The bugs have been out in full-force this summer! Whether they are simply swarming or actually biting, they can be aggravating. To seek relief from the itchiness caused by bug bite inflammation, you might desperately grab calamine lotion or some other anti-itch cream. For humans, calamine lotion is fine. For pets, it is not recommended.
Just like human sunscreens, calamine lotion contains zinc oxide, which can damage a dog’s red blood cells – causing them to rupture, then leading to anemia and even vomiting and diarrhea. Another over-the-counter (OTC) cream we saw contained zinc acetate, which should be used cautiously to avoid zinc toxicosis.
It is strongly recommended to avoid rubbing zinc-containing products on your dog (or cat) or allow your pets to lick your skin where you applied these products.
Zinc is an essential mineral for companion dogs that is best obtained through food. However, dogs have a propensity to lick or chew topicals, which may lead to zinc toxicosis.
What Can I Use to Control Inflammation and Itchy Skin on My Companion Dog?
Dr. Dodds and Hemopet recommend calendula creams or oils.
Calendula is an anti-inflammatory that calms itchy, inflamed skin.
Calendula can be used for:
- Minor cuts and wounds
- Bug bites
- Minor burns and sunburn
- Eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, etc.
Don’t Grab Just Any Calendula Cream
Some OTC anti-inflammatory creams that contain calendula also contain hydrocortisone. It is recommended to avoid hydrocortisone on your companion pet because cortisone overdosing can cause increased thirst, urination, panting, vomiting and diarrhea.
Find Out the Underlying Cause
In this article, we have focused on relief from bug bites. Clearly, calendula can help with many types of skin inflammation throughout the year.
If your companion dog is not only itching because of the occasional bug bite, you should have him tested for seasonal and environmental allergies, as well as for food sensitivities.
For food reactivities, we suggest our NutriScan Food Sensitivity and Intolerance Test that tests saliva. For the other causes, we suggest blood/serum allergy or skin patch testing, although the latter can be unsightly.
Just like newer Apoquel and Cytopoint products for itchy skin, calendula is not a cure, but relieves a symptom of a larger underlying cause.
Also remember, there are no surefire cures for allergies or food sensitivities in dogs and avoidance of and identified allergens is an essential component of case management.
Now, you may have recently heard of food immunotherapy for affected humans. However, food desensitization via this form of immunotherapy is not recommended by veterinarians for dogs or cats and is not available on the market. We opt for the more traditional protocol of avoidance.
Yes; allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) for environmental allergies in companion dogs is available. However, the success rate for ASIT to alleviate symptoms is approximately 60-80% and SLIT has been around 60%. In our opinion, the success rates should be higher and ultimately this demonstrates that either the wrong antigens are being targeted, the testing method is flawed, or the dosage is off.
Can I Use Bug Spray on My Companion Pet to Avoid Itchy Bug Bites?
You can use all-natural bug repellants on your companion pet. Bug Soother is one that comes to mind. However, only use them if the manufacturer states the product is safe for pets. We recommend the additional assurance that the all-natural bug repellant can be used on human adults and children.
Most importantly, make sure the bug repellant does not contain DEET or other harmful chemicals.
Mosquitoes, Fleas and Ticks
Using all-natural bug repellants help reduce the amount of itchy bug bites you and your companion dog might incur. However, no bug repellant is 100%.
Hemopet recommends giving prescription heartworm preventatives year-round if you live in the Southern or other high risk areas of the United States. In other parts of the country and Canada, the temperature needs to be above 57 degrees for approximately two weeks and mosquitoes should be prevalent before starting these preventatives, but then, only after your pet had been tested by your veterinarian to be heartworm antigen negative. A general rule of thumb is between May and November.
We extend the period into autumn months because heartworm preventatives do not actually prevent mosquitoes from infecting your dog with heartworm larvae. These preventatives actually kill different stages of heartworm larvae that already have infected your dog.
Fleas and Ticks
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued stern warnings about the health risks associated with certain oral and topical flea and tick products.
If your companion dog or cat is not prone to fleas or you do not live in a tick-infested area, there is no reason to give any flea and tick medications as preventatives.
If these bugs attach themselves, you can use flea shampoos and combs, or specially designed tick removers. It is a little bit more work, but your companion pet’s health is worth it.
Becker, Karen. “Some Topical Products May Be Dangerous to Your Pets.” Healthy Pets Mercola, https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2015/03/11/harmful-topical-products.aspx.
Campbell, Alexander, and Rosalind Dalefield. “Zinc Toxicity”. Vetstream, http://www.vetstream.com/treat/canis/diseases/zinc-toxicity .
Dodds, Jean. “Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy for Dogs and Cats”. Hemopet, 16 Oct. 2016, https://www.hemopet.org/allergen-specific-immunotherapy-dogs/.
Dodds, Jean. “FDA Issues Warning about Flea and Tick Products”. Hemopet, 7 Oct. 2018, https://www.hemopet.org/fda-warning-flea-tick-products/.
Dodds, Jean. “Heartworm: A Real and Present Danger”. Hemopet, 3 May 2015, https://www.hemopet.org/heartworm-preventative-dogs/.
Dodds, Jean. “Sunscreen for Dogs”. Hemopet, 6 June 2016, https://www.hemopet.org/sunscreen-dogs/.