Spring is here and with summer just around the corner, Dr Felicity discusses some common skin ailments that can affect your pet during the warmer months.

For many dogs the warmer weather can mean skin problems due to pollens, grasses and ectoparasites like fleas and mites. Seasonal skin allergies can cause generalised itch, hair loss, ear problems and feet chewing. The breadth of this topic is huge so I won’t be attempting to cover the lot here, but here are my responses to the most common problems I’m seeing at the moment that are all related to environmental skin allergies. Sometimes, extra tests are required to rule out other causes before the diagnosis of skin allergy is made.

My dog is itchy but we never see any fleas
Dogs can suffer from fleas that are unseen. Fleas can spend almost their entire life cycle away from their host. They only need to “bite” to obtain a feed before laying eggs. Adult fleas can live quite happily in the environment while biting your pet and causing a flea allergy and itch without ever being seen. Skin irritation and hair loss is often seen around the tail base and lower back. Fleas are certainly not the only cause of an itchy dog, but they are more common in the summer. It’s worth using a preventative at this time of year because usually once you see them on your pets, they are everywhere! If you ahve an itchy dog that is not on flea prevention, it’s best not to assume they have an allergy to something else until flea prevention is being used regularly.

My dog is licking its paws ALL the time
Many dogs with skin allergies will lick their paws. On white dogs, this usually makes the fur on their paws look pink. Paw linking is most commonly associated with environmental allergy, or atopy. This is like hayfever in humans but when dogs inhale pollens that they are sensitive to, they will often develop an skin itch. The paws are often the first and worst affected part of the body. This type of allergy can be due to contact as well as inhaled allergens. There are a range of medical management options for dogs with atopy. These range from short-term cortisone treatments and regular bathing, to down-regulate inflammatory mediators in teh skin, or immune-modulating or immunosuppressive medications for more severely affected animals.

My dog has a sore ear
We see more sore ears at this time of the year. Common causes are shampoo in the ears (we tend to bath our dogs more in the summer) and daily swimming. Both of these factors compromise the ability of the ear to dry out properly and this allows bacteria and yeast to overgrow in the ear canal. Dogs with skin allergies will also often suffer from more inflammation within the ears during the summer months and this predisposes them to ear infections. If your pet has a sore ear or is shaking its head, a trip to the vet is well advised. The vet will take a sample of the debris in the ear canal which can then be examined under a microscope to identify the type of infection. They will then be able to advise you on the correct treatment for your pet. There are at least three different types of infection types that are very common, and each requires a different type of ear drop for successful management.

My dog is losing patches of hair
Patchy hair loss can definitely be part of a skin allergy. Itchy dogs will often scratch at the same spot, causing abrasions and hair loss. Hair loss can also be a sign of more serious underlying problems – it’s a good idea to head to the vet, they can tell you whether a blood test is required. Patchy hair loss can also be a sign of mites, which are most commonly seen in dogs under 12 months of age. If the patches look suspicious, your vet will usually want to take a skin scraping. This is then examined under a microscope to look for mites. It is important to rule out other potential causes before assuming patchy hair loss is due to a skin allergy.

My dog has conjunctivitis
Allergic conjunctivitis is responsible for 90% of the conjunctivitis cases seen in dogs. If your dog has sore eyes, your vet will want to ensure there are no scratches or ulcers on the surface of the eyeball (cornea). Allergic conjunctivitis is usually itchy, so dogs that have been rubbing their eyes can often cause damage to the cornea if the problem is not addressed promptly. The treatment for allergic conjunctivitis involves eyedrops containing cortisone. If the cornea has been scratched, however, the cortisone will cause serious complications in the eye very quickly. your vet will need to apply a painless fluorescent eyedrop stain to your pet’s eyes to check for any damage before deciding it is safe to apply cortisone to the eyes to alleviate the allergy.