My dog has a really sore tummy, it’s red and sort of angry looking. When I look she’s also got some sore, bald patches on her legs. I’ve looked for fleas but can’t see anything walking in her coat. I know if I go to the vets it’ll start getting expensive and I’d like to try something that is just really natural as it looks like it might be an allergy to me – it seems to be slightly worse the hotter the weather.
Where do I start?
Geraldine Williams, Cardiff, by email
Please note: Dogs Today strongly advises that veterinary attention is sought in the first instance so please assume this is the case when providing advice, tips and suggestions.
Alison Logan, vet, replies...
It is very hard to diagnose a skin condition without a full history (such as the age and breed of your dog, flea control strategy, diet, other pets living in house such as cats and their flea control history, nature of your home environment, where you tend to walk your dog) and being able to examine your dog in person. This is what your vet can do and yes, you will have to pay for a consultation but there is no NHS for pets and, in the longterm, your pet’s welfare is paramount. The longer you leave it, the more potential there is for this to develop into a serious problem requiring intensive treatment.
Common things are common. Fleas underlie a large proportion of skin problems, predisposing to secondary skin infections, and are straight forward to sort out. Simply looking in the coat is not sufficient to be sure your dog does not have fleas. You need to run a flea comb (a very fine toothed comb, similar to a child’s nit comb) through your dog’s coat and look not only for fleas but also for flea dirts (small black comma-shaped particles which dissolve red if water is spotted onto them because they contain partly digested blood). Apply an effective flea control product to all your pets regardless of whether or not you find signs of fleas, and ensure good environmental control as well (house, car, caravan etc). Do remember that if your dog is allergic to fleas she may only need one flea to bite so you may not find signs of fleas because the offending flea may have been and gone! If this is so then simply putting effective flea control into place may be sufficient for her skin to settle down.
An allergy to flea saliva is a very common allergy, but a dog with a flea allergy tends to be allergic to other things as well. It may be that your dog was coping until a flea bite took her above the so-called itch threshold. Before investigating inhaled and food allergies, for example, it is so important to rule out fleas. It is also worth remembering that you may find that your dog’s skin settles naturally over the next few weeks as the air-bourne allergens change with the season. If this is so, and then the skin changes recur at a similar time next year then the likelihood is that your dog has a seasonal allergy.A complication can be a secondary skin infection, following on from skin trauma where a dog has had a good scratch at him/herself. This will usually require medication from a veterinary surgeon. I would therefore strongly advise you to take the plunge and take your dog to be examined by a vet if there is no improvement once you have established strict flea control. There are, of course, other skin parasites and more serious skin conditions which could be the cause of your dog’s problem.