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Dr. Z says: Scratching at the surface of the problem Dr. Dustin Zimmer | Mon, Mar 08 2010 04:15 PM

Dear Dr. Z,

My dog Maya has been scratching herself to pieces. I have tried washing her and lathering her in cortisone cream, but nothing seems to help.

She's keeping me up all night! help us!


Maya and Stephanie

Dear Stephanie and Maya,

Your itching problem is not uncommon in the dog world. Many people think that dogs, being dogs, scratch their dirty little bodies normally. Though some dogs will groom themselves regularly, or occasionally scratch, excessive scratching, chewing and biting are not normal, especially when they come with a nasty rash or hair loss.

There are many things that can cause the itch.  The first is some kind of infection like ring worm, a bacterial infection, parasites such as lice, mites, fleas, ticks or mange, etc.

It is very important to get her checked out by your vet as many of these can be contagious to humans or other pets, and they can carry other diseases (such as worms Ñ ew!). Topical cortisone is a steroid and this can often make infection worse!

Another common medical cause for itching is allergies. There are three things that dogs are most commonly allergic to. The first is fleas. Did you know that a bite from one flea can make a dog itch for an entire month?

Dogs can be allergic to flea saliva, so even if you have a monthly preventative on her, she could still get bitten if there is a flea problem in her environment.

The second cause is food. Dogs, like people, can be allergic to foods. They are most commonly allergic to protein sources and starches.

Lastly, dogs can be allergic to the environment. Just like you and me, Maya could be allergic to pollens, grasses, molds and even cats!

The best thing to do is see your veterinarian. He or she can make sure that there is no major infection, and can start to find out the underlying cause of all MayaÕs scratching.

He or she usually can prescribe something to make her more comfortable as well as get to the root of the issue. Though this can sometimes take several visits, in the end, you will be able to sleep through the night and Maya will be much more comfortable.

Sincerely, Dr. Z

Dr. Dustin Zimmer works at Bonita Pet Hospital in San Diego.

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