Hot weather and dogs scratching seem to go together. In most cases it is not possible to completely cure the problem, but much can be done to reduce the discomfort for itchy dogs during summer.
Why some dogs are prone to skin diseases whilst others are never affected is not known. Some breeds, such as corgis, labradors, golden retrievers and long-haired dachshunds, are more likely to suffer.
Summer dermatitis or eczema makes its appearance after the first spell of prolonged hot weather. It is usually associated with the molting process. At this time the outer layers of the skin are dry and scurfy, and the presence of much loose brittle hair irritates the dog.
It attempts to relieve the itch by rubbing its back under beds or tables, or by rolling on its back on the carpet. After shedding of the hair in the spring the condition often subsides until autumn, when another bout of intense irritation often occurs.
Some dogs suffer a chronic form of irritation throughout the year. It can flare up when the dog is confined to a heated house for the colder months. Periods of extra stress can trigger off bouts of skin irritation.
Female dogs in their first season frequently develop an acute dermatitis. Bitches feeding puppies very often become excessively itchy, which is made worse by the need to keep the puppies at a high constant temperature.
The role of diet in the causation or prevention of eczema is not clear. There seems to be no method of feeding which has a direct bearing on prevention of the condition. Certainly overweight dogs are more likely to suffer skin irritations. The inclusion of some polyunsaturated fats in the diet of dogs with the dry scaly skin seems to promote a more healthy, lustrous coat.
The major factor in precipitating eczema is the presence of fleas. Many dogs develop a hypersensitivity to flea bites, so that the presence of only one flea can trigger intense irritation. The dog may scratch and rub itself so vigorously that the skin is broken and weeping, foul-smelling sores appear along the back, over the rump or around the head and neck.
The first aim of any treatment for eczema is to relieve the intense itching so that the dog ceases to damage its skin by rubbing or vigorous scratching. Injections of a corticosteroid is usually given to reduce the inflammatory reaction within the skin.
This effect is continued by using tablets over a prolonged period until all signs of inflammation and thickening of the skin have disappeared and until new hair has began to grow over any bare areas.
Care should be taken when washing dogs with a tendency to eczema. Strong shampoos, disinfectants or highly perfumed preparations should be avoided. Neutral soaps or specifically prepared shampoos from your veterinarian can be used but only as frequently as is dictated by the dog’s unpleasant smell. The more one washes the dog the drier the skin becomes and the more prone it will be to skin irritations.
Flea control in summer can be best achieved by using a flea wash or a flea collar. Ask your veterinarian for advice about your particular dog. Some individual dogs react adversely to a particular type of collar or flea wash. Try to remember exactly which preparation was last used, so that products containing the same chemicals can be avoided.
Regular brushing removes loose hair from the coat and stimulates the skin to produce a naturally shining coat which resists dirt, and therefore lessens the frequency with which a dog must be bathed. Swimming in fresh water or the sea does not leach the oils from the skin in the same way as shampoos or soaps and is a good way to exercise your pet in the hot weather.