All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dog Bites Base Of Tail Incessantly

Dear Marie,
Our 1-year-old Basset hound mix, Ralphie, started biting at the base of his tail like a maniac this weekend. He’s always had a beautiful coat and he’s never had fleas, so I don’t know what’s going on. I checked him over really well and there is not a single flea on him, plus I use monthly flea and tick medicine. I’ve tried everything I can do to get him to stop and he gets pretty upset with me when I do. I can tell this is driving him crazy and he is making himself bloody and raw. What is happening? Is this a behavioral problem?

Dear Hoa,
Even if you can’t find any fleas and you are using monthly flea and tick medication, your dog may have still picked up one of these pests while out on a walk, or possibly playing in your own yard. For some dogs, all it takes is one bite to set off unbearable itchiness. The flea responsible for the bite no doubt abandoned ship shortly after dining. Remember, monthly medication does not prevent fleas from biting, but it does kill them after the fact. So if there are fleas in your yard or neighborhood, your dog will get an occasional bite.

As we approach summer and warmer weather, we will be getting into flea season again. It might be advisable to treat your yard for fleas. If your dog does suffer from flea allergies, you may need to consider restricting playtime and walks to your own property, at least during the warmest months of the year.

If Ralphie can’t stop chewing on his tail and back, you need to get him straight to the veterinarian. You don’t want any of his open sores to become infected, and they will if left untreated. There are a number of veterinary management tactics that will quickly soothe the problem areas and allow them to heal. In severe cases, a vet may even suggest the use of a special collar that restricts your dog’s ability to bite or lick the hot spots.

A veterinarian may also be able to tell if there is something else setting off your dog. For example, your dog’s anal glands may need to be expressed. Ralphie may not be able to reach the actual spot that is creating the problem, so he is settling for the closest target he can manage. Though you can express your dog’s anal glands yourself, I personally think it’s worth the price of an office visit and routine procedure to have it done by a professional!

Sometimes skin irritations can also be related to a dog’s diet. Talk to your veterinarian about a natural food, or a product that he or she can recommend for alleviating canine skin allergies. There are lots of wonderful pet foods available that are developed by professionals in the field of pet nutrition. But there is also a lot of junk out there, even in high-end pet supply stores. Your veterinarian should be able to steer you in the right direction when selecting a product that will work for your pet.

Occasionally, this condition may be inherited. If you know the owners of your dog’s parents, you should ask them if they have problems with their pets’ skin. Unfortunately, if this is indeed an inherited problem for Ralphie, you should expect to provide a lifetime of consistent care and prevention that will include soothing medication, periodic injections of corticosteroids, and a lot of trips to the veterinarian. For the most part, the condition can be controlled, but a few miserable days here and there are inevitable.

Because of the sudden onset and severity of the problem, this doesn't sound like a behavioral issue. However, if your veterinarian can rule everything else out, then you may need to focus on some redirection activities—interactive dog toys, lots of play time, practicing basic obedience, etc.

Regardless of the source of the problem, Ralphie will need a lot of patience and kindness from you. Don’t be one of those owners who subscribes to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind philosophy and relegate Ralphie to being outdoors 24-7. Dealing with skin conditions in pets can be very frustrating, but there is help close by.

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