The Dog Won’t Stop Scratching

By: Tyler Kent CPDT-KA

We had a baby. Then my dog got ALD. What is ALD you ask? Well, it’s acral lick dermatitis. This is a health/behavior problem where your dog starts to chew off patches of fur. The causes can stem from lack of exercise, stress, neglect, bugs, and a whole host of other things. All of which seemed to be happening to my dog simultaneously. We had a baby. She was getting all of our attention. What little attention my dogs were getting was mostly confirming the new rules with a little too much pizazz. That’s a nice way of saying I was yelling at them. I know yelling doesn’t work. It often only ads to the problem behavior. Unfortunately, it is the only emotion that pops up when you’re sleep deprived and trying to understand the intricacies of a tiny human. Once we really started to get our rhythm with the baby, it was time to refocus my efforts on the dogs.

I have a Belgian Malinois, Remo and a Rat Terrier-Chihuahua, Bailey. The Malinois got dermatitis. Dermatitis is a disgusting plague. What starts as nervous chewing becomes a pus-dripping spot that smells like hell on a hot day. Trust me when I say, you don’t really want that around a baby. It’s not zoonotic (directly transmitted from animals to humans), but as first-child-must-clean-everything-syndrome goes, I might as well have her in a bubble. Hand sanitizer available on demand. Wipes specifically made for pacifiers. So much bleach I could start a chloroform gas company. With Remo’s declining physical state and his outrageous smell, I was having trouble connecting with my dog. What was once a great source of pleasure, was now a chore that I was desperately trying to keep away from my baby.

The solution? It was so simple it seems foolish. We went running. The second thing any behaviorist will tell you, give your dog proper exercise. A Belgian Malinois needs Olympic style training, so our runs are long and topped off with a serious frisbee training session in the park. After the first seven days of our new workout regiment, his obsessive licking subsided and I lost some of the sympathy weight. After two weeks his fur started to grow back. With the skin healing and the lesions disappearing, he started to smell like that dog I loved so much. So, why did this happen?

Acral, meaning extremities, are licked so much they cause what is known as a granuloma. Granulomas are the products of the immune system building a wall between the body and contaminants it views as dangerous. In dogs, the licking becomes self-reinforcing. The granuloma causes irritation, the irritation causes more licking. More licking can lead to infection. Infection leads to vet bills and prescriptions.

The causes of the granulomas are numerous. Allergies, bugs, pain, boredom, stress, and various disorders can all lead to ALD. In my case, I had to do a bit of trial and error to get down the real problem. First I looked into his diet. I had just started feeding him some sweet potato treats (allergic?). It probably wasn’t the issue, but it was a good start. So we eliminated the treats. Next, I knew he needed some exercise and training sessions. Phase two began with runs and training indoors with the baby and down stays. This new regiment solved the problem, it seemed. Then, dog number two came home.

Bailey had been at daycare during the first months of baby’s life. He’s harmless, but has an affinity for walking under-foot. This situation had the potential for disaster, so he went on vacation at Beast Masters clubhouse. Upon his return, things were going great. Seemingly overnight, Bailey was infested with fleas. I gave him a necessary flea dip and went about my life. The fleas returned. Again, the dip. Again they returned. Why wasn’t I having the same problem with Remo? They sleep on the same couch (this couch is no longer inhabited by humans).

Further investigation would lead me down the path of eradicating fleas that had taken up shop within the couch or other areas the dogs inhabit. I was focused on finding a product that was safe to use in the home and effective. Permethrin is the usual go to, safe for babies and pregnant women. My fiance encouraged me to look into something more natural. Peppermint oil and clove extract claims to kill fleas and not just repel. Which got me thinking, what about coconut oil?

The reason I ask is this. Remo’s skin was extremely dry from all the baths I was giving him to eliminate the smell (before the exercise phase). The bathing was only adding to the problem, so I incorporated coconut oil massages to soothe his skin. As it turns out, coconut oil repels fleas but does not kill them. Possibly the initial culprit in his ALD was the saliva from the flea bites. Then, it was exacerbated by the lack of training and exercise. Scratching led to biting. Biting led to more biting. My stress increased, and so did his. Which caused an explosion of ALD. The coconut oil was just hiding the main problem from me, fleas.

We used a flea remedy on their backs that last up to a month. I decreased the number of baths. Increased his activity time and exercise. His skin cleared up. The hair grew back. I sprayed the couch with flea killer, but don’t tell my fiance. The fleas are gone. My boy smells so much better. Now he gets to sleep in the room. Is he happy? He seems to be. Should I have consulted a vet? Most definitely.

I came to this conclusion through trial and error. Through the reading of way to many dog books we keep in the office, and through scouring the internet for days. I do not recommend you take the same path. Go see the vet! I do recommend that you make sure your pup is getting proper nutrition and exercise. Add in a bit of love and some training sessions, and you should have a happy dog.

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