With spring comes itchy, irritated skin for dogs. How to give them some relief? | Pet Peeves

Dr. Dara Johns / Special to the NWF Daily News / USA TODAY NETWORK

Itching and inflamed skin are a common occurrence in dogs during the warmer spring and then summer months. While I often discuss causes of itching, today let’s focus on some of the treatments we use to ease itching in dogs

The newer treatment for itching from allergies involves two very popular drugs called Apoquel and Cytopoint.

Apoquel and Cytopoint are the new wave to control itching. These are medicines that attack the itching at the cellular level. When the body is exposed to an allergen that it recognizes, the cells release inflammatory cytokines that trigger the itching.

Steroids certainly have their place in the treatment for itching. For many dogs with severe allergies, steroids are the only thing that will keep the problem under control.

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Cytopoint and Apoquel attack the cytokines at their source. They are effective against atopic dermatitis, which is allergies to pollens, molds, dust mites and such. They don’t work on every single itchy dog, but for the dogs that respond to Apoquel or Cytopoint, they are a true blessing and improve the pet’s quality of life.

Apoquel is a pill that has to be given every day to alleviate the itching, and Cytopoint is in the form of an injection that lasts four to six weeks. Because they are new technology, they are very expensive, but are safer and, in some dogs, much more effective than the old standby, steroids. 

I would certainly prefer to use these two on all pets that itch, but the cost of the medications put them out of reach for many pet owners.

So, what is the alternative for very itchy dogs that cannot get Apoquel or Cytopoint and cannot be consoled with soothing baths and antihistamines? We find ourselves returning to steroid therapy.

Steroids have their place but must be used carefully. The dose should be minimized to the lowest amount that will correct the inflammation and itching. Steroids should be given on an every-other-day treatment regimen.

That is because steroids are also produced naturally in the body by the adrenal glands. If steroids are given daily for long periods of time there is a danger of the adrenal glands shutting down. By using minimal doses and alternating one day on, one day off, the adrenal glands will still have enough stimulation to stay active.

Steroids certainly have their place in the treatment for itching. For many dogs with severe allergies, steroids are the only thing that will keep the problem under control.

Side effects from steroids include drinking a lot of water, urinating a lot, weight gain and, for some dogs, panting and pacing can be a problem.

Used carefully, steroids can be a useful tool for the control of itching in our pets. The key to remember is to use as little as possible and as infrequently as possible to attain the desired effect.

But that is true for any medicines we take.