Allergies are the #1 Cause

Question:
We have a Red Bone Coon Hound who is 18 months old. He chews his ears and toenails. He was a rescue dog about six months ago. What can we do to stop this behavior and why does he do it?

Dr. Nichol:
Dogs who lick, chew, or scratch themselves are miserably itchy. Among many possible causes allergies are the most common. Your big red hound dog could be reacting to airborne particles like house dust and pollens or to his diet. Other considerations include scabies (a type of mange), which can affect the ear tips and paw pads, and vasculitis, which is caused by inflammation of the blood vessels.

A thorough diagnostic approach will be important in part because some skin disorders have multiple causes.   To be sure we left no stone unturned I contacted board certified veterinary dermatologist Dr. Anthea Schick. She recommends bringing Big Red to your veterinarian for a careful evaluation that includes a microscopic exam of a skin scraping.

To really help your hound dog every possible factor should be ruled out. Mange mites can be tough to find so even if they are not seen microscopically it may be important to treat for them anyway. Food allergies are also common. A prescription novel protein diet trial could clinch the diagnosis and help your good dog feel a whole lot better. Skin damage can result from severe scratching. In addition to the usual suspects, bacteria and yeast can become opportunists. They need to be recognized and eliminated.

Once food allergy and parasites have been ruled out, your veterinarian may recommend treatment for environmental (airborne) allergies. Antihistamines and fish oil may control the itch; Atopica, can hit the home run in resistant cases. If symptomatic treatments like these miss the mark skin testing by a veterinary dermatologist will be important to pinpoint allergic causes so a custom-tailored injection series can be created. A skin biopsy would be evaluated if vasculitis is suspected.

I often wonder about some of the questions I get from my readers. Are they hoping to avoid embarrassment at their doctor’s office by describing behaviors or physical maladies of their own? But in this case-chewing nails and ears- maybe not.