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Dr. Taus
Dr. Taus, Veterinarian
Category: Veterinary
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Experience:  Veterinarian with experience in equine and small animal medicine.
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On 10/11/13, I emailed Dr. Gabby about our 12 year old Papillion's constant scratching, especially around the tail area. He is allergic (to some degree) to grass, so we rinse him regularly. We add an oil supplement to his food and brush him. We us flea drops. We tried Benadryl, which doesn't seem to work, and then the other antihistamines recommended by Dr. Gabby, which also didn't seem to work. After observation and more thought, we're wondering if this is more of a behavioral problem than a physical one. We're sure he is itchy at times, which would seem normal for an active dog, but in the last 2 months it's been just way out of line. We're wondering about it being at least partially behavioral because he calms down and doesn't scratch when he's being held...and he wants to be held all the time now. When he's not being held, he seems to obsess about scratching and biting himself on his back by his tail. He also stops scratching (for a while) if the behavior is interrupted by squirting him with water. So we're wondering what to do to help him get over this, and would appreciate any help you can give. This is driving us (and him, I'm sure) nuts.


It's been over an hour. Is anyone there?

Hi there,

I'm sorry to hear that Reggie is so itchy! In my experience, fall is the absolute worst time for allergies in most dogs (in North America, at any rate). It seems that dogs that are somewhat itchy the rest of the year REALLY blow up between August and December.

All the things you are doing so far are great steps for dealing with mild allergies, but it sounds as if it's just not quite enough to keep Reggie's problems under control. Unfortunately, dogs' histamine receptors aren't quite like people's, and antihistamines are only successful in managing allergies in about 1/3 of cases. While distracting him from scratching may help temporarily, dogs generally don't scratch unless they either itch or there is (in very rare and specific cases) a nerve problem that is causing discomfort in the area. This is likely not something you are going to be able to change significantly with rewards or punishments, just like distracting you from scratching your poison ivy doesn't make you not itch when you're no longer distracted.

At this point, I'd really recommend prescription medication. For many dogs, a short course of something more powerful (prednisone, atopica, etc) at a safe dose is sufficient to get them through until the time of year when their allergies aren't bothering them as much. If this stops the scratching, it also lets you know absolutely for sure that you are not dealing with a behavior problem. Other options you might discuss with your vet include allergy testing and desensitization, as well as a food trial to rule out food allergies. I don't think food allergies are the problem, as he appears to have a seasonal distribution of signs, but it does bear thinking about.

I hope this is helpful. If so, please rate me positively, and don't hesitate to let me know how I can help further.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

thank you. In the 2 hours since I sent the original message (more about that below), we bathed Reg with a mild shampoo, which has greatly improved the situation. He's much calmer and much less itchy. We've been hesitant to bathe him too often because we don't want to dry out his skin, which of course will just exacerbate the problem. But we bathed him one week ago with the same results, which seems to indicate we need to be bathing him more often than we have been. Reg is very active, as is my husband (and Reg is Daddy's boy!). They go out on walks several times a day, with stick-fetching and running mixed in. This means Reg is out in the grass and fauna, getting pollens and other stuff on his fur. So it appears we might need to be more diligent about bathing him...?

Now for the hour plus wait. When I sent my message, I was focused on my issue and not paying much attention to the format of the message. It wasn't until I went into "edit" that I found out the 'subject' was too long. If the system had 'told' me that when I sent the message, I wouldn't have been waiting for over an hour to get a response. It's simply not good service to make the customer 'edit' their response in order to find out the message wasn't even delivered.

First of all, I apologize for your wait. I'll send your concerns along to the moderator-- I locked on your question as soon as it appeared in my log, and what happened is outside my personal control, but I'll try to get this to someone who manages the site itself. I hope this inconvenience won't color your perception of our conversation!

Dermatologists vary on where they come down on bathing. "Dogma"-- no pun intended-- is that
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

your response was cut off at "'Dogma' -- no pun intended -- is that"

First of all, I apologize for your wait. I'll send your concerns along to the moderator-- I locked on your question as soon as it appeared in my log, and what happened is outside my personal control, but I'll try to get this to someone who manages the site itself. I hope this inconvenience won't color your perception of our conversation!

Dermatologists vary on where they come down on bathing. "Dogma"-- no pun intended-- is that bathing more frequently than weekly dries out the skin and makes itching worse. However, some dermatologists (including the one I send clients to) recommend bathing more frequently to remove allergens and treat early skin infections from scratching before they cause bigger issues. Some dermatologists recommend bathing as often as every other day. Long story short, if bathing more frequently is helping to relieve his symptoms, you are not going to cause any problems by doing it. I'm not sure how often you bathe him now, but starting with 1-2 times a week is good as long as it's not increasing his itching or causing flaking skin.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Thank you. We will try bathing him twice a week rather than once a week. Given that he's out in the elements every day, it makes sense to get those elements off him. He's an active little guy and has to be out there running and fetching or he gets cabin fever...even in wet western Washington. So it looks like we need to compensate for that by more frequent bathing.

That is certainly a great place to start.

What kind of shampoo are you using? Oatmeal-based products are soothing and many dogs with allergies do well on them. Using an antimicrobial product (for example, Malaseb) for one of your baths may also be helpful, as many dogs with allergies, in addition to their primary allergy, are also allergic to the bacteria and yeasts which normally live on the surface of the skin. These products do tend to be more drying that non-antimicrobial products, though, so I try to limit their use to one bath a week and use an oatmeal or moisturizing product for the other bath(s).
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

We use a mild puppy shampoo but I think we're going to try an antimicrobial product in addition to that. This seems to be a good solution for us - thank you!

Good! Don't hesitate to let me know if you have other questions or just how he's doing.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Will do. Is Malaseb a prescription shampoo or can we get it at a pet store such as Petco?

Malaseb can be bought over the counter (it's widely available online). Whether your local pet store actually carries it or not, I'm not certain. The active ingredient is 2% chlorhexidine/2% miconazole, and you may be able to find other brands with the same active ingredient profile.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Thank you again. This has been a most helpful conversation - more helpful than others.

Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX I could help. I hope your little guy gets to a more comfortable place soon.
Dr. Taus and other Veterinary Specialists are ready to help you
Hi Ann,

I'm just following up on our conversation about Reggie. How is everything going?

Dr. Taus
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

We weren't able to find Malaseb at Petco but I ordered it online, so we'll be trying it out soon. I did find a spray with .05% of one of the Malaseb ingredients at Petco, so bought it and have used it. It seems to have a minor affect on his itching, which is to be expected given the very diluted amount of ingredient. However, I think it's helping a bit so we're using it until we get the full dosage shampoo. Every little "improvement" is good for all of us!


I really appreciate the advice you've given us. Our vet passed away and we haven't found a new one. I admit we're not actively seeking one because just going to the vet's office caused our little guy so much trauma it was hard to take - shaking and trembling and climbing up on our shoulders for comfort. If we can get good advice without putting him through that, we're more than happy to put off finding a local person as long as we can.

I understand- it is hard when going to the vet is so stressful. For allergy management, most tests and evaluation could be performed in your home if you have a local vet who does house calls. Just a thought if you do need further evaluation.

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