The heavy breathing and high heartrate may be related to the discomfort of scratching/itching, or may be an unrelated issue, and your veterinarian should be consulted about these symptoms. Dogs treated with steroids for itching often have side effects such as panting, so if your dog has received steroids then this may be a contributing factor. The most common reasons for itchy skin in dogs include skin infections, microscopic skin parasites such as fleas, scabies or demodex mites, food allergy, or pollen/dust allergies. Your veterinarian can take skin scrapings to examine under the microscope for parasites and for skin infection. If skin infection is present, it is treated with antibiotics for 3-4 weeks and mild antibacterial shampoos. I also recommend trial treatment for hard to find microscopic skin parasites with Revolution, (since it kills microscopic scabies mites, which can be hard to find on skin scrapings and can mimic allergies in dogs). The itch can be treated symptomatically with mild oatmeal shampoos, fatty acids, antihistamines or a short course of oral steroids, but steroids are not a good choice for long term treatment due to their many side effects. If your dog's itch persists or recurs despite antibiotics, parasite control and symptomatic medications, then I would suggest talking to your veterinarian about a prescription hypoallergenic diet. There is no accurate skin or blood test for food allergy; the test and the treatment are the strict hypoallergenic diet trial for 6-8 weeks with no other treats or foods. Lastly, if your dogs' symptoms persist despite all of the above, or if the symptoms only occur during certain seasons, then talk to your veterinarian about referral to a veterinary dermatologist for possible allergy skin testing and desensitization injections for pollen/dust allergies to identify and treat the underlying cause of the itch and recurrent infections, rather than just treating symptoms with medications (veterinary dermatologists can be found in your area by going to www.acvd.org and clicking on the "find a dermatologist" button). Hope that helps!
Kimberly Coyner, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Dermatology
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