Billy is a lovely little West Highland White Terrier cross now just over 2 and a half years old. He is lively and loves life and has no health issues. When he was around 2 years old, however, he developed an itchy bottom which did not settle with supportive treatment.
We were suspicious that this was a result of allergic skin disease. Dogs can develop allergic skin disease like people can develop eczema. In dogs allergic skin disease, which is known as atopy, usually develops when dogs are over one year old. Typically this will be seen as a dog that licks his paws more than normal or gets recurrent ear problems or, like Billy, licks or chews a particular area of the body.
A dog with normal skin will often lick their feet after a walk for a short while, particularly if they are wet, but dogs with atopy will often lick for longer and more often. In light coloured dogs the saliva from excessive licking stains the hair brown and a white dog with brown stained feet is typical of this condition.
The other signs we often see are recurring ear irritation or infections. The ears are, in effect, extensions of the skin and, because the ear canals are warmer and more moist than the rest of the skin, they are prone to developing secondary infections when inflamed due to atopy. Yeasts and bacteria live on normal skin but, when the skin (or ear lining) becomes inflamed these organisms can multiply and cause infections. Luckily Billy’s ears have, so far, been fine.
Other signs of allergic skin disease are a generally itchy dog sometimes with hair loss and recurrent skin infections due to yeasts, bacteria and even mites. Some dogs will lick or chew excessively damaging their own skin and hair in response to the itch.
The underlying causes can vary. Many dogs are allergic to more than one thing. We took some blood off Billy and tested him for the common allergens and determined that he was allergic to house dust mites, mould mites, and Bermuda grass (a type of grass which grows wild in Southern England).
House dust mites are a common allergen in atopic dogs. Dogs that are itchy all year round or are even worse in winter are often allergic to house dust mites. It is impossible to eliminate house dust mites and carpets and soft furnishings can harbour large numbers of them. Vacuuming thoroughly on a regular basis, spraying the house with household flea spray, washing bedding at a high temperature and even removing carpets or rugs can help lower numbers.
Limiting the number of allergens present can go a long way towards reducing the level of itchiness. Whilst Billy is not allergic to fleas, flea allergy is also a very common allergy and even just one or two fleas can make an allergic dog itchy. Flea control is, therefore, essential as part of minimising the level of itching. Food allergies are rare but feeding a good quality complete food with minimal artificial colours or flavours can help with control.
Seasonal allergies such as those to tree or grass pollens tend to occur when these plants are flowering. They are impossible to avoid completely but walking in areas where less of these plants grow & washing your dog after a walk can lower levels of irritation.
Billy’s itching has been controlled well using tablets which reduce his body’s reaction to the allergens and, whilst on them, he does not itch so can enjoy his life to the full without ongoing irritation.
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