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Vet Advice: Relief for Your Dog's Itchy Skin
Addressing the second most common problem on the vet hit parade
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Question: Recently, my dog's nighttime scratching is keeping both of us awake. Her fur seems dry and a bit dandruffy, and she also seems to be shedding more than usual. What can I do to help her?

Answer: Dogs itch for many different reasons, and sometimes, for no reason, and it’s not uncommon for the scratching to seem worse at night, when the house is quiet. Every dog’s gotta scratch some time, and that’s completely normal. But when a dog is incessantly licking, scratching, biting and chewing to the point of wounding herself, then scratching becomes a symptom of an underlying pathology.

The medical term for scratching related to excessive itching is pruritus. This is the second most common reason people take their dogs to the vet (gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea top the list). The causes of pruritus can be quite complex, but there are two main reasons why dogs itch. The first has to do with the condition of the skin itself: Is it infected? Is it too oily? Is it too dry? Of these three, dry skin is a frequent occurrence. The second major cause of pruritus is allergies.

 

Is It Dry Skin?
One common cause of itching is dry skin. If you live in a region with low humidity, it’s more likely that your dog will have dry skin, which is fairly easy to recognize. When you part your dog’s hair, you see flakes of dandruff in the undercoat, and the skin itself may be cracked and tough. The slightest stimulation of the skin—your gentlest touch—can provoke your dog to scratch violently.

Dry skin can be influenced not only by environmental factors, but also by diet. Commercial pet foods process out the good oils that contribute to healthy skin and a lustrous haircoat. Dry pet foods have an even more dehydrating effect on skin and hair and also stimulate increased thirst, which only partially compensates for the drying nature of these diets.

If you must feed dry foods, then by all means add digestive enzymes to your dog’s meals. In fact, digestive enzymes are good to use with any type of food. Enzymes improve the release of nutrients, and beneficial probiotic bacteria also assist in the digestive process. (Probiotics also help with allergies, as noted below.) A healthy digestive system absorbs fluids more readily from the food your dog eats, thus improving hydration and increasing the moisture levels of the skin and haircoat.

 

Or Allergies?
Another common cause of itchy skin is allergies. Allergies may make your dog’s skin dry, greasy, or slightly dry and oily, and are accompanied by frequent scratching, licking or chewing. We are seeing significantly more cases of allergic dogs than we have in the past; many veterinarians believe that we are experiencing an “allergy epidemic.” While the reasons for this allergy epidemic are uncertain, some of the theories put forth include the aggressive vaccination protocols that many dogs have been subjected to, poor breeding practices and the feeding of processed pet foods.

Whatever the cause, allergies are difficult to address. In the worst cases, afflicted dogs require strong (and potentially toxic) pharmaceuticals just to get some relief. Though allergies are rarely cured, early identification and intervention can keep them under control, and in some cases, can substantially diminish them.

Clinical research has shown that one important way to reduce the likelihood that dogs will develop allergies is to give them high-potency cultures of beneficial probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus when they are very young. Probiotics are relatively inexpensive, absolutely safe to use, and can save both dog and the owner tons of grief—and visits to the vet—later in life.

Regardless of age, many dogs’ allergies are controlled by improving the quality of their diet, giving them high potency acidophilus cultures and high doses of fish oils; adding freshly milled flax seed; and, in some cases, giving them antihistamines. (It can take up to three months for this regimen to take effect; see sidebar for details and dosages.)

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Submitted by Anonymous | February 18 2013 |

Something that many people do not know is that dog food is often times the culprit for many dog health issues. Dry and wet dog food are processed in a way that is not natural for dogs. Feeding a diet of raw meats and vegetables and fruits is the most natural and healthy food for your dog and can help clear up many allergy and skin issues. Please be careful to research the correct procedure to introduce this food to your dog as every dog is different and needs different accommodations.

I have a Pit Bull/Great Dane mix (Pit Bulls are prone to skin and allergy issues) who had severe allergies so I tried many different types of dog food trials, antibiotics, and cleaning to no avail. I did a ton of research on what the reason for his allergies could be. Finally I came across the raw food diet and for the past year now he has been on only raw meat and a veggie/fruit mix that has done wonders for his skin. He has not had any allergic breakouts or been sick since he has been on this diet! And buying "real" food costs about the same as dog food if you find sales.

I hope this information helps someone out there!

Submitted by Debbie | May 13 2013 |

I would love to know what you feed and how much. I really want to do the best for my four legged babies. I currently feed Fromm dry dog food and use fish oil. I give them frozen green beans and carrots as treats and they love those. Can't wait til I get your reply.

Submitted by Willey | August 11 2013 |

Where do you get the raw food diet and veggie stuff at that you are talking about?

Submitted by Carol Slaten | February 11 2014 |

A couple of sites that have some good information for itching, yeast infections, etc., are dogaware.com and greatdanelady.com. Both of these ladies have information about food and products for allergies. I have used some of the remedies and they worked. From my experience with dogs suffering from allergies the best place to start is with what you have in your house that your dog comes in contact with. I got rid of my carpet. Seems to have helped me as well. It is the worst for harboring dust mites. The dogs are in much closer contact with the flooring than we are, which make them more susceptible to whatever is on the floor or in the carpet. I have rugs that I can take out and clean and I clean them frequently. With those that suffer from inhalant allergies, dogs could be sensitive to just about anything like household cleaners, detergents, carpet shampoo, scented candles, air fresheners, etc. Another consideration equally as important is your dog's diet. Just because something claims to be "natural" does not mean your dog won't be allergic to it. I just cringe whenever I see someone with a bag of Pedigree or Ole Roy. My vet said he thinks there are more cases of allergic reactions now than there used to be is because dog foods are including so many ingredients now. I counted 32 ingredients on a bag of Fromm's Beef Fritatta. It might even be something like calcium carbonate or a brand of the vitamins causing a reaction. It could even be a preservative that was used in the food. There are so many things that could be irritating. Best to stay simple. Just that less to have to rule out.

Submitted by John | November 5 2013 |

I saw your post and was intrigued. I did a fresh veggie diet and it worked fairly well. You did raw meat which helps the protein for sure. I am a bit skeptical about the raw meat tho. I dont know why as that how canines survive in the wild. Do you offer all meats chicken, steak, ground beef, lamb,chicken, deer? Would it help to cook? Your advice is appreciated@

John

Submitted by Shan | January 26 2014 |

I have a German Shepherd and we have struggled with his allergies…….the vet thinks it's environmental and also food related. We paid big dollars for an allergy test that came out negative and have put out so much money for all the food trials we have done and meds we have tried. Nothing seems to be working, he just scratches and scratches. I would love to know what your recipe for raw is?

Submitted by Linda | March 4 2013 |

I just took my pit bull to the vet for the same thing. I already knew that my dog had flea allergies and I got that under control by using Adams flea and tick mist. For the dry skin he suggested either foods that are high in Omega or Omega vitamins. I got (Fish, Flaxseed, Borage Oil with Omega 3,6,9) at Walmart for $6.00 for 120 softgels. He suggested 1,800mg a day for a 70lb dog. He also said that Frequent bathing is good using shampoos that are the correct pH for dogs low in detergents "detergents dry the skin". I told him that I had been using benedryl, and he said that "all that does is makes the dog sleep and forget about the itching, not remedy the problem" Another suggestion he had for the dry skin was "Avon skin so soft" on the skin to help soften the skin.
Hope the suggestions help. :-)

Submitted by Amanda Roberts | March 8 2013 |

I was curious how many of the soft gels you give your 70# dog? I just bought some for my lab that is itching like crazy and flakey skin no fleas I started with 1 just because it doesn't say how many milligrams the soft gels are.. Thanks

Submitted by crystal | May 3 2013 |

I have a 70lb lab (10m) and the dose the vet had us give him was 2 of the 25mg pills every 12 hours.

Submitted by Jessica | June 4 2013 |

Avon Skin so Soft has chemicals in it- as do most soaps and moisturizers. Pure organic coconut oil should be the only thing you use as this is all natural with no chemicals at all. Give this a try. :)

Submitted by Ellen B | July 30 2013 |

Wow Linda, our new vet recommended identical dosages, however they warned us about pills. Our lab suffered from sever allergies and for the past 3 years she has been treated with prednisone. Her condition worsened and we gave up on the steroids. I was recommended to a clinic that specialized in canine allergies. Their recommendation was the 1,800mg of omegas added to the diet via flaxseed. Apparently the acids and short digestive tract of dogs passes fish oil pills without absorbing the omegas. I found the VitaHound supplement, I discovered it in another Bark article, our dog's allergies have lessened dramatically. I have found both the Bark publication and the readers comments irreplaceable in my ongoing efforts to help our dogs live longer.

Submitted by Becky | March 17 2013 |

My dog has itchy skin and I want to know if vitamin D3 (1000iu) would help or hurt him.
A lady told me to try Vitamin D as a liquid, one drop a day.
I want to know if this is safe to try before I give him any.

Submitted by lynne | April 6 2013 |

my dog suffered an eye injury by scratching from this time he has worsened into constantly biting he has been given constant antibiotics, steroids for scratching etc. is infecting the skin and his eyes. he has had blood tests which prove he has allergies, his skin and hair is very greasy. we have changed his dry food hypoallergenic to wet food. we are very worried and steroids has developed cushings condition can you help, all the vets want to continue with the medication. would a holistic approach seem favourable?

Submitted by Anonymous | April 11 2013 |

Hi

Our dog is the same but we have found these products http://www.aromesse.com/ have brought massive relief.

Yumove oil for dogs with sensitive skin also helped.

Hope it helps you

Sarah

Submitted by Melanie | November 23 2013 |

Stay away from the steroids, that is the cause of cushings, as well they also cause yeast infections. I know cause i just went through all of this. If your dog'S hair is greasy then get nizorol shampoo and bath him once a week. Also the vet has pills for yeast infection, however it took my vet a long time before she believed me that my dog had a yeast infection.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 11 2013 |

The shampoo bar and cream has really helped our dog.

Submitted by Cindy | April 18 2013 |

Hi. I have a 17 year old dog that really suffers from itching. could you please specify which shampoo bar and cream you are talking about? Thank you.

Submitted by Nora | May 19 2013 |

What is the brand name of the shampoo bar and cream. I also am having problems with our golden. Scratching all day and biting is legs. He has no fleas. I am wondering if the shampoo is the problem? We use the best and most expensive thinking that would help. But I guess the most expensive is not always the right way to go.

Submitted by Priscilla vance | June 18 2013 |

Well my dog was fine until we used a different shampoo 2 days ago and now he has itching, bitting and raw its so bad it's breaking my heart but I have been using main and tail shampoo and conditionor for last 2 yrs and never had this problem... I am gonna try this evening to bath him in it and see if it helps any suggestions or advise to help him stop itching greatly appreciated but I do think the shampoo caused it...

Submitted by Irish | May 22 2013 |

I also wanted to say/ask if anyone else noticed this..my dog is horribly itchy. I use half a benadryl pill for him like vet told me. have him on vet approved diet but he continues to be so itchy it's making us both crazy. What I think I have discovered is, he grooms himself like a cat, all day long, meaning licking...and his fur then is sticky & gross and I wonder if this is what is making him itch? (his sticky saliva in his fur)

Submitted by Kim Morris | July 29 2013 |

It could. If your dog's skin is wet from the licking all the time, he could develop "moist dermatitus" or basically a fungal, yeast type infection. But, the thing to do is first find out why he grooms himself this way. It could be an underlying issue..allergy..etc. Take him to the vet if you haven't already. Then, go from there.

All for all these itchy dogs, I also believe most low and mid-priced brands are full of junk. Even some of the expensive brands. You have to check and be sure that the first ingredient is real meat protein..not corn meal or other grain type meal. With the recent problems with the wrong ingredients turning up in dog foods at all price levels due to purchasing some ingredients from China and receiving back ingredients not suitable for any kind of consumption, we have to be even more careful. Most dog food companies use similar suppliers for their ingredients and we have already had two major problems with China resulting in wide spread problems and deaths of pets who ate the affected food.

I think taking a simple, natural approach to feeding our dogs is better. Like some have mentioned, a raw foods diet, or using chicken, beef, turkey etc. combined with rice, veggies and some fruits for example. We have to do our research though as we want our percentages of protein, carbs, fats..etc to be right.

There also could be new factors in our environment that are negatively effecting our pets. There is not much we can do about the changing environment but to try to learn as much about it as possible in order to address the issues it is causing. We still don't know why all the bees have been disappearing...though there are lots of ideas. Sometimes I think mother nature has just had enough of human's adversely effecting and controlling the environment.

I'm here because I have an itchy dog too. No fleas..just lots of itching. I'm in the process of trying to get this sorted as well.

Submitted by Erica-Ann | January 2 2014 |

I have a year old cross breed, (poodle/jackrussel/terrier) she scratches and bites non stop to the extent that it becomes raw at the base of the back just before the tail and sometimes also the front paws......PLEASE HELP she eats mostly table food and is bathed once a week with Wampam shampoo

Submitted by Charles Richards | June 2 2013 |

My dog suffered terribly from itching. The vet gave a negative skin scraping test & drugged him up with antibiotics, allergy meds and steroids. He started tearing himself up just came back when they were gone. I had to figure it out on my own. I learned that a negative scrapings are common and that mites are epidemic. I don't know what type of parasite he had so I got a natural mite dip that kils all mites online. I think it was called Mite Avenge. Natural is the way to go on dog that is already sick. Maybe this will help someone else.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 5 2013 |

did it help?

Submitted by Laura | October 9 2013 |

Did the mite treatment work?

Submitted by Erwin | July 9 2013 |

Our two year old Maltese Shih Tzu cross has itchy skin and red rings around his eyes, he constantly scratches and chews all over himself. We took him to the Vet and he said he has a food allergy and/or other allergens but is very expensive to find what food and/or other allergens he may have. We have changed his dry food to Kirkland chicken, as through research we found it to be one of the top rated dry foods. The biggest problem with dry food is the fillers , corn being the worst by far. We cannot digest it and neither can dogs or most other animals,also some of the other fillers are absolutely sickening. Read the labels and if one of the first five ingredients is corn do NOT buy it. Since changing to Kirkland dry dog food his scratching and red rings have subsided but he still has bouts and we give him half a benadryl 25mg tablet at night. The Vet also gave us a prescription of prednisone 5mg cut in half every 12 hours as needed for really bad flares to help relieve the awful itching. People need to read all labels as there are a lot of bad stuff in food and treats for your pets as the saying goes "if you can't pronounce dont eat it" same goes for your pet. It really does not cost much more to buy really good food for your pet, considering the cost of vets and other meds if you feed them CRAP.

Submitted by Kim | November 23 2013 |

Our Maltese was doing the same exact thing! Then someone told me it was maybe a grain allergy. I switched him to Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet, grain free. It took a full year of feeding him only this, but he has stopped chewing and itching and his tear stains have completely disappeared. Also I have heard yeast too and to only feed Raw diet, but we haven't gone to that......yet:) good luck!

Submitted by Erwin | July 9 2013 |

Our two year old Maltese Shih Tzu cross has itchy skin and red rings around his eyes, he constantly scratches and chews all over himself. We took him to the Vet and he said he has a food allergy and/or other allergens but is very expensive to find what food and/or other allergens he may have. We have changed his dry food to Kirkland chicken, as through research we found it to be one of the top rated dry foods. The biggest problem with dry food is the fillers , corn being the worst by far. We cannot digest it and neither can dogs or most other animals,also some of the other fillers are absolutely sickening. Read the labels and if one of the first five ingredients is corn do NOT buy it. Since changing to Kirkland dry dog food his scratching and red rings have subsided but he still has bouts and we give him half a benadryl 25mg tablet at night. The Vet also gave us a prescription of prednisone 5mg cut in half every 12 hours as needed for really bad flares to help relieve the awful itching. People need to read all labels as there are a lot of bad stuff in food and treats for your pets as the saying goes "if you can't pronounce dont eat it" same goes for your pet. It really does not cost much more to buy really good food for your pet, considering the cost of vets and other meds if you feed them CRAP.

Submitted by cristin | July 11 2013 |

My pitbull has sores an scabs all ovrr him ive tried everything I mean EVERYTHING even the vet gave him crap that didnt word please help

Submitted by Stacey Taylor | September 19 2013 |

Did you ever get any answers to your question. My Pit Bull has the exact same sounding problem and I don't know what to do for relief. Please Help!!

Submitted by Regina Naron | September 20 2013 |

Look up systematic yeast. That is what the symptons sound like. Search the sites "Nzymes" and "din-o-vite" Both sites have products that help.

Submitted by debbie | October 9 2013 |

I have a 2 yr. old Blue Nose Pit Bull with food and environmental allergies. I finally spent almost $500 for the allergy testing after $1900 in vet bills for chronic ear infections, and skin bumps, rash.

Even after finding out what he is allergic to, he still has outbreaks. I started doing research online and began giving him daily 2 Zyrtecs, Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar in his water, Digestive Enzymes with Pro/Prebiotics and Omega 3 fish oil. So far, so good!

It is a lot better for him than the prescribed steroids and antibiotics.

Submitted by laurie | September 24 2013 |

Old fashion pine tar soap found at most health food stores may help. It not toxic derived from natural ingredients. It costs about 4 dollars for one bar but it is rock hard soap and goes a long way. It may not cure the problem but will help with the itching and promote healing. My family has used it for years on ourselves and pets. Its a icky brown color and smells a little strange but really saves the day when it comes to relief. Only warning is as always do not get it into your eyes. The only soap safe for eyes is Johnson's no tears baby shampoo. I use a very small drop on a wet warm cloth to clean my dogs eyes. I also do the same thing to remove makeup from my eyes. It really works and does not hurt or harm your eyes. Good Luck.

Submitted by Victoria | October 7 2013 |
Submitted by Penny | October 4 2013 |

I have spent a lot of money in the past on pets with allergies & I can't do that anymore. I researched online about home remedies and then went out to get Epsom salts, olive oil, benadryl capsules and apple cider vinegar. I tested the apple cider vinegar on some areas. I put it in a spray bottle & got a cotton ball - saturated it & I really saturated it and massaged it right into my dogs skin skin. Also I sprayed all four paws and lower legs and hiney. Again very saturated. The first relief he has had has come from Apple Cidar Vinegar $2.80 for a big bottle! It's a no name brand - not toxic and I'll need to reapply it a few times, but he finally stopped scratching non-stop and slept for a couple of hours. This first round of relief has lasted about 4 hours. I don't know if its the cure - but it's looking good!! Later I put him in the tub with room temperature - cool water that was 1/2 water and 1/2 apple cider vinegar with a little bit of olive oil. For 10 minutes I just kept pouring it over his back...everywhere but his face of course. I did use a cotton ball to apply it to his ears with the AC Vinegar. His areas that he had scratched raw are nicely healing. I apply the apple cidar vinegar to his paws in the morning. I only use the Benadryl if its bad at night. Good luck!

Submitted by April | July 19 2013 |

I have a small to medium size dog that we got from a friend. Not sure what breed he is he's maybe 15 lbs long wiry hair that we keep trimmed. We live in the desert , dry, windy, and hot. Anyways he's constantly scratching his face to the point his eye has a cut near the corner. I try to keep it clean, he's an outside dog so that hard but I bring him in to clean it every few days. My question is, is it safe after I clean it to put a triple antibiotic ointment on it so it doesn't get infected??

Submitted by Betty | November 20 2013 |

Your dog's itchiness could be from being outside. For one thing a dog that small needs to be indoors. They are lonely outside. Dogs are social animals. If a dog is bored they will scratch at themselves or dig holes etc. Bring your dog inside and his health will improve.

Submitted by laurie | July 23 2013 |

My mom's dog is a mix breed. This last year her dog has been issues with scratching and itching. It has gotten so bad that she has chewed her self raw. She hasbe3en to the vet n received meds but they hav3 stopped working. They put a shield on n she goes bananas. They have n cont doing the fish oils n even went and changed her food to Blue. Nothing is working the vet cant seem to figure what she is allergic to. My mom is scared to let her out in the yard she is worried that a bug might start laying eggs o her open spots. We are all lost on what to do. Mom fears that her dog is miserable n might have to b put down. Is there anything else to try and do??? An ideas

Submitted by Dorie | August 18 2013 |

I have the same issue wirh my dog. Get an anti itch spray with tea tree oil on Petco. just spray the area whete she itches. It could help your dog relieve the itch and heal the sore.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 23 2013 |

Can my dogs itching and small sores be bugs or mites that could have gotten on my self and family? Becouse we are all itching and getting sores

Submitted by Kat | July 29 2013 |

After dealing with my own allergies to dust mites, I found my terrier dog got better. I have a clean house but took down drapes, took out carpets, etc. . My allergist said dust mites saliva causes many allergies in people so why not in dogs too.

Submitted by Tracey | July 30 2013 |

My lab has been suffering from dry skin since he was 5mths old and he is now 15mths. I went to the vet and they recommended changing dog food to something with better product which I did. They also said a antihistamine, which I did for awhile every few days no result. He sheds more than I have ever seen for his type plus I can slightly tug and clumps and clumps come out but still tons there. This been after I just brushed him. He scratches almost every few minutes. His skin doesn't have flakes but during the fall, it looks snowy (he has black fur). During the summer its so bad, he is chewing off patches. I have also used oatmeal shampoo once a month. Nothing, vet didn't seem too concerned but I need to make him itch less, I am sure it would allow both of us to sleep and his life easier.

Submitted by Carol | August 13 2013 |

Atopica at half strength for dog's weight works wonders. Also a diet of kangaroo, oatmeal, oil an molasses bought through an allergy vet.

Submitted by Joanna | August 19 2013 |

I adopted an 11 year old dog from a couple who had the dog since he was a puppy. They brought along vet records that were extensive. They also brought all kinds of medication. The results from a previous allergy test were that the dog was allergic to all kinds grass and trees. The problem for me was that this was February and nothing was blooming and there was no grass anywhere yet the dog was suffering. He had no fur on his belly and his skin was tough and blackened.
I decided to do an allergy food testl. Before the results were in, my other dog started itching. It turned out the dog had fleas and was suffering from from flea allergy dermatitis. The food allergy results came in and my little guy was allergic to rice (lamb and rice is often recommended for dogs with allergies), peas, cod, liver, corn and a few more things. We found food with none of the ingredients he was allergic to. We got rid of the fleas and began allergy shots. Eventually we were down to one shot a month and no more itching! All the hair grew back on his underside and the skin returned to the normal color and softness. Happy dog and happy family. Many vets don't go this route. Thankfully our vet who has since retired was no nonsense with no fancy office and not into the easy way out of just prescribing more drugs and never ending office visits. I know giving shots seems scary, but I learned to do it with no problem. My dog got used to it, instinctively knew it was good for him and didn't mind it at all. This was 8 years ago. Today we adopted a stray with major skin problems. Here we go again! If it turns out to be allergies I won't waste time with medication and go straight to allergy shots along with eliminating whatever food to which she may be allergic.

Submitted by monica ong | August 22 2013 |

Beware of allergy shots they can be very dangerous to your dog.
My ratterrier mix developed a serious case of acute pancreatitis and nearly died from it. She got the shots every month for 2 years and they did wonders for her itching but at the same time was destroying her health. I now try to manage her itchys' with diet, bathing, flea control and antihistamines. Nothing seems to work like the shots,but I am scared of them now.

Submitted by donna | December 16 2013 |

i have a 12 year old lab who has been on allergy shots for 10 years and they have done her allergys a world of good and her health is great

Submitted by David | August 29 2013 |

Hello. I have a two year old golden who is tearing herself up from itching. Her father had severe allergies to grasses and trees. We have had her on benadryl and are going to try using mane and tail shampoo. Any comments as to how often to shampoo her? Also, someone posted to use tinactin on spots that have been bitten raw, does anyone else successfully use that?

Submitted by Patti | September 1 2013 |

Daisy is. 7 months old and we live on a very hot and humid area. Her skin is dry so she scratchs a lot. Is there a shampoo or cream I could use to help her! Thanks for your help.

Submitted by rohit | September 4 2013 |

my dog got some skin allergies for a long time tried out lots of medicine can any one help me out with this ...

Submitted by debbie orr | September 8 2013 |

i have a small cairn terier cross silky his itch is driving him crazy and i can not afford a vet where he itches he gets very hot its like he has dandruff and he could be asleep and all of a sudden he jumps up and starts itching he is so uncomfortable please help

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