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Dr. Kara
Dr. Kara, Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 14564
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian.
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My mums bichon Freis is biting herself mainly paws and tail

Customer Question

My mums bichon Freis is biting herself mainly paws and tail till its bleeding. Vet put her on steroids but one week on no change. She is covered in raw areas ?
Submitted: 2 months ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 2 months ago.

Hello, my name is***** and I have over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian. I am sorry to hear that your girl Cleo is miserably itchy such that she is making herself raw, even though she has been prescribed steroids.

Allergies are the most common cause of itchy skin and can give her a skin crawling, all over itchy type effect which many dogs find irritating. I'll give you an allergy rundown of likely causes for skin troubles. She may have more than one allergy given how symptomatic she is now. Dogs that have one allergy often develop several with time. The effect of multiple allergies aren't additive, they actually compound one another.

Even if you don't see fleas I do recommend using protection, if only during the spring summer and fall months. Flea bite allergy is the most common allergen and it only takes one bite a month to make an allergic dog scratch so I recommend using flea prevention even if you never see one again. Frontline Plus, Advantage II or Advantix are excellent as is the new Seresto Flea collar. I don't normally recommend flea collars, but this one really works and lasts for at least 6-8 months. Don’t use over the counter products, especially Hartz or Sargents, as most are ineffective if not toxic. Unfortunately even after the fleas are gone the allergic reaction can continue for weeks and I will discuss controlling that reaction below.

Other allergens can be inhaled (like grass pollen, dust mites or molds).

You can use a combination of antihistamines and high doses of omega-3 fatty acids to try to help with prevent the symptoms of inhaled and flea bite allergies. In combination fatty acids and antihistamines work synergistically, much better than either one alone. If her symptoms worsen seasonally I would think that inhaled allergens are a part of her problem. You may have tried an antihistamine but some some dogs get better with one and not others so I'll suggest several to try. It is also important to start these before their symptoms get as severe as hers are now. So keep this in mind for future reference.

You can try:

1)Benadryl (diphenhydramine only don't use the combination products with acetaminophen or decongestants as they can be toxic for dogs) at a dose of 1mg to 2mg per pound of body weight or one 25mg capsule per 15 to 25 pounds of body weight orally every 8 hours.

OR 2)Claritin (loratidine) at 5mg per 25 pounds of body weight once or twice daily.

OR 3)Hydroxyzine at 1mg per pound of body weight orally every 8 hours.

OR 4) Chlorpheniramine at 4mg to 8mg per dog once or twice daily.

OR 5) Zyrtec (Cetirizine hydrochloride) at 1/2 mg per pound of body weight orally every 24 hours. That would be one 10mg tablet per 20 pounds of body weight. Make sure it is NOT the formulation with a decongestant (such as Zyrtec-D) because dogs cannot tolerate decongestants.

Many dogs seem to respond best to cetirizine so I'd try that one first. Give the one you pick a week trial and if it isn't working try another. Be aware antihistamines can cause sleepiness or hyperactivity in some dogs. These side effects do wear off with repeated use.

Omega-3 fatty acids are fish oil products. 3V by DVM or Derm Caps ES are good brand name products. Use the high end of the dosing schedule for your pup's weight. I recommend a dose based upon the EPA portion (eicosapentanoic acid) of the supplement as if we do that the rest of the supplement will be properly balanced. Give her 20mg of EPA per pound of body weight per day. For example a 50 pound dog could take 1000mg of EPA per day.

Cool water baths with an oatmeal shampoo or chlorhexiderm shampoo (which is antibacterial and antifungal) and a conditioner with an antihistamine may help. The water rinses off allergens and the cool temperature soothes itchy skin. Do not bathe her for 2 to 3 days before or after applying flea control products or the bath will interfere with the product's efficacy. Do not use flea shampoos as they are very drying and have no residual protective effects.

In severe allergic cases the pup may need a short course of steroids prescribed to stop the itch while we get antihistamines up to appropriate levels to stop the itch from returning. It sounds like this was done for your girl and they aren't really helping.

In those cases we are likely dealing with a food allergy, which may not respond to steroids, a parasite or a deep infection (bacterial or fungal).

Food allergy is very possible with her as well if she seems to be itchy all year round. Dogs can develop allergies to any protein or carbohydrate so even if she is only fed one thing that can be what she is allergic to. Dogs with food allergies tend to lick and scratch their paws, face and ears the most, but any of the "allergy reactive areas" can be affected. You mention her paws are raw, and that would fit with a food allergy.

Make sure that the food that you put her on is a true hypoallergenic diet. The trouble with "limited ingredient" or "low allergy" pet store brands is that the same machinery is used on multiple lots of food without sterilization cleaning in between. So for example even if a food says it has salmon and rice if the previous batch had beef and corn then you will get traces of those ingredients in your bag of food. Not a big deal if your dog isn't allergic but a waste of money thinking that the food was hypoallergenic and not good for your dog if those happen to be allergens for your dog. The veterinary brand true hypoallergenic foods are more expensive because it isn't cheap to thoroughly remove all traces of a previous food mixture from the machines used to process food.
Generally what I recommend is trying to clear the skin by feeding a true hypoallergenic diet, and then adding one food item (chicken, beef, corn wheat etc) every month to see what they react to. Then we can find a regular food to feed that doesn't have the ingredients that they react to to feed long term. As far as permanent diets I do tend to stick with Purina Pro Plan brands or Nature's Recipe as I find those rarely if ever have cross contamination. Purina Pro Plan Turkey and Barley or Nature's Recipe Vegetarian or Venison are pretty good products. I know that this isn't easy from personal experience (my dog is allergic to wheat) and it is time consuming, but worth it.
If you choose to try testing/treating her for a food allergy I recommend that you try a true hypoallergenic diet like Hills z/d or Purina Veterinary Diets HA. No treats, flavored medication or bones while on the diet and it must be used for a least 12 to 16 weeks to see the full effects. You should see some improvement in 6 to 8 weeks.

Another option if the antihistamines and omega 3's aren't enough is a product called Atopica. It suppresses the immune system a bit so it decreases allergic symptoms but it doesn't have as many harmful side effects as systemic steroids.

Another option is a newer drug called Apoquel (generic name oclacitinib) which interferes with the allergic pathway. It works very quickly to stop the symptoms of inhaled and flea bite allergies, but seems less helpful with dogs that have food allergies. Most dogs are reported to be much more comfortable in a day or so if it is going to help.

If you are interested discuss these medications with your veterinarian as they are prescription products.

Another option if you are interested, is trying immunotherapy. Your girl would need to be tested to determine exactly what she is allergic to, and then she is given small amounts of the allergen to build up her tolerance to it, increasing the amount of allergen in the injection incrementally so that her immune system no longer responds to it. This isn't a quick fix, it takes time to slowly build up their tolerance and as she develops new allergens things may need to be added, but it is an option.

If it's been a while since her last exam parasites like cheyletiella, demodex or sarcoptes mites, and a secondary bacterial or fungal infection should be looked for by your veterinarian and some blood work should be checked too to make sure her organ function is normal. Skin parasites and secondary infections can lead to very itchy skin.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 2 months ago.

Hello, I wanted to check in and see if you had any further questions after reading my response. If you do please feel free to respond with them. If not and you found my information helpful I would appreciate an update on your pup, thank you, ***** *****

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