What Does My Dog Have - Skin Allergies or Bug Bites?


Did you know that one of the most common reasons people bring their pets to see us, is itching?

Why is my dog scratching?

Your doggie is scratching because of inflamed skin - medically referred to as dermatitis, with derma- referring to skin and -itis meaning “inflammation of.”  This can be the cause of intense scratching in the dog.

Why does their skin get inflamed?  Two of the most common types of dermatitis are allergic and parasitic. Allergic dermatitis can be caused by seasonal allergies, non-seasonal allergies, food allergies, etc. Parasitic dermatitis, on the other hand, is associated with insect bites or stings or contact with their secretions (feces, saliva, etc.).

 So how can I tell the difference between allergies and bug bites?

 Because they can have similarities in their clinical symptoms, it’s imperative that you have a consultation and physical examination with your veterinarian.

We can help you determine the cause and help prescribe or suggest the best treatment route for your BFF – one that fits the needs of your family!

 Allergic Dermatitis

Dogs affected by allergies may have allergies related to seasonal, food-related causes, or other causes. Seasonal allergies can be triggered year-round depending on what your pet is allergic to (yes, not just spring!). Blooming plants and flowers, grasses, weeds, and trees are common triggers. Other common allergies include dust, molds, environmental materials, and chemicals. Don’t forget food, too - some dogs can be allergic to certain proteins (beef, dairy, chicken, etc.) and/or grains (wheat, corn, rice, etc.).

When your dog has an allergy, they can be affected all over their body, but often patients experience the most irritation in the armpits, ears, feet, groin, legs, muzzle, and around the eyes and anus. What to look for? Redness, oozing, skin pigment changes, thickening of the skin, crusting, oozing, and redness.

Parasitic Dermatitis

 Fleas, ticks, oh my! Here in the Comox Valley we have to be very aware of the fleas, ticks, and other biting or stinging insects, and take preventative measures for the health and wellbeing of our pets. Some dogs can be really sensitive to an insect bites and experience allergic symptoms to its saliva or venom. You may notice chewing, licking, or scratching as a result.

1.    Fleas

Fleas tend to hang out around your doggie’s head, neck, inguinal area, tail base, and perineum, which are locations where your dog will itch and scratch.

The saliva from fleas is very allergenic, so a single flea can cause flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) – which makes your pet VERY itchy and uncomfortable indeed.

2.    Ticks

These crawling parasites cling to fur when animals brush by (typically from leaves, blades of grass, or other environment surfaces) – so you’ll typically find them on the outward-facing sides of your dog’s body and limbs.

Like fleas, ticks look for blood in order to survive. That is why tick bites create inflammation at the point of entry that can worsen the longer the tick stays attached and releases its saliva into the skin. Not to mention, you can often find secondary bacterial infection on the tick bite site that will lead to further irritation and itching.

Not to be forgotten? Mites love our pets, too!

 So, Now What?

Your pet is itchy scratchy and it’s driving you crazy – can you only imagine how THEY must feel?

 Not just a nuisance - fleas, ticks, and other biting insects can transmit bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can have irreversible and fatal consequences. As well, skin allergies can be representative of a bigger internal health problem, and our doggies can even seriously injure themselves or receive an infection as a result of the itching.

That is why prevention and early treatment is key.

Final thought? Itchy pet, call your vet! Come in for your pet’s Itchy Scratchy Exam during the month of July and find the best solution for your dog or kitty.

From the desk of Dr. Stacey Gastis