What’s with all the scratching? Is it heat?
Summertime can often trigger skin rashes and ear infections in dogs. You may be cleaning your dog’s ears, bathing them, or giving them anti-histamines, yet they continue scratching away. There may be relief for a day or two, but it continues to come back. The foot licking, scratching, and gnawing starts to drive both you and your dog crazy. You Google all the remedies and you still cannot sleep at night – nor can your dog. What is going on here???
While I cannot say specifically what is bothering your dog, there are some common factors that happen during the summer that increase allergy, infection, or flea problems significantly. When the days become more humid, the number of mosquitoes, fleas, and other biting insects can show a marked increase within a 24-hour period. These insects bite your dog triggering an allergic reaction. A dog who could once tolerate a few bites may then become overloaded and develop a rash. For some dogs they will have a rash on the belly; for others the ears will flare up. Baths in a soothing shampoo can help, but if your dog is still scratching or chewing intensely, have them examined by a veterinarian. The bacteria, yeast, and mange that is normally present will take advantage of the inflamed skin and make things worse. Delaying care will not only make your pet miserable, but creates a bigger problem that will take more medication, time, and money to treat.
Another factor that increases skin and ear inflammation is the increase in inhalant allergens from growing plants. Often, animals have a list of things they are allergic to, and they can tolerate a number of them at low levels with minimal skin or ear problems. Following a rainstorm, the pollen and mold counts increase, triggering intense allergic reactions. This can increase the inflammation, resulting in a rash that is intensely irritating. Controlling the allergens – like a food or flea allergens – can help when the environment rears its ugly head. It is best to work with your veterinarian to develop a plan for the care of your pets during the summer months.
What’s the plan?
If you have taken your dog to the veterinarian, and everything is better, it is still extremely important to have a plan to prevent continued flare-ups throughout the summer. Take your dog back in for that recheck even if the skin looks good, and partner with your veterinarian to develop a management plan. This will prevent chronic flare-ups which is best for your pet’s health and your sanity. I cannot stress enough the importance of a regular bathing schedule in the proper medicated shampoo as a preventative. Which shampoo is best, and how often, is what your veterinarian will prescribe as part of this plan. If your pet is difficult to bathe, many groomers will use the veterinarian prescribed shampoo you bring with you. You can also make bath-time more fun through positive training. Watch this video from my YouTube channel (drsallyjfoote) – “Get in the Bathroom” – that demonstrates how to train your dog to like getting into the tub.
Irritated skin and ears can also cause dogs to be more agitated, or even aggressive. The chronic pain and irritation will tend to increase not only irritability, but also anxiety. Inflammation increases stress hormone release and decreases serotonin, an important brain chemical. This leads to guarding of the body – avoiding or reacting against touch. If your dog seems a little more “snarky” or “grumbling” (terms I hear clients use), it is likely a reaction directly related to the inflammation of the skin. When the skin improves, the behavior improves.
Have a great summer!
Dr. Sally J. Foote
Executive Director, CattleDog Publishing