Pet Connections

Problem Behaviors? Something to Think About if Your Dog Itches By April Minech

Allergies be the cause of more than just a little scratching; it can affect how your dog thinks, feels and behaves. Canine atopic dermatitis is a common allergic skin condition in dogs that causes long-term and constant itching similar to eczema in people. Often, we can gain insight into what is happening with dogs by studying people. Humans with eczema share their feelings that itching is not only uncomfortable, but the frequency of the itch increases their stress and can lead to other problems such as depression.  So, does this same thing happen to dogs?

Studies like “The Itchy Dog Project” conducted in Nottingham, England looked to help find answers about why dogs itch as well as how it affects their behavior. Information was gathered by sending questionnaires to 4,000 dog owners and covered a wide range of factors such as breed, food and environment.

Part of the testing included whether dogs with dermatitis would display more problem behaviors (that could be from stress) than those without. Behavioral data was gathered directly from owners of both itchy and non-itchy dogs (343 dogs with the condition, 552 without) and scores were given based on how severe the itching was. The results showed that dogs with the allergies had more problem issues such as: mounting, chewing, hyperactivity, begging for and stealing food, attention-seeking, excitability, excessive grooming and reduced trainability. While enough study hasn’t been done to prove the itching directly caused the issues, it is known that all those behaviors are linked to stress. 

Many allergies come from food, while other are environmental.  A lot of allergies can be helped with a good diet, and in turn can have a stronger immune response to things in the environment that can’t be avoided. Most specialty pet stores have staff that can recommend diets that help with your dog’s specific symptoms. Addressing allergies before they cause stress can help avoid unwanted behavior issues.

Some dogs are prone to skin issues; white colored animals can have more skin sensitivity or breeds with wrinkles and folds such bulldogs are likely, though any dog can have allergies. French Bulldogs are known for having severe cases of allergies, some requiring lifelong medicines and daily care. One example is a Frenchie that needed daily Apoquel (a common prescription for allergies), a special diet of raw goat’s milk and salmon, bathing with special shampoo and daily wipe downs. Without this regimen, he scratched himself raw and worked himself into a frenzy where he screamed and dashed about. The itching drove his stress level up, which in turn made him more vulnerable to his allergies. Treatment was needed to ease his mind as well as his skin. His vet suggested Trazadone to calm him and more enrichment for him to focus on during bad spells. While this case is extreme, the success in stopping the stress/behavioral effect on the skin allergies was obvious.

Medical issues can always be a factor in how a dog behaves. Just like a person is not at their best when feeling ill or stressed, you dog may be going through the same thing when you think he’s acting up. Even some innocent looking scratching can be a sign of more going on – just beneath the skin!

To read more in depth about the science as well as viewing the charts and data collected, see the full published article titled: Behavioural Differences in Dogs with Atopic Dermatitis Suggest Stress Could Be a Significant Problem Associated with Chronic Pruritus (nih.gov)

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