DEAR DR. FOX: I am writing to see if you might have any answers as to what could be causing my dog to have red, irritated skin around his muzzle. His hair is patchy around his muzzle, and it seems to be itchy and bothersome to him. He constantly scratches and rubs his nose on the carpet to itch it. We mentioned this to his vet, who did a skin scraping; the test came back negative. The vet also did a fungal test, and the results were negative. He put our dog on an antibiotic in case it was a bacterial infection, and he also prescribed prednisone in case it was fungal.
The medications did not help to clear up the irritation. The vet suggested changing my dog's food bowls to stainless steel because some dogs have allergies to plastic food bowls. We would have, but our dog has always had stainless steel bowls. The vet recommended trying different dog foods because some dogs are allergic to a carbohydrate or a protein in their dog food, so we tried a couple of different dog foods over the course of several months. So far, none of these changes has made a difference.
There hasn't been anything else that we use differently or anything different that we give our dog that we can think of that could be causing this irritation. However, we did move into a new house relatively recently. It has been almost a year since he started having this irritation around his muzzle, and it doesn't seem to have gotten any better, although he doesn't seem to scratch at it as much.
The last time we took him to the vet, he didn't have any other suggestions except to try another skin scraping. We did not proceed with another skin scraping as our dog would not cooperate, and the vet would have to put him under anesthesia to be able to get the scraping. We didn't feel it would be good to put him under anesthesia, so nothing has gotten resolved.
Do you have any advice or ideas as to what could be causing the irritation or any remedies that we could try? -- E.L., Moorhead, Minnesota
DEAR E.L.: That the vet said he would have to anesthetize your dog to take a skin scraping is absurd and risky, but profit-making indeed.
I would advise you to seek a second opinion. Explore a possible autoimmune disease like lupus or mange, and avoid all further topical and oral anti-flea drugs. Avoid using floor and surface antibacterial cleaners containing quaternary ammonium compounds and volatile synthetic room "fresheners."
I wonder about the carpets in your new home. Have them checked for allergens. Chemicals in fitted carpets could be at the root of your dog's problem, so put down cotton sheets where he sleeps if you do not wish to remove them.
DEAR DR. FOX: We adopted a dog about a year ago. As he was a shelter rescue, we don't know much about him, but he seems to be a mix of Chihuahua and Pomeranian, and about 6 years old.
At first we had no trouble with him aside from the occasional accident in the living room, but lately he's started biting hard enough to draw blood. We don't know what provokes him. I'll be petting him when suddenly he snaps at me. He also snaps sometimes when I try to put on his leash.
Can you offer any thoughts on what's going on? We'd hate to give him up. -- F.S., Brookfield, Connecticut
DEAR F.S.: Any change in an animal's behavior, as you are experiencing, calls for a veterinary checkup to rule out a physical cause, such as a painful ear infection or neck injury.
After that, you can move ahead with considering psychological reasons, especially overindulgence, allowing the dog to have his own way, not being consistent in rewarding good behavior and inhibiting and redirecting bad behavior. This is where the veterinarian can give you a referral to a certified animal behavior therapist or experienced dog trainer so you can enjoy your dog's company and not have to think about giving him up.
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