

My beagle had a similar issue and the vet suggested that we go with an insanely simple diet to reduce all possible allergens. We fed him boiled potatoes and canned tuna for months and then started adding things slowly back into his diet. Good luck.
posted by teleri025 at 3:14 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

FWIW Our bichon-poo reacts to grain products with manic itching, and also seems to react to flax. We now feed her Solid Gold Barking at the Moon which has no grain or flax and it seems to have drastically reduced her itchiness. When we adopted her a year ago she was constantly scratching and red (former owner fed her cheap store brand crap kibble). Now she's totally normal. Her daily menu: Mornings she gets about 1/4 cup plain yogurt in a dish and 1/2 cup Solid Gold kibble, usually moistened with a little water or unsalted broth. Dinner is 1/2 cup kibble with extra broth and I'll mix in about 1/4 cup potato flakes or cooked rice to bulk it up. She never gets treats which include grain. However: We also have cats for whom we use a grain-based cat litter, and when the dog gets into the cat litter (she eats it, apparently it's tasty) she starts itching all over again. What I'm seeing in your food ingredients is cellulose: What's the source of that cellulose? Could it be wheatgrass or corn husks? The fact her belly is especially itchy says to me she may have a grass allergy: Her belly brushes the grass when she goes outside. If that cellulose in her food is from wheat or corn... both of those are grasses.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 3:56 PM on October 18, 2009

Just posting to say, I've been going through this with my dog as well, and will be watching this thread for more ideas.

I dab a little diluted apple cider vinegar on her spots, which seems to help them dry up and heal, but I'd still love to stop the cause, whatever the hell it turns out to be.
posted by Riverine at 4:21 PM on October 18, 2009

In addition to the excellent food advice above (no grain, single protein source), add in a high quality EFA (Omega 3/6) supplement like Derm Caps, Eicosaderm or 3V Caps. But with some allergy dogs, periodic bouts with prednisone is necessary for quality of life.
posted by biscotti at 4:33 PM on October 18, 2009

Ever had her tested or treated for mange? I went through several vets before getting the right diagnosis and treatment, and it cleared up very quickly after that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:33 PM on October 18, 2009

Is it possible that she has flea bite dermatitis? While Avantix would prevent a flea infestation, it would not prevent bites, and a single bite can cause flea bite dermatitis. Just a possibility.
posted by bolognius maximus at 4:46 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing food allergies. Best result for my (very allergic, as it turned out) dog ended up being purina lamb & rice, made a huge difference to his happiness (though I never did any experimenting to find out if it was the chicken, or huge amounts of wheat in his original - super allergic - food). Not even a particularly expensive brand, but very quick and permanent improvement.

Be gentle when you change between them. Probably a good idea to do as teleri025 suggests, though tuna might not be my first choice (but of course I have a prejudice towards lamb as it worked so well for my dog).

What is she eating/drinking out of? Is it possible that's a source of her reaction?

Don't be so quick to rule out a contact allergy - though I'd expect that to mainly be on paws or muzzle.

Do her symptoms improve over the month following her flea treatment? Can you try a different kind? Some of them operate in different ways.

And 10 minutes really isn't much of a walk for most dogs, even double that would still be a bit short, IMHO.
posted by The Monkey at 9:06 PM on October 18, 2009

Another happy terrier owner feeding Innova EVO here.

And as some have said in this thread, you might want to look at upping the exercise. Ten minutes isn't much, especially for a terrier. Mine needs about an hour of off-leash running most days, and we supplement that with longer walks on weekends for mental & physical stimulation. Today we were out wandering through town for about three hours. At the end of that, he still outran a bunch of younger dogs at the park. It's definitely worth trying to tire your pup out more and see if it helps.
posted by judith at 9:27 PM on October 18, 2009

I doubt this is it, but just wanted to add...

Maybe it is the Advantix? I did some pretty thorough research on this a while back. I have cats instead of dogs, but regardless, some of those chemicals are crazy. Plus, some of them don't work because the fleas get immune or something? So yeah, the flea bites or the meds could still be a problem.

YMMV. I use Revolution on my cats, when I use anything. Seems gentle enough. It's been a while, but I remember way back one cat had a poor reaction to Advantage. This summer, my husband accidentally bought Frontline plus. Both cats did a frothy-mouth dance about 10 minutes post-application. Freaked.Me.Out. Plus (yes, I did that) the fleas never really went away. This month it was safe to re-apply some Revolution. No reaction post-application. Fleas are gone.

My point is, what works for some doesn't work for all. Even with supposedly "safe" vet prescribed medicine there can be adverse reactions. You might do some research and change up your flea meds.

OTOH - my friends had a dog with skin inflammation. Total food allergy. They made their own food (sans allergy ingredients) and their dog lives happily ever after!

Stick with it. You'll get to the bottom of the issue with your level of persistence:)
posted by jbenben at 10:02 PM on October 18, 2009

Along the lines of what Cool Papa Bell was saying...Our dog has demodectic mange (an inherited condition). Our vet had us go through a round of dips, which our dog absolutely HATED. We looked around for natural, herbal type treatments and have found that shampoos with Neem Oil are great for our dog's skin. We bathe him about once a week, and it has really relieved his skin issues. He rarely gets scabs any more, and we rarely see him scratching/biting. You can also get Neem Oil on its own (if you don't want to bathe your dog that often).
posted by AlliKat75 at 10:02 PM on October 18, 2009

nthing food allergies and (I love reading through it.)

When looking for a new food, try one that's grain-free.

A few things that popped out for me when looking through the ingredients list are the different rice products (a form of grain), egg products (as opposed to whole egg), bran, beet pulp (the leftovers after sugar is extracted), tomato pomace (the leftover seed, skin, and pulp), and brewer's yeast (unnecessary filler).

I have my bichon on Orijen, but Evo is definitely another good one as well.
posted by state fxn at 2:45 AM on October 19, 2009

We had problems with mites with our immune-compromised foster dog. ALL expensive skin scrapings and blood work were negative and ultimately it infected our other dogs and led to surgeries for ear problems. We never got a test that told us what the problem was and we spent THOUSANDS.

The only thing that ultimately helped was ivermectin which is the stuff they give you for heartworm prevention. It has to be carefully administered but it stopped it itchiness.
posted by answergrape at 8:48 AM on October 19, 2009

I had a similar problem with my dog (pomeranian/shitzu mix). We did the whole blood work, and skin scraping with out vet, started even giving my dog steroids, which helped a little, but not completely.

After a few weeks, we tried this allergy formula fish and potato dog food, and it cleared up in no time. We've been feeding him that (slightly more expensive) dog food since, and the skin irritation has never returned.
posted by edman at 11:32 AM on October 19, 2009

Has your vet tested your dog for ringworm?
posted by citizngkar at 12:29 PM on October 19, 2009

It sounds likely to be food allergies to me, too (especially if steroids help), and they don't generally show up in allergy tests. The only sure-fire way to figure it out is as described above. Try a single starch and single protein and if it helps, either stick with it or add things until they react again. Chicken and beef are pretty common allergens; fish and lamb are not.

It can be hard to find food that you can be sure doesn't contain some chicken or beef, but you can at least confirm a food allergy pretty easily by switching to home-made food for a month. Potatoes, the cheapest fish you can find, and a frozen vegetable (peas and carrots should be fine), all boiled in a pot for 30-45 minutes. Only make a week's worth at a time, and refrigerated, so you don't have to worry about it going bad and making them sick. Keep their bowl clean, too.

If the condition doesn't improve, swap out the fish or vegetable and try again. If the condition does improve, you can try other ingredients like brown rice or beef or chicken or eggs, and see if that triggers a reaction. Or you can try a commercial brand food that has similar ingredients, and see if they're okay with it.

We went through this with our dog, but it turned out that it wasn't technically a food allergy at all. It was just that dry dog food breeds what they call storage mites, and he was allergic to those. But in general, the switch to home-made food is a very reliable way to deduce the allergy, or figure out if it's foodborne at all. If you try a month of potato/fish, and a month of brown rice/lamb, and the condition doesn't improve, you can be pretty sure that it's an environmental allergy or disease.

state fxn: "brewer's yeast (unnecessary filler)"

Brewer's yeast is actually a pretty good natural vitamin supplement.
posted by team lowkey at 1:26 PM on October 19, 2009

I had a dog with serious skin problems that were cured by bathing the affected area in salt water. I'm sure someone else can elaborate on how that would be helpful.
posted by andreap at 2:42 PM on October 19, 2009

Ok, deep breath....

Disclaimer up front. IAAV (I AM a vet)... I usually desist from participating in these conversations but some of the responses today got under my skin and hence my reply... In addition I am not a general practitioner, practicing in the US, a dermatologist, etc. I am not giving specific medical advice as you shall see further in my post.

My take on your friend's situation:

1) There is simply too little information provided for anyone to be making diagnosis. We have incomplete signalment, a very incomplete history (including testing done, length of treatment for various drugs, etc) and no physical exam information upon which to base a diagnosis).

2) Much of the information from other posters discuss food allergies. There are many other causes of allergies. Indeed food allergies appear to be a problem in a minority of dogs (less than 20% by reasonable accounts). Often dogs with skin issues have mutiple concurrent disorders. In addition it is mentioned in the post that the owner has tried skin-treatment foods. Unfortunately, this is again not enough information. The type of food tried is important as well as excellent owner compliance (e.g. food trials are worth absolutely nothing if the owner sneaks a non-compliant treat in here, or there or the dog snaffles up something non-compliant on a walk, or the trial is performed for too short a period of time).

My suggestion is your friend talk to their general practitioner about a referral to see a veterinary specialist dermatologist. Why? They can provide your friend with accurate information and most importantly a STRUCTURED APPROACH to working out what the problem is and how best to manage it. The "gamut" of tests general practitioners run often do not include some advanced testing such as intradermal skin testing that are generally specialist only tests.

Pruritis (itchyness) in dogs can be a difficult thing to work out and get on top of. It can be frustrating for owners and vets and this is why most important thing is a structured approach to diagnosis and management.

Good luck to your friend.
posted by NeatBeat at 6:17 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please please please get a skin biopsy for this dog. I'm currently fostering a dog from the Humane Society who had a similar medical history. After many and varied unsuccessful treatments, a skin biopsy revealed that he has an auto-immune disease called pemphigus foliaceous. I'm not suggesting that your dog has the same condition, but a skin biopsy seems like a reasonable thing to do at this point. Feel free to email me with questions.
posted by dudiggy at 5:36 PM on October 20, 2009

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