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Pruritus (Itchiness) in Dogs

By: Dr. Mark Thompson

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Treatment

The only way to relieve pruritus long-term is to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. Medications may be effective in mild cases or may offer temporary relief for more severe cases while waiting for the underlying cause to respond to treatment. But the itching often recurs after the medication is finished. Generally, treatment consists of the following:

  • Antihistamines. These drugs are much less helpful in dogs than they are in humans and will significantly help only 25 to 30 percent of cases. Nevertheless, they are often prescribed since they are relatively safe drugs when compared to corticosteroids. Some dogs respond better to one antihistamine than another, so veterinarians may try two or three different types before giving up on them.

  • Fatty acid supplements. These may help relieve pruritus by modulating the immune response and may be helpful for chronic pruritus. Certain fatty acids, such as eicosapentanoic acid found in fish oils, help to change the chemical composition of mediators produced during the allergic response, thereby making them less inflammatory. Like antihistamines, these products are not always helpful but they are relatively safe. Some dogs that do not respond to antihistamines may do well with a combination of antihistamines and fatty acids.

  • Shampoo therapy. Shampoos that contain colloidal oatmeal are soothing, and because these shampoos are moisturizing, they can be used frequently without drying the skin. Some oatmeal-based shampoos contain topical anesthetics or topical corticosteroids that are safe and further help in reducing pruritus.

  • Corticosteroids. When other therapies are not effective, corticosteroids such as prednisone may be prescribed. Again, these drugs may help in some cases but are less effective in others. Many side effects associated with corticosteroids restrict their long-term use. Some of these include increased thirst and hunger, which may lead to obesity and suppression of the immune system, which may lead to infections, irritation of the stomach and damage to the liver or adrenal glands. Short-acting, oral corticosteroids are much safer than long-acting injectable, since they can be cleared from the body rapidly should side effects occur.

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