Could Bravecto, a treatment for fleas and ticks in dogs, cause them to constantly itch, scratch and lick themselves?
In this article I will be looking at Bravecto for dogs and telling you about the problems I had with it causing extreme itching and scratching in my dog. I'll also tell you about which natural treatments and remedies I have tried and how I got on with them. as well as the monthly flea treatment for dogs that I use which has not caused a skin reaction in my dog. Medical or natural flea and tick remedies - there is something here for all!
Consulting a vet about itching and scratching in an animal is the second most common reason for a consultation, after gastrointestinal issues and diarrhea. If you have a dog who is constantly itching, scratching and licking themselves my advice would be to consult a vet immediately. Hopefully they will be able to help you straight away and solve the problem.
However, if you have been to the vet many times (and racked up huge bills in the process!) and your dog is still itching and scratching and driving you nuts in the process, then read on, I might just be able to help.
Having a dog that constantly scratches, licks and bites itself is very stressful, not just for the dog but the owner too. You are constantly on guard waiting for the scratching to start and trying to divert their attention when it does. I can tell you that the sound of a dog constantly biting and licking itself is hard to listen to - those of you who have experience of this will understand!
Our last family dog had to be put to sleep and a few months later we got Sherlock, a beautiful golden retriever. He was ten weeks old when we got him and was scratching a little but I didn't think too much of it at the time. Over the next few weeks I thought that the scratching was increasing and I noticed marks on his stomach, they looked a bit like mosquito bites, small, red, round and slightly raised and he was biting them a lot. He had been treated for fleas and worms by the breeder before I got him and was not due any further treatments, but I gave him a check for fleas and couldn't find anything so left it at that.
Over the next few weeks he got a lot worse, and I mean a lot. He started dragging himself on his stomach outside on the gravel and this was making the sores weep. His underbelly was also really sparse on hair although the rest of his coat was fine. All the scratching seemed to be centred around his stomach, armpits and rear end. I had a few trips to the vets but after checking him over and not finding anything wrong, they didn't have much to offer because of his age and it was hoped he would grow out of it.
Supplements for itchy dogs
I started adding Lintbells YuDerm Itching Dog liquid food supplement (yumove.co.uk) to his food which is a premium cold pressed oil mixture (fish, salmon, golden flax, starflower and vitamin e) to help calm the skin down and also started using Sweet Relief cream by Biteback Products (bitebackproducts.co.uk) on him and I have to say they helped enormously.
Although the Sweet Relief cream was helping massively with the healing of his sores, it didn't stop the itching.
I took Sherlock back to the vet who suggested he went on an exclusion diet to see whether he had any serious food allergies. The trouble with an exclusion diet is that you need to keep it up for about two to three months to monitor any changes. The vet suggested Hill's Science Prescription Diet z/d which is clinically proven to help reduce skin and gastrointestinal signs caused by adverse food reactions. (NOTE: exclusion diets should only be undertaken on the advice of a vet). Sadly, this did not stop the scratching and the Prescription Diet z/d had about the same nourishment in it as cardboard so I wanted my growing puppy off it as soon as possible.
Dog steroids for itching
Having proved that he was not allergic to anything in his normal food we returned to the vet. This time it was suggested that he went on a course of steroid tablets for five days. They don't really like to put such young dogs on steroids if they can avoid it but decided that about a week itch free might just give the sores on his stomach time to heal. The vet was concerned because once the skin becomes broken it is easy for bacterial and fungal infections to get in to the skin, especially in young dogs.
Malaseb shampoo for dogs
The vet also prescribed some Malaseb dog shampoo. Malaseb is a medicated shampoo (prescription only) that is anti-itch, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. The fun part is that once the dog is shampooed up you have to leave it on for ten minutes. We managed this by leaving him in the bath and sitting next to him with a plate of chicken breast and feeding him tiny bits whilst the timer counted down.
With the steroids and Malaseb shampoo we had a few days of scratch free living which gave the medicated shampoo time to heal the skin a little, but as soon as the steroids wore off we were back to square one.
Dog skin allergies
By this time I was doing loads of research on itchy and scratching dogs and trying to pin down what could be causing the issue. There was a possibility that Sherlock could have an allergy to something like grass pollen but dogs can't have allergy tests until they are about eighteen months old and even then they are expensive and don't always give any answers. I also discovered that dogs don't usually get allergies until they are at least six months old and I knew Sherlock had been scratching at least since he was ten weeks old so was fairly confident that he didn't have an allergy.
Bravecto for dogs side effects
I had a flash of inspiration and checked the calendar. I remembered a two week period when the scratching had decreased and I thought we were turning a corner, only for it to return again just as bad. This two week period when Sherlock scratched less was just before his second dose of Bravecto.
Bravecto is a tablet form of flea and tick treatment that lasts three months. I had a sneaky suspicion that it might be the Bravecto that was causing the skin itching problem for Sherlock. In all honesty I would never have chosen a treatment that lasted three months for a puppy. Imagine how much a puppy grows in three months and then imagine how strong the initial dose must have been to last for 3 months in a quickly growing puppy? I hadn't even considered the flea treatment as he had already had it when I got him. After further research I discovered that the USA does not licence Bravecto tablets for dogs under six months of age.
Injections for dog itching
I decided to change to a topical monthly flea treatment when it was next due to try and prove my theory but still had six weeks to go before the current dose of Bravecto wore off.
I then discovered that there are injections that dogs can have to help with itching and scratching and although they are hideously expensive, I was willing to try anything at this stage, Sherlock had been scratching and biting himself raw for about four months by now.
There are two injections that I know of, Apoquel and Cytopoint.
Apoquel injection for dogs
Apoquel is an injection that can be given to dogs but it suppresses the immune system and can cause other serious side effects. I had already decided not to use Apoquel when I found out that you can't give it to a dog under the age of twelve months anyway.
I decided to try the other option which was an injection of Cytopoint. Cytopoint is not a chemical or drug, it is actually a protein that works like the dog's own immune system to block the main protein that sends signals to the brain that make them want to itch. Let's face it, any treatment like this is an interference with the biological system in some way but this was not a pharmaceutical treatment.
How long does Cytopoint last?
Cytopoint can last about four to eight weeks, but it is usually about four. Cytopoint is safe to use in dogs of all ages and has no known major side effects.
Does Cytopoint work?
Sometimes it works straight away and on every injection after that, sometimes it works on the first injection but not on the following ones and sometimes it doesn't work at all.
Sherlock had a Cytopoint injection and in under twenty four hours the itching stopped. The Lintbells YuDerm Itching Dog and the Sweet Relief cream had been holding back the very worst of the skin damage despite his scratching and biting, and once the continual scratching stopped you could see the sores healing and the hair starting to grow again.
How much does a Cytopoint injection cost
The cost of a Cytopoint injection will vary from vet to vet but I paid about £120.
Five weeks after Sherlock had the Cytopoint injection he was still completely itch free. I used the Sweet Relief rubbed in to his tummy twice a day along with the Lintbells YuDerm Itching Dog food supplement and the change was fantastic. His skin healed up and lots of new hair started to grow.
I spoke with his breeder and she said she had never used this treatment before but it had been recommended by her vet. After researching it further she told me she would never use it again. Like me, she felt it was just too strong for an 8 weeks old puppy and I am pretty sure that it was this that caused his itching skin problems.
Update on Bravecto October 2021
Sherlock has been off Bravecto since he was about 7 - 8 months old and we haven't looked back. We had thought that we would need at least two Cytopoint injections to get us through the Bravecto wearing off but he only ever needed the one injection.
I continued to use the Lintbells YuDem Itching Dog food supplement and the Sweet Relief cream from Biteback products topically on his stomach and his sores healed really quickly. I also got Sherlock on to a raw food diet (my previous dog had been on raw food for about 13 years). Raw food can often help a dog stop itching if the reason is food related.
Raw dog food suppliers UK
I use ProDog, although there are other good raw dog food suppliers in the UK such as Cotswold Raw and Nutriment.
I also give him a powder supplement called Protect from ProDog which is an advanced immunity and allergy formula made from natural ingredients such as sea kelp, tumeric root, kombucha tea and vitamin C.
Monthly flea treatments for dogs
There are lots of flea treatments out there but be warned, not all of them treat ticks.
I went through the ingredients in a lot of the flea and tick treatments and decided to use Frontline Plus which kills fleas, ticks and lice and inhibits the development of flea eggs. The active ingredients are Fipronil and (S)-methoprene and Sherlock has not had any reactions to these ingredients at all.
I may try and use just natural flea and tick treatments from October to March.
As a bonus you can also buy Frontline Plus without a veterinary prescription in the UK from online suppliers making it much cheaper than the ones from the vets. I bought a special bundle of flea/tick treatment (Frontline Plus) and worming treatment (Drontal) for a year from petdrugsonline.co.uk.