The Itchy Hound – and some new information about ears

I’ve been breeding for some time now and its only recently we have thought seriously about chronic, painful itching. Dogs who find self inflicted raw bloody patches less of a problem than the initial itch.  In the old days you were told not to bed dogs on hay and only use straw as it was less likely to harbour mites. In 1973 we brought mange home, presumably from a dog show, and I have vivid memories of bathing three wolfhounds week after week while also feeding them large orange pills from the vet until they were free of it.

Nowadays hounds live in the house, their bedding is washed on high heat and regularly in a 10 kilo drum washing machine, our house rugs are regularly changed and steam cleaned weekly. We use Stronghold on the hounds to keep fleas, mites and worms at bay. Yet my last Irish wolfhound was an itchy dog who chewed his paws and had sore ears – he did best on a bespoke diet.  I now know I have bred and sold two basset fauve de bretagne youngsters who are chronically itchy. I suppose two unrelated hounds from seventeen litters over the last thirteen years is not anything to beat myself up about, but it would be much better were there none.

A lady owner in a BFDB Facebook group shared the treatment her hound was on ( which is working, hurray) and several people responded with their own hound stories of intractable itch. I have a Facebook group of my own for “my” owners, many of whom have other dogs. I asked them about itchy hounds plus e mailed the few owners not in the group to ask if anyone had any concerns of their own. Two reported back with problems. They both suspect grass allergies but aren’t sure.

Statistically, skin problems and gastric problems are the top two reasons a dog will be taken to a surgery, so fauves will not be immune to this trend.

My own vet has an interest in skin problems and has provided her input ( thank you, Emma). Lots of owners of dogs past and present have provided information. I will attempt to consolidate this here in case its any use to anyone as a resource.


These mites are increasingly common and can just about be seen with the naked eye. They lurk in the bottom of sacks of dog food where its dusty.

Its good practice ( and I am about to take this up!) to take the food out of the sack leaving behind the dusty bit in the bottom and to move it to a clean and dry container which you then freeze for 24 hours to kill any mites.


  1. Your vet will rule out parasites to begin with. Is your hound on a good flea and mite product,  applied at correct intervals?
  2. Do a diet trial for at least six weeks. Owners also recommend this. Either use home cooked food generally avoiding chicken and rice and concentrating on fish based and unusual meat proteins ( things the dog hasn’t tried before therefore might not be allergic to). Lamb, venison, sweet potato, potato are mentioned, or try a hydrologised canine prescription diet from your vet.
  3. If no improvements to using both steps above – you probably have atopic dermatitis. Hope that it is this and not malassesia ( see separate short note at the end about this condition).


So, your companion has been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis. Now what? this is the list from owners whose individual ideas have worked for their hounds:

  • 3/4 teaspoonful of coconut oil added to diet daily ( this also helps the digestion I hear)
  • keeping ears checked and cleaned using ear cleaners recommended by your vet.
  • hypoallergenic foods, or feeding a raw diet such as Nature’s Diet or Natural Instinct ( its true that owners who feed raw have dogs with stunningly glossy coats).
  • One Piriton allergy tablet given am and one pm together with a steroid spray from vet.
  • Yumega Omega 3 oil daily given with food, dose as instructed.
  • Regular baths in oatmeal ( soothing) or hibiscrub ( again, from your vet).
  • Wipes, to face and body of hound on returning from walks, to remove any grass pollen spores.
  • Try boosting the immune system. One contact used Elagen, from a small firm in Wales called Eladon, and swears by this product.
  • Three owners, having spent up to £1,000 at vets and otherwise despairing of their dogs ever being free from the itches, used a particular homeopathic practitioner and now recommend her to everyone. ( Labrador and two Irish wolfhounds).

Your vet will have some treatments in their armoury. Most of us know about Apoquel, which does have a dramatic effect on some itchy dogs. Yet this has side effects and its not something to give open ended.

Your vet can do a blood test and you might pay for desensitising injections. I hear that when these work they work wonderfully well. A blood sample is sent to Artuvetin, Holland, who make up a specific vaccine based on the allergies they discover. At the moment the price is around £130 for 1-4 types of allergy ( and there are an awful lot of different types of grasses and tree pollens to test for) and c.£180 for 5-8 types of allergy. This is the information on costs from one practice only, ask at your own as all will vary.  Your vet will charge for the initial “loading” which is followed by monthly injections. Each vial can last 12 months, so it will be cost effective. I know a wolfhound who maintained a healthy skin on this regime until he died aged over ten. He had also been moved onto a natural “BARF” diet.

Your vet might move to a new treatment (in the UK), although available in the USA for longer. Cytopoint is what worked for the lady I mentioned earlier with a very itchy fauve. I am told vets are using it where nothing else has helped Atopic Dermatitis.

A final word about Cytopoint from Emma O’Connor, MRCVS” Cytopoint launched to specialist dermatologists this summer and has now been made available to everyone. Have our first case at work already and seems to be working great. I went to one of the launch meetings last month and it certainly looks like a promising new way of managing the itch. It doesn’t cure the allergy, just blocks a chemical that induces the itchy feeling”.


This came from a Rhodesian Ridgeback owner, whose rescued hound suffers from this and has to go to bed in a Buster collar to stop her scratching and biting overnight. Its an immune system deficiency, where natural yeast is not kept in check causing excruciating infections to the feet and ears. It tends not to manifest itself until the dog is two years or older. Its inheritable, so dogs with this condition should not be bred from. If it is known to exist in a breed, would be owners should ask about grandparents as well as parents skin condition before purchasing.


First and last word on the subject – keep looking in there, and keep them clean. If your dog is in and out of water a lot or has hairy ear canals , this is particularly important. Use cotton wool to protect swimming hounds from getting too much water down there. Basset breeds seem prone to “yeasty” ears in some cases. I’ve had recommendations from different breeders and owners, all of whom have their own tried and tested products. I have used Cleanaural, Thornit ( both powders) over the years and am presently using Stinky Stuff’s Non Stinky Stuff – it smells pleasantly of sage and seems to be a good cleanser used once or twice per week when you need it.

If your vet gives you a course of ear drops bear in mind it can take six weeks or so to really get to the infection, so ensure you talk about this and have a long enough course to see you through or it may well recur.

Co-incidentally a wolfhound friend posted this week about a treatment which worked where everything else had failed. Apparently its not available in the UK so far, but if you live anywhere else ask your vet about “Oridermyl” otherwise Vetoquinol. This gave relief to an elderly hound whose owner was thinking the last help she could give her was to put her down and out of this suffering. It worked perfectly. An Australian vet nurse goes straight out for Canesten ( vaginal) cream, don’t say its for a dog of course, the generic name for it is clotrimazole.


I’ve learned a lot about skin problems by asking around – and I hope you find this useful. Happy to add your own ideas to the list of ” what worked for you” if you would like to contact me.

Liz Thornton