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My Shih Tzu Won’t Stop Scratching

I have a 6-year-old, 11-pound Shih Tzu, whom i love dearly. All she does day and night is bite and lick her body, and scratch until she bleeds. I put a baby’s undershirt on her and it helps a little, but she still chews herself.

I have been to many veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists, who are all stumped.

Can you possibly help with some advice? Thank you.

– M.

Hi M.,

I am so sorry to hear about your sweet girl. Itchy skin is probably one of the most common problems we see and one of the most frustrating to treat.

There are several possibilities for the itching:

The first step is always to try to find the underlying cause. This process can take some time and requires patience as you work through each of the possible causes with your veterinarian to determine which one is the problem.

Allergies are probably the most common reasons we see dogs with chronic itching. If the allergy is to flea bites, it is important to keep your dog on flea control all year round. However, your dog may also need something to treat the allergy and help with the itching while the fleas are getting under control. It only takes one or two flea bites for an allergic dog to start scratching like crazy, so even with excellent flea control on board, she may still have occasional outbreaks throughout the year.

Dietary allergies are a nice diagnosis because we have a lot of control over what our pets eat. To determine if this is the cause, your dog will need to be placed on a limited ingredient (a single protein source and a single carbohydrate source), hypoallergenic diet for at least two to three months. During this period of time, she cannot eat any other foods, treats, chews or flavored medications. At the end of the dietary trial, there is a change to the old diet to see if her symptoms flare up again, which confirms a food allergy. If this is the case, you can then go through the process of figuring out which exact ingredient is the culprit.

Environmental or inhalant allergies are the most challenging. There are allergy tests (either a blood test or skin test) that can determine which allergens your dog reacts to in the area where you live. A vial of small pieces of these allergens is created specifically for your dog. She will then be given a series of injections to desensitize her system to these allergens. During this process, dogs often have worse symptoms because they are being injected with small particles of what they are allergic to.

It usually takes approximately one to two years of injections to determine if your dog is going to respond. There is only a 60 percent reported improvement rate, and your dog may still have some symptoms after this treatment. This means there’s a 40 percent chance your dog will be no better than when you started.

The alternative to allergy testing and injections are long-term medications. These medications often have effects on dogs’ immune systems and can have some detrimental long-term side effects. Medications to control symptoms include steroids such as prednisone, cyclosporine and antihistamines.

There are also alternative treatments, supplements and topical therapies that can help reduce the amount of stronger medications that need to be used. These include fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory if given in adequate doses) and hydrocortisone-based shampoos, sprays and conditioners.

In addition to all of these, it is very common for dogs to develop secondary bacterial or fungal infections because of the scratching, and these contribute to the itchiness. If the infections are not also addressed, a vicious cycle of itching and infection occurs that is never resolved.

Infections of the skin are particularly difficult because it can take three to four weeks for your dog’s body to make new skin. If the infection is not treated for long enough, the bacteria repopulate and the itching starts again. In addition, there is a risk of the development of resistant bacterial infections. Sometimes, a bacterial culture and sensitivity must be performed to determine if there is resistance so the correct antibiotic treatment can be chosen.

– Dr. Hoag

PHOTO: Joel Sowers

March 14, 2011 By : Category : Allergies Allergies ASK A VET Skin Problems Vet Popular Topics Tags:
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11 Comments Print

The Dog Park   


i have an 11 year old shitzu who is scracting and biting himself constatly, last night he was biting himself so frantacly he case a sore at the tip of his tail, what can i do to help him


Our dog had the same exact problem. Make sure there is no corn in her diet. It will cost more for food but it took two to three days to notice the relief hopefully th hos helps someone


One of my babies had a similar serious problem that thanks to her vet is now controlled. I might be able to help you. My email is enrievm@gmail.com


I just finished a treatment of prednisone and cephalexin on my APBT, which stopped the itching, but now she's out of meds and started itching again. My vet said to start giving her the pred again, but I don't like the side effects it has on her personality and behavior. I don't take pills myself, and I hate to have to give them to my dog. Are there any natural alternative treatments I can use instead? My vet is not being very helpful, and I'm skeptical of steroids.


Hi I have a cocker spaniel with the same problem. We have seen 10 different vets including an allergeologist and a dermatologists. We have done every single thing, medicine, remedy, shampoo, cream, you name it... With no success... Until our current vet treated her with an antibiotic called Convenia once every two weeks for 2 months and then only when necessary (it is a shot), baths once a week with a shampoo named Pyoben, and a spray every three or four days called Cortavance on the itchy spots (it is based with a corticosteroid but it does not go to the blood stream thus it does not affect them). Gracie has been medicine free for 6 years now and without a crisis for at east 6 months. I should mention that we live in Mexico but I am sure that there are some medicines in the us that are comparable to the ones I mention. Good luck with your shih tzu


Maybe u should take her 2 the vet she MIT have her flees or something it would be better to take her the vet


Thanks for the recommendation, but she's a young and resilient dog, and I was hoping to find a less expensive and possibly a topical treatmeat that would work quickly. She gets visible rashes from her allergies, so I was looking more along the lines of something that would soothe the itch from those rashes. 



  1. Shitzu itchy | Miranda1929 says:

    [...] My Shih Tzu Won’t Stop Scratching | i Love DogsMar 14, 2011 … My Shih Tzu is constantly biting, licking and scratching her skin. … Itchy skin is probably one of the most common problems we see and one of … [...]