Itchy dogs


This article could also be entitled the curse of summer pollen. For us humans that often translates as itchy and sore eyes, sniffles and sometimes more serious breathing problems. For our canine companions it’s all about the skin. So regarding it as hay fever on the skin in dogs is not far off the mark.

With the very mild winters over the past 3 years there’s been a real shift in the seasons. Spring starts a lot earlier now and the autumn seems to morph in to a “sort of” very mild winter. What that means in practical terms is that the pollen season has got extended well beyond the traditional April to September that we would normally expect.

Signs of pollen allergies in dogs
Although the microscopic tree and grass pollens land all over the skin there are specific tell-tale flare zones that we Vets look for to give a clue about this kind of problem. Typically these are skin fold regions such as between the toes, under the tail, in the armpit and groin regions and also in and around the ears. Any one or more of these could be a sign of skin pollen allergy.

Why do dogs respond so badly to pollen on their skin?
Put quite simply they’ve got rubbish defenses. In general dogs’ skin is much, much thinner than our own and the spaces between the cells is much more open. This allows the microscopic pollens to gain access through this porous skin barrier leading to sensitisation with skin itch following.

What can you do to help my itchy dog?
This follows three fairly simple steps for most dogs:

1)manage the itch
This sounds fairly obvious but can be a bit of a trial. Until recently we’ve had to rely on varying levels of steroids to calm the skin down. There have, however, been significant advances in the medications available to block the pathway that leads to the itchiness meaning that our reliance on steroids is almost nil these days.

2)stop any secondary infections from taking hold
Because dogs’ skin is colonised shortly after birth with bacteria and yeast acquired during suckling there is a chance that these “piggy-back” bugs can wreak havoc when the skin barrier is damaged during excessive scratching and licking. Often dogs will have a musty odour to them if this is happening. Dampening down these secondary problems is an important part of the management of the itchy skin.

3)improve the skin barrier
As the problem is the result of a porous barrier that allows the pollens access to the sensitive lower layers of the skin any means of binding this barrier tighter will help. There is now a specific version of essential fatty acids which is given as a supplement on food that aids this exact function.

Dealing with skin itch early helps reduce the amount of treatment necessary to “steady the ship”. But staying on top of the problem throughout the much longer pollen season is important to allow a dog a much happier spring, summer and autumn.

© copywrite Dai Gittins MRCVS