SKIN, EARS AND ALLERGIES
Itching, licking, hair loss, skin infections and ear infections are all incredibly common in dogs. Allergies and parasite infestations are the main causes of skin and ear issues in dogs. Allergies and parasites cause inflammation and irritation to the skin and ears. Once the skin becomes irritated, the natural yeast and bacteria that live on the surface of your dogs skin and ears over-grow and add to your dog's discomfort. It is important to diagnose and treat ear infections and skin infections when they occur, but it is also crucial to address the underlying cause.
Fleas are common and annoying. Heavy flea infestations can cause severe itching and irritation. Some dogs have flea allergies and can react severely to minimal flea infestations. In order to treat fleas effectively, ALL dogs, cats and rabbits who enter your home must be on high quality flea preventatives every month. There are also area sprays that can help reduce the burden of fleas infesting your home. Fleas are diagnosed by combing the fur for fleas and flea dirt (looks like black pepper).
Mite infestations can cause intense itching and inflammation. Mites on the skin are diagnosed with skin scrape cytologies. Ear mites are common in puppies and cause thick, dark debris in the ears. A healthy puppy's ears should not have any debris! Checking for mites is part of a routine diagnostic work-up for dog with skin and ear issues.
Even if you are not seeing fleas, flea allergies are possible. A single flea bite can cause a dog to have an allergic flare-up.
ATOPIC DERMATITIS/ ATOPY/ ENVIRONMENTAL ALLERGIES
This is the most common reason for skin and ear issues in dogs. Many dogs are highly allergic to any number of allergens in their environment (tree and grass pollen, dust, mold, etc). Most dogs with environmental allergies will have a seasonal component to their patter of itching and infections, with spring, summer, and fall being the most common times for flare ups. Paw-licking, ear infections and head shaking, skin irritation and generalized itching are all common signs of environmental allergies.
Treating these allergies involves treating the skin and ear infections, shampoos, anti-histamines, anti-inflammatory medications, fatty acid supplementation and environmental management. For severe cases, immune-sparing anti-inflammatories or customized vaccination (immuno-therapy) against your dog's allergens can be performed.
Food allergy is also common in dogs and can look very similar to environmental allergies. The best way to diagnose food allergies is to do a strict trial with a home-cooked novel ingredient diet or a prescription hypoallergenic diet. In order to confirm a food allergy diagnosis, a food challenge should be performed at the end of your trial.