Summer itch for dogs…this early!

Itchy Dogs

For some owners the problem of last summer’s skin irritation has been a lingering issue in their dogs all the way through the winter.  In all honesty there hasn’t really been a winter to speak of.  The normal expectation (if the seasons behaved like they ought to) is that there is a peak in pollens (both grass and tree) in the latter part of the summer.  Whilst this was certainly the case last summer, the pollens then just seemed to hang around.  And now with the very early spring the problems have just been magnified.  These pollen particles, for about a third of dogs, cause skin irritation.  The areas on a dog that are mainly affected include the feet, base of tail and ear regions.  If your dog is showing signs of skin irritation in any of these parts then you need to seek help from your vet.  Getting some grip on the skin irritation is a real must for these poor individuals as they can quickly get locked in to a scratch-itch cycle.

So why are dogs so skin sensitive?

As humans we’re lucky, for the most part, with our skin.  We’ve got the equivalent to “rhino hide” when it’s compared to a dog’s set-up.  In terms of skin depth ours is much thicker than a dog’s.  Added to that is the fact that at the base of each of our hair follicles is a plug preventing things getting through, which isn’t present in a dog.  Also our skin cells are very tightly knitted together compared to the almost ‘open weave’ arrangement in dogs.  Sometimes it’s a wonder that dogs just don’t fall out of their skin!  So it’s not a very effective barrier.  The microscopic grass and tree pollens pretty much drop through the holes and cause a reaction in the deeper layers of the skin.

So why don’t dogs scratch all over?

Actually some do.  But quite commonly the tell-tale signs in a skin sensitive dog are when there is a multiple of skin irritations affecting the following: some (or all) of the feet, one or more of the ears and also possibly the groin, arm pit and tail base areas.  Think of it as the hot sweaty areas and that pretty much gives the clue as to where the major skin itch areas are in afflicted canines.  And the reason why its these areas; well, these zones have a much higher proportion of the ‘flare cells’ that react to the tree and grass pollen allergens.

So how can it be mended?

Not easily. In fact it can’t actually be mended at all because we can’t abolish summer,  although that might be a mute point in some peoples minds!  Up until now the mainstay to relieving the skin irritation has been a combination of medicated shampoo and anti-inflammatory medication, often in the form of steroids.  Both help to reduce the level of skin irritation, but in the case of the steroids at least, they need to be used carefully so as not to cause other problems in their own right.  It’s always a delicate balancing act which needs ongoing discussions between owner and vet.  Very recently though there has been some welcome extra help in the form of a highly effective non steroid, anti-inflammatory medication that is just as effective as steroids.  It will be a huge help for those skin itchy dogs that suffer this type of problem in the summer months (and now).  Getting on top of the problem early will, as always, reduce the need for too much medication, and hopefully allow a dog to enjoy the summer a little bit more like they should do.