Articles Index/Itching
Posted 05/30/98


It's summertime again and Norfolks everywhere are basking, barking and bounding with delight. But as the weather grows steadily warmer and more humid, watch out for skin problems. Symptoms range from constant scratching or head-shaking to gnawing at "hot spots" on back, legs and furnishings.

If fleas are the problem, launch a search-and-destroy offensive immediately. Vacuum and spray floors, carpets, upholstery and your dog's sleeping quarters at least once or twice weekly. Wash your dog's bedding frequently. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a flea/tick shampoo and a separate flea/tick spray. I try to avoid spraying my dogs themselves, but at shows and other outdoor events, a spray is an invaluable flea barrier if applied around the perimeter of your dog's ex-pen.

If fleas and flea-bite allergy aren't the cause of itching, make sure diagnosis rules out (1) sarcoptic (red) mange; (2) ringworm; (3) ear mites; (4) Cheyletiella mite, or "walking" dandruff. Each of these parasites will succumb to either topical (baths or dips) or systemic medications.

But what if your Norfolk's itch isn't due to any of the above? You know your dog's habits and behavior better than anyone else. If you can break that annoying itch cycle, the rest of the summer may be tranquil. So think about it. When are the symptoms worst? Night or day? More intense in hot, dry or wet, humid weather? Is the dog's sleep area ample, thoroughly clean and cool enough? (An electric floor fan placed a distance away provides excellent ventilation.) How often is your dog exposed to shrubbery and grass sprayed with insecticides? If your Norfolk is aquatically inclined, what about the chlorine in your swimming pool?

Besides fleas and other parasites, the most common sources of skin irritation are grass, pollen, and diet. If you suspect pollen or grass, a standard over-the-counter antihistamine may offer relief. (Discuss dosage with your vet; and meanwhile, keep your pet away from that freshly "treated" lawn.) Like humans, dogs sometimes react to their daily diet differently from one season to another. Avoid kibble and canned food containing beef and beef by-products. There are many alternative dry and canned foods based on lamb, chicken, and rice which are naturally preserved. For variety, occasionally add bits of cooked carrots, string beans, or a dollop of non-fat, unflavored yogurt with acidophilus.

Attacking the problem from without, topical creams, lotions, and shampoos are available in abundance. Nolvasan and Benzoly Peroxide shampoos cleanse the skin of bacteria. Aloe, glycerine and oatmeal (yes, oatmeal!) shampoos stop the irritation and reduce inflammation. If all else fails, your veterinarian may recommend a brief course of the steroid Prednisone. Taken internally, it halts itching temporarily. In spite of its growing medical popularity, it should be used sparingly and with caution.

Sometimes an "itching spell" may vanish as mysteriously as it appeared. Since the chances of this happy resolution are unpredictable, breaking the itch cycle will depend greatly on your determination. If healthier diet, improved hygiene or appropriate medications don't produce overnight results (and they probably won't), this doesn't mean you are fighting a losing battle. Be optimistic and keep at it. Always ask your vet before trying "something new". And incidentally, while you're treating, continue to have as much daily fun with your dog as possible. Nothing encourages the "habits" of scratching, licking and gnawing more than boredom, even after the real itch is gone!

Nat R. LaMar
ANTIC, Summer, 1994


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