My dog is itchy itchy itchy!
June 18, 2012 4:05 PM   Subscribe

My dog seems to be allergic to something. Skin scrapes have shown it isn't mites or anything else. We've changed his food and other things in his environment, and he's still miserable. Pictures here.

He's 7 years old, and this itching attack seems to have come out of nowhere. It didn't correspond to any new food, and it's been weeks since he started scratching. He's in really rough shape, and the vet hasn't really been very helpful. What to do? Have any of you seen anything like this?
posted by daboo to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you done an elimination diet? Not just changed his food, but actually put him on a limited-ingredient novel protein diet?

Is he getting hydroxyzine (best antihistamine for dogs)? Is he on an Omega 3 Fatty Acid supplement at a suitably high dose? Have you changed anything in the house like laundry detergent, floor cleaner, deodorizer, etc? Has he had recent screening bloodwork since this started?

I would be looking for a referral to a veterinary dermatologist or the nearest university or at least seeking a second opinion. Sorry you're going through this, poor pooch looks ouchy.
posted by biscotti at 4:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is it just that spot?

We have one dog (out of three, and the only one in many years of fostering I've ever seen this with) with seasonal allergies. She scratches herself to bloody on her face and chest, her eyes swell and run, most of her undercarriage is intermittently covered with hives.

She gets Zyrtec twice a day (she's 50ish pounds, she gets a child's dose each time, per the vet) plus a 1000mg fish oil capsule, we rub her down with jojoba oil and bathe her (not very often) with oatmeal shampoo. They already eat a high-quality food, and this is so unmistakably seasonal that the vet has seen no reason to change. We still have to put her on Prednisone at least once if not twice every spring. It has been especially bad this year, and I have several coworkers reporting similar issues, and the local news has done a story (that came to no conclusion except pollen counts are high). We're well into the third month now when previously it's only lasted around two, so we may go to a dermatologist eventually.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:17 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

He might have a skin infection from scratching. Did the vet look at that?
posted by fshgrl at 4:18 PM on June 18, 2012

Our old beagle had terrible allergies every year, most especially grasses. She would scratch and chew herself raw.

Our vet gave her cortisone shots at the first sign of allergy season affecting her, and that usually did the trick. The shots made her drink more water, though, which led to having to go out more.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:18 PM on June 18, 2012

And, yeah, her allergies just appeared one summer, after several years of non-scratching.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:19 PM on June 18, 2012

My dog is allergic to fleas, and it gets a lot worse in the summer. He will gnaw himself raw when he has a reaction. He is outside a lot and lots of things hitch rides on him, so I have to be extremely careful, when I wash him and his bedding, that I'm not missing anything. Could that be happening with your dog?

My dog is also allergic to grains. He is on a completely grain-free diet, which I haven't found to be a hassle at all, except when well-meaning people feed him things that trigger reactions.
posted by cairdeas at 4:24 PM on June 18, 2012

Our dog is allergic to grass, grains, and probably other things as well. I would say also be careful on the oatmeal shampoo--our dog is terribly allergic to oatmeal in both food and and shampoo. We ended up putting him on a prescription limited-ingredient diet and giving him daily antihistamines, and he's gone a year without getting an infected itch-spot.
posted by Emera Gratia at 4:40 PM on June 18, 2012

After battling itchy skin and irritated spots for almost 4 years, we finally started our dog on a novel protein diet and have seen a remarkable improvement. She is on a fish and potato canned food from the vet which has a ton of fish oil in it. The hardest part was breaking the habit of giving her a cheese cube and other treats now and then. We were able to get a hypoallergenic "cookie" from the vet to use for treats.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:16 PM on June 18, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry I didn't point it out earlier - it is not just that one spot, if you look at the full resolution images, the backs of his legs are also red and dry. He's biting at those parts more than the dark spot now.
posted by daboo at 5:34 PM on June 18, 2012

I'm not your vet, so this isn't medical advice.

Did you vet offer to refer you to an immunologist? If not, ask for one. These things can be really challenging for an RDVM to pin down, in the long run it will probably be less expensive to refer to an allergy doc.

Is the dog licking his feet? Anything new in the home? Does this seem to corelate with a certain bloom in your area? (you can call a human side allergist and ask what is blooming right now.)

The novel protein foods can be a huge help here, if only to rule out food as a trigger.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:43 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

The back of his legs looks like the result of an irritant. Is he also irritated in his armpits? Around his anus? This is an indicator that he has something that is causing his system to react. Your dog can develop allergies, so his age isn't really a concern. It sounds like he is actively scratching and suffering. If your vet isn't concerned, you should probably find a new one.

Your dog's legs look somewhat familiar because I'm on my 3rd Shar Pei crossbreed and each one had it's own unique set of skin problems. Elimination diets can be helpful, but it can take as much as 6 weeks for you dog to stop reacting to an irritant so it can be very difficult to pin down specifics if he has a cluster of allergies.

Blood test have been very helpful in my experience. With my last dog, I tried for a year to control her allergies with diet and steroids. A simple (but expensive) blood test showed that, among other things, she was allergic to metal. No matter how carefully I fed her, she was being triggered every time she ate or drank from her stainless steel bowls. With my current dog, I just learned that he is highly allergic to: fish, beets, wheat, milk, cotton and grass. Before the blood test, we were giving him a steady supply of fish oil pills (disguised in velveeta) on the vet's recommendation.

Your dog is not my dog but if he has tested negative for scabies or mange then I recommend testing for allergies. In the meantime, a short-term treatment with steroids (if not counter-indicated) can do a lot for your pet's comfort.
posted by Vysharra at 6:17 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's at all significant, my dog is a Shar Pei mix as well.
posted by cairdeas at 6:20 PM on June 18, 2012

I've had a dog that had flea allergies and that somehow triggered grass allergies. Steriods can be a great relief to your dog while you get it under control. Each summer was a itchy mess for her if we weren't careful as she chewed her feet and would scratch her belly raw. Antihistamines and regular baths helped as did changing her diet to a low allergy one and adding good oils to her diet.
posted by wwax at 6:24 PM on June 18, 2012

My cat used to have similar sores from allergies for years. We didn't know what he was allergic to, and couldn't afford to have him tested. We'd had changed his food numerous times, changed the cat litter and other things to unscented, etc.

It was only when the owners of the building we live in had all the air ducts cleaned that this allergies stopped. So it was definitely an environmental thing. You might want to look into that.

It's been a year and he's still doing really well. He has a nice fluffy belly to pet now and seems much happier.

Good luck!
posted by MelanieL at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2012

My cairn's skin looks a lot like your dogs skin. He is on Comfortis for flea conrol, grain free diet, weekly bath with zymox shampoo and leave on conditioner.

If he is really bad he goes on 25-75 mg of benadry per day, a low and short couse of steriods and antibiotics. It has been a bad year.

I believe that any type of itchy bug bite sets him off. Sand fleas, ants, spiders etc. He goes nuts with the chewing.

Based on what I read above I am going to toss the metal water bowl. It can't hurt.

Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:35 PM on June 18, 2012

My dog developed severe skin problems when I changed his food. Daily, then weekly baths with medicated shampoo, cortisone, and benadryl. And he went on super-non-allergenic dog food that was super expensive.
posted by theora55 at 8:14 PM on June 18, 2012

What about a fungus or topical yeast infection?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

^Echoing Birds. We did the whole route - elimination diet, steroids, and a veterinary allergist, just to finally figure out (largely on our own) that the poor kid had a yeast infection - and resulting allergy - between his pads that he picked up from a poorly-cleaned doggie daycare floor. It's a simple and cheap test a good vet should be able to do (they use a piece of scotch tape to lift a sample, stain it, and look under a microscope). He then got a prescription for ketoconazole or similar shampoo. Now every time he comes home from daycare or boarding he gets a foot bath. Done and done.
posted by OHSnap at 9:19 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

They look like hotspots. (I say this because my parents' two golden retrievers both have/had them, and they looked just like that--obviously I am not a vet, etc.) The problem with hotspots is that dogs with them often develop a psychological component connected to the licking/biting where they'll continue irritating the area long after the initial itchiness has disappeared.

When Bailey gets one, my mother uses Desitin to dry it up. She's tried 1000 things--Desitin has worked the best. The most important step in prevention is to keep the dog dry. If you take your dog for grooming to a place like PetSmart I can guarantee that they aren't drying the dog thoroughly enough. My parents have Bailey groomed by his breeder and they spend more time drying the dog than washing, clipping, teeth brushing, etc. combined. They've specifically mentioned that dogs with skin problems need to be absolutely dry after a grooming session, and they shouldn't be bathed more than once a month or so. They use a specialty dog dryer that does wonders--you can see the water flying off in sheets long after you think the dog is dry. You may need a Cone of Shame, too--you can get the cheap plastic ones at PetSmart or you can order one of the soft ones at Dr. Foster's or the like.

Bailey seems to react mostly to fleas, stress, boredom, and freshly cut grass, so we stay on top of his flea treatment and drop the cone of shame on him if he starts licking a spot. He doesn't wear it all the time--it's just a distraction mechanism. If he sneaks it by us and starts a spot then he wears the cone at night and when my parents are out.

Over the winter, when my parents snowbird in Florida, Bailey developed several hotspots, smelled bad, and lost 7 lbs. There was an article in the newspaper about high pollen counts affecting dogs this year, as an earlier poster mentioned. Once he returned home, he recovered.

Poor puppy.
posted by xyzzy at 12:15 AM on June 19, 2012

biscotti mentioned laundry detergent above... One of my cats suddenly developed a persistent rash and resulting scabs, sore spots and bald patches. Vet and I went the whole time-and-resource-consuming hormonal/allergy route and at the end of all the twists and turns, it was my laundry softener. (Validated once by design and once by accident.) Switched to Neutral, purry furriness forevermore.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense: when cat was not lying on me in my softened clothes, cat was lying on bed with softened duvet cover.
posted by likeso at 5:26 AM on June 19, 2012

Poor pup. My dog just got over a bout of itching/scratching a couple weeks ago. The vet said he may be allergic to fleas, and gave me medicated shampoo, an antihistamine, and Comfortis. I also used Benadryl spray in small doses on the particularly itchy areas, which helped them to heal up. If you go that route, though, check with your vet beforehand and make sure he doesn't lick it off.

It's hard to watch them being in such discomfort, I know. Good luck!
posted by zoetrope at 11:48 AM on June 19, 2012

Agree with biscotti. Go to and locate a boarded veterinary dermatologist in your area. Best of luck.
posted by Don92705 at 2:06 PM on June 19, 2012

Best answer: Signs are pointing to this having been mites. Apparently skin scrapes aren't 100%, and it was determined that going ahead with a shot for mites would be the best course of action (allergy test would take longer than it would take to see results, and the symptoms were consistent with mites). He has now had his second injection for mites and is well on the mend.

Thanks to everyone who commented. I hope this helps someone down the road.
posted by daboo at 10:35 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

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