Calling All Itchy Dogs

Does your dog constantly lick and chew on his paws and legs? Does he lick his torso? Then your dog is probably itchy! These are some questions regarding dog allergies and other reasons your dog may be scratching.

My dog has been diagnosed with allergies. Are there allergy shots for dogs?

Yes, there are allergy shots for dogs. Also called “hypo-sensitization”, allergy shots consist of injections of a small volume of allergen (such as pollen) given to your dog at regular intervals for a long period of time. Allergies are caused by an over-reactive immune system, resulting in the release of chemicals in the dog’s skin that cause itching and irritation. The goal of hypo-sensitization is to acclimate your pet’s immune system to an allergen so that when an environmental exposure occurs, the immune response is less severe and your pet is more comfortable. While they sound like a great idea, allergy shots are not ideal for every pet. Hypo-sensitization is only recommended for dogs suffering from canine atopic dermatitis (also called “atopy”). These dogs are predisposed to develop skin reactions like itching to common environmental substances like pollen or dust mites. Consult your family’s veterinarian to determine if your dog has been diagnosed with atopy and is a candidate for allergy shots. Other types of allergies are not responsive to hypo-sensitization. If your dog is a candidate for allergy shots, it is also important to consider the prolonged effort required to give allergy shots. The shots are given by the dogs owner almost every day for several weeks, after which the pet may need to receive the shots for the rest of its life. It may take several months to see any improvement in your pet’s skin. Not all dogs will improve with the shots. It is important to consult your family veterinarian to determine if allergy shots are a good choice for you and your dog.

We just got back from a camping trip and my dog has been scratching behind his ear.  Would it be possible that he has a tick? 

Ticks are tiny creatures that can potentially cause big problems for both people and pets. They come in many shapes and sizes. There are nine species of concern in the United States. Each species has several life stages which can range in size from as small as a period at the end of a sentence in a newspaper, to a watermelon seed sized unfed adult, to the size of a small grape in an engorged adult female. Different species and life stages of ticks have different host preferences, but they all have the potential if not predilection to feed on humans and pets. Different species are also more or less implicated in transmitting different diseases, but a good rule of thumb is that any tick found on a person or a pet is suspect. Ticks transmit important diseases including Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and Lyme Disease. These diseases can generally only be transmitted from pets to humans through tick intermediates, though some diseases have potential for transmission through blood to blood contact. Different regions of the United States have higher prevalence of these diseases. For example, Lyme Disease is especially prevalent in the Northeast. However, residents of other regions should still be aware of these diseases because of travel and potential transport of disease causing organisms. These diseases carry with them the potential for dangerous consequences for the life and health of the
people and pets that contract them. Feeding by some species of ticks has also been implicated in a potentially life threatening paralytic syndrome called “Tick Paralysis” that has been evident in both humans and pets. More information on Tick Paralysis can be found by following this hyperlink: Precautions can be taken to prevent tick infestations and infection with tick transmitted diseases. Check yourself and your animals for ticks after spending time outside. Safely and gently remove ticks that you find feeding. Talk to your veterinarian about products that can deter ticks from feeding on your pets, and vaccinations against diseases that ticks transmit. Veterinarians are excellent sources of information for any pet owners that are concerned about tick-­‐ transmitted diseases in their pets. Follow this hyperlink for excellent additional information on ticks, the diseases that they transmit, and how to manage them in people and in pets.

We just adopted a new puppy and he has been constantly scratching his hind legs and head.  How do we know if he has fleas?

To understand the way that animals get fleas, it’s important to understand the flea lifecycle. The lifecycle of a flea begins when eggs from an adult female flea are laid on an animal, and then fall off the animal and into the environment. Once in the environment, flea eggs hatch in a few days. After hatching, the fleas go through several larval, or immature, stages. Once the fleas have completed the larval stages, they pupate to begin their final phase toward becoming adults. In the pupa stage, fleas create a cocoon of silk and dirt that allows them to blend in with the environment. Fleas emerge from the pupa stage as adult fleas in one to two weeks. Noise and motion vibrations signal the flea to emerge from the pupa stage, and the adult fleas immediately jump onto animals in the environment. Once on the animal, fleas begin to drink the animal’s blood, mate, and lay eggs, which starts the cycle over again (CAPC, 2013). The lifecycle of fleas can make them difficult to get rid of once they are present. The larval and pupa stages continue to develop for weeks, making it necessary for pets and the environment to be treated multiple times over several weeks. Also, not all flea control products kill all life stages of fleas, which also makes treatment problematic (Gibb, 2014). It is important to talk to your veterinarian about proper and effective flea treatments. Fleas often cause itching and irritation in pets, but can also cause more severe problems, such as hair loss, anemia, and allergic skin diseases. Problems related to fleas are not specific to animals though, because fleas can also live on humans. Human suffering from flea bites may experience itching and irritation, and in some cases, severe allergic reactions (Hill,, 2010). Fleas may also carry infectious agents that can cause serious health problems, such as cat scratch disease, typhus, and tapeworms (CAPC, 2013). A valuable part of flea control is prevention. Yearly veterinary wellness check-­‐ups and a veterinarian recommended flea prevention program are necessary for good flea control. Many flea control programs consist of easily administered once-­‐a-­‐month medications. If you suspect that your pet has fleas or you would like to begin a flea prevention program, see your veterinarian to discuss options available for your pet. For more information on fleas and flea control visit: