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New canine dermatology findings promise relief for itchy dogs

Did you know that skin conditions are the number one reason for vet visits among dogs, with reports of itchiness increasing fifty percent since 2013? Today’s veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists report seeing more and more canines with skin disorders, including canine atopic dermatitis, flea allergies, yeast infections, and pyoderma. While the causes may vary (according to breed, age, and genetic predisposition), and treatment plans depend on each dog’s specific condition, one thing is clear: skin disorders have a considerable impact on a dog’s overall health and wellbeing. Now for a bit of good news: You can be your dog’s best ally by staying informed of some of the newest developments in canine dermatology-- and it’s easier to understand than you might expect!

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Happy golden retriever being checked by two vets

With skin disorders on the rise, vets are rising to the challenge

An increasing number of pets are heading to the veterinarian’s office with symptoms such as severe itchiness, excessive licking, irritated skin, hair loss, dandruff, and smelly skin, ears, or wounds. In response, veterinarians and scientists are dedicating significant resources to studying canine dermatology in the hope of understanding more about the complex issues dogs and their owners face.

Canine atopic dermatitis: new research may prove link to psychological stress

Canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) is an increasingly common hereditary skin disorder that causes dogs to develop allergic symptoms (namely redness and itchiness) following exposure to an allergen in their environment or diet. According to a 2018 study, environmental allergies have increased 30.7 percent in dogs over the last decade, and the allergens that trigger them include pollen, dust, dander, mold, fabrics, and even cleaning solutions6

What’s worse than an itch your dog can’t seem to scratch? The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine devoted three years to the study of canine atopic dermatitis and skin allergies as part of their Itchy Dog Project. In a study published in 2019, they found that the severity of the itch a dog with canine atopic dermatitis experiences could be directly linked to unwanted “problem behaviors” such as mounting, chewing, hyperactivity, begging for and/or stealing food, excitability, attention-seeking behavior, and excessive grooming. This means the study may suggest a potential link between severe itching and psychological stress endured by dogs with canine atopic dermatitis.7


Pollen, dust, and dander: new information on allergy triggers

You’re probably wondering what exactly is causing such an increase in canine allergies and allergy-related skin conditions such as canine atopic dermatitis. A wide variety of theories exist, but recent studies have given some of them added weight.

For example, some veterinarians believe our increasingly sterile households may lead to a lack of “training” in our dogs immune systems: when the immune system comes into contact with less microbes, it has trouble understanding which are offensive and which aren’t, therefore it may interpret something like dust as a danger and trigger allergies8. A recent study conducted in Finland showed that dogs who lived in a single-person home in a city were more likely to have allergies compared to dogs that lived with more outdoor space, in bigger families, and alongside other pets9.

Scientists have also observed how rising temperatures due to climate change have affected seasonal allergies for both humans and canines in recent years, with pollen loads increasing and pollen production season extending across multiple continents10. Believe it or not, it’s not just us humans who find ourselves sniffling and sneezing our way through the spring and summer seasons!

Soothing itchy dogs: a considerable advancement in treatment options

Veterinarians have adopted a multimodal approach to treatment that’s tailored to each dog's individual needs. In recent years, new oral and injectable treatments have been developed specifically to target and help control itching, therefore reducing scratching and lowering the risk of secondary infection11. In addition, some new topical creams, sprays, and foams have shown promising results in soothing skin, helping to maintain skin barrier function12, and increasing the amount of time between flare-ups13. To decide on a treatment plan that’s best suited to your pet, please speak to your veterinarian or veterinarian dermatologist.

Beagle dog ear scratching

Flea allergies: when small pests pose a major threat

While fleas can be an inconvenience for most dogs, they’re much more than that for canines with a flea allergy. When fleas feed on your dog, they inject a small amount of saliva into the skin, and the antigens or proteins in their saliva may cause a reaction in dogs that have developed a hypersensitivity to it14. In turn, your dog becomes itchy and uncomfortable, spending more time chewing, biting, and scratching than fetching or interacting with others.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (or what most people simply refer to as “flea hypersensitivity”) is the most common dermatologic disease among domestic dogs in the United States15, and a recent health report showed a 12.5 percent increase of the disease in dogs over the last ten years16. How can we explain such a significant increase? For one, climate change. NASA recently showed that 2020 was the warmest year on record17 and warmer average temperatures mean shorter and milder winters and hotter, more humid summers, creating the ideal conditions for fleas and ticks18. Another explanation is indoor heating: fleas used to become less active in winter, but now our warm, comfortable homes provide an environment in which they can thrive.

As flea season becomes a year round concern, veterinarians have begun recommending that pet owners provide their dogs with flea treatments 12 months of the year. Surprisingly, veterinarians biggest challenge is not managing the pests themselves, but rather getting pet owners compliant (that means a pet owners ability to administer a treatment according to the veterinary recommendation) with parasite treatment usage. As a result, a significant amount of research and development has gone into creating flea treatment options that are both effective and easy to use for pet owners, ranging in formats from pipettes, collars, injections, and tablets19. Some researchers are even exploring longer-acting dosing options so that pet owners can treat their dogs several times a year rather than every month20.

Pyoderma: the not-so-friendly bacteria that’s more and more difficult to treat

Pyoderma is another one of the most common disorders in canine dermatology. Superficial pyoderma is a bacterial skin infection that covers dogs with lesions and/or pustules that are red and sore, alongside scaling, crusts, and collarettes (a round lesion with a scaly, peeling edge), while deep pyoderma affects the deeper layers of the skin. In both cases, the primary bacteria is staphylococcus pseudintermedius21 (or staph).

Pyoderma may not be a new disease, however veterinarians report it has become more difficult to treat with the increasing prevalence of staphylococcal antimicrobial resistance22. Yes, just like humans, an increasing number of dogs are developing antimicrobial resistance23, which is what happens when harmful bacteria develop the ability to resist the antimicrobial (antibiotic) drugs that are designed to kill them24.

While this doesn’t make it impossible to treat your dog, it does make it more complicated, and veterinarians have had to get creative when managing the disease. For example, a recent study performed in Mexico studied the effects of using textile bodysuits containing zinc and copper (which have shown antimicrobial activity) in dogs with superficial pyoderma and the results showed a steady decrease in cocci and yeast bacteria over 15 days25. Meanwhile another study explored the effectiveness of fluorescent blue light therapy on dogs with deep pyoderma, which showed it very well could be a useful tool in managing pyoderma when used as a supplemental therapy26.

Your dog’s future: diagnosis and treatment are the keys to wellbeing

Remember: veterinary dermatology is a complex field, with a wide variety of skin disorders sharing the same symptoms, so it’s important to consult your veterinarian about your dog’s skin concerns so they can run the appropriate testing, provide a diagnosis and implement an adapted treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your dog’s diagnosis or the management of their treatment, speak to your veterinarian about the different options available and let them help you identify suitable solutions for you and your dog.

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