When our pets are itchy, it raises red flags for us. Is it something he ate? Seasonal allergies? Dry skin? Something more concerning? It’s hard to tell sometimes, and there is not one clear-cut answer to address the itchiness—no surprise, right? We all want to know how to help our itchy pet.

The Empathy for Itch campaign helps to raise awareness with a mission to educate and encourage pet owners. They want us to think about about our beloved furry family member’s skin health.

This campaign is an initiative between the Canadian Academy of Veterinary Dermatology, CEVA Animal Health, Zoetis and Royal Canin Canada . With the launch of a “pet check” list so families can feel confident in monitoring their pet’s skin.

Dermatologic issues can be caused by many different things, including environmental allergies and allergies. Particular components of their diets, trauma, parasites, other diseases, or inappropriate bathing can contribute. It is important not to wait for the pet’s behaviour to indicate distress before taking action and visiting the vet. You want to go for a proper diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

Since skin disease in pets may not always be easy to detect, at-home checks are a great first step. Doing at-home checks is critical for preventative care, as it allows pet owners to actively understand what their pet is experiencing. If an issue is identified, it’s important to make an appointment with the vet, as the more quickly a diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can begin.

When I recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Sara Ritzie (BScH DVM, Manager of Scientific Communication, Royal Canin Canada), I wondered if there are any concerns we city dwellers should keep in mind that could affect their pet’s skin.

When dogs develop environmental allergies, they can actually absorb the allergens through their skin, so whatever the dog’s skin is exposed to could trigger a reaction,” said Dr. Ritzie. “In open green spaces that could be grasses or pollens from flowers and trees, in more indoor settings that could be contact with insects (bites, or even contact with insects like ants), dust mites, etc.…”

help for your itchy pet
Dr. Sara Ritzie chatting with us about pet skin health.

She also tells us some tell-tale signs of itchiness with our pets that we should keep an eye on, including scratching, rubbing against furniture, rolling on the ground (which could be grinding more of the things they’re allergic to into their skin), red skin, hot skin, rashes, head shaking, corn cobbing (when they take teeny tiny nibbles all over their skin), rubbing their eyes, and skin twitching/foot thumping when you scratch them, to name just a few. 

And what can we do in the interim before our appointment with our veterinary team? “Heat and moisture are the enemies of itchy skin, so the goal is to cool down hot, irritated skin, and if there are moist areas, clean them and dry them completely,” said Dr. Ritzie. “Cool water baths can be very helpful, cool water is important to help reduce the heat which will in turn help reduce the itching, the bathing itself can help rinse away pollens. 

Ideally, when bathing, use a medicated shampoo and conditioner from the veterinarian, which contains antipruritic (anti-itching) features, +/- antifungal/antibacterial if indicated for the pet. And then it is really important to ensure they dry completely.  If there’s a localized itchy spot (like a bug bite), wrapping an icepack in a towel and placing it over the area can reduce irritation and itch.

It’s important to note that these interventions can help with the itching symptoms while waiting to see the veterinarian but may not do anything for the cause of the itching, so if there is an infection (bacterial, yeast, parasitic, etc…) or an underlying allergy or condition, then it will require a veterinary visit to diagnose and resolve the underlying problem properly.”

The best thing to do is incorporate checking your pet’s skin along with other daily routines. Before or after the daily brush-through is ours. Here are 5 easy steps…

5 Spot Checks to Best Assess Your Pet’s Overall Skin Health
  • Your pet’s eyes should be clear and bright. Any redness or hair loss around them should be shared with your vet.
  • When looking at your pet’s skin and coat, it should not be red, flaky, dry, or greasy. You can also take this opportunity to look for ticks or use a flea comb to check for fleas.
  • Your pet’s ears should not be red, painful, smelly or have any discharge. If your pet scratches his ears or rubs his face along the ground or floor, this may be a sign that his face or ears are itchy.
  • Paws can take a lot of abuse, especially in the winter with extreme cold or ice, or in the summer on hot pavement. Check your four-legged friend’s feet regularly for any redness, pain, or sores.
  • Your pet should be covered in hair (unless they are a Mexican hairless dog or a Sphinx cat), so any naked spots warrant a visit to the vet. It is much easier to manage skin problems earlier than later.
  • If you detect anything unusual or if you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to inquire with your veterinary team. They are the best source of support and care. Pet owners should always feel comfortable speaking up with their veterinary team and confident that they are receiving professional advice.

    For more information on the Empathy for Itch Campaign, management tips or tools to help your first vet visit be successful, visit www.cavd.ca/empathy-for-itch.

    Royal Canin Canada recently invited Harley and me to explore a heartwarming photo exhibition at GoodWolf Studios in Toronto. Here we learned about a few dogs who experienced various skin health concerns and how their families helped manage.JAX (Havanese): Goofy, loyal, cuddly

    Jax was approximately three years old when his itching began. His symptoms included itchy eyes, frantic scratching, and constant licking of his paws and forelegs, which eventually led to alopecia, raw skin, yeast, and bacterial infections. Jax was in a cycle of infections and antibiotics, and his family tried countless protein sources, grain-free diets, and various pharmaceutical interventions to keep him healthy.

    When he first visited the Veterinary Allergy Dermatology Ear Referral Clinic (VADER), Jax finally found relief. While the results weren’t immediate, every effort was made to crack the code to address Jax’s itching.  Jax is now planning to address his many complaints. His alopecia is gone, he is far more relaxed, sleeping through the night and rarely licking at his body.  Jax’s life has improved since meeting the team at VADER. 
    PABLO (Portuguese Water Dog): Cheeky, mischievous, and lovable

    Pablo began itching excessively around a year old. To help with the itching, Pablo began Cyto injections and then Apoquel, which didn’t provide long-term success.  Pablo’s family visited the Veterinary Allergy Dermatology Ear Referral Clinic (VADER).

    The team at VADER found a solution using Allergen Immunotherapy injections, which have changed Pablo for the better, as he’s not itching as often, and his beautiful fur has grown back.
    POPPY (French Bulldog):  Sweet, fun, easygoing

    At the end of 2018, Poppy began developing sores on her body and in early 2019 she was diagnosed with the skin disorder – Erythema Multiforme. The same year she was also diagnosed with a secondary condition not related to skin – Hypertrophic Pyloric Gastropathya GI disorder which affected her being able to keep down her medicines. With both health complications, her family was scared they may lose her, but they had faith in their veterinary team at the Veterinary Allergy Dermatology Ear Referral Clinic (VADER).

    A after a full year of trialing medications and food she started getting better. The sores went away, and both her disorders are now in remission. Poppy and her family are now able to manage her derm and improve her quality of life, she’s now a happy and healthy dog that loves spending time with her loving family.

    RILEY (Labrador Retriever): Smart, resilient and friendly

    Riley was 2 years old when he first began to suffer with his derm health, he began licking his paws more and his ears became deep red. Riley always suffered from ear infections and when his ears became worse and did not resolve after using steroids and antibiotics, he was referred to a dermatologist. 

    Through weeks of bandage changes and medications, Riley’s elbow and ears cleared up without need a procedure. Since Riley has been on a derm health plan he has improved significantly. Although it took some trial and error, Riley’s quality of life has now improved greatly, and he is active and more sociable.
    RINGO (Weimaraner): Curious, energetic, loving

    At around 12 weeks old, Ringo’s ears began to look slightly dirty. A week later, the dirt grew worse, his ears developed a smell and made squishing sounds with a good ear rub. The difficulties with his ears were diagnosed by his vet as an ear infection, which redeveloped three times after the infection was treated and had cleared up. Ringo also developed chronic loose stools and developed a tummy rash, which proved difficult for him.  

    At 10 months of age, Ringo is now working with his vet to determine the best diet for him, and his special vet food is helping keep his skin happy. His ears and body have cleared, and his family continues regular checks for any skin abnormalities to share with his vet.   


    Big thanks to Hannah Davison at Good Wolf Studio in Toronto for her amazing photography skills in capturing Harley’s personality (#corgitude)! She definitely knows her breeds!HARLEY (Pembroke Welsh Corgi): Curious, Smart, Witty

    When Dr. Ritzie asked about Harley’s skin condition  I had mentioned that on occasion he does have dry skin which seems to be in the winter months. We minimize bathing which could also trigger drier skin and use mild soap if needed. Daily gentle brushing of his coat also seems to help shed away loose hairs. Dr. Ritzie commented that his coat was nice and shiny. We also offer him a bit of dried fish (single ingredient) daily with his meal.

    After meeting with Dr. Ritzie we’ve begun including the 5 steps into our health check list routine.

    *all in-studio photography of dogs by Good Wolf Studio in Toronto.